“Every time I think maybe I’m heading in the right direction, I end up in a place I never even knew could feel this bad,” remarks the tortured and violent soul at the heart of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original), Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam). “Sons of Anarchy” is just as much a perpetual tragedy as it is a drama. A world rife with violence, greed, and vindication only leads to one outcome. If “The Sopranos” taught us anything, it’s that the life expectancy of those who shake hands with the devil while claiming a stake in a perceived family of criminals is rather short. But even among outlaw groups like the mafia or a ruthless biker gang, there are rules — a code that each member of the crew must live by. Breaking those rules will net you nothing but pain and likely death, no matter how “close” or “brotherly” you think you are to your executioners.
The FX series “Sons of Anarchy” is famous for not pulling any punches and leaving audiences gutted at the violence and devastation often wrought by warring gangs. Yet, the show gives us a glimpse into the world of those who are groomed by such circumstances. We often feel a modicum of sympathy towards these characters despite their heinous deeds. Any sense of right and wrong is defined by the code they live by, not society’s definition of morality. “Sons of Anarchy” is filled to the brim with bloody, vile, and horrific moments enacted by the series’ star players. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Let’s take a look at the most shocking moments that may have us scrambling for the pause button and, perhaps, a quick rewind.
Kozik’s explosive demise (Season 4, Episode 11)
While death might be remarkably common in a series like “Sons of Anarchy,” the swift and brutal exit of seemingly long-standing characters only comes around every so often. But wartime is a hellish thing, and SAMCRO most certainly declares war on the Lobos Sonora Cartel. With their allies in the Galindo Cartel, all able-bodied SAMCRO fighters enact a plan to surround Lobos Sonora and catch them off guard at their encampment. Quickly, Jax and crew begin picking off the first of the cartel that they see. Some surrender, and Romeo Parada (Danny Trejo), leader of the Galindo Cartel, interrogates them. After a show of force, they quickly learn where the main encampment is located. However, SAMCRO and the Galindo Cartel are in for a rude awakening.
The Lobos Sonora have encircled their encampment with land mines. Upon approaching, a Galindo Cartel member suddenly explodes into bits and pieces. Then Herman Kozik (Kenny Johnson) makes the fatal mistake of stepping on a land mine. In a blink-and-you’ll miss it moment, Kozik briefly laments his fate before being blown sky high. In an instance of dark humor, his arm lands next to Juice (Theo Rossi). The scene quickly shifts back to the rest of the action with Clay (Ron Perlman) acknowledging Kozik’s death later in the episode. In the previous season, Kozik went through a dicey ordeal to earn the trust of the club before finally getting patched in. Sadly, he couldn’t make it one full season as a full-fledged member of the crew.
Marcus Alvarez kills his own son (Season 1, Episode 9)
Alright, that headline may be a tad misleading. Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera), leader of the Mayans M.C., doesn’t directly kill his own son. But he sets the wheels in motion to offer his own child up as a sacrificial lamb. After the Mayans, led by Marcus’ son, botch an attempt on Clay’s life, SAMCRO gears up for blood. However, Clay and Alvarez have a sit-down inside the jail, courtesy of police chief Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie). In an effort to avoid war and bloodshed, they strike a business arrangement. SAMCRO agrees to sell the Mayans guns. Two conditions are made during the deal. The first condition is that all of the individual squabbles and beefs in each of SAMCRO’s territories with rival Mayans must be squashed. Second, Clay wants blood for the attempt on his life. Alvarez understands this. Clay commissions Happy Lowman (David Labrava) to execute whoever Alvarez offers up.
Later, Esai (Kevin Alejandro) approaches his father humbled and seeking his favor in light of his mistakes. Alvarez seemingly forgives his son, tells him that he loves him, and then takes him to buy a churro at a stand in the park. Little does Esai realize that Happy is managing the stand. As soon as Esai turns his back, Happy stabs him in the base of the skull. Alvarez nods to Happy, understanding that his part of the agreement is fulfilled. It’s another shocking death as the viewers come to grips with the idea that a father willingly selected his son for a merciless death.
