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Following the emotionally devastating season five finale of When Calls the Heart on Sunday, the stars of the Hallmark Channel period drama sat down for a Facebook Live aftershow, where they opened up about the tragic episode and the behind-the-scenes circumstances that lead to it.
Lori Loughlin, Erin Krakow and Daniel Lissing sat down with executive producer Brian Bird, and together they cleared the air about Lissing's decision to leave the show.
"First and foremost, I want to say to all of our fans that three of us here are very good friends, and we all love each other and we support each other," Loughlin shared. "But we are actors, and actors have contracts and sometimes contracts expire and you have a choice to make. You either renegotiate or you don't, and Dan has chosen to move on, we respect that. No judgment, we love him, we wish him well, he's still part of the Hallmark family."
In Sunday's surprising finale -- which broke many fans' hearts -- the series-long love story between school teacher Elizabeth Thatcher (Krakow) and Canadian Mountie Jack Thornton (Lissing) came to a painful end when Jack died offscreen, leaving Elizabeth a bereaved widow -- although the surprise pregnancy cliffhanger at the end of the episode left fans with a ray of hope.
After the episode aired, some fans began to speculate that Jack's death was the result of some sort of behind-the-scenes drama. However, Loughlin reiterated that the cast and creators have "nothing but love for Dan" and she believes the show's fans "will continue to support him [like] we will."
Loughlin admitted, however, that Lissing's departure led them to the "tricky decision" of what to do with the character of Jack Thornton -- whose wedding to Elizabeth had been a major event episode earlier this season.
"We talked about it and then we talked about it again," Loughlin said, recalling how they came up with a slew of possible options.
"We talked about, like, 'Do we recast the role? No. We can't recast the role, how can you recast the role? No!'" she explained. "The chemistry that these two have, we just didn't feel like -- the writers didn't feel like that was possible."
Another option was having Jack sent off to the Northern Territories of Canada, but that presented numerous storytelling problems for Elizabeth's character.
"We knew our time was limited with Dan and the actor wouldn't be coming back. So if we sent him off to the Northern Territories, now we have Elizabeth sitting at home in Hope Valley just pining away and waiting? Not much story to tell," she continued.
One option they seriously considered was having Jack tell Elizabeth that his job as a Mountie was forcing him to relocate and he was breaking up with her to allow her to move on. However, Loughlin said the writers felt that was out of character for Jack.
Eventually, Loughlin said they realized "the only way he would leave her is in death."
"That was a really hard decision for the writers to make," she shared. "Truly it was. But I want the fans to know that we, in making that decision, we really did take you into consideration."
Which is why the show gave fans everything they wanted to see from Jack and Elizabeth's romance -- including an engagement, a wedding and "a baby on the way" all before the end of Lissing's time on the show.
"The circumstances weren't ideal, [but] they were what they were, and we tried to make the best of it," she said.
It's our first ever POST-finale Facebook LIVE! #Hearties Join When Calls the Heart's Executive Producer Brian Bird, Lori Loughlin, Erin Krakow and Daniel Lissing.
When it came to leaving, the 36-year-old Australian actor said his departure from the show was a decision he came to with a heavy heart.
"Circumstances arose for me where I needed to leave When Calls the Heart for reasons that are very personal to me," Lissing said without elaborating. "I went to Hallmark and they were nothing but supportive of me. I went to the girls and they were nothing but supportive of me."
He said that his relationship with his co-stars, the network and his fan base is still "a very positive one" and he's "very excited to see what the future brings."
As for Krakow, Jack's death was an emotional turning point in the show because it signified the end of her time working with Lissing on the show after five seasons.
"I was just sad that Dan was leaving. That's the bottom line: We were all really sad about it, and that's hard," Krakow, 33, shared as she began to tear up. "Dan, in many ways, has been my partner in crime for five years, and one of my greatest scene partners ever, and I'm just really gonna miss him."
As she got choked up, Krakow explained how she was also moved by the "heartbreaking" finale, and what it meant to her.
"This felt very special because these characters are all so close to me and all you have to do is think about it and the tears fall," she explained.
Lissing had nothing but love for his longtime co-star as well, praising Krakow as "the best scene partner I've ever had."
"It's been the honor of my career to play Jack. It has been the honor of my career to work with these two amazing women who I consider some of my best friends in the world," Lissing shared. "When I came out to the United States, as a guy who was playing [music] in bars in Sydney, to think that I would play a character like Jack on an American TV show is beyond anything I could've ever imagined."
While Jack might have died a hero, it turns out his memory (and lineage) will live on in Elizabeth, who discovered at the end of Sunday's finale that she is pregnant with her late husband's baby.
The joyous news may have been a salve on the painful burn of Jack's demise for some fans, and Krakow was clearly excited about the possibilities pregnancy and a baby could open up in future seasons of When Calls the Heart, but admitted that she doesn't know whether she hopes Elizabeth ends up giving birth to a son or daughter.
"From my heart, I cannot give you an answer other than to say I would be so happy with a boy or a girl for Elizabeth," she shared. "It's a blessing either way."
For more on the soul-shattering revelation of Jack's death on When Calls the Heart's recent season finale, check out the video below.