It's been exactly four months since the last episode of Downton Abbey aired on Christmas Day, which means we've been suffering Crawley family withdrawal for quite some time now. And while the premiere of the fifth series isn't until September, we now have some delightful new on-set pictures to tide us over.
A few of the show's stars -- including Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), Allen Leech (Tom Branson) and Lesley Nicol (Mrs. Patmore) -- were snapped filming scenes for Series 5 while on location in Oxfordshire on Thursday. Unfortunately, the pictures don't give us too much information, but they have piqued our interest.
Michelle Dockery gets a touch-up between takes
Series 4 ended with a few big revelations: Lady Edith decided to keep her baby, and Lady Mary decided to keep secret the fact that Bates may have killed Anna's rapist. But Mary still has not decided between her two persistent suitors, Charles Blake and Lord Gillingham.
Sadly, the new pictures -- which show the characters out for a casual stroll on a cloudy afternoon -- don't even hint at any of these plot twists.
Lady Mary and brother-in-law Tom, probably discussing pig farming
But they do raise some new questions. For example, are these four characters on two separate outings or all they all out together? Why would Mrs Patmore be on an excursion with Lady Mary, Lord Grantham and Branson? Was there some sort of kitchen emergency that required Downton's executive members to intervene? And, most pressingly, where did Lady Mary get that super chic hat?
Michelle chats to a crew member during a filming break
One thing we do know is that there will be some new faces joining the cast this autumn. Richard E. Grant (who appeared in Girls and Withnail and I) will play Simon Baker, a guest at Downton. Anna Chancellor (of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame) will play another Downton guest, Lady Anstruther. And Rade Serbedzija (Eyes Wide Shut, Taken 2) will play a Russian refugee.
Lesley Nichol, who plays Mrs Patmore, quickly got back into character
There must be an event that draws more guests to Downton. Call us optimistic, but we're hoping it's another over-the-top gorgeous wedding bringing in the out-of-towners. Will Mary walk down the aisle again? Will Lady Edith finally get her big day? Or will Lady Rose surprise us all and settle down?
Series 5 is sure to be full of surprises, though we'd happily let it pass without any more shocking departures. (We're still recovering from the loss of Matthew and Lady Sybil.)
Luckily, Downton's executive producer Gareth Neame has hinted that everyone's favourite sassy granny is here to stay.
When asked about speculation that 79-year-old Maggie Smith (Dowager Countess) might leave before the show ends, he told the Hollywood Reporter: 'Maggie Smith will be in the show as long as she wants to do it. She'll be back this coming season. She's a huge part of the show, and I think she enjoys doing it. I think it's remarkable for someone who's had such a long and illustrious career to be still delivering work of this caliber.'
He also addressed those pesky rumours that Series 5 might be the last for the show. 'Why are people so interested in end dates? I get asked all of the time,' he said. 'If we were to end the show now, the show is still growing and playing in new territories around the world, but I would never want anyone to think we went too long.
It's about us trying to find a balance and calling things at the right time… I hasten to add that that's not anytime soon, because I think we're still in robust health.'
We'll drink (a cup of tea in the finest china) to that!