It’s the biggest PBS phenomenon since Sesame Street, and might very well be the classiest thing you do every Sunday night. Yes, Downton Abbey is returning on Jan. 5, and Entertainment Weekly was on the set for season four of the British TV phenomenon. Creator Julian Fellowes’ wildly popular period drama about life on a decadent English countryside estate shocked viewers last season with two major character deaths (we’ll never forget you, Matthew and Sybil!), and the show’s anticipated fourth season promises to be nothing short of shocking, exciting, and traumatic — which is just what we’ve come to expect of the Grantham and Crawley clan. Even guest star Shirley MacLaine was floored by the show’s drama: “When Matthew died I nearly threw a chair at the television. I thought, what is Julian Fellowes doing? It took me a few days to get over it.”
Season 4 kicks off six months after Matthew’s death, and while Lady Mary is in a depressive slough, there are signs of life. “The moment I realized we could have a six month gap,” says Fellowes, “I realized we could also have a disagreement about how Mary’s doing and how we should be looking after her.” In order to help Mary move forward, Robert (Hugh Bonneville) and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) gently nudge a new suitor — Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) — in their daughter’s direction, though Gillingham will have to compete with another man, Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden), who emerges later in the season. Our obsessive viewer’s guide to Downton also includes a complete season-by-season recaps, as well as an introduction to season 4’s new faces, and sneak peek at Lady Edith’s long-overdue makeover.
Plus, EW’s annual Winter TV Preview issue has everything you need to navigate the best new shows (True Detective! About a Boy!) and returning favorites (Sherlock! Justified! Girls!) you’ll be watching in the coming months. On your mark, get set, hibernate on the couch!
To read more about Downton Abbey and 67 other new and returning shows, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, which hits stands on Tuesday, Dec. 31.