Casualty spoilers follow.
In case you've been living under a rock these last few weeks, tonight's Casualty episode was indeed the end of the road for Connie Beauchamp.
Unusually, Connie's (very) low-key exit didn't play out in usual Casualty style, so much so, that it might not have been immediately clear that this was the last we'd be seeing of the no-nonsense ED boss for a while.
After seven years of playing sharp-tongued, alpha-female Connie, Amanda Mealing announced she was taking an extended break from the BBC medical drama as she wanted some time out.
"I was tired and really needed to rest," she told Digital Spy. "I haven't had a proper break in years, and when I've taken time out of the show before, I've been directing and doing other things.
"I've been on the show for nearly seven years and it can be full-on. When we went back after the COVID episode, I'd worked 73 out of 80 days. My spare time is also taken up with directing and making short films for my production company. I was very tired and so I have been enjoying catching up on sleep.
"It's very similar to Connie in a way – she needed to spend more time with Grace and I needed to take some time out of work too."
Instead of going out with a bang, tonight's closing moments simply saw a smiling Connie walk off with her teenage daughter Grace, who returned to the show earlier in the year.
After a terrifying incident – in which Grace nearly killed David's son Ollie by performing a risky procedure she was not qualified for – Connie started realising just how much she stands to lose by not prioritising her daughter.
Emily Carey reprised her popular role as Grace for Connie's exit – something which Amanda was particularly pleased about.
"Emily is a phenomenal actress and we were lucky to get her," Amanda explained. "The most poignant scene was when she was at the train station with Grace, opening up about her addiction. It was just the two of them talking properly for the first time. Grace is the most important person in her life, and Connie is realising that she is a young woman now.
"She is finally starting to recognise Grace as a young woman and she needs to nurture that relationship before she loses it entirely. She is putting Grace first for the first time ever. Work has always been the most important thing in Connie's life and only Grace can tip that balance.
"That is what it was about at the train station – she realises that work isn't the most important thing; Grace is. I do think it all stemmed from the COVID episode and Noel's death. Even though they are around it all the time, when it's personal and someone you care for and you can't save them, you start to reflect on your mortality and the time wasted.
"We've seen in the episodes following that how she couldn't come to terms with her failing with Noel and then Grace turns up as this beautiful young woman and she realises she needs to do something about that."
When explaining the reasoning behind Connie's low-key exit, Amanda revealed that she didn't actually tell anyone she was leaving Casualty – even her fellow cast members.
"No one knew I was going as I didn't tell anyone", Amanda said. "I really didn't want a fuss so even when I was filming my final scenes, none of the cast were aware.
"When someone leaves, they usually have to do a big speech, and everyone claps. I didn't want any of that, I wanted to go quietly.
"I thought it was a nice way to go. I didn't want a big, contrived story or for Connie to leave after a helicopter crash or a big confession. In real life, that doesn't really happen. People just slip away quietly for different reasons and that is what Connie did."
Fans were given some misguided hope last year when it appeared that Connie and Jacob had found their way back to each other after a long five years apart.
Sadly, it wasn't to be, and scenes back in January saw Connie get cold feet over their rekindled romance once again – only to change her mind not long after.
"It's been desperately hard for her," Amanda sighed. "Breaking up with Jacob was in the moment because she was in pain. But he took it at face value and that has made it impossible for Connie to tell him how she really feels.
"She was about to tell him when he was held hostage and then other things got in the way. There was another moment after that where she was going to go to the pub and Connie never ever goes to the pub. It's actually written on the wall in the writers' room – 'Connie does not go to the pub'– and the one time she goes to do it, he is going with Tina. That was it for her and that cut it off.
"She hasn't finished with him, she didn't want to finish with him, but at the moment he is with Tina and he's not there to hold her. It's Grace for her now – she is the most important thing."
And finally, the question all Connie fans want to know: will we be seeing her again and when?
"We've agreed to talk in six months so we'll see how it goes," Amanda explained. "I'm busy directing other things at the moment.
"I am finishing a film we started in the first lockdown – it's been a year in waiting. I am also developing and getting the final finance to direct a feature film.
"I might also be directing a thriller. I am really happy to do those things, but I really want to do some theatre as well – if they weren't all closed. It's so sad. It's desperate really as I fear that very few of them will be able to open up after this. It's just money lost, it's dreadful. I would have loved to have done some theatre."
Bye for now, Connie – we'll miss you.
Casualty continues on Saturday, April 10 on BBC One.
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