It's been a busy few years so far.
Matthew Crawley was briefly paralyzed after being wounded during World War I, while his fiancee Lavinia died of the Spanish flu just after seeing him kissing his cousin Mary. Mary, meanwhile, became engaged to the increasingly domineering Sir Richard Carlisle, who used the knowledge of her past exploits with one Kemal Pamuk to blackmail her into marrying him. By the Christmas-themed finale, Mary has come clean about her past and cast off Sir Richard, becoming engaged to Matthew at long last.
Beyond the show's main upstairs couple, younger sister Sybil finally gave in to her love for Branson, the family's socialist chaffeur, while Edith had a (very short-lived) liaison with a local farmer and Lord Grantham became infatuated with a new maid named Jane. Isobel Crawley, Matthew's mother, turns Downton Abbey into a hospital before going to help WWI refugees, while a veteran named Patrick Gordon asserts that he is actually Patrick Crawley, Downton's heir thought lost on the Titanic.
Downstairs, meanwhile, the slippery Thomas attempts to make an honest living through some good-old-fashioned black-market dealings before falling back on his old quest to gain Mr. Bates's job. Kitchen maid Daisy married the dying William after he was mortally wounded in battle. After several episodes agonizing over the fact that she married him out of kindness, not love, Daisy at last comes to terms with the fact that her action has given her a surrogate father, Mr. Mason.
Our favorite downstairs couple, Anna and John Bates, continue to never catch a break. His unscrupulous estranged wife, Mrs. Vera Bates (in a gloriously nasty guest turn by Maria Doyle Kennedy), systematically blocks every route of happiness for the couple, refusing to accept a divorce and determined to ruin her husband. Her mysterious death clears the way for the pair to get married, but ends with Bates convicted (we can only hope unjustly) of murder. In the final episode, he is spared the noose but sentenced to life in prison.
What will come for the characters we love (and love to hate) in season three of the critically and commercially successful PBS show?
Will Mary and Matthew actually tie the knot? Will Mr. Bates ever get out of prison? Will Maggie Smith continue to be her fabulous, prickly self? (If the Dowager Countess has anything to say about it, we're guessing the answer is a resounding yes.)
Here, get all the season three spoilers so far, courtesy of series creator Julian Fellowes, executive producer Gareth Neame and Elizabeth McGovern, who plays Downton Abbey grande dame Lady Cora.
1. The Americans Are Coming!
Sound the alarm: Cora Crawley's New York relations are coming to Downton Abbey.
At the end of season two, it wasn't yet clear whether Mary (played by Michelle Dockery) would still be going to America now that fiance Matthew (Dan Stevens) knows about her past.
But even if the eldest Crawley daughter won't need to find a cowboy out West, McGovern promises that several of her relatives will be making guest appearances on the show, be it in scenes from the U.S. or at Downtown itself.
One addition to the cast should come as an especially welcome surprise to Downton Abbey fans. Starting in season three, Shirley MacLaine will portray Cora' mother, Martha Levinson.
Julian has written another brilliant character in Martha Levinson, who will be a wonderful combatant for Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess, executive producer Gareth Neame said in a statement. We are excited at the prospect of Shirley MacLaine playing her.
If MacLaine's clashes with Smith are anything like the Dowager Countess's battles with Matthew's mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton), we can't wait for season three's fireworks to begin.
2. Two Weddings in Season Three
According to McGovern, Downton Abbey will see two weddings in season three. One of these will undoubtedly will Mary and Matthew's nuptials: viewers have waited two seasons for the couple to finally get together, and Fellowes has said he has no intention of stringing viewers along for another year of will-they-or-won't-they complications.
But if Lady Sybil has married Branson (with a baby on the way), and Anna is now Mrs. Bates, who will be getting married in season three's second wedding?
Perhaps Lady Edith, the often overlooked middle child. Season two saw the once petulant and embittered Crawley daughter blossom into a capable and much kinder young woman.
Her transformation, however, has yet to lead to greater happiness for her: after finding a place in the growing opportunities for women during the first world war, Edith is back to being a largely decorative figure at Downton.
Her only romantic adventures, meanwhile, have been tragic ones: a failed romance with Sir Anthony, one kiss with a married farmer, and an almost-there romance with Patrick Gordon, who unceremoniously leaves her after the Crawley family refuses to believe he is really their long-lost cousin.
Will season three finally bring some happiness to Edith? Will her nuptials be the second wedding of season three? And if it is, who will she be marrying?
2. World War II Is Brewing
In a recent interview with The Vancouver Sun, Neame revealed that the original vision for Downton Abbey was a one season show.
Before the first season netted 12 million viewers and an obsessive fan following, the executive producers had thought to answer all questions and tie up all the subplots in seven episodes.
The original idea was to open with the Titanic (1912), because it felt that was the one moment in history that everyone understands as being a momentous time in 20th-century history, Neame explained. The outbreak of World War I felt like the next momentous period in world history.
But by the time the first season ended, Neame was no longer satisfied simply with ending the series before the war.
We are war with Germany, Hugh Bonneville's Lord Grantham announced at the end of season one, and season two was structured on that world-changing conflict.
The third season, Neame said, may open in the years just before the next great conflict, World War II, possibly at the tail end of the Great Depression.
Will Downton Abbey be shelled in the Nazi Blitz? Will Matthew be going back to war? Or will the Crawley family suffer the hardship of the Depression as the German threat grows in the background?
Neame isn't revealing anything so far, including how much time will pass between the season two finale and the season three premiere. The second season began in 1916, only two years after the first season ended, but dropped viewers in the middle of the Battle of the Somme.
Regardless of whether next season's central focus will be on the Great Depression or on World War II, however, Downton Abbey is sure to go through as radical a change as it did in season two, leaving no character unchanged... or unscarred.
4. Hope for Mr. Bates
Downton Abbey left John Bates (Brendan Coyle) in a bad way. After a season of nobility and self-sacrifice, Bates's good intentions began to feel increasingly like passivity as viewers worked their way through season two.
But if his relationship with Anna began to feel more and more like the PBS show's whipping boy in season two, Joanne Froggatt's performance as his wife during the trial was heart-rending enough to make us invested in them all over again.
Anna's shriek of pain and disbelief when the verdict was read in Bates's murder trial was incredibly moving, while her determination to save her husband from life in prison opens the way for an interesting subplot in season three.
And for those worried that the next season will only spell more misfortune for the couple, Julian Fellowes has (some) words of hope for Bates fans.
Mr. Bates is one of my favorite characters, Fellowes told The New York Times.
These are two people who have not been given all that much in life, but what they have been given is a real love. I wouldn't ever want to undermine that.
But they've got to suffer a little. Nothing harder to dramatize than happiness.
In the meantime, expect Thomas, the ambitious footman, to take over for Bates as valet, a decision that the ever-trusting Lord Grantham is almost certain to regret.
5. No More Than Three Seasons?
Julian Fellowes doesn't have Downton Abbey mapped out. Many characters, subplots and storylines have yet to be created, much less tied up. Patrick Gordon, for instance, may be coming back in season three...or he may never appear again.
Some people have washing lines full of characters and blackboards covered with designs and things pointing at each other, he told The Times. I don't really have that.
What he is certain of is that he doesn't want to make Downton Abbey a show that drags on out of habit.
When The Times asked him whether the series would go beyond season three, he admitted that the structure of the show, three season with three very different moods, was rather an attractive idea.
Sufficient unto the day, Fellowes concluded, laughing. I feel that one can't really think much beyond that.
Although I agree, I do not think it should just go on and on forever.