Alicia (Julianna Margulies) and Cary (Matt Czuchry) before everything explodes. (©2014 CBS Broadcasting, Inc)

Well, of all the jaw-dropping, major twists that anyone would have predicted for “The Good Wife” Sunday night — it’s safe to say no one could have seen that one coming.

During what seemed like a routine episode, Will Gardner (Josh Charles) — one of the CBS legal drama’s integral characters from the very beginning — was gunned down in a court house by one of his clients, and died shortly after.

Yep. Will’s dead. Let that sink in for a moment because — WHAT?!

It was a shocking plot development considering that Will has not only been a lead character for five seasons, but he’s played a crucial role in the two big storylines of the series: A love interest to protagonist Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and as a partner at the Lockhart Gardner law firm that’s engineered all the main plots of the show. This season has been particularly gripping, as Alicia split from the firm to start her own, making her and a heartbroken Will enemies; the tension between the two was just beginning to thaw.

That, along with a few other emotional factors, was what made this twist so heartbreaking to diehard viewers. Sunday’s episode was just like any other, at least at the start. Will was in the midst of a case regarding a college student (Jeffrey Grant, played by guest star Hunter Parrish) who was accused of murdering a fellow student. The case looked hopeless, and Jeffrey seemed guilty; until about three-quarters of the way through, when Will got a big break with new evidence and it looked like Jeffrey would likely be acquitted.

WIll (Josh Charles) and Jeffrey Grant (Hunter Parrish). Did that really just happen.

As Will was conferring with opposing counsel in front of the judge explaining the new evidence, the camera panned over to Jeffrey, whose eyes suddenly glazed over when he caught sight of the bailiff standing right next to him — or more specifically, the gun in his holster. We didn’t see exactly what happened next, but we did hear gunshots as everyone in the courthouse started running and screaming. When Lockhart Gardner’s investigator, Kalinda, ran back to the courtroom, she saw Will on the ground bleeding profusely.

Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Will Gardner (Josh Charles) on "The Good Wife. (John Paul Filo/CBS) Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) and Will Gardner (Josh Charles) on “The Good Wife.” (John Paul Filo/CBS)

We also didn’t get to see Alicia’s reaction to learning about the death of her former lover, current enemy and definite soulmate. The episode ended as Alicia picked up the phone, and a tearful Kalinda was about to share the news.

Well. Where can the show go from here? In an interview with TVLine, Charles explains it was his choice to leave the series and that he asked creators Robert and Michelle King last year to be written off the show this season. “Creatively, I was just ready to move on to the next chapter,” Charles said, adding, “You just kind of know sometimes when you’re ready to move on to new experiences.” (Charles will also appear on “Late Show With David Letterman” Monday night to further dissect the decision.)

Perhaps anticipating backlash, the Kings posted a long letter online Monday morning and defended sending Will off with a brutal death. Their reasons include character development (“Will’s death propels Alicia into her newest incarnation”), and essentially reinventing the show’s core with such a dramatic twist. “‘The Good Wife’ is a show about human behavior and emotion, and death,” they wrote. “As sad and unfair as it can be, is a part of the human experience that we want to share.”

We’ll see how the fans feel about that: According to scenes from the next few episodes, everything in “The Good Wife” universe will be sent into complete chaos.

Here’s the scene:

And here’s Josh Charles explaining his decision to leave the show:


(This post has been updated.)