[Spoiler alert: The following post contains information about the plotline of the upcoming Season 4 of "Downton Abbey," which will be broadcast on PBS starting in January. Do not read further if you do not wish to know this informaton before seeing the series.]

Another character on "Downton Abbey" has been put in harm's way - and British fans are already unhappy. 

The British network ITV received dozens of angry complaints after an episode Sunday in which the head housemaid Anna May Bates, played by Joanne Froggatt, is raped. "Downton" is airing Season 4 in the U.K. this fall, but the episodes won't be shown in the U.S. until next year. 

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of 'Downton Abbey'

On Twitter, fans attacked the plot twist as "sick" and sensationalistic. 

This brought a vigorous defense from both Froggatt and creator Julian Fellowes

"The whole point of the way we do things on 'Downton' is we don't do them gratuitously," Fellowes said in a BBC interview

Froggatt said she was "proud" of the way the subject matter had been handled. 

This is not the first time that fans have criticized "Downton" for the way it has handled characters. Last year, viewers howled in protest after writers killed off the popular Downton heir Matthew Crawley, played by Dan Stevens. 

Fellowes sees the controversy as a good thing. 

"The fact that [viewers] engage with it is sort of what you pray for as a program maker, because with most series that's not happening," he said. 

What do you think of "Downton's" latest twist? 

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