Downton Abbey proves it can still shock with bloody dinner party scene

Downton superfan Ellie Walker-Arnott almost dropped her bone china tea cup in surprise when Robert’s illness came to a bloody crisis point during tonight's episode

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Downton Abbey has been lulling us into a false sense of security. We’ve had wedding dress dramas, office flirtations and that Cottage Hospital saga. But this week the hit ITV period drama proved it can still shock, with a gory, gruesome and incredibly bloody twist.

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Robert’s sudden and visually spectacular illness might have “knocked the stuffing out” of him but it’s fair to say it’s knocked the show’s fans for six too.

I don’t want to be accused of melodrama, but writing this 15 minutes after I first saw that scene, my heart is still racing in my chest. My mouth is a little dry. I actually feel a tiny bit nauseous. I’m not entirely clear what smelling salts are, but I believe I’m in need of some.

The illness itself didn’t come as a shock. Robert’s been clutching his stomach in discomfort and complaining about how he can’t drink port for weeks now. We knew this was a storyline we hadn’t seen the end of, but no one could have imagined it would all come out (excuse the pun and subsequent mental image) in the way it did. Disgustingly. And all over the dinner table.

Up until now, this final season has been about the minutia of life. In fact, this weekend I was planning to write about how the show was already tying up loose ends, predictably and comfortingly so. All serious upset – Spanish flu, car crashes and shock deaths – behind us for good.

We’ve all been so caught up in the Dowager Countess’ one liners and puns about pigs, we’ve forgotten that Downton Abbey is more than capable of packing a few gut punches. 

But tonight’s episode – more Game of Thrones than Downton Abbey – certainly reminded us. A classic Downton dinner party interrupted by a burst ulcer. Robert coughing up ruby red blood all over the white table cloth, splattering the faces, jewel-encrusted dresses and dinner jackets of the Abbey’s guests. I never thought I’d see that.

Which is in no way a complaint. I won’t be forgetting that gruesome scene for a while. It was startling and shocking – and it woke me up from a Downton Abbey daze. I can’t wait to see what next week has in store. 

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Downton Abbey continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on ITV