Why Matthew had to die

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Matthew Crawley dies

Farewell Dan Stevens...

Shock and awe surrounded the death of Matthew Crawley at the end of Season Three. At Downton Abbey Online, we certainly got our fair share of sad and angry letters. We gently reminded viewers that sometimes actors determine the plot of television shows, as was the case with the death of Matthew Crawley. The actor who played Matthew Crawley, Dan Stevens, wanted to leave the show and there was nothing Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes could do about it except write him out of the show.

Julian Fellowes explains that in America, it’s quite common for an actor to sign onto a series for five to seven years. In England, you can only sign an actor like Dan Stevens up for three years. Thanks to the success of Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens was offered opportunities too good to refuse and wanted out. Fellowes harbours no ill will against Stevens, remembering he did something very similar during his early theatre days in London.

But why was Matthew’s death so grisly?

If a servant actor wants to leave the show, Fellowes writes the script to include a job offer in Dublin or India, in the case of nasty O’Brien. But if a family actor wants to leave Downton Abbey’s cast, their exit must be final or it’s simply not believable. A family member like Matthew wouldn’t leave Downton for any other reason except death. And because Dan Steven’s exit in real life was final, there needed to be no doubt among viewers that he would return. Hence, the grisly final death scene.

Season 4 of Downton Abbey opens six months after Matthew’s death, after the shock wears off. Presumably, nobody really wants to see Mary grieve for an entire season. And halfway through the first episode, Mary changes out of her black clothes and feels some degree of closure. Mary decides to live without Matthew Crawley, and so do we…