Ahead of the return of Downton Abbey for the popular drama's fourth season, Michelle Dockery who plays Lady Mary, said that Matthew Crawley had to die.

In an interview with TVLine, the actress spoke about the demise of Dan Stevens' character at the end of the last series: "There was no other storyline really to write, other than that he had to die some way.

"Even if he left or disappeared or decided that it wasn't working with him and Mary, it wouldn't have really worked because, of course, he would still have [ties] with Downton. So it had to be that brutal."

She added: "I was watching it with my family. I knew it was coming, and I hadn’t told them. They knew that Dan was leaving. It had got out that he was going. But they were really shocked. And so was I.

"The way it was filmed, it all happened so quickly. It really shocked people and that wasn’t what they were expecting on Christmas Day."

Speaking about the upcoming fourth season of the show, she said: "She's starting a new life. There's various suitors that are being thrown in her direction.

"But she's very reluctant to go through with any of it because, of course, she can't stop thinking about Matthew (Dan Stevens).

"He's still very much a part of her thoughts. She'll never get over it. You don't ever get over losing someone. It's learning to deal with it and move on."

Downton Abbey is set to return in September.