'The Good Wife' shocker: Major character killed off in stunning twist

It wasn't quite as bloody as the Red Wedding, but Sunday's episode of "The Good Wife," "Dramatics, Your Honor," left viewers reeling following the sudden, violent death of a beloved central character. Needless to say, if you're not caught up on your DVR, stop reading immediately.

In what may go down as one of the most unexpected farewells in TV history, high-powered lawyer Will Gardner (Josh Charles), the on-again, off-again love interest-turned-rival of protagonist Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) was shot in a courtroom by a deranged client, college student Jeffrey Grant (Hunter Parris).

It was a stunning turn for a series that dramatizes legal warfare but only rarely depicts actual bloodshed.  Though it's widely considered one of the best -- if not the best -- drama on network television, a rare broadcast series with the moral complexity and narrative sophistication of a cable series, "The Good Wife" had yet to kill off a major character, a virtual requirement of other highbrow dramas like "Game of Thrones," "Downton Abbey," "Mad Men," "Boardwalk Empire" and "Breaking Bad."  (Will's former partner Jonas Stern, played by Kevin Conway, died at the end of Season 2, but he was only a recurring character.) 

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Few, if any, could have seen this twist coming. Since "The Good Wife" premiered in 2009, Will has played a pivotal role in the series, providing his old friend Alicia with a much-needed job in the wake of a very public sex scandal involving her husband, state's attorney Peter Florrick (Chris Noth). There was no foreshadowing of Will's sudden death, and news of Charles' departure had miraculously not leaked to the media.

The friendship between Will and Alicia gradually blossomed into a short-lived but passionate romance, one that she ended to focus on her children, but the mutual attraction never really went away. This season, which has earned renewed praise from the critics, the relationship curdled into professional rivalry, as Alicia departed to start her own law firm. Fans never quite gave up on "Willicia," however, and the frost between the two was just beginning to thaw, making this latest development all the more poignant.

Even the timing of Will's death is unusual, arriving in late March rather than in a season finale or sweeps period. But as Charles explained in an interview with TV Line, he asked the Kings to write him out of the show last year and decided he'd rather not do a full season. In a video released by CBS, posted below, the actor explained that he was "ready for the next chapter in my life both creatively and personally."

Charles, who received an Emmy nomination for the role in 2011 and a Golden Globe nod earlier this year, will stop by "The Late Show with David Letterman" on Monday to discuss his decision. "Sending out all my love to #TheGoodWife fans! Playing Will Gardner was an honor and a pleasure. Thanks for all of your support & kind words!," Charles tweeted Sunday.

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Perhaps anticipating a backlash from viewers, series creators and show runners Robert and Michelle King posted a letter on the show's website explaining their decision to send Will to that blue-chip law firm in the sky, rather than writing him off in less dramatic fashion. 

"We could 'send him off to Seattle,' he could be disbarred, or get married, or go off to Borneo to do good works," they wrote. "But there was something in the passion that Will and Alicia shared that made distance a meager hurdle. The brutal honesty and reality of death speaks to the truth and tragedy of bad timing for these two characters. Will’s death propels Alicia into her newest incarnation."

We have yet to see what that new incarnation will be: Sunday's episode ended just as Alicia was about to learn of Will's tragic demise. But in the video from CBS, Michelle King hinted that his loss will "impact every area of her life." 

"It makes her start to rethink everything," Margulies said. "You've seen her through this whole journey of trying to stand up on her own two feet out of necessity. And now I think she is going to look a little deeper inside herself rather than just be in survival mode." 


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