Important: DO NOT read this entry if you watch Downton Abbey and have not finished season 3. You've been warned!
If you scrolled down this far, you probably know (or don't care) that another major character was cut out in the finale. I read that the actor had been wanting to leave the show for a while, which is why they had to find a way to get rid of Matthew. And since he's happily married, lives in a gorgeous castle that will one day be his, and has just fathered the Crawley heir, having him run off with a maid or decide to move to America to pursue the stage just wouldn't do.
That's where the biggest plot device of all came in: death. They had to kill him somehow. Murder wouldn't work, since everyone likes Matthew, and neither would suicide, for the reasons mentioned above.
Aha! How about a freak accident. A completely out-of-the-blue, nonsensical accident where - basking in the glow of fatherhood, beatific smile in place - Matthew is driving to Downton to share the good news and ends up driving off the road to avoid colliding with a milk truck going about 10 miles an hour. And he DIES. We know he's DEAD because there's a close-up of his face, eyes wide open, mouth agape.
This is a man who survived a horrible spinal injury in World War II that made him unlikely ever to walk again, let alone father children. And yet he did both. He came through it all to be with Lady Mary... only to die by milk truck.
I mean, I get that they needed to kill him (although I don't know why they couldn't just have him die on the Scottish Highlands, where he and the other men were hunting deer).
My problem is that I knew all through the episode that he was going to die. I didn't read any spoilers or interviews. No one told me. I just knew.
How did I know? Because they practically shoved his happy marriage down our throats during the entire finale. They had not one, but TWO scenes with him and his wife in bed, cooing and saying how much they loved each other. They had a scene after the birth where he promised she'd be his Mary for all eternity. And then his father-in-law - who has been miffed about Matthew's newfangled suggestions to improve the running of the estate - suddenly declares that these ideas are invaluable and that he should have accepted them all along.
Any time stuff like this happens, you know that it's a set-up for a tragedy. It's a writer's manipulation of the reader/viewer - you catch them emotionally, show how important this character is to other characters, and then BAM, when you kill them, people care more because they're invested. But there's a line between doing this subtly (see: death of Sybil) and doing this in a way that's too obvious. It makes the reader/viewer feel cheated at the end because there's a huge build-up... and an anticlimactic conclusion.
See, in real life, that's where the tragedy lies. People often forget to tell loved ones that they love them. They forget to tell them how much they mean and how much they are appreciated. And if they remember, they don't do it over and over and over. Realistically, pre-accident life would have gone on for Matthew without the repeated declarations of love and the assertion of how important he is to everyone. Sometimes these things can - and do - go unsaid. It's understood that loved ones are loved; they don't need to be told again and again because they know it (although it's nice to tell and be told from time to time).
That's why this is so clearly a set-up in books and movies, and that's why it hits you harder in the gut when a character dies unexpectedly (again, see: death of Sybil). Too much reader/viewer preparation is, in itself, the biggest spoiler alert of all.
If you watch the show, what did you think about the ending? If you don't, are there other books or movies in which aggressive foreshadowing ruins a character's death for you?
FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS (FOTL) (Novel, YA Epic Fantasy) An exiled princess searches for the five elements she needs to win the allegiance of the dragons and reclaim her kingdom from the grasp of an evil empress.