– Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead – 

You can’t say that they didn’t warn you. In July during San Diego Comic Con, much was made of the news that Family Guy would crossover with The Simpsons, but there was less attention paid to showrunner Steve Callaghan’s warning that a major character would take their last bow during the animated show’s 12th season.

Last night, Family Guy followed through on that threat, shocking fans and raising questions about whether the series had completely jumped the shark when they killed off Brian; the Griffin’s loyal, opinionated, and occasionally boozy talking dog.

More than a family pet, Brian has stood out as quite possibly the most popular character on the show, serving as a straight man to Peter Griffin and a sidekick for Stewie (with whom Brian often teamed up for some of the show’s most beloved episodes). Brian was also a key part of the show’s widespread merchandising efforts, with bobble heads, action figures, tees, and other paraphernalia bearing his image.

So, why tick off loyal supporters who have been through all of Family Guy‘s ups and downs (from birth to cancellation to syndicated success and an unlikely re-birth) while simultaneously hurting the Family Guy brand by taking out one of its signature assets? Here’s Callaghan, telling E! how this idea took root.

“Well, this was an idea that got pitched in the writers room and it sort of caught fire, and we thought it could be a fun way to shake things up. As soon as this idea came up, we started talking about what the next couple episodes could be and we got very excited about the way this change will affect the family dynamics and the characters.”

One thing that’s going to change the Griffin family’s dynamic is the addition of a replacement dog named Vinny, as voiced by Sopranos alum Tony Sirico. According to Callaghan, that character had to be brought aboard because “a void needed to be filled both comically, and also for interpersonal relationships between all the characters.”

Will fans accept Vinny and move on from Brian, or will they rebel against a show that felt a need to create a “void” out of a want to “shake things up”? Callaghan doesn’t seem concerned about the latter.

“Our fans are smart enough and have been loyal to our show for long enough, to know that they can trust us. We always make choices that always work to the greatest benefit of the series.”

Callaghan seems to have a lot of faith in the fan’s faith in him and the rest of the writers over at Family Guy, but those fans have never been asked to accept a game changer like this before, leaving them to feel slighted in the afterglow of this grim (and graphically presented) surprise, taking to twitter to voice their dissatisfaction toward show creator Seth MacFarlane while some wondered if this was a stunt or temporary.

Family Guy has a history of killing off its characters to get a rise out of viewers, memorably taking out Lois, Cleveland, and Stewie in the season six two-parter “Stewie Kills Lois” and “Lois Kills Stewie”, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this might all be a dream or something else, but this time it feel more final. It also feels a little desperate.

Family Guy is still a solid performer for FOX, but the bloom has fallen off the rose a bit with many long term fans and critics saying that the show’s comedy has lost some of its bite over the last few years. Perhaps the death of Brian was put in place to convince people that Family Guy‘s waning comedic boldness will reverse course following this extreme shift, but it seems more likely that this may cause critics to scratch their heads while possibly pushing fans to ponder whether they should stop supporting a show that has now taken away a character that inspired many to latch onto Family Guy in the first place.

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Family Guy airs Sundays on FOX @9PM ET

Source: E!, Zap2It