All right, U.S.-based Downton Abbey fans, I'm about to reference the Massive Season 3 Spoiler once again, so get ready to click away. It's getting harder and harder to avoid the reveal -- I saw it referenced right in the title of an entertainment article today, SO UNCOOL -- but I'll do my damnedest to make sure I'm not the one who spoils the episode for you, okay?
If you haven't seen the season 3 Christmas episode of Downton Abbey and you want to remain unspoiled, READ NO FURTHER. If you have seen it, or you've already read about it, I've got some intriguing behind-the-scenes info on why the creators did what they did, despite the inevitable fan freakout.
Ready? Once more, with feeling: SPOILERS AHEAD.
Okay, if you've made it this far you're either willfully ignoring my MANY warnings, or you already know Matthew Crawley dies in the Christmas special. As you might imagine, UK viewers kind of flipped out over the episode, which features Matthew bleeding in a ditch after colliding with another vehicle. This happens right after he sees his newborn son, so … yeah. Majorly tragic, and majorly upsetting to fans, who rushed to air their grievances via social networks as soon as the episode concluded. A sampling:
Downton Abbey you have just ruined my Christmas Day!
I don't even want to discuss what happened in the Downton Abbey Christmas special. I just don't.
I AM 100% DONE WITH THIS SHOW. I CAN'T BREATHE.
It's always a tough choice to kill off a beloved character (personally, I'm still not over the loss of Stringer Bell), but the reaction to Matthew Crawley's demise was so intense, a spokesperson for the network actually had to issue a statement explaining the decision -- and reassuring bereft viewers that everything would be okay:
After three successful series and two Christmas editions of Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens decided not to renew his contract beyond the initial three years he had been contracted. We wish him every success for the future. Michelle Dockery will be returning to her role as Lady Mary in series four which begins production in February. Over the last three years, audiences across the world have been captivated by the ups and downs of Mary and Matthew’s relationship, culminating in their wedding. Fans have enjoyed what has become a solid and loving marriage. It is for this reason that the Producers decided Matthew and Mary could not simply be estranged or parted, resulting in his untimely and tragic death at the end of the Christmas episode.
In the next series, alongside all the usual drama, comedy and romance involving the much loved cast of characters, viewers will see Mary adjusting to her life and attempting to move on without the man she loved.
In other words, chill out, Downton fans -- Dan Stevens himself engineered his own fate.
The Telegraph has a pretty interesting interview with Stevens on why he chose to leave, and it seems like there was a little more going on than the actor's declared "desire for freedom" from a "monopolizing" show. He didn't go quite so far as to express frustration with the show's creative direction, but he did reference the storyline involving his miraculous cure from paralysis in season 2:
I think it was harder for the people who had to react to me getting out of the chair. That was a particularly strange point in the narrative. I think there were some justifiable criticisms of series two and its pace.
It makes you wonder if Stevens chose to leave early on, and is possibly regretting his decision now? Who knows, but he must be taking solace in the fact that his character will be so sorely missed. Here's hoping his gamble on leaving on a high note pays off for his career.
Do you think Dan Stevens made the right choice by leaving Downton Abbey this season?
Image via PBS