"Downton Abbey" viewers were undeniably shocked when Matthew (Dan Stevens) tragically died at the end of Season 3, but you may also be surprised to learn that the show could've lost his paramour, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), at the same time -- which might've resulted in the end of the series.
"We all had that choice, and any one of us could have left. There was a point where I thought, 'Yeah, I’m done after three,' because that’s what I was expecting to happen: I would do three series and that would be it," Dockery recently told Vulture. "And then of course the success of the show was huge and I had my doubts. I discovered there isn’t any rush. I wasn’t ready to finish whereas Dan was very ready to leave."
Back in February, creator Julian Fellowes told the New York Times that he'd tried to lure Stevens back for one episode of Season 4 before killing Matthew, "so we could have ended the Christmas episode on a happy note -– the baby, everything lovely ... But he didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want his death to dominate the Christmas special, so that’s why we killed him at the very, very end. In a way I think it works quite well because we begin [Season] 4 six months later. We don’t have to do funerals and all that stuff. That’s all in the past by then."
The show is going on without Stevens, but Dockery told Vulture, "If more people start leaving, that’s when it can’t go on. Like if Maggie Smith decided not to do any more, I think that really is the end. One of the great things about the show is the ensemble: It’s as much about Edith and Mary as it is about Daisy and Ivy. So if more people start dropping off, I just don’t think it will work."
Lady Mary will be beset with several eligible suitors in the wake of Matthew's death, but Dockery told TV Guide that "I think what's important is that Mary does not move on too quickly. Time moved quite quickly when it came to marriage back then because it's important, and particularly for Mary it's important that she finds a husband that's eligible and can father Baby George. And to replace Matthew, that's difficult."
Despite the political reasons for finding a new husband, Dockery also hopes she'll find love again. "I think she still belives in romance. Matthew kind of teaches Mary that. She was in love with him, as much as it was a tricky start with them," she told TV Guide. "She would want it to be both. But I don't know where it's going. Maybe she'll end up alone, maybe she'll never be able to replace him."
"Downton Abbey" Season 4 debuts in the UK in September, and premieres Stateside on January 5 on PBS.