Heartland star explains surprise exit: "It was time to move in a new direction"
The usually feel-good show has an emotional season fourteen premiere. **CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 14**
Family drama Heartland still boasts many of the original cast members from the show's premiere back in 2007 - but the Fleming family faces a pretty big loss in season 14.
The hit Canadian show, which is available on Netflix in the UK, is the longest-running one-hour scripted drama in its home country, and has starred Amber Marshall, Shaun Johnston and Graham Wardle for 14 years now.
However all that changes in the season premiere, when a shock exit rocks the Alberta family ranch to its core, and now the departing star has spoken out about their decision to leave the feel-good show.
Read on for more of one of the biggest changes the show has gone through, but beware that spoilers abound.
Does Ty die in Heartland?
In the first episode of season 14, fan-favourite original character Ty Borden suddenly collapses and dies of a blood clot, marking the final appearance of actor Graham Wardle who had been with the show since 2007.
His veterinarian character experienced a gunshot wound in the season thirteen finale which he seemingly recovered from, only to succumb to complications in the next episode.
Wardle was part of the central relationship of the show, with his character Ty married to lead character Amy, played by Amber Marshall.
Fans were naturally devastated that such a long-running character would be leaving under such tragic circumstances and leave Amy as a widow, but Marshall noted that it was important to reflect real-life situations.
"I actually have a close friend that was widowed and her journey was heartbreaking, but it was a real story, it was a real journey," Marshall told The Chronicle Journal. "And I think this story, even though it's going to be heartbreaking, there is that moment of strength and growth and light out of it."
Why did Graham Wardle leave Heartland?
"I felt in my heart it was time to move in a new direction," Wardle told The Canadian Press.
"I now host the 'Time Has Come' podcast, and there will be a future episode coming out where I plan to share much more about my decision and my appreciation for the 14 years I've spent on Heartland," he said.
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Marshall said that the show's storylines are written well in advance and that she'd known about Wardle's departure for about two years.
"Graham, for the last several years, he's been going in different directions, working on different projects, and he'd spoke with us openly quite a few times," Marshall said.
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"Of course, we're a very supportive group of people. We care about each other very much, we have been working together for over a decade. So I guess the next step was, 'How do we do this and honour that character the best way we can?'"
Marshall added that after 13 years of commitment to the show Wardle felt a calling to try new projects such as his podcast, which she has recorded an appearance on, and said that "he's reaching out to interesting people that he believes others will benefit from".
"Playing a character for well over a decade, that's a huge commitment," Marshall said."Talk to anyone who's been in the same job or same position for 10 years or more, a lot of times they say, 'Maybe I want to try something else, maybe I want to do different things.'"