EXTREME SPOILER ALERT!!: DO NOT READ UNTIL END OF DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON 3

There’s more bloodletting on Downton Abbey, and it’s a shocker.

Dan Matthews has left the show, and his Matthew Crawley dies in a car crash.  This has been widely reported.

It used to be that an actor had job security as a series regular.   Times have changed.  Back in the day it was earth-shattering news when an actor departed a show.  When Farrah left Charlie’s Angels and Suzanne Somers was fired from Three’s Company, it seemed as if the sky had fallen.  Nowadays, in-show massacres are commonplace for series that have lost patience with actors or their fictional counterparts, or when actors’ contracts are up.

Two years ago, a disgruntled widower shot up Seattle Grace but left only a couple minor characters dead.  This season Shonda Rhimes took an unforgiving eraser to the Grey’s Anatomy doctor’s whiteboard, excising Lexie Grey and McSteamy Mark Sloan, letting them pack off to the graveyard along with George O’Malley, Thatcher Grey, the exited-but-still living Burke, Hahn, and Izzie Stevens, and most recently, Adele Weber.

Killings on Game of Thrones are to be expected and even top-billing couldn’t save Sean Bean from the axe — literally.  (Starring in a summer tentpole didn’t spare co-star Jason Momoa either.)  Nor did being married to the lead help Sarah Wayne Callies’s Lori survive The Walking Dead’s bloodlust.

In the past, when a star wanted to exit a show, the writers conceived a nice ride-off-into the-sunset storyline to appease loyal fans and keep open the door for a heralded reappearance.  Nowadays viewers’ penchant for gory deaths leaves no room for visitations in the shower after a year of being dead, dream or not.

Let’s face it, the middle child is typically the first to go.  While Eve Plumb may have been the best actress of the bunch, Jan was not the hippest Brady.  Critics have played the expendable-character game for years — Potsie or Ralph; Norm or Cliff; Maggie or Lisa.  Top vote-getter Maria LaGuerta heard hoorahs as she fell victim to Dexter‘s family circle of death.

The hunky Bill on True Blood has lost favor with fangirls and is high on the list of favored executions.  So are most of the new cast members on Glee and the aforementioned Grey’s Anatomy.  Thea on Arrow needs one to her chest, getting no reprieve for being an Amy Acker lookalike (Fred on Angel).

[ANOTHER DOWNTON ABBEY MULTIPLE-SPOILER ALERT, BEWARE]

But as you’ll see, star creator Julian Fellowes doesn’t follow tradition.  And he won’t take the easy way out, terminating  legend Shirley Maclaine‘s Martha just after a couple of appearances on Downton Abbey.

And after giving birth, the adored spunky Sybil dies a senseless death from eclampsia which, plot point, may or may not have been avoidable.

Perhaps Ryan Murphy has it right with his other series, American Horror Story.  Kill the characters but keep the actors for next season.  Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, and Evan Peters all will return for the third installment.

What characters are your nominees for gruesome deaths?

 

–Ken Choy

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