Downton Abbey series 3 episode 5: Lady Sybil's shock death
The warning signs were there as Lady Sybil began to experience early labour
But no one could have thought that it would spell the end of one of Downton Abbey’s most beloved characters.
After Tom and Sybil fled the Irish authorities, it was clear the newest addition to the Crawley family would be born in the great house, and despite discomfort the mother-to-be appeared to be in good spirits.
She moaned at her sister Mary: “I’m the size of a house! Honestly I cannot recommend this to anyone.”
To which her elder sister laughed: “I am listening but I’m looking to start one of my own.”
With the birth imminent, her protective father Robert wanted to bring in a doctor with more experience and knowledge of childbirththan their family doctor Clarkson, who's made two massive oversights in the past.
Not only had he previously misdiagnosed Matthew’s spine condition, but he tragically failed to treat Matthew’s fiancé Lavinia, directly resulting in her premature death.
So Sir Phillip was also brought in to oversee the labour, which obviously dismayed Doctor Clarkson, who'd treated the Crawley girls all of their lives and had even delivered them into this world.
As Lady Sybil began to deteriorate, the house was divided over how to treat her - Doctor Clarkson and Cora believed her to be very ill and needing immediate attention in hospital, while Sir Phillip and Robert accused them of overreacting and interfering.
But despite the panicking, harsh words and raised emotions, Lady Sybil eventually gives birth to a tiny and healthy baby girl.
Proud new father Tom tells his wife: “She’s so beautiful. Oh my darling I love you so much.”
The celebrations don’t last long though, as in the middle of the night Sybil rapidly declines and in a matter of minutes dies with Tom and Cora screaming by her side.
The Irishman begs Sybil: “Please wake up. Please don’t leave me. Please wake up.”
The rest of the family and the two doctors look on helplessly, as the Earl voices the thoughts of everyone, helplessly mumbling: “But this can’t be. She’s 24 years old. This cannot be.”
The whole house is devastated. Even cold-hearted valet Thomas breaks down in tears, and a furious Cora blames the Earl for not listening to Clarkson’s fears about Sybil’s condition.
Prior to Sybil’s devastating death, there are other developments - Bates and Anna finally have a breakthrough in their investigation into Vera’s death, which the valet was framed for.
As Bates realises it was in the pastry
of the pie his ex-wife ate, he tells Anna: “It was her revenge. For both of us.”
This proves Bates didn’t actually poison her, but with the key to his innocence lying in the word of a woman who hates him and Bates' cellmate and prison warden still scheming against him, it seems unlikely that freedom will be won.
O’Brien also seems to be getting her revenge on Thomas, telling the new handsome footman to seek guidance from the great house’s valet, knowing that Thomas’ flirty and suggestive behaviour will be sure to land him in trouble.
Jimmy confides uneasiness to her, explaining: “Mr Barrow is so familiar all the time isn’t he. I’d like to tell him to keep his distance.”
Clearly hoping to add fuel to the fire, the scheming O’Brien asks the Downton Abbey
newbie: “Why what are you implying ? Nothing unseemly I hope.”
In other news, Cousin Isobel employs Ethel, who's no longer prostituting now she doesn’t have to provide for Charlie.
As her cook Mrs Bird mistakenly resigns in protest out of fear of being “tarnished”, Ethel understands that it won’t be easy to be accepted by society again.
She tells her well-meaning employer: “You’re offering a return to a wholesome world and I’m very very grateful but it’s going to be a lot more complicated than you think”.
Elsewhere, Lady Edith is offered a newspaper column in The Sketch after her successful letter to The Times. But this once again rouses calls of impropriety, especially from her father who believes they're just using her good title and name.
But it’s the devastating death of Lady Sybil that overshadows all events in Downton Abbey, leaving characters and audiences struggling to make sense of her sudden demise.
The heart-breaking sight of the Countess making her unsteady way across the hall and adjusting her black veil is the lingering image from the episode.
The grandmother tells Carson: "We've seen some troubles, you and I. But nothing could be worse than this."
And she is so very right.