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The 12 most emotional, heartbreaking Star Trek deaths, ranked

By Phil Pirrello
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

As you might expect from a list of big Star Trek deaths, this whole post is full of spoilers — including **spoilers for the season finale of Star Trek: Picard**, so warp yourself somewhere else if you haven't seen the finale yet.

Star Trek: Picard did the unthinkable in its freshman season by ending the life of one of the most iconic heroes in sci-fi. Sure, his consciousness is being transferred into … something … but the Picard we knew is on his way to getting a photon torpedo tube funeral.

Star Trek has racked up a pretty big body count over the decades (don’t get us started on all those redshirts), and as Picard joins their ranks (ish), it seems like as good a time as any to look back and rank all of the most memorable, heart-wrenching deaths.

12. Tasha Yar

The Enterprise-D's first security chief was a hero to many fans. Unfortunately, she didn't get a chance to die like one.

Tasha was one of the series' most complex characters; she survived rape gangs and a terrible upbringing to join Starfleet and find a better future for herself. Unfortunately, significant behind-the-scenes tension and turnover during Season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, coupled with Denise Crosby wanting in part to leave the show, lead to a senseless death of the character and dismissal for the actor.

In the infamous TNG episode, "Skin of Evil," Tasha is randomly killed by a sentient and malevolent oil slick. While her death lacked the pathos the character deserved, her funeral — via the hologram she left behind — tugged on all the heartstrings. Thankfully, Tasha would get a hero's exit in the episode "Yesterday’s Enterprise," which saw a version of her step up to help save the future when an Enterprise from the past altered the timeline.

Trip Death Star Trek

11. Trip Tucker

Enterprise is unfortunately regarded as the dud of the Star Trek franchise. While this prequel series lacks the fan love and enthusiasm of its predecessors, it earned a significant amount of goodwill thanks to its most likable character: Engineer Trip Tucker.

A mix of McCoy's Southern charm and Kirk's brave swagger, Trip was insanely likable — which made his death very hard to take when he sacrificed himself to save Captain Archer and his crew.

10. Data

Data was and is a fan-favorite character. And as sad as his sacrifice was (in theory) in the critical and box office flop, Star Trek: Nemesis, the execution lacked the emotional payload that was intended.

Data's sacrificial play, which involved destroying a deadly Romulan weapon from killing millions, was undercut by a trope more often seen in superhero comic books — killing beloved characters by not really killing them off. Shortly after Data's demise, his memories and engrams found themselves downloaded into B-4, a child-like copy of Starfleet's first android officer. (A similar end/resurrection appears to be in store for Captain Picard as well, which is perhaps a little confusing, given how Nemesis went over).

09. Sisko

Captain Benjamin Sisko (the scary-talented Avery Brooks) both died and didn't.

The epic series finale of Deep Space Nine, "What You Leave Behind," pitted Sisko against the villainous Cardassian Dukat (Marc Alaimo) in a literal battle for Sisko's soul. It was his soul that seemingly survived that which his body didn't, as Sisko found himself transcending this mortal plane to seemingly become a Prophet — the alien/deities worshiped by the Bajoran people.

In a great sense of irony, Sisko becomes in the end that which he struggled to believe in when he first arrived on the space station.

08. Jadzia Dax

A similar form of behind-the-scenes challenges that plagued Tasha Yar and Denise Crosby's exit contributed to Terry Ferrell saying goodbye to Lt. Dax, one of Deep Space Nine's most popular characters.

Dax's species, the Trill, uses humanoid hosts to house their alien symbiotes; in doing so, Dax lives several lifetimes with Jadzia's meeting a tragic (and soulless) end at the hands of the evil (and possessed) Gul Dukat. Her death led to one hell of a gut punch for fans — and for her on-screen husband, Worf (Michael Dorn). Dax was another female Star Trek hero that deserved a better, less cavalier death scene. But there wasn't a dry eye in the house when Dr. Bashir could only save the Dax symbiote.

07. David Marcus

The only thing worse than how David died was watching his father, Admiral Kirk, helplessly listen to him die.

