TV episodes that are guaranteed to make you cry

The most rewarding thing about watching TV shows on a regular basis is the connection you build with certain characters. Tuning in every week (or binging to our heart's content), we attach ourselves to roles that we relate to, rooting for the underdog of our choosing. The best part? Science tells us this is healthy! 

Speaking with with Time magazine, Jennifer Barnes, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oklahoma explained that our brains have difficulty distinguishing between fictional and real relationships, so the attachment we feel to several characters can be beneficial in real life. "Those can include self-esteem boosts, decreased loneliness and more feelings of belonging," she notes. Of course, if a character gets killed-off or leaves a show, we're left with a bucket of tears. So, how does crying over each week's Game of Thrones death help you? As Barnes reveals, it allows us the opportunity to "purge" ourselves of negative emotions and "get them out of our system."

If you're ready for some at-home therapy, grab yourself a box of tissues and get cozy on your couch. From the obvious contenders such as This Is Us, and Grey's Anatomy, to ugly-cry surprises that came to us by way of The Simpsons and The Office, we're rounding up 12 of the most tear-jerking TV episodes that are guaranteed to make you weep.

Monica and Chandler's joint proposal on Friends

One of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, Friends is still so popular that even Netflix doesn't want to lose it. According to The New York Times, at the end of 2018, the mammoth streaming platform paid an approximated $100 million agreement to keep the show on its site! 

While the '90s cult fave has graced us with endless laughs, it was pretty emotional at times, too. One episode that really made us squeal with delight and then subsequently tear up was during Season 6, called "The One with the Proposal." With a two-episode-long build up of Chandler's fear of marriage, the moment where he finally comes to find Monica had us welling up. Entering the apartment, he finds it littered with candles throughout, with Monica standing in the middle, ready to propose. As she gets down on one knee, Chandler does as well. In what ends up being a joint proposal, it's a fantastic way to celebrate how perfect they are for one another. As the credits roll and the two are locked in an embrace surrounded by candles, we can't help but have our faith in love restored.

Adam was 'always there' for Hannah on Girls

Girls was revolutionary when it came out in 2012. The millennial answer to Sex and the City, fans were hooked at its blunt portrayal of 20-somethings trying to navigate the waters of New York City. Per The Guardian, the show's co-creator, Jenni Konner, explained that Lena Dunham (creator, producer, writer, and star of the series), went to HBO and declared, "I don't see myself or my friends represented on television." Purposely making all of her characters flawed, Girls became instantly relatable, steering away from stereotypical TV tropes.

While audiences spent a lot of time eye-rolling at the antics of the leading ladies, there were was also surely plenty of empathy for their misfortunes. After the jovial nature of the first season came to a close, season two of Girls took a more somber approach. The season's finale, in particular, was a massive metaphor for fake resolution while the heroines still felt all alone. Hannah, feeling lost in her professional life and abandoned by her friends and family, has a paralyzing OCD-related meltdown. Spiraling out of control, she cuts her hair and calls her ex, Adam, who notices something severely wrong. Not even taking the time to put a shirt on, he dashes out of his apartment and runs through New York to get to her. Breaking down Hannah's door and scooping her up in his arms, Hannah mutters "You're here," with Adam simply replying, "Well, I was always here." Cue the waterworks.

When things got real on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

For a show that seemed so light-hearted on the surface, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air had some pretty serious themes lurking in the background. In fact, one of its most talked-about episodes was also the most emotional. During Season 4, Episode 24, "Papa's Got a Brand New Excuse," Will gets stood up by his biological father yet again, leaving him to unravel slowly. Seeing Will completely crumbling is shattering to watch, even more so when he cries to Uncle Phil, "How come he don't want me, man?" before falling into his embrace. 

Will Smith later told Rap Radar about the difficulty he had with the scene, messing up his lines during rehearsal due to nerves of wanting to impress James Avery (the actor who played Uncle Phil). Avery told Smith to relax, saying, "Look at me, use me. Don't act around me, act with me." When the duo completed the scene together in an embrace in front of the live audience, Avery whispered in Smith's year, "That's f***ing acting right there." It turns out, Smith was so focused on channeling his energy onto impressing Avery, the emotions he displayed were wholly raw and genuine.

The song that made this already sad scene unbearable

Grey's Anatomy has proven time and time again to be one of the most emotionally draining melodramas on television. Making This is Us look like a jovial after-school special, the medical drama puts its leads through a series of torturous misfortunes, and viewers too, in the process. Although every episode has an element that requires a tissue box on standby, the season two finale was particularly soul-crushing. 

The episode finds the characters in unfamiliar territory, walking around the hospital in formalwear, as the staff is tasked with throwing a prom for the Chief's dying niece. Having previously accepted a marriage proposal from Denny, a recovering heart-transplant patient, Izzie leaves to change into her dress. In the time it takes for her to return, he dies. By the time Izzie's friends catch up to her, they find her clutching Denny on the hospital bed, refusing to leave him. As if that wasn't enough for a full on audience emotional meltdown, Izzie's former flame, Alex, lifts her up from the bed. As this happens, Snow Patrol's already-tear-jerking hit, "Chasing Cars," aims the scene right at the emotional jugular.

