Downton Abbey: ITV Weighs In on the Why and How of Actor's Exit, Previews Show's Future

downton mary matthew In the wake of a Downton Abbey development that has already played out for viewers in the UK and news of which trickled across the pond earlier this week, broadcaster ITV has issued a statement about the much publicized departure of cast member Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley.

And though TVLine previously avoided detailing the storyline in the aprés-Season 3 Christmas special that paved the way for Matthew’s exit… ITV speaks plainly, so: Warning — Spoilers Ahead.

In its statement, the broadcaster describes why it made the decision to write off Stevens’ character in such an irreversible manner. In short: It was because Matthew simply loved Mary too much.

“Over the last three years, audiences across the world have been captivated by the ups and downs of Mary and Matthew’s relationship,” the network said. “It is for this reason that the producers decided Matthew and Mary could not simply be estranged or parted, resulting in his untimely and tragic death at the end of the Christmas episode.”

Stevens told the UK’s Telegraph that his decision to leave the wildly popular British series at the end of his three-season contract was “very difficult” and was made before Season 3 filming began.

“It felt like a good time to take stock, to take a moment,” he said. “From a personal point of view, I wanted a chance to do other things.”

ITV noted that Dockery definitely will return for Downton‘s fourth season, which begins production in February. (Season 3 makes its Stateside premiere Jan. 6, on PBS.)

“Alongside all the usual drama, comedy and romance involving the much-loved cast of characters,” the statement reads, “viewers will see Mary adjusting to her life and attempting to move on without the man she loved.”