Opie’s wedding and the slaughter of the Russians (Season 4, Episode 1)
After the seemingly definitive ending to Season 3 of the show, “Sons of Anarchy” returned with a bang in Season 4. Jax and other SAMCRO members are incarcerated at the end of the prior season as a result of their dealings with the Russians. Now, the Russian mob attempts to make peace with SAMCRO, claiming that the events that resulted in our biker protagonists getting locked up was “just business.” Sure, when multiple suppliers of illegal firearms begin to butt heads, the only surefire way to move forward is to remove the competition. However, SAMCRO pretends that all is forgiven as they engage in new business proceedings with the Russians. Meanwhile, Opie Winston (Ryan Hurst) and Lyla Dvorak (Winter Ave Zoli) prepare for their nuptials.
The wedding of Opie and Lyla is a massive affair. Perhaps all of Charming’s criminal elements are contained within one solid location. All of SAMCRO and the Mayan M.C. are present alongside leadership from the local Russian mob. Meanwhile, Bobby Elvis Munson (Mark Boone Junior), Chibs Telford (Tommy Flanagan), and other SAMCRO members head out to enact a business deal with the Russians. All of law enforcement expects SAMCRO to be at the wedding, making this the perfect cover for such a deal. However, the show shifts to a montage that includes Opie and Lyla slow dancing, Otto (Kurt Sutter) gruesomely murdering a man with a scalpel, and SAMCRO members turning their guns on the Russians as Alison Mosshart and The Forest Rangers’ version of “What a Wonderful World” accompanies the scenery. The violence provides a shocking contrast to the romance of the moment, but it’s tantamount to what can be expected from the series at this point.
The brutal death of Opie’s killer (Season 5 Episode 6)
If you haven’t figured it out by now, most of the jaw-dropping, pause-worthy moments of this series involve abrupt and brutal fatalities. Violence is a hallmark of this series and SAMCRO wields it like the sword of justice they believe it to be. While doing time, Opie, a longtime friend of Jax Teller, is forced into a brutal death match by a police officer that ends in Opie’s demise. While the cop didn’t kill Opie directly, he certainly orchestrated the death of a beloved character. Even the fans were likely calling for the corrupt officer’s head.
Well, in Season 5, Episode 6, the day of reckoning comes. Jax learns the identity of the officer who arranged the death match — Sergeant Mackey (Jack Conley). Jax, Tig (Kim Coates), Bobby, and Chibs invade the man’s home. When the Mackey’s wife attempts to intervene, Tig kills her to remove any potential liability. “I keep my promises,” Jax tells Mackey. After allowing the man to beg for his life, Jax bludgeons him to death with a snow globe. In his anger, Jax goes a bit beyond the scope of necessity and Chibs steps in to stop the brutality. It’s yet, another shocking display of the destruction the club and Jax are capable of.
SAMCRO’s version of justice for a young rape victim (Season 1 Episode 3)
“Sons of Anarchy” doesn’t get more visceral as the show goes on. It has no need to. It’s a gut-wrenching affair right from the start. In the early part of the first season, a wealthy man who owns a lot of land by the name of Elliott Oswald (Patrick St. Esprit), seeks SAMCRO’s help after his daughter is raped at a carnival. Enraged by the act, he wants justice and goes to the only crew he knows that can deliver. While Clay seems to be performing a charitable service by bringing the rapist of a young girl to justice, he has ulterior motives. Elliott is preparing to sell land in Charming that will attract big business. Clay sees that as a threat to SAMCRO and their operations. Clay agrees to find the rapist if Elliott will do the deed.
