9 King of the Hill Episodes That Went To Surprisingly Dark Places

A Major Character Attempts Suicide And Suffers A Nervous Breakdown

While King of the Hill is known for its dry humor and brilliant, subtle satire, the show’s creators did not shy away from touching on deep and often challenging themes. This thoughtful storytelling allowed Mike Judge and his staff to depict relatable characters who grappled with grief, anxiety, and everything else the show’s viewers deal with on a daily basis.

The shockingly dark segments allow the writers to delve into some extensive character development. Issues like Bill’s chronic depression, Hank’s troubled relationship with his father, and the female characters’ varying levels of insecurity are all explored in the series. While the comedy is always there, serious concerns are given due respect and this results in more than a few surprising insights. King of the Hill is a program that’s unafraid to get deep when necessary and whether that means addressing the fragility of the male ego or discussing how it feels to live with the knowledge of impending death, this comedy is a trailblazer.

These dark King of the Hill episodes were voted on by over 900 people as part of a Ranker list, so we’re presenting them in a countdown format with the #1 darkest episode being last.

9. The Entire Family Gets Hooked On Tobacco

The Entire Family Gets Hooked On Tobacco

When Hank catches Bobby smoking, he punishes his son by having him smoke an entire carton of cigarettes to turn him against tobacco for good. One thing leads to another, though, and the entire family becomes addicted. While the episode is funny, the depiction of nicotine addiction and the unsavory side effects of withdrawal, make it pretty disturbing as well.

Forget DARE classes. If middle-schoolers are shown this episode of King of the Hill, they may just abandon the temptation of cigarettes entirely.

8. Luanne’s Past Is Devastating

Luanne's Past Is Devastating

Luanne’s troubled past is explored when her mother, Leanne, is released from prison in the “Leanne’s Saga” episode. Luanne hopes things will be different this time but they are not. Leanne spends more time developing a relationship with Bill and drinking heavily than mending her relationship with her daughter. The episode may resonate with many viewers because it’s a sad reminder that certain people will always give less than is expected of them.

7. The Show Went Full-On Old Yeller For One Episode

The Show Went Full-On Old Yeller For One Episode

One episode on the show pretty much hits on all of the classic tearjerker plot twists used in television and movies at one time. A child beginning a doomed friendship with a wild animal? Check. The potential of losing a beloved family pet? Check.

After Bobby befriends a neighborhood raccoon and names him Bandit, family dog Ladybird fights the much smaller animal and then goes missing. It’s suspected that she may have contracted rabies. In the end, Ladybird turns out to be okay but Bobby has to shoot the raccoon he loves in order to protect Hank. This gives us a pretty depressing Old-Yeller-inspired conclusion.

6. Peggy’s Depression Over Infertility Leads To A Near Death Experience

Peggy's Depression Over Infertility Leads To A Near Death Experience

Everyone remembers the dark moment when Peggy nearly dies after a parachute malfunction in a skydiving accident. However, not everyone remembers how incredibly dark things are even before this happens. Hank and Peggy’s twentieth wedding anniversary, with a very pregnant Didi in attendance, reminds the couple that they’re not getting any younger. Struggling with infertility and the sad realization that they probably won’t have any more children, Hank and Peggy decide to take a risk and go skydiving after a night of heavy drinking.

The subsequent episodes, which deal with Peggy’s slow and emotionally exhaustive recovery, are also pretty brutal. Hank and Peggy’s marriage is affected by infertility and illness but the serious nature of their struggles is never diminished by the underlying comedic tone.

5. Cotton Faces His War-Related Demons In An Episode That Illustrates PTSD

Cotton Faces His War-Related Demons In An Episode That Illustrates PTSD

Cotton’s status as a war veteran is frequently played for laughs on King of the Hill. Hank’s father is unabashedly boastful of having killed fifty men during duty and doesn’t hold back his disappointment at Hank’s lack of military service. The comedy takes a backseat, however, as Cotton’s PTSD and guilt are explored in the “Returning Japanese” episode.

Cotton has a series of brutal wartime flashbacks, including one in John Redcorn’s steam room. In an uncharacteristically tender and sincere moment, Cotton confesses to Bobby that he wants to return to Japan and apologize to a woman whose husband he killed. Just when it looks like the episode is returning to a comedic tone – as it turns out the woman is not a widow, but Cotton’s ex-lover – it’s revealed that Cotton actually fathered a child with her and genuinely wants to make amends. It’s a surprisingly serious installment of the series.

4. The Show Kills Off A Major Character, For Good

The Show Kills Off A Major Character, For Good

It’s unusual for cartoons to kill off favorite characters in a permanent sense. The Simpsons and South Park stick to killing mostly side characters, and Family Guy only keeps Brian dead for a handful of episodes. While Cotton isn’t part of the main King of the Hill crew, he’s a major character with an important link to everyone on the show. The decision to kill him off is unexpected and heartbreaking and Hank’s continual denial about the severity of his father’s condition makes the episode even more painful.

3. A Major Character Attempts Suicide And Suffers A Nervous Breakdown

A Major Character Attempts Suicide And Suffers A Nervous Breakdown

Christmas can be depressing when you’re alone and that’s especially true for Bill Dauterive who’s pretty much a walking example of a “woobie.” His wife leaves him, his friends obviously don’t respect him, and he’s very clearly clinically depressed. In the third season’s Christmas episode, things get incredibly dark when Bill attempts to hang himself and is put on suicide watch. 

It hardly seems possible, but things gets worse when Bill starts to wear dresses and claim to be his estranged wife Lenore. In order to save Bill from embarrassment, Hank dresses up in women’s clothing as well and helps his pal get the closure he needs to move on from his ex. The fact that Bill’s friends care so deeply about his mental health offers some respite from the otherwise devastatingly dismal episode.

2. After An Explosion, The Family Deals With The Brutal Repercussions Of Grief

After An Explosion, The Family Deals With The Brutal Repercussions Of Grief

The King of the Hill second season ends with a cliffhanger when the Mega-Lo-Mart explodes with Hank and several other characters inside. In the following season’s opener, it’s revealed that only Hank, Luanne, and famed Arlen musician Chuck Mangione survive. This means Luanne’s longtime boyfriend, Buckley, was killed in the blast.

As Buckley is always portrayed as pretty unsympathetic, it’s hard to be too upset about his passing. However, character development is one of King of the Hill’s strong suits. Luanne’s grief, Hank’s PTSD, and Bobby’s emotional reaction to his father’s near death take the show into some pretty dark territory. The arc is fundamentally about grief – how we handle or don’t handle it – making for a bleak but insightful storyline.

1. Luanne’s Boyfriend Is Slain In Front Of Her

Luanne's Boyfriend Is Slain In Front Of Her

In what must be one of the scariest and most bizarre Halloween episodes in television history, Luanne begins a relationship with pork slaughterhouse owner Trip Larson. No one knows, though, that Trip is deeply disturbed. After drugging her with warm milk, Trip attempts to turn Luanne into the deceased Larson Pork Products mascot and keep her imprisoned in his home. The maniacal pork maestro is eventually offed by his own slaughterhouse machinery but it’s still uncertain whether viewers should mourn his untimely and gruesome death or ponder where twisted individuals like him wind up posthumously.