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Stunning episode of The Good Wife leaves fans' jaws on the floor

...and takes the show in a new direction

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The departure of The Good Wife's Josh Charles, left, with guest star Hunter Parrish, leaves several storylines up in the air.

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The departure of The Good Wife's Josh Charles, left, with guest star Hunter Parrish, leaves several storylines up in the air.

It was a shocker. And definitely a talker. And in the age of spoiler alerts, PVR-delayed gratification and incessant social-media blurting, it sent TV viewers into a frenzy as fans of The Good Wife in need of next-morning water-cooler debriefing were shouted into silence by co-workers who hadn't yet seen what all the fuss was about.

The death of Will Gardner in the CBS drama's March 22 episode, Dramatics, Your Honor, was stunning for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most unexpected and impressive thing about it is how well the show's producers and cast kept the departure of a central character secret right up until the fateful on-screen moment.

It case you missed it -- and we're way past feeling bad about spoilers here, given all the debate and dissection that has taken place since the episode aired -- Will Gardner, played by actor Josh Charles, was gunned down by a distraught client who grabbed a courtroom guard's pistol and opened fire.

The shooting was not shown onscreen, but its aftermath, and the effect Will's death had on The Good Wife's other characters, brought the episode to a climactic end and set the stage for what will surely be an interesting seven-episode run to the season finale.

Killing off major character is not completely uncommon in series television; sometimes, such exits are purely creative choices, but more often than not, a character's end is related to an actor's desire to leave the show at the end of his/her contract.

Such was the case with Charles, who decided four years was enough on The Good Wife but was gracious enough to stick around for more than half the current season to allow series creators Robert and Michelle King to concoct a fitting sendoff for Will Gardner.

In a letter to fans posted on CBS's website, the Kings said they felt killing off Will was the only option.

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

While it's true that the Will/Alicia relationship was the emotional core of The Good Wife, it's a relationship that had evolved through several phases during the show's run -- mentor/pupil, co-workers, lovers and, this season, bitter rivals. It could fairly be argued that they were running out of places to go and emotions to explore.

Killing off Will was a bold choice. While some fans were outraged, and even a few declared they're calling it quits with The Good Wife now that he's gone, it's very likely that those who stick with the show as it moves into post-Gardner mode will find it invigorated and filled with interesting new dramatic possibilities.

Charles -- who made a rare appearance on Monday's The Late Show With David Letterman to discuss his departure -- is a fine actor, and he'll be missed. But The Good Wife's remaining cast -- led by Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick), Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart), Matt Czuchry (Cary Agos), Archie Panjabi (Kalinda Sharma), Chris Noth (Peter Florrick) and Alan Cumming (Eli Gold) -- remains as formidable as any ensemble in prime time.

And more importantly, the Kings continue to produce some of the most thoughtful and compelling scripts that TV has to offer. The Good Wife will continue to be strong, and it might even be headed to a better place.

"We've always taken as a guiding principle of this show that drama isn't in the event; it's in the aftermath of the event," the Kings wrote in their letter.

Be sad if you must. Progress, at your leisure, through as many stages of grief as your favourite self-help book prescribes. But don't give up on The Good Wife. Will Gardner never liked a quitter.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2014 C8

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