Downton Abbey

'Downton Abbey' season 3: 5 story lines to get excited for

Jan. 4, 2013 at 5:21 PM ET

The wait is almost over for U.S. viewers eager for the return of "Downton Abbey." While season three and the latest Christmas special have already aired for U.K. audiences, Americans last visited the lives of the show's upstairs and downstairs residents way back in February. With the new season set to return Sunday, we take a look at the most eagerly anticipated stories.

(Note: Potential spoilers ahead if you're not caught up!)

Will Lady Mary and Matthew finally tie the knot?

Last year's Christmas special ended with the moment fans had been waiting for: Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Matthew (Dan Stevens) officially getting together! After Mary ended her engagement to Richard, Matthew romantically proposed in the snow and she accepted. It took so long to reach this moment, however, that it almost feels too good to be true. And surely, the road to marriage will be filled with just as much drama as the road to their engagement.

Actor Hugh Bonneville -- who plays Mary's father, Robert, Earl of Grantham -- did tease that a wedding is on the horizon during his TODAY appearance, so maybe things will go smoothly for the couple for a change. 

How will Matthew exit?

Now that Stevens' exit from the show has been confirmed, fans are no doubt wondering how the beloved character will leave the show. Most likely, viewers will have to wait until the special to learn how the character exits, but with things finally looking up for Mary and Matthew, the news is frustrating for fans.

If the pair marry and are finally happy together, how could he leave the woman he loves? Will viewers really have only one season with them as a happy couple? Or if their marriage is put off, will Matthew leave without fans ever getting the happy ending that they've been waiting for? While it's hard to believe that he would just walk away from his family, the more permanent type of exit he could receive is too upsetting to contemplate. Either way, it will be interesting to see how show creator Julian Fellowes works Stevens' exit into the story.

Free Bates!

When viewers last saw the valet Bates (Brendan Coyle), he was found guilty of wife Vera's murder. The only good news was that his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. While maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) continues to profess Bates' innocence and fight for his freedom, it will most likely take a few dramatic episodes before our favorite downstairs couple is, hopefully, reunited. Considering the official Free Bates campaign became so popular between seasons two and three (there are plenty of T-shirts), let's hope fans won't have too long a wait before his release.

Will the family accept Lady Sybil's marriage and welcome Branson fully to the clan?

During last season's Christmas special, viewers got big news from Jessica Brown Findlay's Lady Sybil: She's having a baby! While her marriage to family chauffeur Branson (Allen Leech) shocked most of the family at first, they all seemed to come around. Lord Grantham, however, was the most reluctant, and even though he gave the pair his blessing to wed, the fact that he didn't attend the event shows he still has not quite accepted the unconventional union. Could this be enough to keep him from inviting the pair back to Downton and getting to know his first grandchild? His wife, Cora, probably won't let that happen, but there will surely be a fight ahead for the young couple to make Lord Grantham understand that there are more important things in life than class distinctions.

The American arrives!

The addition of Shirley MacLaine to the series was exciting news. Who better to go head to head with Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess? Cora's mother,  Martha Levinson, arrives from America, bringing with her a different set of cultural values that will clash with the Downton residents'. Exactly why she arrives and how long she stays remain to be seen, but whether it's a short or long visit, it will be fun to see her battle wits with Smith!

These may be the main story lines in season three, but there's so much more to look forward to as well! For instance: What will be Thomas and O'Brien's latest scheme? Will middle sister Edith finally find happiness and marry? Will cook's maid Daisy move on?

Tune in when "Downton Abbey" returns Jan. 6 at 9 p.m. on PBS. 

What are you looking forward to most in season three? Tell us on our Facebook page!

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