Cringe Binge: Truly Terrifying TV Episodes
It’s finally October, which means ’tis the season for all that spooky content! During this month, most of us celebrate the thrills that come from chills. But maybe you’re more into candy than the Candyman, or pumpkin spice rather than slice-and-dice? Non-horror TV shows are more up your alley, yet you still crave a good ol’ fashioned jump scare in the spirit of Halloween?
If you can’t stomach full-blown horror, or aren’t interested in the genre’s slasher and fluid-filled plots, here are some shows to try that have spooky vibes without the total scare-fest commitment. Viewers beware, though — the episodes listed below are still plenty unsettling and guaranteed to frighten.
Warning for discussions and images including gore, body horror, and spiders.
Game of Thrones 1.03: “Lord Snow”
Early Game of Thrones kept a creeping sense of dread behind every minute of it. We couldn’t trust anyone, and were shown again and again the greed, psychopathy, and ambition of a whole host of villains lurking around Winterfell and beyond. In one awful moment, we watch Jaime Lannister push a little boy from a window with the intent to kill him. Instead, Bran Stark is paralyzed.
In the episode “Lord Snow,” we’re already extremely afraid for Bran because his fate depends on how much he remembers when he finally wakes from his coma. Then we’re afraid when he’s awake because we want him to heal, but doubt he will. So it’s a sinister backdrop resting against the chill and utter solitude of a Northern castle full of spies, enemies, and betrayers.
But the scariest moment in the episode is Nan’s bedtime story. In a dark room, the old crone speaks of White Walkers, of mothers smothering their babies, of people starving and suffering. This cruel foreshadowing follows Bran through every season after, and has a great spooky campfire story vibe even without the context of the show.
The Mandalorian™ 2.02 : “The Passenger”
Even if you don’t suffer from arachnophobia, Star Wars: The Mandalorian’s spider episode is exceedingly scary. The premise is simple: Din Djarin™ and Grogu™ must transport a frog-like alien and her eggs to safety on the distant planet where her husband resides. But as is common with all action-adventure television plots, things swiftly go awry.
When the Razor Crest™ lands for a pit stop, Grogu wanders into a cave for a quick bite to eat. What he encounters are the eggs of a spider species known as Krykna™. Suddenly, it’s attack of the impenetrable spiders. This extended fight scene features fire, hordes of creepy-crawlers, screaming, and our favorite characters running for their lives. While we’re accustomed to monsters in a galaxy far, far away, these were a little too close to home for comfort.
Doctor Who 3.10 : “Blink”
The scariest non-horror TV episode award goes to “Blink,” a far-too-freaky episode of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who. This award-winning episode is already significant for barely featuring our main heroes, Martha Jones and The 10th Doctor. Instead, we follow Sally Sparrow in 2007 as she tries to escape the wrath of the Weeping Angels. These horrifying creatures displace people through time, and they move in between the space it takes you to blink.
“Blink” rips loved ones from each other, achieves true jump scares, and raises the tension with every minuscule movement of the Weeping Angels. In between bouts of lightning, the angels go from serene statues to toothy terrors. They want to steal the TARDIS, and unlike many other of the Doctor’s antagonists, they seem to have a real chance.
The “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” in this episode is easy to follow yet breathtaking to watch unfold. No more spoilers from here on out though — curl up on your couch, turn off the lights, and get ready for a pulse-pounding drama guaranteed to both delight and fright.
Jujutsu Kaisen 1.04 : “Curse Womb Must Die”
Jujutsu Kaisen is a supernatural action-adventure anime that deals with monsters called Curses every episode. There’s plenty of fear factor elements, such as the bulging eyes and distorted shapes of the Curses, as well as the predictable amount of bloodshed. As the main characters are sorcerers who exorcise Curses, there are frequent onscreen battles and lost limbs. If you’re okay with animated violence, though, it’s not always scary, just kind of gross.
Episode 4 reminds you to be afraid. Three rookie sorcerers are sent to an abandoned building. The scene is dark already, from the nighttime setting to the pouring rain, and then the young friends descend into absolute horror. The Curse they face delights in tormenting them, leaving Megumi Fushiguro’s demon dog decapitated. At one point, Yuji Itadori defends himself with his bare hands and all of his fingers melt off.
If that isn’t terrifying enough, at the end of the episode, Ryomen Sukuna, who is hosted by Itadori’s body, takes over, reaches into Itadori’s chest, and rips out his heart. He does this to retain control over their physical body and to hurt Megumi. The sight of Sukuna chatting normally and calmly explaining his plan while holding our protagonist’s most vital organ is chilling.
The Flash 5.05 : “All Doll’d Up”
CW’s The Flash really can’t be called scary. Yet a couple weeks after Halloween, they released the episode “All Doll’d Up” with a creepy contortionist villain. It’s light body horror, but body horror nonetheless; when combined with the Jigsaw-esque white mask, Rag Doll gives you goosebumps.
Rag Doll doesn’t present the greatest challenge to DC Comics‘ scarlet speedster, but he does present a great horror visual to the audience. Every part of him stretches or contorts, and these contortions are accompanied by disgusting sound effects. At least it’s scientifically accurate to have the bones, muscles, tendons, and joints snap, crackle, and pop?
Legion 2.05 : “Chapter 13”
There is a lot about Marvel’s Legion that could be considered horror. The Devil with the Yellow Eyes consistently torments David Haller, a mutant and X-Men leader Charles Xavier’s abandoned son who shares his telepathic abilities. Various strobe effects are often implemented to induce anxiety in the audience, and we’re also put into David’s mind a lot. And if you’ve seen Legion, you know David’s mind is not a fun or happy place to be.
Legion functions as both psychological thriller and superhero story. It veers almost fully into horror in “Chapter 13”, an unforgettable episode of Season 2 because of its disturbing, extended body horror scene. The entire hour-long episode unravels the mystery of Lenny Busker, who died horrifically in Season 1 — half-phased into a wall in another creative kill — yet somehow reappeared in Season 2 with a new, healthy body.
As it turns out, the villain of the series killed David’s adopted sister Amy. In a low-lit scene full of disgusting bone-crunching and slurping sounds, we’re shown how Farouk morphs Lenny’s corpse into this new life. She still looks like Lenny, yet Farouk let her keep Amy’s eyes. Not only does the transition make your skin crawl, but the sheer twisted mental game that Farouk plays induces jaw-dropping levels of terror.
What’s the scariest non-horror episode of TV that you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!