'Downton Abbey' Season 3 Shocker Explained by Creators After Fan Outcry

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Downton AbbeyAll 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

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poshkat poshkat

If they're pissed about Matthew they'll be even more pissed of at season 3.

nonmember avatar Citymuse

There are so few solid and loving marriages on TV or anywhere else, that seeing one in a series was particularly satisfying. Now Robert and Cora have to carry that entire responsibility. It would be nice to see a younger couple role modeling what the rest of us strive for.

nonmember avatar Marianne C

It might have behooved him to do only every third episode of season 4, and be away on business the rest of the time. Just to see if those other opportunities work out the way he hopes. Dumping a much-loved series at the height of your popularity can be a career-damaging move.

nonmember avatar D'sDish

Fans, wake up! Yes, I Do understand the sentiment re: Dan Stevens' departure. But D.S's baby-faced portrayal of Matthew was never the right match for Michelle Dockery's Mary (though I love the way she says his name). She has outshone him in so many ways, both by her acting and the character itself! No wonder D.S is burning his bridges so irretrievably. Let's eventually find a new love for her, a youngish Richard Burton type, perhaps,, who can carry his own weight with her. Perhaps a young tycoon who can bridge the gap between the old and the new worlds and still upholds the best of Downton Abbey era traditions, serving as a role model for Mary's son. (There's your challenge, Julian Fellowes.) In the meantime, it's Lady Mary who reigns as the rightful heiress to the Downton Abbey earldom, yes? Ta Da!

nonmember avatar Peter

Hello All, I just watched the Christmas special with my family and we were flabbergasted!!! Dan Stevens is a jackass and so are the producers of the show for letting him leave in that manner. Dan will never get a better opportunity than this. I wish that he thought about us rather than himself, but I do wish him the best. As for the producer and the writer, I would have found a way to keep him associated in some way, shape or form. Marianne C above had an excellent suggestion.

As for Matthew and Mary, I love to see relationships like theirs portrayed. We have far too many examples of broken and sordid marriages. My wife and I would squeeze each other every time they expressed their love. As for the suggestion that a stronger character is needed, I don't agree. Matthew was strong when he needed to be. I thought that both he and Tom were skillful at negotiating the strong wills of all the other family members.

Matthew's death is just not fair to them after Sybil's untimely passing and I mourn the loss of an excellent creative direction.

Downton is forever changed and I won't rush to watch it any more and I'm contemplating walking away so that I don't have to drink in the rest of this tragedy.

Frida266 Frida266

I don't agree that they had to kill him off.  I watched season 3 online and it was much better than season two and "poshkat" this show came at the end of season 3.  The show itself was very upbeat and his demise was a shocker even though I knew of it ahead of time.  They only do 9 shows  per year so he would have had plenty of time to pursue other opportunities.  They didn't need to kill off the other character either.  I'm not giving it away but that was another stupid move.  I like that they're bringing in the blond cousin to bring some livliness to Downton Abbey.

poshkat poshkat

I watched the season first and than the Christmas special. I hate that they killed Matthew but Mary is a royal bitch and doesn't deserve a happy ending. I hope Edith gets one.

nonmember avatar Victoria

At first I was quite upset about Matthew's untimely death. But the more I accepted it, the more I feel like it can be great for the show. Lady Mary - although I love her - is such a bitch. It was always Matthew proclaiming his adoration. Now that Mary's son is heir to Downton, she really has power. I think there can be some great story lines for Mary now.

nonmember avatar carol anderson

I agree with Marianne C. and Peter. They should have done something to keep the light of Matthew, Mary and their baby alight. Our world has become so dark and sad. So much grief. This show has given me and many others a place to shed healing tears and outburst of laughter.

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