Viewers were shocked last night as a major character met her demise in Seven's hit drama Packed to the Rafters.
The plot turn imploded the near-perfect world of the Rafters family, as a favourite daughter was suddenly cut from the show.
The death followed network promos for the show that promised "the death of a young Rafter". While fans debated whether it could be Rachel (Jessica Marais), Ben (Hugh Sheridan), Nathan (Angus McLaren), Melissa (Zoe Ventoura) or even baby Ruby (Hannah and Sebella Storie), there was also some cynicism that it might just be a dream sequence or a promo stunt.
But the car accident involving Melissa was followed by her husband identifying her body in a hospital. Ben was surrounded by his tearful family as he gazed down upon her body, in a slow-motion scene, devoid of any dialogue.
Ventoura is the second major cast member to leave the show, following Jessica McNamee who played Sammy Rafter. She has quit the drama to pursue acting opportunities in the US, but keeping her departure under wraps for so long was a major exercise for everyone from cast and crew to network publicists.
No preview DVDs were issued to media for fear of the news leaking. The synopsis for the show failed to indicate any tell-tale signs. Even synopses for next week don't spoil anything, with no hint of tragedy and all cast members still listed for the episode.
The episode was also carefully timed to air on Melbourne Cup day, traditionally one of Seven's biggest audiences of the year.
Over 2.3 millions viewers tuned in for the episode, which will be repeated at 9:30pm Monday, November 8 on Seven, due to popular demand.
The death of a soapie character is always a major drawcard for TV audiences. The more memorable ones in Aussie TV have been Molly (Anne Tenney) in A Country Practice, Lou (Alex Cook) in Love My Way, the unseen death of Grace Sullivan (Lorraine Bayly) in The Sullivans and Madge Ramsay (Anne Charleston) in Neighbours.
There are just two more Rafters episodes left to air this year. Better get out the tissues.
Packed to the Rafters airs 8:30pm Tuesdays on Seven.