Is Maggie Smith set to leave Downton Abbey?

The latest contract rumors report that the 77-year-old actress, who plays the always animated Dowager Countess of Grantham, has no plans to continue with the show after season three wraps filming.

According to the Daily Mail, Smith has not signed her contract for seasons four and five, raising eyebrows in Downton land and beyond.

Smith was expected to join the already locked in cast, which includes Michelle Dockery (Mary), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Elizabeth McGovern (Cora), Joanne Froggatt (Anna) and Brendan Coyle (Mr. Bates).

Apparently, Smith is not the only one jeopardizing the show's future (according to these rumors, anyway). Three other major players, Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley), Jessica Brown Findlay (Sybil) and Siobhan Finneran (Miss O'Brien), are also holding back, claims another UK talboid, the Mirror.

Downton Abbey has a history of major surprises, and the producers are not opposed to changing casting within the show to add to the drama. But it's hard to imagine the series without Maggie Smith or Dan Stevens involved in some way . . . to write the Dowager Countess out of the series, or even kill of the character, would be Downton's boldest storyline yet, a source told the tabloid.

While fans are still basking in the glory that was the season two finale (Matthew + Mary = finally!), one can only wonder what the third season will bring. Will the nuptials go through at Downton? Will Mr. Bates ever get out of prison?

And what will the legendary Shirley MacLaine's first lines on the show be? MacLaine, also 77, is set to play Lady Crawley's mother, a role certain to give the Dowager Countess a run for her money.

The contract rumor surrounding Downton Abbey is a stark reminder of the contract dispute that hit Mad Men nearly one year ago.

The dispute, which involved AMC, Lionsgate and show creator Matthew Weiner, resulted in a 17-month gap between the end of season four and the beginning of season five (which will finally air on Mar. 25).

Season three of Downton Abbey is set to premiere in September 2012.

In the meantime, please enjoy a top 10 compilation of Maggie Smith's best moments as the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey.

What do you think of the latest contract rumors surrounding Maggie Smith's future with the show? Share your thoughts below.