‘Downton Abbey’ creator explains why Matthew and Sybil had to die

Julian Fellowes has revealed the reason behind Downton‘s most tragic deaths.

There were many emotional scenes during the six seasons of Downton Abbey – and, of course, at the end of the second movie.

But two of the most heartbreaking moments came in the show’s third season back in 2012.

Jessica Brown Findlay made her departure as Robert and Cora’s youngest daughter in Season 3’s fifth instalment when Lady Sybil died following the birth of her daughter Sybbie.

Then only four episodes later, Dan Stevens also left the cast when Matthew Crawley died in a car crash shortly after Lady Mary gave birth to his son George.

Matthew’s devastating death came at the end of 2012’s festive special, which aired in the UK on Christmas Day.

Even though he wasn’t responsible for the choice of storyline or the episode’s scheduling, actor Dan Stevens revealed in 2017 that he still feels bad about ruining British viewers’ Christmas that year!

“The way Matthew went was out of my hands – but it was rather shocking,” he said. “There were some very upset people and I’ve had to apologise to a lot of people over the past four years. But I take it as a compliment that Matthew was so loved on the show.”

But why did Matthew and Sybil’s characters have to die?

Well, Downton creator Julian Fellowes has said that there was “no way around it.”

“Killing them off is hard,” the writer told Alan Titchmarsh on ITV’s Love Your Weekend. “I mean, the audience always thinks you’ve done it wilfully.”

“You know, [as if] I come in like some tyrant saying ‘Off with his head’, but it isn’t, of course.

“It’s the actor saying ‘It’s the end of my three-year contract and I’ve got a play on Broadway.'”

While some Downton characters left still alive and well – or even off-screen in the infamous case of O’Brien – Fellowes felt that for members of the show’s core family, there was no other option.

“The trouble is, a servant can get another job – there is no problem with that,” he said.

“They go off, and they work for Lady so-and-so instead, and that’s fine. But a member of the family who was never prepared to be seen again, for them it’s the Grim Reaper.”

So there we have it!

Perhaps we should just be glad that so many of the main cast decided to extend their original 3-year contracts.

Both Dan Stevens and Jessica Brown Findlay have gone on to great success, so it’s hard not to argue that they made the right choice for their careers.

We’ve seen Stevens in the likes of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Blithe Spirit, and The Man Who Invented Christmas, while Brown Findlay has appeared in Harlots, Life After Life, and Brave New World.

The Sybil actress most recently appeared in Paramount+ comedy series The Flatshare last year:

The rest of the Downton cast have been keeping busy too, with a new movie confirmed for Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), a role in the latest season of Shetland for Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes), and Hugh Bonneville (Sir Robert) set to start shooting the third Paddington film soon.

Meanwhile, Robert James-Collier and Samantha Bond – better known as Thomas Barrow and Lady Rosamund – have been busy filming a new Channel 5 thriller series together in Ireland.

The complete Downton Abbey box set is available on DVD on Amazon.