'The Good Wife': Josh Charles' departure opens up rich storylines

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Fans of "The Good Wife" were left stunned Sunday (March 23) when Will Gardner's client Jeffrey Grant (guest star Hunter Parrish) crumbled under the pressure of being on trial for murder and stole a guard's gun, opening fire inside the courtroom. Gardner later died at the hospital.

Actor Josh Charles' exit seemingly comes out of nowhere, since the show managed to keep this completely under wraps. But it actually has been in the works since Season 4, when Charles asked to leave the show.

In the above video, Charles explains that he felt it was time to move on. "There's been a lot of people that have asked me what the reason is why I wanted to leave the show. I thought that I felt however much that I enjoyed the experience, that I was ready for the next chapter in my life, both creatively and personally," says Charles.

While it's certainly sad to see such a talented actor leave the show, once the shock wore off, we actually started thinking about what an amazing gift this is to the award-winning drama in a creative sense.

In Season 5, since Alicia and Cary blew up Lockhart & Gardner (and the show) by starting Florrick, Agos and Associates, the overarching plot has been Alicia vs. Will, both with professional sparring in the courtroom and personal sparring over the sense of betrayal and hurt feelings. But as executive producer Michelle King told Zap2it at the 2014 TCA winter press tour, the show couldn't live in that world forever.

We'll confess to actually having some concern about the show either continuing to thrust these characters together, which would feel less and less organic as the weeks went on, or that the series would become fractured, trying to focus on two different law firms. We certainly didn't want Will and Diane to fade away in the world of the show, but it is called "The Good Wife" for a reason. Alicia Florrick is the heart of the series and keeping her at the center is paramount, so either the series would have started to feel very strange or we would have lost touch with characters we've come to know and love over the years.

Will Gardner's death solves that problem, and while we were not hoping the show would kill him off, it takes the series in another really interesting direction.

First off, the emotional fallout over the next episode or two is going to be amazing to watch. One of the reasons viewers tune in to any good drama on TV is because of the emotional impact and connection. The video above shows a few brief clips from next week's episode, "The Last Call," and it looks amazing. It will probably be some of the best work Julianna Margulies, Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi have done on the show (and that is saying something).

Secondly, as the EP said, the show needs to keep moving forward. It could not get stuck in the rut of having L/G and F/A continue to face off in court every week. On a personal level, it also could not get stuck in the Will-Alicia-Peter love triangle rut -- which is something that is hard to stay away from with Charles on the show, since Alicia and Will will always be drawn to one another. 

Will's death forces the show out of both of those storylines, and "The Good Wife" will perhaps be all the more fresh and exciting as a result.

Thirdly, and this kind of got lost in the drama of the episode's final moments, but there's still the matter of Peter's voter fraud. Will was a key witness in that and Nelson Dubeck is going to lose his mind now that his witness is gone -- however, there are now more videotapes of Florrick campaign employees delivering more ballot boxes (which we always figured had to be the case).

Remember in the Season 4 finale, Peter and Mike Kresteva were neck-and-neck in the polls going into election day, but then Peter won by nearly 500,000 votes?  It struck us at the time that perhaps the 30,000 votes Jim Moody delivered were not the only fraudulent ones. Now it looks as though there were at least four tampered ballot boxes, but what will Dubeck do without Will Gardner?

Finally, Will's death is a realistic storyline in the sense that death comes to people's lives in unexpected and jarring ways. No, there's not a courthouse shooting every day, but people get in car accidents every day. People have aneurisms every day. It's almost uncomfortably realistic that Alicia's last conversation with Will was just an innocuous head's up about his client and some light, jovial teasing (at least it wasn't adversarial).

But it's very much in keeping with real life that someone is there and then suddenly he is gone, and Alicia never got to truly repair their relationship. That happens all the time and it makes the loss that much harder. As we said, the show is called "The Good Wife," and it should be wonderful drama to watch Alicia deal with this tragedy.

Margulies says in the video, "What it does to Alicia's storyline is it makes her start to rethink everything. You've seen her through this whole journey of trying to stand up on her own two feet out of necessity and now I think she is going to look a little deeper inside herself rather than be in survival mode."

Charles also has a message for fans: "I say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I appreciate it. I understand that there will be audience members that will be upset, but I would just tell them it will continue to be such an excellent show. I'm going to keep watching."

We couldn't agree more. We'll miss both Will Gardner and Josh Charles, but this turn of events opens up so many things. We're already chomping at the bit to find out what is to become of L/G and Diane Lockhart. The show has never shied away from reinventing itself and we trust that this will be just another great example of that.

"The Good Wife" airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
Photo/Video credit: CBS