Though it's a primarily comedic cartoon show, King of the Hill gets intense at times. Over the course of its thirteen-season run, the show tackles heavy issues like infidelity, death, grief, and mental illness. Dark moments like these can derail the laughs but the more somber episodes speak to the strength of the program as a whole. For all of its absurdity, this is a show that really makes viewers think.
The shockingly dark segments allow the writers to delve into some extensive character development. Issues like Bill's chronic depression, Hank's troubled relationship with his father, and the female characters' varying levels of insecurity are all explored in the series. While the comedy is always there, serious concerns are given due respect and this results in more than a few surprising insights. King of the Hill is a program that's unafraid to get deep when necessary and whether that means addressing the fragility of the male ego or discussing how it feels to live with the knowledge of impending death, this comedy is a trailblazer.
The King of the Hill second season ends with a cliffhanger when the Mega-Lo-Mart explodes with Hank and several other characters inside. In the following seasons's opener, it’s revealed that only Hank, Luanne, and famed Arlen musician Chuck Mangione survive. This means Luanne’s longtime boyfriend, Buckley, was killed in the blast.
As Buckley is always portrayed as pretty unsympathetic, it’s hard to be too upset about his passing. However, character development is one of King of the Hill’s strong suits. Luanne’s grief, Hank’s PTSD, and Bobby’s emotional reaction to his father’s near death take the show into some pretty dark territory. The arc is fundamentally about grief – how we handle or don’t handle it – making for a bleak but insightful storyline.
In what must be one of the scariest and most bizarre Halloween episodes in television history, Luanne begins a relationship with pork slaughterhouse owner Trip Larson. No one knows, though, that Trip is deeply disturbed. After drugging her with warm milk, Trip attempts to turn Luanne into the deceased Larson Pork Products mascot and keep her imprisoned in his home. The maniacal pork maestro is eventually electrocuted, impaled, and killed by his own slaughterhouse machinery but it's still uncertain whether viewers should mourn his untimely and gruesome death or ponder where twisted individuals like him wind up posthumously.
Christmas can be depressing when you’re alone and that's especially true for Bill Dauterive who’s pretty much a walking example of a “a woobie.” His wife leaves him, his friends obviously don’t respect him, and he’s very clearly clinically depressed. In the third season's Christmas episode, things get incredibly dark when Bill attempts to hang himself and is put on suicide watch.
It hardly seems possible, but things gets worse when Bill starts to wear dresses and claim to be his estranged wife Lenore. In order to save Bill from embarrassment, Hank dresses up in women's clothing as well and helps his pal get the closure he needs to move on from his ex. The fact that Bill’s friends care so deeply about his mental health, offers some respite from the otherwise devastatingly dismal episode.
It’s unusual for cartoons to kill off favorite characters in a permanent sense. The Simpsons and South Park stick to killing mostly side characters, and Family Guy only keeps Brian dead for a handful of episodes. While Cotton isn't part of the main King of the Hill crew, he's a major character with an important link to everyone on the show. The decision to kill him off is unexpected and heartbreaking and Hank’s continual denial about the severity of his father’s condition makes the episode even more painful.