Downton Abbey’s Creator Explains Why He Killed Certain Characters Off, But Makes A Promise About A New Era Sequel

Lady Mary and the family gathered in a sitting room in Downton Abbey: A New Era.
(Image credit: Focus Features/Carnival)

Death may be a constant companion in the world of the mortal, but even idyllic settings like the ever-expanding Downton Abbey aren’t immune to the icy grip of the Grim Reaper. Season 3 alone saw two prolific deaths in creator Julian Fellowes’ period drama, and the cinematic sequel A New Era seems primed for another major character’s passing. There is a method to Mr. Fellowes’ madness though, and he recently explained it; while also making a very specific promise about the Downton sequel. 

How Julian Fellowes Decides To Kill Off Your Favorite Downton Abbey Characters

Julian Fellowes recently appeared on the chat show Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh, and via the publication Hello!, his methodology in murdering characters came to light. Those of you who thought the deaths of beloved characters like Lady Sybil or Cousin Matthew were just random twists of fate are going to be surprised. In fact, when revealing his ways, Fellowes laid out a two-pronged system. Step one goes as follows: 

Killing them off is hard. Yes, I mean, the audience always thinks you've done it wilfully. You know, I come in on some tyrant, '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.

Of course, deciding on a Downton Abbey death isn’t as simple as an actor wanting to move onto another opportunity. Housemaid Gwen Dawson was able to head off to a better life at the same time Game of Thrones actor Rose Leslie started her journey into yet another universe that Death liked to visit. But if a cast member in the Crawley family wants to shuffle off, that’s a different matter entirely, as explained in Julian Fellowes’ second piece of knowledge:

The trouble is, a servant can get another job – there is no problem with that. 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. There is no way around it.

This news feels rather coincidental, as it arrives in the run up to Downton Abbey: A New Era’s March release. With the cinematic sequel potentially removing two characters from the family, and one of them suggested to be Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Violet Crawley, Mr. Fellowes might be softening the blow that’s about to come. That couldn’t be more important, as it links to that big promise he’s made about the second Downton film.

Harry Hadden-Paton, Laura Carmichael, Tuppence Middleton, and Allen Leech walking with tennis gear in Downton Abbey A New Era.

(Image credit: Focus Features)

What Downton Abbey: A New Era Promises To Deliver, According To Julian Fellowes

All of this talk about death feels like a prelude to this next chapter in the Grantham House’s history being a rather dour affair. Looking back at how beautifully bittersweet 2019’s Downton Abbey: The Movie happened to be, that’s not a promising sign for those looking for a little more escapism. But Julian Fellowes actually promised the opposite, giving his seal of approval in the following reaction:

I'm pleased with it actually, I think it works pretty well. It's a feel-good evening, and I don't know about you, but I could use a bit of feel-good right now, and you know there's a kind of fun in getting the club together again.

“A feel-good evening” sounds wonderful, even if part of that night happens to be the Dowager Countess bidding farewell to her family. We’ll have to wait and see how Downton Abbey: A New Era turns out, as it’s slated to hit theaters on March 18th. To see what else is heading to the movies, our 2022 release schedule is the place to be. And, of course, if you want to revisit Downton Abbey in its entirety, all six seasons and the 2019 feature film are available to stream on Peacock at the time of this writing.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.