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Downton Abbey Shocker: Rape Storyline Riles Viewers, Star Defends Plot—Did It Go Too Far?

Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey Nick Briggs/Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

Downton Abbey served up a shocker to audiences on the Sunday, Jan. 12 episode.

Warning, spoilers ahead!

In "Part Two" of PBS's Downton Abbey season four broadcast, Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) was brutally attacked and raped by Green (Nigel Harman), the visiting valet of Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen). During a concert by Nellie Melba (Dame Kiri TeKanawa), Anna slipped away downstairs to take care of her headache. Green was right behind her and when Anna refused his advances, Green attacked and raped her.

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A beat up and traumatized Anna confided in Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and vowed to never tell Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) about what happened to her for fear of the crimes he'd commit against Green.

Fans took to Twitter to share their reactions to the shocking storyline. The reactions were mixed, to say the least.

"Last nights Downton Abbey … cannot get it out of my mind," @ursousa1 tweeted.

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"Downton Abbey had me in near tears last night. Wow...." @SoCal2001 said.

"I was devastated by Downton Abbey last night. I'm still upset. Too real," @One4TheBooks shared.

"Downton, I may have to quit you. #downtonabbey #pooranna," @KathieButler said.

"By the way, makers of #DowntonAbbey… you totally should not have done that thing to Anna. Just pissed off a whole lot of viewers," @JosephDickerson tweeted.

"I cannot be the only person who didn't enjoy #DowntonAbbey last night. Anna is my favorite character. I hate that story line so, so much," @mttsm said.

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Downton Abbey Cast Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013 for MASTERPIECE

The episode aired in October in the UK and Froggatt defended the storyline.

"I was really proud of the show for tackling a subject like this ... I really do believe that Julian's [Fellowes] written that in a way that is not gratuitous at all, he does very much go on to explore the emotional journey of Anna and Bates," Froggatt told BBC in October. "He's done a beautiful job of hitting the right note with it. I think we all just felt a big responsibility to get it right."

Downton Abbey did not show the rape of Anna, just the first attack and her screams were heard in an empty kitchen hallway.

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"The whole point of the way we do things on Downton is we don't do them gratuitously," Downton creator Fellowes told the BBC. "We are interested in exploring the resultant emotions and the effect these things have on people," he added.

In October, Fellowes acknowledged the fan backlash, but defended the storyline. "If we'd wanted a sensational rape we could have stayed down in the kitchen with the camera during the whole thing and wrung it out," he said. "The point of our handling is not that we're interested in sensationalizing but we're interested in exploring the mental damage and the emotional damage."

Downton Abbey airs Sundays, 9 p.m. on PBS.

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