Why was Sybil killed off on Downton Abbey and what happened to Tom after she died?

Lady Sybil Crawley's death devastated Downton Abbey fans and even now many people might be wondering why she was killed off

 Jessica Brown-Findlay as Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey
(Image credit: Universal Pictures / Collection Christophel/Alamy Stock Photo)

Even all these years later many of us might still be wondering why Sybil was killed off on Downton Abbey and what happened to her husband Tom Branson in the show and films.

The original Downton Abbey series took the world by storm with its tales of upstairs downstairs life at the fictional Crawley family’s Yorkshire estate. Spanning 1912-1926, romance was key to Downton Abbey from season 1 to 6 and fans were gripped by the will-they-won’t-they romance between Lady Mary and Matthew only to be devastated when he perished in a car crash. But theirs wasn’t the only love story that captivated us and what happened to Lady Sybil was every bit as tragic.

It was never the same for Sybil fans since her character passed away, leaving her daughter Sybil ‘Sybbie’ motherless and her husband Tom Branson grieving. He went on to play a huge part in the rest of the series and the two Downton Abbey films, and it’s likely Tom will appear in the newly-confirmed third Downton Abbey movie too. With Downton Abbey excitement in the air once again, many people might be wondering why Sybil was killed off and what happened to her husband Tom.

Why was Sybil killed off on Downton Abbey?

Lady Sybil Crawley was killed off on Downton Abbey in season 3 episode 5 shortly after her character gave birth to her daughter with Tom Branson, who was also named Sybil. Her character was written out because actor Jessica Brown Findlay wanted to leave Downton Abbey and pursue other projects. Jessica was the first main Downton Abbey cast member to leave the hit ITV show and according to creator Julian Fellowes, she’d always made it clear this would be the case after three years. 

"It was tough really because Jessica had said she was going to leave right from the beginning. She said, ‘I'm doing three years, then I'm leaving.’ So that was all worked out," he explained, as per Vanity Fair, referencing how Matthew Crawley ended up being killed off in the same series.

In 2013, Julian shared that it had "seemed right" to give Jessica Brown-Findlay "a whole episode that was about her death". Meanwhile, Jessica herself previously told Radio Times that she didn’t want to fall into a "comfort zone" for too long. As reported by Express, she described herself as being left "terrified" at the prospect of signing on for another year which motivated her not to.

"I didn’t want to fall into my comfort zone too much," she said. "My contract was ending and I was unsure about signing away another year, leaving me terrified, and that’s what made me want to do it. Being afraid and going into the unknown excites me, and what scared me more was to keep going and then one day discover it was all I could do and wish I had pushed myself more."

Lady Sybil passed away after suffering from eclampsia leaving her husband and family devastated. Despite being killed off as a character, Sybil’s presence continued to be felt in Downton Abbey long after her death thanks to Tom and their daughter Sybbie who was named for her.

What happened to Tom Branson after Sybil died? 

Understandably Tom Branson was left heartbroken after Lady Sybil died, but after going through this immensely difficult time he became accepted as part of the Crawley family more than ever before. Admittedly, there were a few tricky moments still with the Crawleys - like when Lord Grantham was initially upset when Tom insisted that Sybbie should have a Catholic christening. During the original series Tom considered moving to Liverpool with Sybbie, as well as to Massachusetts, but both times ended up deciding against this and staying at Downton.  

He set up car dealership Talbot and Branson with Lady Mary’s second husband Henry Talbot, and by the time of the Downton Abbey movies he finally reached a place where he was ready to find love again. His love interest Lucy is introduced in the first film and she’s the maid (and secret illegitimate daughter) of Lady Maud Bagshaw, one of Queen Mary’s Ladies-in-Waiting. 

Romance blossoms between Lucy and Tom and at the end of this film they danced together outside on the balcony whilst at the beginning of Downton Abbey: A New Era the pair ties the knot.  

Lucy becomes Tom Branson’s second wife with the full support of his first wife’s family and his daughter Sybbie who acted as a bridesmaid for her stepmother. The path to start truly living again after losing Lady Sybil wasn’t easy for Tom, but he persevered with the love of the Crawleys and ended up having a second chance at happiness with Lucy. 

The couple have a baby together - a sibling for Sybbie - and they are living comfortably, with Lucy as the sole heir of Lady Maud Bagshaw. The late Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet, also left her property in the south of France to Sybbie, meaning that she will be more socially equal with her cousins George, Caroline, Marigold and Peter. 

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!