Of course, SAMCRO does what the club does best and delivers the rapist to Elliott. Prepared to castrate the man, Elliott has a last-minute change of heart. Clay puts on his gloves and castrates the man himself. He then instructs the club members to let the man bleed out and bury him in a shallow grave. Clay bags the knife with Elliott’s fingerprints on it as leverage. The act is gruesome, and it shows how far Clay is willing to go to protect the club’s business and interests.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Clay murders Piney (Season 4 Episode 8)
In a world overflowing with murderers and thieves, who really can be trusted? Members of SAMCRO value loyalty above all else, and the reason for that is obvious — its scarcity. Clay Morrow may have been the club’s leader for multiple seasons, but he begins to show his true colors later on down the line. He’s a schemer at heart, as many of his actions have proven. But most wouldn’t suspect him of plotting against his own brothers in arms. Tara (Maggie Siff) provides Piney Winston (William Lucking), one of the founding members of SAMCRO, with letters from John Teller, aka JT, Jax’s father. These letters indicate that John Teller always wanted to have SAMCRO out of the gun-running business, but he knew Clay was opposed to the idea. He even predicted that Clay would try to have him killed by sabotaging his bike. These damning letters ultimately fit the “accidental” demise of JT, another founding member and former leader of the club.
Piney threatens to share these letters with the club if Clay doesn’t back away from his dealings with the Galindo Cartel. Ultimately, Piney understands that the drug business was causing far too much chaos for SAMCRO and is a business that the club should’ve never been a part of. Clay visits Piney late one night to seemingly discuss the matter. After Clay appears to accept Piney’s terms and leaves, he returns crashing through the door knocking Piney to the floor. He searches for the letters, but Piney explains that they’re not in the cabin. Following that revelation, Clay murders Piney with a shotgun blast to the chest. This shocking moment demonstrates that Clay, also an original founding member, has shed any regard for loyalty, comradery, or brotherhood in favor of greed.
The arrival of Venus Van Dam (Season 5, Episode 5)
“You gotta eat dinner ‘fore you get dessert,” quips Venus Van Dam after Jax thanks the flamboyant sex worker for coming to SAMCRO’s aid. Who doesn’t love Walton Goggins? Whether you’re a fan of “The Righteous Gemstones,” “Justified,” “The Unicorn,” or even Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” and “Django Unchained,” Goggins is everywhere these days. He’s a captivating actor who brings out the wildest elements of the characters he portrays. In “Sons of Anarchy,” most of us likely had to do a double take when Venus Van Dam steps into view. Goggins plays a transgender prostitute who aids SAMCRO with a little task. Venus has the goods and they certainly attract Tig’s wandering eye.
Venus is being used to blackmail a businessman by the name Allen Biacone (Brad Grunberg). SAMCRO drugs him and takes pictures with him and Venus in potentially compromising positions. Despite the grimy nature of the SAMCRO’s undertakings, Goggins manages to add a dose of humor and pizazz to an otherwise serious moment. Venus steals the show entirely. Even at the time of the episode’s airing, there was no doubt that Venus would later return in the series.
The death of Clay (Season 6, Episode 11)
All too often, there’s an air of vindication that fills the scene when Jax and the club kill a particular target. More times than not, the show has purposefully set up the victim as a hated villain or backstabber that leaves viewers a rather elated feeling once they’re finally removed from the picture. Clay is most certainly one of those characters, for a time. As a founding member of SAMCRO, he murders fellow founders John Teller and Piney Winston to further his own designs for the club. Even more sickening is that he courted John’s wife Gemma (Katey Sagal) following his death. Even though Clay is a mainstay of the series for six seasons, there’s truly not much that is redeemable about the man.
