A public outcry and a deluge of furious complaints from viewers followed ITV's Downton Abbey Christmas special, in which the shocking death of Matthew Crawley saw his newborn son become the second infant to lose a parent in the space of five episodes of the period drama.
ITV decided an explanation was in order and today released a statement outlining why Lord Grantham's heir had to die after just one series of happiness with his wife, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).
It seems Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley, decided he'd had enough of Downton (as might many viewers, following Tuesday night's shock) and bosses felt there was no other believable way out for him given the Crawley's current blissful situation.
Here's the statement in full:
"After three successful series and two Christmas editions of Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens decided not to renew his contract beyond the initial three years he had been contracted.
"We wish him every success for the future. Michelle Dockery will be returning to her role as Lady Mary in series four which begins production in February.
"Over the last three years, audiences across the world have been captivated by the ups and downs of Mary and Matthew’s relationship, culminating in their wedding.
"Fans have enjoyed what has become a solid and loving marriage. It is for this reason that the producers decided Matthew and Mary could not simply be estranged or parted, resulting in his untimely and tragic death at the end of the Christmas episode.
"In the next series, alongside all the usual drama, comedy and romance involving the much loved cast of characters, viewers will see Mary adjusting to her life and attempting to move on without the man she loved."
Series four of Downton Abbey is due to begin filming in early 2013, with the eight-part run expected to air in the autumn. It remains to be seen whether the death of Matthew Crawley will have a detrimental effect on the number of people who'll be watching...