While the third series of acclaimed period drama 'Downton Abbey' won't officially premiere in the United States until January 6, U.K. viewers are still up in arms about the actor departure from the most recent Christmas special, one which could drastically alter the series. We warn readers about potential spoilers for the upcoming series, but what does ITV have to say about the shocking character exit?

If you're reading this, you know the shocking truth about the most recent 'Downton Abbey' Christmas special. Not only has series star Dan Stevens officially left the series, but a - SPOILER ALERT - fatal car crash prevents Matthew Crawley from ever returning to the show.

While the third series has yet to premiere in the U.S., work will soon commence on the fourth series, potentially even closing the gap between international airings. On the loss of actor Dan Stevens from the series, ITV went as far as issuing a statement to justify  the departure, as well as preview the future of 'Downton Abbey':

After three successful series and two Christmas editions of Downton Abbey, Dan Stevens decided not to renew his contract beyond the initial three years he had been contracted. We wish him every success for the future. Michelle Dockery will be returning to her role as Lady Mary in series four which begins production in February.

Over the last three years, audiences across the world have been captivated by the ups and downs of Mary and Matthew’s relationship, culminating in their wedding. Fans have enjoyed what has become a solid and loving marriage. It is for this reason that the Producers decided Matthew and Mary could not simply be estranged or parted, resulting in his untimely and tragic death at the end of the Christmas episode.

In the next series, alongside all the usual drama, comedy and romance involving the much loved cast of characters, viewers will see Mary adjusting to her life and attempting to move on without the man she loved.

Stevens himself also recently explained the departure in his own words, but what say you? Can 'Downton Abbey' ever be the same without Dan Stevens' Matthew Crawley? Check out a look at 'Downton Abbey' series 3 below, and give us your thoughts on the future of 'Downton Abbey' in the comments!