'Downton Abbey' season 4: Creator and cast talk what's ahead

'Downton Abbey' just finished up its third season, but we already know some crucial information about the British drama's next episodes. Here's a round-up of what we've learned so far as well as the thoughts of the cast and crew on what's coming up.

By , Staff Writer

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    'Downton Abbey' stars Hugh Bonneville (l.) as Lord Robert Grantham and Jim Carter as butler Charles Carson (r.).
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The popular British drama "Downton Abbey" aired its season three finale only a little more than two weeks ago in the US, leaving viewers distraught over a last-minute twist and eager to know more about what would be coming up on the show, which would surely be going through many changes in light of recent plot twists.

Before we proceed farther, anyone that hasn't seen all three seasons of "Downton," stop reading now, or you're going to be angrier than when Thomas found out he was selling black market goods and started throwing fake flour all over the place. Ready? We've all seen it? Okay.

“Downton” will pick up in season four with oldest Crawley daughter Mary a new mother and even newer widow, with her husband Matthew having been killed in a car crash on his way back from seeing his newborn son. Widower Tom Branson, the husband of youngest Crawley Sybil before she died in childbirth, is living at Downton with his baby daughter, named for his wife, and working as manager of the estate. Lord Robert and Lady Cora Grantham are back on good terms after Cora, who initially blamed Robert for Sybil’s death, conceded that nothing could have been done to save her. Middle daughter Edith was embarking on a scandalous path by possibly deciding to have an affair with her married newspaper editor. Meanwhile, rebellious Cousin Rose is coming to stay at the Downton estate while her parents are away in India.

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In the servants’ world, former valet Bates was freed from prison, and he and wife Anna are now free to embark on married life together.

When is the US getting new episodes? Twists like Sybil and Matthew’s deaths were being discussed online before Americans saw the episodes, leaving some fans steamed, and the question arose anew over why the episodes couldn’t air simultaneously in the US and UK. But according to the New York Daily News and others, the fourth season of the show will be airing in America on Jan. 5, 2014 – that’ll be after the 2013 Christmas special, which is traditionally the “Downton” finale for that season, airs in the UK. 

Who’s out? Actor Dan Stevens, who played Matthew, and actress Jessica Brown Findlay, who portrayed Sybil, are obviously not returning, and Siobhan Finneran, who plays poisonous maid O’Brien, recently announced that she also won’t be coming back to the show for the new season.

“I'm not doing any more,” the actress told the UK newspaper the Mirror. “O'Brien is a thoroughly despicable human being -- that was great to play.”

It’s unknown whether Finneran might return to the series for a brief visit in the future.

What else is ahead for the “Downton” crew? The first episode will pick up six months after the last episode, according to "Downton" creator Julian Fellowes, and a photo of Mary and her new son, named George, recently surfaced online. There will be some new faces around as well – casting calls were put out for a black singer who performs at a club as well as a new love interest for Mary, her childhood friend Lord Gillingham, who PBS announced will be played by Tom Cullen.

"One of the main themes is the rebuilding of Mary, that Mary has to rebuild her life in a society which is changing," Fellowes told the New York Times.

In addition, as we discussed previously, "The Young Victoria" actress Dame Harriet Walter has reportedly been cast as a friend of the Dowager Countess's named Lady Shackleton and Shirley MacLaine will reprise her role as Cora's mother for the 2013 Christmas episode. Other "Downton" newbies include "Foyle's War" actor Julian Ovenden as a high-born man named Charles Blake, well known opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa as a woman who performs at the "Downton" house, and actor Nigel Harman of "Hotel Babylon" as a valet who, like many of the house staff, goes by his last name, Green.

Actress Laura Carmichael, who plays Edith, stayed mum on where the middle sister's possible romance with her editor is headed but told the Huffington Post UK that Edith's done with society's expectations.

"She's coming into her own a little bit, I think," she said. "It's all been ups and downs. But I think after being jilted I think she's thrown it all out the window, any ideas she did have in the first place, and I think that's been good for her."

Meanwhile, Joanna Froggatt, who plays maid Anna, says that while there are some ups and downs, better days are finally ahead for her and her husband Bates.

"You certainly see Anna and Bates in times of happiness, which I think was well needed," she told Zap2it. "...I think [season four] may be the best yet and there are certainly aspects of Anna's character that have never been seen before."

The new season is being filmed now, so doubtless more news will be coming out of Highclere Castle as the months progress. Still going through "Downton" withdrawal? The best we can suggest is grabbing some scones on the way home.

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