British period drama Downton Abbey quickly became a cultural phenomenon, due in large part to its can’t miss storylines and amazing cast. Despite its 1920s setting, every episode featured a scene or moment that everyone was talking about the next day. The series excelled at making a historical drama unpredictable.
The “upstairs/downstairs” aspect of the show led to expectations of how characters would behave, but the Crawley family and their staff spent six seasons defying expectations. It was difficult to narrow them down, but these are the ten most shocking twists on Downton Abbey.
10ROBERT’S ALMOST AFFAIR
On a series about a rich family and their staff, it’s not surprising if the patriarch has an affair with one of the maids. What made this so shocking was that Robert was never portrayed as that guy. However, when his age made him feel like less of a man during WWI, he began a flirtation with house maid Jane.
The twist came when things never went further than one kiss. He and Cora reconciled, he realized what a mistake he was making and Jane was sent away without incident. Affairs like these never end in a positive manner, where no one’s life is torn apart.
9MRS. PATMORE DISCUSSING CARSON AND MRS. HUGHES’ WEDDING NIGHT
Not all twists are necessarily jaw-dropping, some are more in the “what did I just watch” range. When Mrs. Hughes and Carson finally got engaged, they each wondered what kind of marriage the other was expecting. Hilariously, it fell on Mrs. Patmore to be the couple’s go between.
Watching. Patmore explain the intimacy of marriage to these two in the most uncomfortably funny way possible was a nice break from the endless drama the show usually deals with. It shocked us in just how amazingly awkward things got before the lovebirds finally smoothed things over.
8THOMAS GETS SHOT IN THE HAND
Thomas Barrow was never the most likeable member of the household. When he went off to WWI with the rest of the male staff, we weren’t surprised to know he was scheming his way out of danger.
Once he was finally on the front lines, the true fear of the soldiers was shown when he used a heart stopping ploy to get away from the fighting. Sitting in the trenches at night, he ignited a lighter and raised his hand, so he would be shot, then sent home. Though we were accustomed to Thomas’ scheming, this was stunning, and sad.
7EDITH IS LEFT AT THE ALTAR
Poor Edith hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to love. She had her first shot at happiness with Sir Anthony Strallan. He was much older than her, so their engagement was the subject of a lot of gossip around Downton.
Ultimately, even meddling from Mary couldn’t stop the pair from walking down the aisle. Unfortunately, Strallan decided that he couldn’t saddle Edith with a marriage to him and announced, “I can’t do this” while standing at the altar. We had a feeling these two wouldn’t end up together, but we weren’t expecting it to be so publicly humiliating.
6BATES IS SENT TO PRISON
Bates is one of the nicest, most honorable men on TV. We were displeased to discover he had a horrible ex-wife keeping him from being with Anna. Whether she pretended to want him back, or wanted money, she really just wanted him to be miserable.
Once she realized her normal plans wouldn’t work, she decided to take her own life and frame him for murder. Since Bates is such a good guy, we kept waiting for the truth to come out, but it didn’t and he was sentenced to be hanged. Perhaps the most shocking development in all this, was how boring this story turned out to be before he was exonerated.
Robert had been feeling unwell, but we weren’t prepared for just how bad things really were. In the middle of a signature Downton Abbey dinner scene, he stood to speak, then spewed blood everywhere.
It was jaw-droppingly disgusting, and completely out of the blue. Though it wasn’t a major plot point, it’s one of the most memorable moments of the series’ entire run. We found out later he had a stomach ulcer and understood, but it’s one of those scenes we wish we could unsee.
4THE MR. PAMUK SCANDAL
Downton Abbey let everyone know what to expect right from the start when Mary’s short-lived romance with Turkish diplomat Kemal Pamuk ended in the most scandalous way possible. Mary and Pamuk had sex, after which he died in her bed.
To avoid her ruin, Mary, her mother, and her maid Anna secretly move his body back to his own room. The secret haunts Mary throughout the first three seasons, almost destroying her chances with Matthew. When she finally tells him, he’s understanding and the two are engaged. Mr. Pamuk is never mentioned again.
When it was announced that Dan Stevens had decided to leave Downton Abbey, fans were heartbroken, as Matthew and Mary were finally happy. The guessing game about how the character would be written out began and his death seemed a plausible theory.
However, no one expected it to be quite as heart-wrenching as it was. Right after Mary gave birth to their son George, Matthew was headed to Downton to tell everyone. Distracted by his happiness, Matthew swerves off the road and flips his car. Fans were devastated that after years of rooting for them, their favorite couple only got a year together.
Sybil’s marriage to Tom, and subsequent move to Ireland took her character off the show for long stretches, so Jessica Brown Findlay leaving wasn’t overly shocking. We all just assumed that meant we wouldn’t be seeing much of her and Tom in the future.
However, we were sadly mistaken. When Sybil went into labor, we knew right away something was wrong. Despite the urging of Dr. Clarkson and Cora, Robert’s fancy doctor wouldn’t move her to the hospital and Sybil lost her life the day after delivering her daughter. Her loss reverberated through the family and staff for the rest of the series.
With their three daughters fully grown and looking to start families of their own, it came as a huge surprise when Cora and Robert discovered they were expecting another child. When Cora’s lady’s maid O’Brien thought the baby would lead to her replacement, she took the most horrendous action.
She left a bar of soap on the bathroom floor, knowing it would lead to a fall that would end the pregnancy. O’Brien was always awful, but this was too far, and her character was pretty much irredeemable until her exit at the start of the fourth season.