After all the wrongs he’s committed against the club, his sins were bound to catch up with him. After taking a vote, the club unanimously agrees that it’s time for Clay to meet Mr. Mayhem, aka death. SAMCRO orchestrates his prison break during a transfer. Gemma, Tara, and Nero (Jimmy Smits) all arrive just in time for SAMCRO to carry out the sentencing. Clay solemnly tells Gemma that he’s glad she found a partner in Nero without her realizing he’s about to die. When Jax takes him in the back room, quiet fills the air and Clay looks him in the eyes. He then gazes out the office window over to Gemma and cracks a soft smile before taking a bullet to the neck. Gemma bursts into tears at the scene. Somehow, Clay’s death manages to be heartbreaking and relieving all at once. It’s an emotional scene that begs for a re-watch just to truly appreciate the moment.
The hit and run of a grieving father (Season 6, Episode 8)
“Sons of Anarchy” hits a little close to home with a certain subplot in the sixth season. SAMCRO and their dealings with the Byz Lats have fallen into the public eye as a recent school shooting hits the front pages. The press prints a story regarding the possible gun suppliers leading an angry parent of a school shooting victim to take his fury out on an unsuspecting crew. As the Byz Lats and SAMCRO have a meeting on a back street, a father sits in his car idle watching the discussion. Juice suspects that the driver is police, probably vice given that the car isn’t a marked police car. So, the crew continue their meeting fully intent on not making any illegal moves to stir up trouble.
Quickly, however, the car begins driving toward the men and attempts to run them over. One unlucky soul in the Byz Lat crew is hit hard, and the moment includes probably the bloodiest gore splatter effects the show has ever depicted in under a second. The moment might have you pausing and rewinding simply to appreciate the gore effects at work. For the boys in SAMCRO, it’s just another day at work in Charming.
Opie’s death (Season 5, Episode 3)
As Jax’s oldest friend, Opie is the definition of love, loyalty, and ferocity when the time calls for it. Opie wears his heart on his sleeve despite being a ruthless biker and club member. After, Chibs, Tig, Jax, and Opie find themselves in the slammer and under the thumb of the conniving Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau), they attempt to stay alive.
The four men come to the realization that Pope isn’t going to let them off easy. He’s harboring a deep-seated grudge toward Tig and wants to see him rot in prison. The four also learn that one of them is going to essentially become a sacrificial lamb in a deadly prison brawl with the odds stacked against them. Opie head butts the officer who comes calling, effectively forcing himself into the position so that Jax or the others aren’t selected. While Jax watches in horror and anguish as his best friend is led into the next room, we the viewers all know what comes next. Opie turns to the glass and tells Jax, “I got this.” The big man is given a pipe to defend himself, but several other men enter the room and the numbers overwhelm him. Eventually, he receives a killing blow to the back of his head with his own pipe. It’s a heart-rending moment and Jax’s anger is palpable. In fact, most of us viewers were likely in shock as well, considering that Opie is a major fan favorite.
Jax’s motorcycle accident (Season 7, Episode 13)
It’s a poetic ending to the chaotic life of Jax Teller. Throughout his journey with the Sons of Anarchy, he’s studied the words left behind by his father hoping to learn a bit from the man’s experiences. At one point, he learns that JT never wished for his son to live this life. Ultimately, Jax still goes down the troubled, violent road his dad always wanted him to avoid. Jax becomes so focused on doing what’s right by his family while living a life of crime that he finds himself in some profoundly dark places.
Thankfully, he resolves to put an end to the cycle and sends his sons away with Nero and his former wife. They are going to live a life far away from Charming, and never know the kind of man that their father was. After putting everything right with the club to the best of his ability, Jax sets off on the road toward destiny. Of course, this moment is a suicidal police chase that ends with Jax careening into a truck. While the show doesn’t actually depict the collision — it blacks out right before Jax makes contact — there’s plenty to appreciate in the series-ending montage leading up to Jax’s fate. We see where many of the series’ surviving characters have landed. Chibs is sitting at the head of the table at the club. Tigs is in the arms of Venus Van Dam. Gemma’s body is being recovered by investigators. But most importantly, Jax’s son, Abel is blissfully coloring in a coloring book completely ignorant of the destructive world he’s leaving behind. It’s both somber and hopeful and a killer way to bring the series to a close.