There is nothing more torturous from a television perspective than ending a season with your heart broken. Look at what fans of “Grey’s Anatomy” have been put through for years, or the final two episode of either season of “Game of Thrones.” Death is hard to accept in real life; but when you look at the world of TV, where you know within your heart of hearts even while suspending belief that these characters are fictional, you like to believe that they are immortal.
So when Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lady Sybil died during childbirth during “Downton Abbey” season 3, we were shocked. Then, when Dan Stevens’ Matthew Crawley was killed in a car accident during the finale, shock turned to devastation. These were two of the show’s prominent characters, series regulars who had devoted fan followings. Yet, neither will be moving onward to season 4, and the challenge for Julian Fellowes and the writers becomes finding a way to replace these characters’ places within the story that feels organic, and is not just out to pretend as though there lives ever existed in the first place. Sadly, there are too many series on these days that look at a character after their death as a drunken night out: if no one ever talks about, can we act as though it never happened?
So will Fellowes tap into tragedy again during season 4? This is a complicated question with an even more complicated answer. In an ideal situation, Fellows likely wants to keep everyone alive this time. After all, he has already stated on numerous occasions that he never planned to kill either Sybil or Matthew, and these moves were necessitated by actors wanting to pursue other projects.
If another series regular such as Maggie Smith or Elizabeth McGovern chooses to leave the show following season 4, then we surely believe it is possible that death could happen again. (We’re not trying to create an impression that these two considering just a thing, but are using them as mere examples.) Why? It would be difficult to remove Violet or Cora from the story in an organic manner that would leave them alive, and justify them not being at the Abbey. If a servant actor like Rob James-Collier or Lesley Nicol chooses to leave, it’s simpler: they can be written out via taking another job elsewhere.
It is our belief that the series will do everything in its power to prevent the Reaper from coming next year, though we say this based more off of past evidence from Fellowes and others rather than any first-hand knowledge of scripts. Even Shonda Rhimes likes to follow up a year of death on her series with a year that provides for a different sort of drama. Unless you are a show like “The Walking Dead” where characters are constantly in peril, having too much tragedy can run the line of melodramatic, and ruin the reputation of your series.
Do you believe that everyone will make it out of this upcoming season alive? If you want to read some more thoughts from Fellowes on the series, you can do so by simply heading on over to the link here.