A version of this article originally ran on September 10, 2013.
Kurt Sutter’s motorcycle club drama ends tonight with one final, supersize episode that wraps up seven seasons of mayhem. Often bloody, sometimes shocking, always impactful mayhem. And while Sons of Anarchy has already dealt viewers big doses of gruesome violence, it’s a safe bet that the “Hamlet on motorcycles” tagline frequently used to describe the FX series is also an accurate portent of the tragedy that awaits in the series finale.
This seventh season alone has already seen the torture and murder of favorite SAMCRO brother Bobby; the almost merciful (but still blood-spurting) prison death of even more tortured, and banished, Son Juice; the massacre of 16 people at Nero’s Diosa escort service; the series’ second death by carving fork; and a Son making sure his murderous mama met her end by spraying her brains all over some white roses.
To prepare yourself for what lies ahead, here’s a look back at the ten bloodiest moments in Sons history.
10. “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.
9. “Sovereign” (Season 5 premiere)
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.
8. “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. This particular act of bloody violence (so bloody, oh God, the blood) is what brings Pamela’s brother, Lee Toric (Donal Logue) into the picture. (Pamela, by the way, was played by Logue’s real-life sister, Karina.) So in this one act, Otto landed Tara in jail and unleashed an unscrupulous and unhinged former U.S. Marshal hell-bent on revenge. Well played, Otto.
7. “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.
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 was already mostly blind, and then he became 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, and now mercifully dead, 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 always played Clay with a grim, brutish determination, was an absolute beast of a man. And while Katey Sagal’s Gemma was no defenseless flower, it was still horrific to watch this colossus turn on the woman he loved.
4. “Albification” (Season 2 premiere)
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 next two acts of violence are far more brutal. The first is the kidnapping, beating, and gang raping of Gemma Teller Morrow. She may have been a complicated and often villainous character, but Gemma was, 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.
3. “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.
2. “Black Widower” (Season 7 premiere)
As Nero would tell Gemma later in the season, Jax had become “unchained” after Tara’s death and was looking for “any excuse to rage.” The unchaining began with the savage end to the final season’s first installment, when Jax, upon his mother’s finger-pointing to Tara’s murderer, kidnapped Lin gang member Chris Dun and systematically tortured him, literally pouring salt into the open wounds Jax had created before plunging a carving fork into Dun’s head to mirror the vicious way Tara had died. Jax, sans shirt and splattered with Dun’s blood, was completely detached from any bit of humanity, calmly smoking a cigarette in between moments of torture, all while his SAMCRO brothers looked on at (and a couple looked away from) the murder. That Dun was innocent (of Tara’s death, anyway), and was a lonely soul who had shared a bonding moment with motherly Gemma earlier in the episode, made his death that much more painful to watch. Especially as a haunting cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” arranged by SOA’s genius music supervisor Bob Thiele, played. “Nothing really matters, anyone can see …”
1. “A Mother’s Work” (Season 6, Episode 13)
It was brutal, bloody, shocking, and the moment that set the characters still standing directly on the path to the series finale. Gemma, drunk and stoned after being dumped by Nero, mistakenly thought Tara had ratted out Jax and the club to the police. Jax had actually cut a deal to turn himself in so Tara could vamoose to a SAMCRO-less life with their sons, and when Tara returned home to pack, Gemma was waiting. She attacked Tara with an iron to the stomach, then pushed her daughter-in-law’s head into a sink full of dirty water. When drowning didn’t work, Gemma repeatedly stabbed Tara in the head with a carving fork. But the tragedy had just begun. As dead Tara’s blood pooled around her on the kitchen floor, Gemma sat nearby, stunned by her own capacity for brutality. Sheriff Eli Roosevelt entered and told Gemma Tara hadn’t flipped on Jax, but just as Eli tried to call in the crime scene, Juice entered the kitchen and shot Eli to save Gemma. The cover up and lies that ensued in season seven led to countless deaths (Gemma’s and Juice’s among them) and epic street beefs among the rival gangs in SAMCRO’s world. And a mother’s work may be what leads to a Shakespearean level of tragedy in Sons of Anarchy’s final episode.