The "dark and troubled past" trope is nothing new. Rarely on a TV show is there not at least one character who has gone through something traumatic in their history. This trauma can range from absent parents to abusive relatives, or from criminal pasts to dead lovers. Some TV characters just have it worse than others. But the characters on this list really take the cake. From homelessness, to castration, to accidentally killing their loved ones, these characters have been through so much it's honestly surprising they’re still standing.
For some, the hardship started at a really young age, affecting them way into adulthood. Others learn to accept their traumatic past and find a way to move forward, only occasionally revealing glimpses of their emotional scars. All in all, a troubled past can certainly make a character more layered and complex. Plus, a good backstory can push viewers to root for characters they would otherwise despise, and to love their favorites even more.
The only downside? Sometimes the backstories are so brutal they can prove too much to handle. Here are our favorite TV heroes with highly disturbing pasts.
TV Show: Supernatural
The Winchester brothers had probably one of the toughest childhoods in the history of television. After their mom dies in a fire caused by the yellow-eyed demon, their dad takes up demon-hunting and basically gives up on any effort to live a normal, monster-free life due his obsession with avenging her death.
As a result, the brothers were always on the road, worrying about when their father would come home and having to mature quickly. While other kids were learning about life, love and whatever, they were learning about demons, werewolves, and ghosts.
And, of course, the brothers are still going through tough times. Thank Chuck they have each other, otherwise they would probably have gone nuts a long time ago.
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TV Show: Bones
Both Seeley Booth and Temperance "Bones" Brennan suffer from difficult childhoods on the show, but psychologist Lance Sweets has the physical scars to prove it. Before being adopted by a loving couple when he was six, Lance suffered despicable abuse. In a Season 4 episode, the whip scars on his back are shown. Probably one of the reasons he could empathize so well with Booth, who had an abusive, alcoholic father and with Brennan, who was abandoned by her parents when she was a teenager.
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TV Show: Friends
Phoebe Buffay's backstory is pretty crazy. Her dad abandoned her at a young age. Her mom committed suicide. Her stepdad went to prison. Not only that, but she also had to live on the streets and struggle to make ends meet by begging and pick pocketing. She never attended high school or college, she lived in a car at one point, and she got hepatitis after a pimp spat in her mouth.
And yet, Phoebe is the quirky and upbeat one of the six friends that make up the show. She’s kind, loyal, and loving; as opposed to her twin sister, who is anything but. We’re guessing nothing but her sunny demeanor could have gotten her through the tough times.
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TV Show: Doctor Who
When you live for centuries, it stands to reason that not all of those centuries will be happy times. But the Doctor’s backstory is particularly heartbreaking. On top of a horrible war, at least two genocides, and the destruction of an entire race of Time Lords leaving him to be the only one of his kind, he is forced to wander the universe alone. He gets to have companions, but by their human nature, they never last very long, choosing to go on and live lives among their own. Moreover, as a Time Lord, he travels throughout the past and future, possessing knowledge of the beginning and end of the universe. It's a lot to sit with.
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