Lord and Lady Grantham
When World War I began, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and Robert (Hugh Bonneville) reluctantly converted Downton Abbey into a convalescent home. While Cora discovered strength in managing the war effort, military veteran Robert grew increasingly frustrated that he couldn’t report for active service and began a flirtation with the new housemaid Jane (Clare Calbraith). Before the relationship went too far, Jane resigned and left Downton. As Lady Grantham fell to Spanish flu, nearly dying, Lord Grantham realized the error of his ways, and the heads of the Crawley family finished season 2 on a peaceful note.
Lady Mary Crawley and Matthew Crawley
After a two-year estrangement, the back and forth between distant cousins Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) continued in the second season as they were both engaged to other people. A war injury left Matthew paralyzed (and impotent), so he broke off his engagement to Lavinia Swire (Zoe Boyle). Mary’s steadfast care for wheelchair-bound Matthew upsets her newspaper publisher fiancé Sir Richard Carlisle (Iain Glen), who kept her at bay with damning information about her affair with a Turkish diplomat. Sir Richard brought Lavinia back to Downton where, after a miraculous recovery, Matthew renewed their engagement. But Matthew’s abiding feelings for Mary and Lavinia’s contraction of the Spanish Flu set back the nuptials. Lavinia, seeing Matthew’s love for Mary, told him on her deathbed to be happy, but Matthew still blamed himself and Mary for his fiancée’s death. Despite Sir Richard’s threats, Mary eventually called off her engagement and revealed her dark secret to Matthew. Though the news was hard to take, Matthew promised he could never hate Mary and finally dropped to one knee and proposed — for the third time. Mary tearfully accepted. Let’s hope it sticks this time.
Violet Crawley, The Dowager Countess of Grantham
The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) spent much of season 2 dishing out incredible one-liners — ”Don’t be defeatist dear, it’s terribly middle class” and ”Life is a game in which the player must appear ridiculous” — and scheming to bring Matthew and Mary together again. With her one aim of the last several years accomplished, Violet now faces a challenge as Cora’s brassy American mother (Shirley MacLaine) will arrive at the estate in season 3.
Lady Edith Crawley
The middle sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) kissed a married farmer, desperately clung to the hope that a burned soldier was really the Crawley’s presumed-dead Patrick (who may have died on the Titanic), and yearned for the affections of former suitor Sir Anthony Strallan (Robert Bathurst) after his war wounds distracted him in season 2.
Lady Sybil Crawley and Tom Branson
As a nurse during the war, Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) felt lost when the soldiers departed and her life returned to its aristocratic entrapments. Enter the dashing Irish chauffeur and aspiring revolutionary Tom Branson (Allen Leech), with whom Sybil had shared a tacit flirtation and who became Sybil’s path to a different life. The two ran away together, but were promptly persuaded by her sisters to come back to Downton and reveal their plans to their parents. After much yelling, Robert reluctantly accepted his daughter’s decision, allowing his youngest daughter to marry and move to Ireland. Absent from the Crawley family’s Christmas festivities, Sybil wrote to her mother to announce she and Branson were expecting their first child.
John Bates and Anna Smith
Lord Grantham’s valet John Bates (Brendan Coyle) was finally able to divorce his vengeful wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and marry sweet housemaid Anna Smith (Joanne Froggatt). But when Vera died from poisoning, the police arrested Bates. Found guilty of murder, he was sentenced to death. Lord Grantham’s lawyer managed to have Bates’ sentence commuted to life in prison. With her husband spared, Anna vowed to prove his innocence.
Sarah O'Brien and Thomas Barrow
When Thomas (Rob James-Collier) purposefully allowed himself to be shot in the hand in the war, he returned to Downton to resume his scheming ways with Cora’s lady’s maid Ms. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran). After assuming an imperious amount of power over his former colleagues, Thomas eventually returned to work downstairs, finally climbing the ladder to fill in as Lord Grantham’s valet for the jailed Bates. Thomas and O’Brien quickly reverted to their nasty tricks, occasionally showing their humanity — although those moments have been few and far between.
Daisy Robinson and William Mason
Before going off to fight, footman William (Thomas Howes) asked for Daisy’s (Sophie McShera) hand in marriage. Although she didn’t love him, Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) pressured Daisy into accepting. William’s bravery while saving Matthew’s life in battle cost him his own health, and his dying wish was to marry Daisy. Once again, Mrs. Patmore pushed the young kitchen maid to appease William, though death parted the newlyweds shortly after their ceremony. Though plagued with regret over lying to William, Daisy eventually forged a friendship with William’s father (Paul Copley).
Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson
Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) continued to run Downton from downstairs, keeping the staff in check and the household in order despite the changing times. The two often disagreed on how to keep the house going — Carson haughtily insisted on doing things the same, Mrs. Hughes tried to temper his expectations in wartime — while they butted heads over Lady Mary. While Carson favored the eldest Crawley daughter above all, Mrs. Hughes has never been Mary’s biggest fan.
As the newest housemaid, Ethel (Amy Nuthall) took an inappropriate liking to Major Bryant (Daniel Pirrie), one of the wounded soldiers recovering at the house. Their secret relationship ultimately ended in Ethel’s pregnancy and firing. Living in squalor, Ethel struggled to raise her son Charlie, especially after Bryant died. Though Bryant’s parents offered to raise Charlie on the condition Ethel abandon him forever. It was too much for the young mother, who was receiving occasional help from Mrs. Hughes.