Several photos from this Sunday’s new episode of Downton Abbey have been released, hinting at events both contentious and bittersweet as series three nears its finale.

The penultimate episode of the third series of Downton Abbey airs this Sunday, and new photos indicate what’s to come as our time with the Crawley family winds down. Be wary – spoilers and speculation loom ahead!
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It seems like several guests will be arriving at Downton for the upcoming christening, the most interesting of whom might be the brown-suited visitor at the Crawley’s dinner table. As per the episode summary, this is likely Tom Branson’s brother, who presumably comes to Downton for the christening of Tom and Sybil’s infant daughter. The summary also indicates, though, that the new Mr. Branson will be a less-than-perfectly-comforting presence during the bittersweet event.

The christening itself looks to be a major focus of the episode, as the photos indicate. That shot of Robert and Violet standing by the (presumably Catholic) priest is especially intriguing – has Robert given his blessing to the idea of a Catholic granddaughter?

And though most of the family seems stony-faced in their collected portrait, the candid shots show at least a few smiles around the baby. Hopefully the Crawley-Branson clan will be able to share a little happiness in spite of everything they have endured.

Meanwhile downstairs, it seems (almost) certain that Anna can finally look forward to a little happiness in her life. All signs point to the long-imprisoned Mr. Bates returning to Downton Abbey at last – hopefully for good. This might be less-than-happy news for Thomas though, as his position as Robert’s valet might well be threatened by Bates’ return.

It also looks like Thomas’ accelerating attraction to Jimmy will be coming to a head sooner rather than later. With Jimmy’s discomfort with Thomas’ advances, we may not be seeing that smug smile on Mr. Barrow’s face very often in the near future.

ITV says of the episode:

It’s a happy day for Downton as Anna’s patience is rewarded.
Edith receives admiration from an unexpected quarter.
Matthew refuses to back down over the estate management, will his tactics pay off?
Branson’s plan for the christening causes consternation, as does the arrival of his brother.
O’Brien counsels Thomas but what are her motives?

Downton Abbey airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on ITV in the U.K. For American viewers, series 3 will begin airing Jan. 6 on PBS.

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