Kurt Sutter’s savage tale of Northern California bikers returns tonight with its sixth season, and the showrunner has promised that this year opens with the biggest act of violence in the show’s run. When you think about Sons of Anarchy’s history, the mind reels trying to conceive of something even more gruesome than what we’ve already seen. It makes sense, of course, given that Sutter has constantly asserted that his story is a modern retelling of Hamlet. As we head into these last two seasons, things are about to get third-act violent.
The brothers of SAMCRO are facing threats on all sides this year. Both Clay and Tara are in police custody, Juice is in disgrace, and Bobby Elvis has left in disgust. Jimmy Smits’s Nero is returning, and though he was an ally to the motorcycle club in the past, who knows what his increased involvement in the criminal world will bring? August Marks, the late Damon Pope’s right-hand man, has threatened to take some vengeance on SAMCRO and there are a pair of new characters who could possibly stir up some trouble. Kim Dickens (Deadwood, Treme) will play an upscale madam and Peter Weller (Robocop, Star Trek Into Darkness) will be on the scene as an “old-school shot caller” from Stockton. But the biggest shadow looming over SAMCRO is Donal Logue’s Lee Toric, whom we met at the end of last season. This enigmatic character will focus all of his power on destroying the MC in order to get vengeance for his sister’s murder. How positively Shakespearean.
So what does it mean for this to be the bloodiest season in the show’s history? Well, Kurt Sutter has promised it won’t be gratuitous, but he wanted to “show there are consequences.” To give you some perspective on what some of those consequences might look like, here are the ten bloodiest, grimmest, gruesomest moments in the show’s run. Not for the faint of heart.
10. “Family Recipe” (Season 4, Episode 10)
Things are about to get truly grim here, so I’m glad I can at least start with a little bit of humor. Sons of Anarchy, for all its excessive gore, is not a show devoid of laughs. Usually the comedy comes from some wry aside from Gemma or Tig, but in this case everything went full slapstick when Chuckie decided to hide a rogue severed head in a batch of chili he was cooking. Things take an even more macabre turn when he serves the head-soaked chili to a bunch of Charming’s deputies. The secret’s in the sauce.
9. “Crucifixed” (Season 5, Episode 10)
In one of his more devious acts, a hospitalized Otto (played by Sutter himself) convinces Tara to bring him his wife’s crucifix, which he then uses to viciously murder Pamela Toric, a nurse at the Stockton State Prison. Otto’s thinking (“Sons live, Redwood bleeds”) is that he can both save the motorcycle club and punish SAMCRO by making Tara an accessory to murder. As I mentioned above, this particular act of bloody violence (so bloody, oh God, the blood) is what brings Pamela’s brother, Lee Toric into the picture. (Pamela, by the way, was played by Donal Logue’s real-life sister, Karina.) So in this one act, Otto landed Tara in jail and unleashed an unscrupulous former U.S. Marshal hell-bent on revenge. Well played, Otto.
8. “Smite” (Season 2, Episode 5)
In prison, you have to MacGyver your weaponry out of whatever is available to you. In this instance, Otto saw the Aryan Brothers coming and snapped off the handle of a mop. But, despite his best efforts, the Aryans got the upper hand and drove the pointy end of that handle into Otto’s eye. Kurt Sutter has never shied away from inflicting the worst damage on his own character, and though we didn’t see too much, the sound effects of the splintered wood going into the eye socket were absolutely disgusting.
7. “Albification” (Season 2 premiere)
In the wake of the murder of Opie’s wife, the MC is looking for who to blame in the hopes that vengeance will make Opie whole. For various reasons, the blame falls on a blameless Mayan named Alvarez. While no one’s looking, Tig cuts the innocent (of this crime at least) man’s restraints and shoots him in the face. Then, in a cathartic act, Opie carves an Anarchy “A” on the dead man’s chest.
6. “J'ai Obtenu Cette” (Season 5, Episode 13)
What was it that I was saying about Kurt Sutter not shying away from inflicting damage on Otto? The man is already mostly blind and now he’ll be mute after biting his own tongue off and spitting it at his interrogators. This was some deeply nasty, bloody violence made that much worse because it was self-inflicted. It may have been truly disgusting, but it was also a smart way to beat RICO. So well played again, Otto, you magnificent, mangled bastard.
5. “Hands” (Season 4, Episode 10)
Domestic violence is never a comfortable thing to watch, but this protracted beatdown between Clay Morrow and his old lady Gemma Teller Morrow was the worst I’ve ever seen. Ron Perlman, who has always played Clay with a grim, brutish determination, is an absolute beast of a man. And while Katey Sagal’s Gemma is no defenseless flower, it was still horrific to watch this colossus turn on the woman he loves.
4. “Giving Back” (Season 1, Episode 5)
In an early sequence from the series, a disgraced brother returns to Charming with his club tattoo still intact. This is strictly against club rules. Kyle’s attitude doesn’t help his case. Clay asks the restrained brother one question: “fire or knife,” meaning should we burn this tattoo off you, Kyle, or cut it off? Kyle chooses “fire.” He chose ... poorly.
3. “Sovereign” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Speaking of horrific burns, this might objectively be the worst thing Sons of Anarchy has ever shown. In last season’s opener, we met the new “Big Bad,” Damon Pope, who blames his daughter’s death on Tig. In a sort of biblical “eye for an eye, daughter for a daughter” moment, Pope burns Tig’s daughter alive while a restrained Tig is forced to watch. The camera does not cut away from Dawn’s burning, flailing corpse. This moment of violence was instrumental, however, in establishing Damon Pope as a cold-hearted bastard capable of monstrous deeds. From the very start of the season, we knew the stakes for the members of SAMCRO would be higher than ever and that proved to be the case. I’m not sure Damon Pope quite lived up to this flaming entrance, but as we’ll see, he wasn’t done with the MC yet. Not by a long shot.
2. “Albification” (Season 2, Episode 1)
The death of Tig’s daughter Dawn was objectively the worst thing we’ve seen on Sons of Anarchy. But when you bring emotional responses and a connection to the characters into it, these final two acts of violence are far more brutal. The first is the kidnapping, beating, and gang raping of Gemma Teller Morrow. She may be a complicated and often villainous character, but Gemma is, for better or worse, the heart of the MC. Watching this mother figure be violated and brutalized was one of the show’s most difficult moments.
1. “Laying Pipe” (Season 5, Episode 3)
But maybe the hardest thing Sons of Anarchy has ever dished up (and, I would argue, one of the most god-awful character deaths in TV history) was the braining of Opie Winston. This was the character who meant the most to our hero Jax. (Wouldn’t you say he had the edge on Tara?) Ever since his wife died in season one, Opie was the most emotionally vulnerable of the brothers. His death was unavoidable, tragic, and merciless, and poor Jax had to watch. Opie’s death provided the motivation for much of season five, so the brutality was not lost, storytelling wise, but I still miss that bearded face. So does Jax.