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January 06, 2013 at 06:44 PM EST

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Unless you’ve been in jail with Bates for the past couple of months, you know by now Dan Stevens is not returning to Downton Abbey for a fourth season. If you have been in jail with Bates, well, first of all, good on you, and second all, stop reading because you won’t want to know any more. Those of us with access to any news from any corner of the world have probably read the reasons (“From a personal point of view, I wanted a chance to do other things,” Stevens announced in a statement. “It is a very monopolising job. So there is a strange sense of liberation at the same time as great sadness because I am very, very fond of the show and always will be.”) And heard from Downton creator Julian Fellowes on the fact as well. (“We have always tried to persuade him to stay,” Fellowes told the Daily Telegraph, while also sharing more you shouldn’t read if you don’t like spoilers.  ”He had done fantastically well for the series and his creation of Matthew was terrific. But this is life. Dan felt that this was right thing for him, and the right moment to move on to different areas.”)

But the problem remains that tonight begins the first night of the third season which means we’ll be watching one of TV’s greatest love stories unfold throughout the next several weeks, all the while knowing that it is doomed. Mind you, I won’t be the one to tell you the hows and whys of the specific way Crawley will be written out, mostly because my brain is still trying to pretend it doesn’t possess that knowledge. But still, how are we as viewers supposed to cope with the fact that our hero won’t be around for much longer? Should we cheer for Matthew and Mary (Michelle Dockery) as they overcome their various rich people problems this year? It’s not like I had a hard time watching The Office, knowing it was Steve Carrell’s final season. But this feels different, like we were just broken up with the person we still need to be in love with for the next few months. Perhaps sensing that fans don’t know how to feel, ITV (the production company behind Downton) released a statement looking foward to Mary’s new life in season 4. “In the next series, alongside all the usual drama, comedy and romance involving the much loved cast of characters, viewers will see Mary adjusting to her life and attempting to move on without the man she loved,” the statement says (while also going into more detail you might not want to read if you want any mystery to remain intact about Stevens’ exit). And Stevens, perhaps feeling guilty for breaking our hearts, told EW in a statement, “I now look forward to joining the legions of Downton fans in enjoying future series.”

Does knowing that Dan Stevens won’t be back after this season ruin this season for you?

The war is over, but intrigue, crisis, romance, and change still grip the beloved estate.
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