The body count in primetime is rising. Key characters in high-profile dramas are dropping like flies as producers seek the ratings bump and social-media buzz that an unexpected death (or resurrection) brings. True shockers, such as the demise of Josh Charles' Will Gardner on "The Good Wife," pay dividends that extend long past a single episode, since they often allow writers to radically alter storylines -- and provide actors with killer clips for their Emmy reels. Here are some of the biggest casualties.
Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) "House of Cards" (Netflix)
What happened: The ambitious cub reporter got the ultimate F.U. when former lover/top source Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) got sick of her pesky questions and sent her flying in front of a Metro train in the season-two opener.
The aftermath: The decision to kill Zoe early in the season was strategic. "House of Cards" is known for a binge-watching viewership, and the gambit ensured that audiences -- even those who'd followed the original British version -- would immediately want to stream the next episode to see how others on Frank's trail would fare.
James Novak (Dan Bucatinsky) "Scandal" (ABC)
What happened: The death of James, shot as part of a cover-up, was shocking not only because he was a fan favorite, but because Bucatinsky won an Emmy last year for the role.
The aftermath: "Scandal" prides itself on dramatic twists, and the character's departure was viewed as a bold choice. Bucatinsky has already signed on to the NBC pilot "Marry Me," and will likely score another Emmy nom for his heartbreaking final episode.
Will Gardner (Josh Charles) "The Good Wife" (CBS)
What happened: Charles' desire to move on after four seasons as the star-crossed love interest to Julianna Margulies' Alicia Florrick gave writers an opening to take the narrative in a new direction. The "Good Wife" team savvily decided to have Will meet his end -- shot by a deranged client -- with seven episodes to go, drawing viewer interest to the final installments.
The aftermath: Online fans are mourning Will's and Alicia's lost chance to find happiness, and Charles is all but assured an Emmy nom for his swan song.