Star Trek Franchise’s Most Devastating Deaths 

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

star trek shaw

The hit film Barbie recently featured its titular protagonist asking “do you guys ever think about dying,” and this is a question that Star Trek writers have answered over the years with an emphatic “yes.” While the franchise is meant to be all about boldly going where no one has gone before, the surprising truth is that Star Trek can never go too long without giving us a death scene designed to ruin your entire day. And if you just need a good cry, you’re in luck: here is our roundup of the most devastating deaths in Trek history.

7. Spock In Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan

william shatner

Obviously, any list of Star Trek death scenes is going to include Spock’s amazing act of self-sacrifice in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. We see that Spock is willing to both live and die by his principles when he gives his life to save the crew of the damaged USS Enterprise, proving once and for all that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one).

While William Shatner often gets flack for his iconically hammy performances, it’s worth noting that he is doing some career-best acting in showing all of the emotions Captain Kirk feels while watching his best friend die. Needless to say, the legendary Leonard Nimoy plays the scene perfectly, giving Spock a quiet pathos that underscores his own deep affection for Kirk.

The more we watch the end of this film, the more we think Scotty’s loud bagpipes during Spock’s funeral are really there to cover up the sound of fans loudly and uncontrollably weeping.

6. George Kirk in Star Trek (2009)

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While he has understandably gotten criticism for the disappointing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, J.J. Abrams should get credit for kicking off his rebooted Star Trek universe with one of the most gut-punching death scenes in film.

We see James T. Kirk’s dad, George, stay behind to save as many of the crew as possible when his ship is attacked by Nero, a Romulan from the future with a serious grudge. When the autopilot is damaged, George stays behind to pilot the ship, eventually ramming the enemy when he has nothing left to throw at him.

This moment of self-sacrifice would already be peak Star Trek, but what makes the death scene so viscerally devastating is that while all of this is going on, George’s wife is giving birth to James Kirk.

This means the two parents have a heartbreaking conversation about what to name their new baby even as George gets ready to die. But his sacrifice is worth it: as Captain Pike later points out to an adult James Kirk, George captained a starship for a mere 12 minutes, managing to save 800 souls in the process.

5. Liam Shaw in Star Trek: Picard

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While the first and especially the second seasons of Star Trek: Picard were disappointing, the third season found the perfect balance of nostalgia and innovation, both in its story and its blend of old and new Trek characters.

One of the most interesting of the new characters is Captain Liam Shaw, and he begins the show as a crusty crank with no love for beloved characters like Picard and Riker. He’s also very antagonistic toward Seven of Nine, so after he was introduced, most fans couldn’t wait for this guy to die.

Then something amazing happened: the subsequent episodes of Star Trek: Picard revealed Shaw to be a no-nonsense guy whose gruff exterior hid both a deep love of his crew and PTSD from the Battle of Wolf 359.

All of these qualities come to a head with his death scene in which he gives his life to save our heroes from Borg-assimilated crew. In the finale, we are crying right along with Seven of Nine as she watches his previously-recorded officer review in which he gave Seven immense praise and recommended her promotion to Captain.

4. Lal in Star Trek: The Next Generation

star trek death scene

Star Trek: The Next Generation was filled with great characters, but none were quite as captivating as the android Data. Despite having physical and mental abilities far beyond the rest of the crew, Data’s truest wish was to become more human. Eventually, he decided that meant reproducing, so he created an android daughter named Lal.

Much of the episode (fittingly titled “The Offspring”) is comedic, including a laugh-out-loud line where Data asks Riker what his intentions are regarding Data’s daughter. This meant we were completely unprepared for the inevitable death scene: Data simply couldn’t create synthetic life as his creator did, and Lal begins fatally breaking down, but not before she develops the ability to feel emotions.

It will hit you right in the heart when she tells Data that she loves him before he deactivates her, and her brutally honest positronic patriarch tells her that he wishes he could feel that emotion, too.

3. Edith Keeler in Star Trek: The Original Series

It didn’t take long for Captain Kirk to become a kind of pop culture archetype thanks to the success of Star Trek: The Original Series, and the popular image of him is that he is a lady’s man always looking for the next green gal to bed. But the truth is that Kirk has had far fewer relationships than people think, and the ones he has been serious about usually end badly.

Nothing makes this clearer than the profound death scene of a woman named Edith Keeler in the episode “City On the Edge of Forever.” 

After a drugged-up Doctor McCoy travels to the past through a time portal, Kirk and Spock try to follow him, ultimately arriving in pre-World War II America. As they try to find the deranged doctor, Kirk meets a woman named Edith Keeler and falls in love with her, and that’s when Spock drops this bombshell: Keeler was originally meant to die, and when something changes this, her persuasive pacifism eventually keeps America out of the war long enough for the Nazis to win, destroying the future as we know it.

When they finally reunite with a now-recovered Doctor McCoy, he understandably tries to save Keeler from an oncoming truck. Kirk does the most difficult thing of all: he holds McCoy back and lets the love of his life die, giving us Star Trek’s earliest iconic death scene.

2. Hemmer in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

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While Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has many familiar faces such as Pike, Spock, and even Kirk, it also introduced us to new characters such as Chief Engineer Hemmer. In the first season, this quirky Andorian never let his blindness hold him back from performing his duties. In one of the season’s most shocking moments, we got a death scene that showed just how far Hemmer’s sense of duty would go.

In the episode “All Those Who Wander,” we get some new lore for the Gorn, including that — xenomorph style — they infect other living beings and then burst out of their bodies.

When Hemmer realizes that he has been infected and that his very life now puts the landing party in danger, he throws himself into a deep chasm, preferring to kill himself than put others in harm’s way. It’s a sacrifice in the finest tradition of Star Trek and a death scene that still devastates fans.

1. David Marcus in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock

Most Star Trek death scenes are memorable because they include characters choosing to make major sacrifices. However, part of what makes the death of Kirk’s son David Marcus in The Search for Spock so devastating is that it comes out of nowhere.

Sure, he basically volunteers as a sacrifice rather than letting a Klingon kill his Vulcan colleague Saavik, but he is still killed simply so these brutal warriors can show they mean business.

Interestingly, we don’t feel the full weight of this particular death scene until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. That’s when we discover the depths of Kirk’s hatred for the Klingons: “I could never forgive them for the death of my boy,” he says in a recording that later nearly seals his own fate.

Of course, this makes Kirk’s eventual willingness to forgive the Klingons that much more powerful when he helps broker peace between the Empire and the Federation.

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