“Downton Abbey” star Dan Stevens rocked the status quo at the end of season three when he abruptly departed the show, forcing the writers to kill off his fan-favorite character Matthew Crawley. Now, the caretakers of “Downton Abbey” have ensured that no more main cast members will depart the show by signing them all to two-year contracts.

“Downton Abbey” executive producer Gareth Neame told the Mail on Sunday that all the show’s stars have been locked into a contract until the end of season five: “I can tell you that we have now signed up the main cast members until series five, so there won’t be any more shock exits for a while.”

As for Crawley’s death, “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes said he explored every possible option to keep Stevens on the show. Producers considered shipping the character off on a lengthy trip to the U.S., allowing Stevens to appear in only a few episodes. However, Stevens was insistent he was done and told Fellowes that his character had to be killed off. Still, Fellowes was desperate to keep him around as long as possible.

“We asked Dan if he’d come back at the beginning of series four and die in the first episode so that we could have Christmas sort of clean with the arrival of the new baby,” Fellowes told the Mail on Sunday. “But Dan was set on a clean break at the end of series three, and he said, ‘I really feel it’s right for me to go and finish now.’”

Obviously, Fellows was disappointed that Stevens would indeed leave “Downton Abbey,” but he reminded viewers that Stevens was completely free to leave the show. “I was terribly disappointed at the time, but Dan was totally within his rights,” he said. “I don’t want to pretend he did anything out of order, because he definitely did not. He gave his notice, but it caught us on the hop.”

Stevens’ departure provided a major hurdle for the “Downton Abbey” writers, but fans have responded positively to the first episode of season four, which takes place six months after Crawley’s death. Fellowes screened the first episode for the press last week, but British viewers can catch its premiere this fall. However, American fans will have to wait until Jan. 5, when the Public Broadcasting Service begins televising the new season in the States.