As Popsugar points out, this particular song has seemingly found its way into many sad scenes on television and in movies, proving its devastating ability to turn reduce anyone in its path into a blubbering mess. 

This O.C. episode gives you hope, only to take it away

The O.C. was one of the most essential teen dramas for millennials during their formative years. The cult show is such an influential piece of pop-culture history, that it was even included as a course at Duke University in 2012. Tuning in every week to see the beloved foursome navigate the rich, yet turbulent waters of Orange County (all set to a killer soundtrack, no less), fans of The O.C. were addicted.

The season three finale is arguably fans find the most traumatic. The featured players finally graduate high school, with the promise of fresh beginnings. Marissa, in particular, accepts an offer from her father to go work with him on a yacht. As Ryan drives her to the airport, Marissa's ex catches up to them and bumps their car off the road, causing it to tumble down a hill. Ryan scrambles to get Marissa out, and the vehicle promptly catches fire — all in dramatic slow-motion. In this moment, Ryan realizes Marissa isn't going to survive the accident, and it's enough to make anyone weep. Ryan stays with her, refusing to leave her alone for the final few moments of her life. As he assures her that "everything will be okay," Imogen Heap's cover of "Hallelujah" provides the soundtrack to so many at-home sobfests. 

The time This is Us took us on an emotional road trip

NBC's This is Us has been a tearjerker favorite, with The New York Times dubbing the viewing experience as "getting beaten up with a pillow soaked in tears." Whether professional or personal, the tragedies portrayed on the show resonate in some way with every fan, and subsequently, cause them to weep buckets.

Season 1 Episode 16, "Memphis," was one of the series' emotionally roughest. Randall and his biological father, William, go on a road trip back to Memphis, where William grew up. The trip serves as a bonding experience for the two characters, who only recently appeared in each other's lives, as well as an opportunity to flashback to the events that led to William's heartbreaking future of drug addiction. While it was already known that William was in Stage 4 of cancer, and deep down realized he wouldn't make the trip back home, fans were undoubtedly still left shattered when he did, indeed, pass away during the trip.

The episode was emotional for the cast and crew of the show, too, prompting creator Dan Fogelman to tweet an emotional note he left for the stars on the script. "People will die in our lives, people that we love," he wrote, quoting show star Justin Hartley. "But it's kind of beautiful if you think about it, the fact that just because someone died, it doesn't mean they're still not in the painting." 

Bittersweet feels for 'the good old days'

The Office isn't usually a show equated with tears — at least not sad ones. Iconic for the time with its mockumentary-style approach of characters breaking the fourth wall, audiences got to know the workers of Dunder-Mifflin on a personal level. The gimmick with The Office was that it was mundane — causing viewers to feel for this ragtag family brought together out of necessity. Fans related to it so much, in fact, that NBC was allegedly even in the talks to renew the series with "a mix of new and old cast members," according to TV Line.

For a show that delivered a repeated dose of weekly laughs, the series finale at the end of Season 9 felt like saying goodbye to old friends. After Steve Carrell's departure at the end of Season 6, fans found it tough to fill the void that was the loveable Michael Scott. When he came back for the finale during Dwight's wedding, the joy of having the whole gang back felt so comforting, yet bittersweet — since viewers knew it was all coming to a close.

The characters also delivered some of The Office's most emotional lines this episode, such as Andy tearing up while saying, "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them." Not that fans needed any more reasons at this point to love the employees of Dunder-Mifflin so much, but come on! 

This tearjerker moment that caused ratings to drop

Much how the experience of living in a zombie apocalypse would likely feel, The Walking Dead is ruthless. Known to be emotionally jarring and traumatic, the AMC series kills its characters without flinching, rarely taking a long enough break for audiences to recover from the emotional abuse inflicted every week.

Although there have been many deaths since the show aired in 2010, one that'll definitely make you ugly-cry is the loss of Glenn, a character viewers rooted for since the start of the series. The opener of Season 7 Episode 1, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" saw the fan-favorite getting brutally offed by the show's antagonist, Negan. To make matters worse, the moment happens in front of Glenn's pregnant wife, Maggie. It turns out, loyal Glenn devotees weren't too happy. Per Forbes, the season 7 opener had 17 million viewers and "immediately dropped to 12.5" after Glenn went down.

While the moment itself is enough to send some fans into a zombie-like trance, it's the aftermath of his passing that's the most tear-jerking to watch. What turns into a dream sequence of all of the protagonists living a better life, the camera pans to Glenn, happily bouncing his son on his lap. Tear ducts destroyed. 

