Julian Fellow’s historic drama Downton Abbey was a rollercoaster of emotions throughout – happiness, heartbreak, sorrow, conflict, and loss were all part of the period drama in equal measure, but the deaths of some characters really hit viewers hard.
The very beginning of the show kicked off with the death of the next-in-line to the Crawley estate, but there were other huge losses that befell the Crawley family and their servants across the six seasons. While some ends felt satisfying and well deserved, others were tragic and truly heartbreaking for viewers, but all of these deaths have one thing in common – they were truly shocking.
The very first season of Downton Abbey saw the fateful and short-lived relationship between Turkish minister’s son Kemal Pamuk and feisty Lady Mary of the Crawley family. What started off as a flirtatious exchange between the Casanova and the Lady turned into an intimate night in Lady Mary’s room which was going just fine until Pamuk collapsed and suffered a heart attack.
His death was quite shocking so early on in the series, but not more than Cora and Anna transferring him to his own bed across to the other end of the estate. Some say that this is an unrealistic storyline in Downton Abbey, but CBR reports that it was, in fact, based on a true story from the 1890s.
The era that the show is set in saw the onset of the First World War, and how it changed the lives and roles that people played in society. For example, William, a young footman for the Crawleys, had to enlist and become a soldier to fight for his country.
It was heartbreaking when he decided to take a bullet to save Matthew while in the trenches, which led to the shocking demise of an important downstairs character who had a bright future ahead with Daisy. Sweetly, he decided to marry her before his eventual death so she could receive money as an army widow.
After Mary’s rejection, Matthew found a companion and fiancée in the delicate Lavinia Swire, whom he fully intended to marry despite his undying affections for Mary. This was also one of the few times that Lady Mary showed she had a heart by nursing and caring for Matthew despite the presence of Lavinia.
The sudden onset of the Spanish flu hit the house hard, and while audiences feared Cora would die of the deadly pandemic, the death that really shocked them, and viewers, was Lavinia’s quiet and unexpected one. It was almost too convenient that Lavinia went and cleared the path for Mary and Matthew’s relationship, but the loss was still a sad one.
Everyone knew that John Bates had a checkered past, but his first wife was one of the most controversial characters, who also chose a contentious, spiteful, and truly shocking way to go. Not willing to see Bates happy with Anna, or happy at all, she ended her own life but went to extreme lengths to make it look like she was murdered by her husband.
She ingested arsenic for a long time, which discolored her fingernails and gave her fluorescent breath, and framed Bates by telling her neighbors that she was scared for her life after being threatened by him. This was unhinged behavior and showed her scary commitment to torture him, even if it meant her own demise.
Lady Sybil Crawley
Shows like Downton Abbey which are set in historical time periods tend to have more deaths than modern shows because back then, the mortality rates were higher, medicine was underdeveloped, and technology was limited. One of the unfortunate victims of this was the generous and loving Sybil Crawley, for whom childbirth turned fatal.
Hours after meeting her daughter and when all seemed well, she suffered from eclampsia, a common occurrence in those days, which led to her death. What hurt viewers most was that Dr. Clarkson had warned everybody of the syndrome and its symptoms, but nobody listened to him.
Fans of Downton Abbey still hold a long-standing grudge against the showrunners (and Dan Stevens) for the sudden death and exit of Matthew Crawley, a beloved character who had one of the most epic romances in the show with Mary, and was the father to her first child and the heir of the entire estate.
After meeting his son and wife in the hospital, his shocking death by road accident rattled everyone, and the world collectively mourned his loss as he bled out on a road, far away from Mary.
The absolutely terrible Alex Green turned a friendly and fun visit to Downton Abbey into a nightmare for the ever-so-sweet Anna by assaulting her, and then went back to London with no remorse at all.
So it’s no surprise that viewers were pretty satisfied when he met his maker in a shocking end. The circumstances surrounding his death were very questionable, as it was later revealed that one of his earlier victims had pushed him into traffic in Piccadilly, thus ending his cycle of violence for good.
One of the saddest things to happen to Edith was her tumultuous but loving affair with Gregson, and how she subsequently lost him. He took off to Germany to get a divorce and then lost all contact with Edith.
Viewers kept hoping that he would resurface after his disappearance to meet Edith and his baby, but the confirmation of his murder by Nazi thugs was a heartwrenching loss that was hard to forget for Edith and her fans.
Downton Abbey is almost synonymous with the image of Isis the dog in its opening credits, and she was Robert Crawley’s most faithful companion whom he loved dearly.
She was an integral part of the household, which could come to a standstill if anything happened to her. Her passing because of cancer was the absolute worse, because she was a quiet but omnipresent part of the show, and it felt like a piece of Robert had gone missing with her demise.