As Kirk raced to the forbidden Genesis Planet — a product of ambitious but flawed terraforming — to save the soul of his deceased friend, Spock, Kirk's estranged son was running out of time. David, his friend, the Vulcan Saavik, and a young, regenerated Spock, are held captive by Klingons eager to get their murder-y hands on the secrets of Genesis. When the Klingon commander orders the execution of Saavik, David intervenes — James Kirk-style — to save the day. His heroics saved her life but cost him his own. And Admiral Kirk, realizing the son he only recently got acquainted with is gone, collapses to the deck of his bridge heartbroken.

As limited as David's screen time was in the movie franchise, his death resonated long after the credits rolled.

06. K'Ehleyr

Worf isn't the Klingon word for "tragedy," but our favorite Enterprise tactical officer sure suffered a Shakespearean level of it. Starting with his first true love, K'Ehleyr.

A passionate and fiercely-driven Klingon, K’Ehleyr was mother to a son Worf never knew he had. It wasn't soon after she introduced Alexander to her father that she was violently murdered for getting too close to investigating the shady Duras family and their power plays within the Klingon Empire. Worf is able to have one last moment with her, as she literally slips away in his arms.

No, no — we're not crying. We just have something in both our eyes.

05. George Kirk

Captain Kirk's dad (Chris Hemsworth) kicks off what would become a family trait: Sacrificing himself in the name of saving others.

In J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek, George is forced to assume command of the U.S.S. Kelvin when Nero's Romulan warship from the future enters this timeline with disruptors and torpedoes blazing.

The ensuing battle nearly cripples the ship, which is home to George's wife and his soon-to-be-born son. With the clock ticking, George sets the Kelvin on a collision course to buy time for his crew and his family to escape — dying (sniffle) moments after listening to his son being born (sob).

04. Captain James T. Kirk

Star Trek: Generations writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga had the unenviable task of killing off one of science fiction's most iconic characters. (TNG writer Moore, a lifelong Trek fan, actually wrote the final line of the scene). Unfortunately, the actions leading up to Kirk's death are fairly anti-climactic and lack the emotional resonance a character as mythic as Jim Kirk deserves.

Instead of dying on the bridge of his ship, he dies on a bridge — an actual metal bridge — after leaping to grab a remote control to a missile launcher. To quote Kirk's final words: "Oh my," indeed.

Still, it’s not easy to watch one of Trek’s load-bearing columns get taken out. At least he died getting a chance to do what he does best: Saving the galaxy one more time.

03. Edith Keeler

Edith Keeler, arguably Kirk's greatest love, has one of the genre’s most tragic deaths. "City on the Edge of Forever" is a classic Star Trek episode, in which Kirk and Spock go back in time to 1930s Earth. Their mission: Rescue a deranged and drugged McCoy and not alter the timeline.

While they search for their friend, Kirk falls for Edith — a social activist and endearing pacifist. In this timeline, her activism will alter the course of WWII and lead to Hitler using the atomic bomb. If she lives, the past Kirk knows will die — and the future he is from will likely cease to exist, as will the lives of millions.

So Kirk has to make a choice: Save her or history. And in one of the most painful moments Trek has ever done, we watch an anguished Kirk grapple with his grief over choosing to save history.

02. The Enterprise

We've seen the Federation flagship take a pounding and recover, but Star Trek III: The Search for Spock changed all that.

Forced to turn death into a fighting chance to live, Admiral Kirk sacrificed his ship (shocker) to save Spock and his crew by causing her to self-destruct. After safely beaming down to the Genesis Planet, Kirk stares at the remains of his burning ship streak past like a fiery comet.

And even though none of us have ever served on a starship, we spent nearly 20 years at the time with those that did. So Kirk's loss feels like one of our own as the loss of Enterprise goes down in Trek canon as one of its most iconic moments.

01. Spock

If you're not ugly-crying during the final moments of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you're reading the wrong website.

In an uncredited rewrite of the script, director Nicholas Meyer turned The Wrath of Khan into a thematically rich drama about life, death and all the messiness in-between — set in outer space, of course. The movie doubles-down on Trek's beating heart — the bromance between Kirk and his Vulcan friend — and then breaks it with Spock doing that which his captain (excuse me, Admiral) would have done: Make the sacrificial play to save his shipmates.

The victory is six different types of bittersweet as we see Spock, burned and blinded by radiation after unleashing some to allow the Enterprise to warp away from an explosion. We see him the way Kirk does — trapped behind the warp reactor room's glass shielding, dying slowly.

And in Spock's last moment, you can hear Kirk's heart break. And ours, too.