updated 01/04/2014 AT 12:30 PM ET
•originally published 01/02/2014 AT 12:00 PM ET
Downton Abbey returns to primetime when season four of the period drama gets underway this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on PBS.
The new season picks up six months after the tragic events of the Downton Abbey Christmas Special (spoiler alert!) left Lady Mary a widow. The show follows the aristocratic family and their servants who are at the heart of the British Edwardian melodrama.
Here’s what you need to know before the new season starts.
Lady Sybil Grantham: Recently deceased due to complications from childbirth thanks to the poor advice of a hoity-toity doctor.
Matthew Crawley: D.O.A. and without a last will and testament, to boot. While we know that actor Dan Stevens wanted off the show, it’s still hard to imagine life at Downton without Matthew.
Lady Mary Crawley: At the end of last season, Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) had just given birth to her son and the heir to the titular Downton Abbey. After struggling to conceive and undergoing an operation, she is last seen cradling the infant, innocent to the fact that her husband just died in a car crash. In Season Four, which picks up six months from the end of last season, Mary is not faring well as a widow and is bleak about life in general. She is inconsolable, struggling to be a parent to her son, who she refers to as “a poor little orphan.” Whatever happens this season, it’s clear that big changes are in store for Lady Mary.
Lord Robert Grantham: Last season, Hugh Bonneville’s Earl of Grantham was struggling under the financial weight of maintaining the Downton manor. A few bad investments had left him nearly bankrupt and wrestling with business pressures. Eventually, a partnership with Matthew – who had received a huge sum from poor deceased Lavinia’s father – stabilized the family’s financial situation. With Matthew gone, Downton is thrown into further crisis.
Lady Cora Grantham: Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) blamed her husband, Robert, for the death of their daughter Sybil after he sided with a high-falutin’ obstetrician over the advice of the trusted village doctor, Dr. Clarkson. The couple reconciled after Dr. Clarkson (taking the Dowager Countess’s advice) recanted and said that Sybil could have died even if they had listened to him. Between her daughter’s death and the fact that Robert lost her entire fortune, Cora is undoubtedly watching her husband more closely than ever.
Tom Branson: Mourning the loss of his wife, raising a baby and on the run from arson accusations in Ireland, Tom must remain in England or face criminal charges in Ireland. As he stays at Downton to raise baby Sybill, he has become the de facto operations manager of the Downton estate and a target for an upwardly-mobile maid, Edna.
Lady Edith Grantham: After being left at the altar by her older beau, Edith became a newspaper columnist and embarked on an affair with Michael Gregson, her dashing but married newspaper editor. Although Gregson can’t get a divorce because his wife is mentally incapacitated, hopefully Edith will manage to find some happiness in London this season.
The Dowager Countess: Last season, Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess continued her behind-the-scenes machinations, aiding and abetting youthful rebellion and full-frontal eye rolls. The famed side-eye should continue when her trouble-making great niece, Lady Rose MacClare, moves into Downton.
Isobel Crawley: At the end of last season, Dr. Clarkson proposed to Mrs. Crawley, but she turned him down. Perhaps she will reconsider now that her son is deceased and the former-prostitute maid Ethel no longer needs help.
O’Brien: During the family’s trip to Scotland, Lady Grantham’s scheming maid set the groundwork to leave the household. She may need to make a break for it, too, after making enemies with Thomas, Alfred and almost everyone else at Downton.
Bates and Anna: Now that Bates is finally out of prison, Lord Grantham’s favorite valet has returned to the manor and can finally live happily ever after with the lovely and ever-optimistic Downton maid.
Carson & Mrs. Hughes: While it seemed that the duo might finally make fans’ relationship dreams come true last season, Carson and Mrs. Hughes stuck to decorum (and propriety and loneliness). Sadly, it appears that the working heads of the Downton estate are taking a page from the Remains of the Day playbook and just running the household, together, but apart.
Thomas: Last season, Thomas almost got himself arrested when, with O’Brien’s encouragement, he made a pass at Jimmy the footman. While Lord Grantham was able to smooth things over with the local authorities, it was only when Thomas saved Jimmy’s life in a drunken fight that they became friends.
Mrs. Patmore: The devoted cook, played by Lesley Nicol, almost found love last season, but it turned out her suitor was only using her for her cooking. With love on the back burner, this season Mrs. Patmore can focus on her sauces, master the newfangled electric mixer, and continue to boss Daisy and Ivy around.
Ivy, Alfred, Jimmy & Daisy: The love lives of the kitchen and house staff vacillated between pining, jilted and lovesick as Daisy yearned for Alfred, Alfred for Ivy and Ivy for Jimmy. Anything could happen in Season Four, but we’re guessing at least one of them falls in love.
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