Spoiler alert

The author warns that once someone's told you a spoiler, you can't un-know it; so be careful what you ask.

This Sunday sees the event that millions of viewers in North America have been at once waiting for and dreading: the final episode of the hit TV series Downton Abbey.

If you haven’t heard of Downton Abbey, then you can probably stop reading now. If you have, then you’ll be wondering what happens to the aristocratic Crawley family—owners of Downton Abbey—and their faithful servants, whose lives have been chronicled by series creator and writer Julian Fellowes for six seasons. When the series began it was 1912, and the heir to the Abbey had died on the Titanic. Sunday night’s episode is set in 1925, so there’s been rather a lot of water under the iceberg—sorry, bridge—in the six years since the series started.

Viewers in Britain already know what’s happened, since series six aired there in the fall of 2015, and the episode that airs here on Sunday appeared on Christmas Day 2015. That’s right: hit TV series in England have special episodes which appear on Christmas Day, a phenomenon that took me by surprise when I lived in England in the 1990s. In North America, Christmas Day is a TV wasteland, and anyone who suggested that a popular series air a special episode on that day would be laughed out of the meeting room.

Be that as it may, I’d already seen series six of Downton Abbey, and the Christmas special, before the episodes began airing here (thank goodness for multi-region DVD players). Thus it is that my parents—avid Downton Abbey fans—knew that I’d seen the series when they started to watch it in January. And the questions began.

They were fairly innocuous, I have to say. “Do Carson and Mrs. Hughes get married?” “Does Lady Rose come back at some point?” “Oh, I do hope we haven’t seen the last of Tom.” And in each instance I’d pause, and then say “Do you really want to know? Because I can tell you; but once I’ve answered, you can’t un-know it.”

Which takes us squarely into the fraught area of “spoilers”, which is when someone—often unwittingly—conveys details about a movie or TV show to someone who hasn’t yet seen it, and wanted to remain innocent of those details. Not so long ago, “spoilers” were unknown; but in these days, when many people catch up with entertainment long after it’s originally aired, spoilers can be a real bone of contention.

I was once part of a group of people where the movie Citizen Kane came up for discussion. Someone in the party said that he had been surprised to find out that Kane’s dying word—“Rosebud”—had referred to [redacted]. Someone else in the group immediately bristled. “I haven’t seen the movie yet,” he huffed, “so thanks for spoiling it for me.”

This was about ten years ago. Citizen Kane—often hailed as the greatest film of all time, and certainly one of the most discussed ones—was made in 1941. I would hope that the statute of limitations on spoilers for that particular movie has well and truly expired.

And so it is that I will not spoil the ending of Downton Abbey for anyone here. All I will say is that the special effects, when the zombies invade the Abbey, are fantastic. . . .

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