Wow. Just when you think things can't get more intense at Downton...
Huge spoiler alerts ahead. Beware!
When the date displayed at the beginning of the episode, I thought "Oh, 1918! The war is almost over! Matthew and William will get out safe now, right?"
On the one hand, I fully expected them to make it through considering what a scare we had last week. On the other hand, it would be downright crazy if Downton Abbey didn't suffer one loss from the war.
In a masterstroke, Jullian Fellowes gives us two tragedies, milking them for maximum character growth. That's what makes this show great. It shocks you, but it never does something purely for shock value. It follows up on the drama and allows it to have realistic impact on the lives of far more people than you'd expect.
For example, take Lady Mary's unfortunate "Turkish Adventure." Here we are a full season later and it is still having grave, lifechanging effects for both Mary and (unfortunately) Anna and Bates. Can I take a moment to say how much I utterly detest Vera? She needs to go live her own lie and stop spending all her time figuring out how to torture her husband.
So... about those two tragedies...
First let's talk about Matthew. Of all the wounds they could have inflicted him with, this one was of course the most devastating for Downton Abbey (next to death or a comatose state). Matthew will live a long and full life if he chooses to make the best of it. However, he will never have children. His honor will keep him (or so he thinks now) from ever allowing a woman to marry him. And though he will someday inherit Downton, he will never be able to pass it on to a son.
Now would really be a good time to try and break that entail again.
Then there is William. Poor William. I never guessed that he would die, but in retrospect I should have anticipated it. I was not surprised that he wanted to marry Daisy before he went, but was ever so conflicted by Daisy's lie. On the one hand, I totally understand her desire for honesty. On the other? You really can't break a man's heart on his deathbed. Wow. That wedding was beautiful and tragic and was the best possible way William could have spent his last day. Now we'll see how Daisy deals with it.
While all the characters are growing and facing changes and choices, no one faces a more uncertain future than Lady Mary. Her honor is now tied to marrying Richard Carlisle. Her heart is obviously irrevocably tied to Matthew. What will happen? For those of you who haven't already gone and watched the British bootlegs... we'll find out next week!