Breaking Bad's simple yet heartbreaking moment

One of AMC's most acclaimed shows of all time was Breaking Bad. So beloved, in fact, that Aaron Paul (who played Jesse Pinkman) put it perfectly to Entertainment Weekly, calling it a "cultural phenomenon." Fans all around the world loved the series so much that the 2014 edition of the Guinness World Records featured it "as the 'highest rated TV series,' thanks to its metascore of 99/100 on MetaCritic.com."

With its two anti-hero leads, Breaking Bad left fans scratching their heads every week wondering who they should be cheering for. As Walter White descended into a ruthless world, audiences suddenly saw themselves wanting Jesse to succeed. As Paul would later explain to TV Insider, his role as Jesse was only meant to be temporary. Noting that his character was only supposed to "bring Walter into the drug world and get eliminated," the creator told Paul the story wasn't "just Walter White's" anymore.

Season 3 Episode 3 "I.F.T." of Breaking Bad was perhaps the most heartbreaking of Jesse's storyline. Coming out of rehab, the show's underdog called his dead girlfriend, Jane, repeatedly on her cell phone, just to hear her voice on the answering machine. During one of the calls, the service disconnects, with Jesse finally realizing she's gone forever. The look on his face speaks volumes.

Mr. Burns' gentle reminder to Homer Simpson

Like The OfficeThe Simpsons isn't usually associated with scenes that make audiences want to cry. Normally, the iconic working-class family that's become a TV staple, has kept audiences in stitches since the show was first broadcast in 1989. In fact, Homer and his family have been bringing the laughs for so long, The Simpsons became the longest running primetime scripted series on television in 2018.

But it's the older episodes of The Simpsons that seem to tug at the heartstrings more, back when the show relied less on having to compete with other cartoon families on primetime. Season 6 – Episode 13, "And Maggie Makes It Three" is one of the most poignant. While looking at the family album one day, Lisa asks Homer where Maggie's photos are, sparking a flashback. After finding out Marge was pregnant, Homer quits his dream of working at a bowling alley and returns to the power plant to beg Mr. Burns for his job back. Although he gets it, Mr. Burns puts a plaque on Homer's office wall that reads, "Don't forget you're here forever."

When Bart and Lisa ask Homer what the story has to do with Maggie's photos, Homer simply explains that they're where he "needs the most cheering up." The scene cuts to his office, which is littered with Maggie's photos that cover a portion of the plaque and now read, "Do it for her." 

The time Black Mirror gave fans a Tinder nightmare

Anthology series Black Mirror is known to be unsettling — an all-too-realistic look at a distant future and the harrowing consequences of technological advancement. Even the legendary Stephen King loves it, calling the show "terrifying, funny, [and] intelligent" on Twitter. As The New Yorker once put it, most Black Mirror episodes are "forty-five-minute panic attacks." As fans are used to having their blood pressure rise, one particular episode in Season 4 surprised them with a wave of sadness instead. Episode 4, "Hang the DJ" sees a world where people live with a program called the "System." This device matches them up to a companion for a set amount of time and gives them an expiration date, allowing them to sift through partners until they finds their perfect match. If someone refuses to cooperate with this ultra-advanced Tinder nightmare, they're banished from society.

This leads to Frank and Amy, who meet and immediately feel a spark. Unfortunately, their relationship is only allotted 12 hours, and they go their separate ways, filled with meaningless encounters. When they suddenly get matched again, they promise not to look at their devices and enjoy the time they have together. Of course, after one takes a peek, the System punishes them — with only a day left together. The waterworks moment comes when Frank summarizes how he feels at the thought of an untimely separation, and the desperation of being alone again.

Stranger Things sends hearts into an emotional frenzy

Stranger Things definitely has a cult following, and it's easy to tell why. Checking off all the boxes, the Netflix Original series boasts addicting nostalgia, a ragtag cast, and a fantastic sense of mystery. Known to generate laughs while simultaneously tugging at heartstrings, the second season really had an emotional pull — especially after fans grew attached to the residents of Hawkins, Indiana.

A significant subplot of Season 2 saw Hopper taking in Eleven to protect her from the government. Building up their relationship, the duo clean Hopper's remote cabin, securing their bond and our hearts in the process. At one point, Hopper even throws on a record and adorably starts dancing, instantly becoming a trending meme. David Harbour, who plays Hopper, told Insider he had no idea that the "dad-dancing" would take off how it did. 

Getting fans hearts nice and toasty, the show then proceeded emotionally stomp on them. Season 2 – Episode 4 "Will the Wise" had Hopper giving Eleven rules to follow to keep her safe, with one, in particular, telling her to stay indoors. When she breaks his rule, it results in a police call, making the pseudo-father-daughter situation heated. What's heartbreaking is seeing Hopper, who has already lost one daughter, channel his anger onto Eleven. He plays the role of a frustrated parent, while Eleven feels resentful she can't ever have a normal childhood.