The Good Wife's Shocking Twist: PEOPLE's TV Critic Reacts

The Good Wife Character Killed Off: PEOPLE's TV Critic Reacts
Diane (Christine Baranski) and Will (Josh Charles) in The Good Wife
John Paul Filo/CBS

03/24/2014 AT 11:25 AM EDT

The Good Wife now has its own "Red Wedding."

Sunday's episode ended with a violent twist that can be described as either a classic OMG moment or a classic game changer, although to anyone who has followed CBS's great legal drama through its five seasons this was also a heartbreaker.

The wallop can best be appreciated by saying that investigator Kalinda Sharma let her mask of absolute control slip and completely fall: In a hospital emergency room, she began to sob.


Everyone at home was probably crying too as Kalinda called Alicia Florrick, Will Gardner's former law-firm partner and lover, to inform her that Will had been killed – dead in a courtroom shooting after a client lost his mind and grabbed a guard's gun.

In Good Wife terms, this is the equivalent of the end of the world.

It means, at the very least, that the high-powered but often unstable Chicago law firm of Lockhart/Gardner, which this season has been competing with Alicia's fledgling firm, will now be reduced formally or merely implicitly to "Lockhart."

Just hearing the firm's name reduced to two syllables from an august four can make a fan tear up.

The greater significance is that the always-problematic romance between Alicia, who happens to be married to the Governor of Illinois, and Will, a bachelor who had no trouble swinging from one girlfriend to another, is gone forever.

As much as I love ABC's Scandal, by comparison that drama's on-again, off-again, up-and-down affair between Olivia Pope and the President is something out of an old, unusually tortured operetta: Lots of trills, rain showers of tears.

This relationship, a complicated, very grownup affair that was the true emotional engine of the show, had over the years gone from attraction and flirtation and onto office romance before being channeled (never too comfortably) back into a professional and personal friendship before hitting patches of occasionally bitter rivalry.

The Alicia-Will romance never really ended despite its mutations and adaptation to circumstance. In the same episode in which Will died, Alicia was being challenged by a lawyer in a voter-fraud inquiry: "You and Mr. Gardner are lovers, isn't that correct?"

In effect, yes. They still were.

Everyone knew that, yet this is a show in which political considerations – fear of fallout, bad spin and unintended consequences; in short, reality – often holds emotional truths in check.

Will himself, as superbly played by Josh Charles, was an immensely complicated character marked by analytic detachment, cool confidence, bad-boy swagger and also an underlying loneliness and sadness – the yearning for Alicia that, season by season, moved further and further from fulfillment.

We now know, after the fact, that killing Will off was essentially a strategic decision by the show's creators, Michelle and Robert King: Josh Charles was ready to leave the show.

Losing his performance and his character radically wrenches the show in a new direction, and the purest, strongest way to dramatize that sense is the purest, most wrenching loss, death.

So I would say the Kings made the right choice, maybe the only right choice, even if in the shock of the moment it feels drastic, awful, wrong.

Now we have to see how Alicia responds when she takes that call for Kalinda.

The Good Wife's Shocking Twist: PEOPLE's TV Critic Reacts| The Good Wife, TV News, Josh Charles, Julianna Margulies

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