There's really no beating around the bush: FX's biker drama Sons of Anarchy is incredibly violent. People get burned alive, raped, beaten to death in prison (R.I.P. Opie), stabbed to death by crucifixes, and shot by those they once considered family. A lot of bad shit happens in Charming (and just outside its city limits). And last night's school shooting in the Season 6 premiere was just the latest round of in-your-face violence on a show that makes its money by showing dudes biting off their own tongues.
It's not that I'm against the violence. I cheer on the boys of SAMCRO when they beat the crap out of the "bad guys," or when they exact revenge on someone who's done them wrong (lookin' at you, Agent Stahl), but I also know it's not exactly healthy, nor is it something I'd condone in real life. It's been said that the school-shooting incident will go down as the series' most memorable moment to date. And while it might've been shocking as hell, I think there's plenty of evidence that would suggest otherwise.
If you look past the violence-for-the-sake-of-violence, Sons of Anarchy actually has a tendency to provide the occasional emotional gut punch as well. And those moments are more memorable than that time Jax shot Kohn and then had sex with Tara as Kohn's body cooled nearby, or that time Jax killed Henry Rollins on a toilet. So while a lot of people are discussing the school shooting today, I'd like to take a minute to recall a few scenes that, while they also involved violence, used it in such a way that it added to the story, making them more memorable, and more important, in the end.
5. Abel is Kidnapped and Half-Sack dies (Season 2, Episode 13)
The Season 2 finale—which I consider to be the series' best finale to date—featured one hell of a cliffhanger. After Agent Stahl framed Gemma for the murder of Cameron Hayes' son, the Irishman was on the warpath. He chose to exact his revenge by kidnapping Abel, and when Half-Sack attempted to protect Abel and Tara, Hayes stabbed the prospect with a kitchen knife and he died on Jax's kitchen floor. His death, and the fact Hayes was able to escape with Abel, was a one-two punch. Watching Jax break down on the dock as he screamed, "HE TOOK MY SON!" was a powerful moment, because Sons of Anarchy's underlying theme has always been family, and just how important family, both biological and chosen, actually is. It's also important to note that Jax wasn't even sure he wanted a child when the series began, and here he was, not long afterward, feeling the pain and anguish of losing his son.
4. The death of Donna Winston (Season 1, Episode 12)
Donna's death—at the hands of Tig, no less—was the first time viewers realized the true expendability of SOA's characters. Sure, Jax was never going to bite the dust, but the loved ones and family members of the boys of SAMCRO were not safe, and would never be safe. And the fact that we knew those bullets were actually meant for Opie, and not his wife, made her death that much harder to bear. This moment was the first time where we really saw what Clay Morrow was capable of, but it was also the moment when Jax truly committed to changing the club and returning it to what his father had originally intended it to be.
3. Clay beats Gemma (Season 4, Episode 10)
Clay's beating of Gemma was easily one most painful-to-watch scenes Sons of Anarchy as ever done. The two of them had been a pair for so long, both in marriage and in their scheming and lies, that it was shocking to see him turn on the woman he claimed to have loved more than anything. But Gemma loved her family more than anything, and when Clay threatened Tara—and by extension Jax and her grandchildren—she couldn't sit idly by. While it was clear this wasn't the first time the two had physically fought, it was obviously the first time Clay savagely beat her (and with his rings on, too), and it was ultimately what sealed his fate. This was the moment that put Gemma firmly on the opposing side. There was no redemption for Clay after this.
2. The rape of Gemma Teller-Morrow (Season 2, Episode 1)
Many people consider Season 2 the series' best one to date, and was also one of the most emotional. It began with the rape of Gemma by the white separatists, who in turn became the season's—and with the exception of Ray McKinnon's Lincoln Potter, the show's—best villain. Gemma's rape reverberated throughout the entire season. It affected everything, because it wasn't meant to hurt Gemma, it was meant to hurt the club. The League of American Nationalists raped Gemma to send a message to Jax, Clay, and the rest of SAMCRO. And the hardest thing about it, other than watching a strong woman like Gemma be reduced to nothing by this extreme act of violence, is that she refused to give in to their demands. And it was because of her initial withholding of information that the moment when Jax and Clay finally learned the truth, later in the season, was more emotional and more memorable.
1. The death of Opie Winston (Season 5, Episode 3)
Easily the most gruesome moment to date on Sons of Anarchy, Opie's death was also the saddest. It shocked viewers, because no one, not even actor Ryan Hurst, saw it coming. Everyone kind of assumed Opie would be by Jax's side until the end of the series; we all thought he'd join Jax at the head of the table as his vice president. So when Opie met the business end of a lead pipe in prison—for something Tig did—it felt like we'd been hit by a truck. Unfortunately, while this particular moment was a bitter pill to swallow, it was also a necessary catalyst for change. Jax needed something to push him toward righting the club's ship once more. As hard as it is to accept, Opie's death was that spark. His death will forever be the most memorable and most emotional moment of the series.