Downton Abbey Creator Defends [Spoiler]'s Death, Reveals Length of Season 4 Time Jump

Downton Abbey Season 4 Spoilers -- Matthew's FuneralDownton Abbey is making Matthew Crawley’s funeral a private affair — so private, in fact, it won’t even take place on screen.

Julian Fellowes, creator of PBS’ international phenom, tells the New York Times that Season 4 will pick up “six months later,” which means “we don’t have to do funerals and all that stuff. That’s all in the past by then.”

RELATED | Downton Abbey Season 4 Recap: Did You See Matthew’s Death Coming? 

In the present, Stateside fans of the show are still very much in mourning over Matthew’s untimely demise in Sunday’s Season 3 finale. For his part, Fellowes says he was left with no choice but to kill Dan Stevens’ beloved character off.

“In America, it’s quite standard for an actor to sign, at the beginning of a series, for five or seven years,” he explains. “The maximum any British agent will allow you to have over an actor is three years. And… Dan wanted to go. The show had been very, very successful, tremendously so, and [he was] being offered great opportunities.”

RELATED | Dan Stevens: Why I Left Downton Abbey

Fellowes adds that he asked Stevens to stick around through Season 4’s premiere episode (set to air in the U.S. in January 2014), so as to end the finale “on a happy note” with the birth of his and Lady Mary’s baby. “And then [we would’ve killed] him in the first episode of [Season 4.] But he didn’t want to do that,” preferring instead to make “a clean break.

“When an actor playing a servant wants to leave, there isn’t really a problem – [that character gets] another job,” he continues. “With members of the family, once they’re not prepared to come back for any episodes at all, then it means death. Because how believable would it be that Matthew never wanted to see the baby, never wanted to see his wife? And was never seen again at the estate that he was the heir to? So we didn’t have any option, really. I was as sorry as everyone else.”

RELATED | Downton Abbey Season 4 Scoop: Meet Matthew’s ‘Replacement’!

Looking ahead to Season 4, Fellowes teases that one of the overriding themes will be “the rebuilding of Mary… in a society that is changing,” adding, “We would see women’s roles in the ’20s as being very much behind women today. But it was a big advance on what it had been 30 years before. And that’s all explored.”