Don’t worry — Stella the dog is safe!

That was a big concern last month, when the “Modern Family” co-creator said in an interview that a “significant” character would die this season, an unusually serious story line for the hit ABC sitcom. Immediately, viewers started speculating about the fate of Stella, known as the beloved French bulldog of patriarch Jay (Ed O’Neill).

But on Wednesday night, the show made the reveal: At the top of the episode, everyone found out that DeDe (Shelley Long), Jay’s ex-wife and Claire (Julie Bowen) and Mitchell’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) mother, passed away.

Long appeared in seven episodes over nine seasons, so “significant” may have been a stretch. Co-creator Steve Levitan told Entertainment Weekly he was a bit worried that the producers “overpromised” the plot twist.

“Maybe [viewers will] be pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t one of our regular people, but I hope we don’t disappoint, as strange as that sounds, or that they were gearing up for more and say, ‘Oh, is that all?' " Levitan said. “But it’s significant to us. She’s a very significant character in so many of our characters’ lives that it’s still meaningful.”

At first, DeDe’s death is very mysterious; all the family members know is that she was on vacation with her women’s group in Greenland. While they wait to hear details, the characters grappled with their grief — mostly in costume, as this was the Halloween episode.

  • Claire, dressed as a spider, and Mitchell, dressed as Prince Harry, reflected on the relationships they had with their mother. Mitchell’s was fairly peaceful; Claire’s was much more contentious. At first, Claire felt guilty that their last conversation was a fight, after DeDe wrote a crazy Facebook post that claimed that putting eucalyptus oils on the soles of your feet is a natural birth control. Then, Claire realized DeDe left her a voice mail after their argument. “Hey honey, it’s Mom,” the message began. “I just want to apologize. I should not have lost my temper. Shaman Phoenix Feather’s family-planning advice may not be for everyone. . . . I love you and I always will.” As Claire started to cry, her mother’s voice piped up again, criticizing her hair. And Claire quickly ended the message. 
  • Phil (Ty Burrell), dressed as a fly, and Cam (Eric Stonestreet), dressed as Meghan Markle, fretted over how to help their respective partners. It ended up with them stuck in the car in the West Hollywood Halloween parade during a botched trip to get ice cream, but they shared a nice moment.
  • Gloria (Sofía Vergara), as Jay’s second wife, was DeDe’s nemesis. So she was worried that DeDe would haunt her from the grave, which wasn’t unreasonable, because that’s what DeDe promised at Gloria and Jay’s wedding. She kept finding tiny statues of DeDe everywhere, and she was terrified.
  • Haley (Sarah Hyland) indulged in food; Luke (Nolan Gould) cracked inappropriate jokes; Alex (Ariel Winter) invited her boyfriend over, and one thing led to another . . . and then she freaked out about what that said about her grief process.
  • Jay spent most of the episode determined to find out who stole his sandwich from the refrigerator.
  • Twelve-year-old Lily (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons) admitted that she stole Jay’s sandwich and that she put the DeDe statues all over the place: “What would Nana want today? She would want me to mess with Gloria."

At the end, they all found out how DeDe passed away in Greenland: Even though she taunted a starving pack of wolves, that wasn’t how she died. Phil read an email from DeDe’s widower: “On the trip’s final morning, Dede was found in her room. She had apparently passed peacefully in her sleep, as a smile graced her face and her hands clutched 10 pages of suggestions for the hotel staff."

“That is so Mom,” Claire said.

Anyway, Levitan said the DeDe story will continue to play out, especially as all the characters learn what she left for them before she died. In the meantime, ABC and the co-creators are mulling the future of the popular comedy series, which recently kicked off its 10th season and makes an enormous amount of money in syndication. Deadline reported that ABC and the production company, 20th Century Fox TV, are toying with the idea of a shortened 11th season before ending the show.

“There’s definitely interest from the studio and network, and we’re all trying to figure out if that’s what we want to do. There’s a general desire from just about everybody involved to not say goodbye yet,” Levitan told the Hollywood Reporter, declining to give specifics. “There are a couple hurdles that have to be climbed. We’ll see if it all comes together.”

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