‘Downton Abbey’: A Sneak Peek at Season 4

From Left: "Downton Abbey" Stars Joanne Froggatt, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery arrive at an evening with 'Downton Abbey' on June 10, 2013 in North Hollywood, Calif. (Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images)

When “Downton Abbey” returns for its fourth season, it will be six months after the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens), but it is still a house in mourning, especially for Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), who lost the love of her life.

“Originally I thought we would kill Matthew at the beginning of the new series [Season 4], but the way things worked out, we didn’t have that option,” series creator/executive producer Julian Fellowes tells xfinityTV at a “Downton Abbey” event at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “Actually, I am quite glad of it now because being away from it for six months, we don’t have to do funerals and all that. She has had six months to go through the first mourning period. She is still very much in mourning at the beginning of the show. One of the strands of the new series in a way is her learning to rejoin the land of the living.”

"I am going back to being miserable again," Dockery admitted. "She invested so much in that relationship with Matthew [his death] was shocking. She is still grieving."

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Even so, there is the possibility of a new romance for Lady Mary this season and two potential candidates may be the characters played by Tom Cullen and Julian Overden. But confirmation wasn’t forthcoming. When asked, executive producer Gareth Neame just said, “You’ll have to watch.”

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One new person in Mary’s life will be Jack Ross (Gary Carr), the first black character on the series, who is a jazz musician that Mary and her cousin Lady Rose (Lily James), who will now be living at Downton Abbey, meet.

"What is important about him is he is a very positive character," Fellowes says. "He is not a victim. He is not downtrodden. He is not in trouble that way. He is very successful actually, so it is quite a positive resonance. I hope, anyway. Because I feel that black characters often tend to be downtrodden victims and I think that must be difficult for some black kids that every time there is some terrible thing. That isn't true of Jack Ross. He is a successful guy. He is a singer and he is doing well in his career."

Another addition to “Downton Abbey” will be a new lady’s maid for Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) now that Siobhan Finneran, who played O’Brien, has also left the show.

Fellowes joked that unlike Matthew and Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay), who, when they decided not to renew their contracts, had to be killed off because they were family members and their absence couldn’t be explained long-term, O’Brien is very much alive. Her departure could be explained in that she simply got a new position.

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Rob James-Collier, who plays Thomas, gave xfinityTV a bit more scoop, saying, “O’Brien’s replacement is quite interesting because Thomas has brought her in without a reference. He knows her from the past. He, obviously, has some kind of hold on her, but what that is, who knows? He is using her, manipulating her with the secret he has on her to feed back to him the stories and goings on from upstairs so he can use it to his advantage.”

James-Collier, whose character has been up to his neck in schemes since the series began, says he will continue on this season, but more “low-key” now that he has been promoted to under butler and is less angry than before.

He also hinted at a bit of drama going on with Bates (Brendan Coyle), which we asked Joanne Froggatt, who plays Mrs. Bates, about.

“They have a brief period of happiness and, as with all the characters, they have a roller coaster for Season 4,” she says.

As for concerns that Downton Abbey stay in the family with Matthew's death, the fact that Mary gave birth to a male heir solves that problem. But interestingly, it seems that even with so much riding on the baby, no special precautions are being taken to ensure his survival.

"I don't think so because those aristocrats didn't have a modern relationship with their children," Neame tells xfinityTV. "They were not living cheek-by-jowl with their children. They had staff to care for them. They maybe saw them a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening, so there is no special treatment."

“Downton Abbey” will return for its fourth season in the U.S. on January 5, 2014.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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