Dan Stevens and Michelle Dockery

When Downton Abbey returns for its second season on Jan. 8, 2012 on PBS, the action will pick up two years after that fated garden party in which the Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) announced that England was at war with Germany.

During Sunday's preview of the hit British series, executive producer Gareth Neame confirmed that the action in the seven-episode second season will take place over two years, just like the first season. "The new series is a similar sort of span," he says. "We start in 1916. The war will come to a conclusion within this series, and the final episodes is the time after the war."

Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton teased, "In this series, people will live. People will die. Marriages will be made. Babies will be born." Reporters got to see a preview trailer for Season 2 with never-before-seen scenes that Eaton called, "more precious than gold." Check out what we learned is in store for the denizens of Downton Abbey from the trailer — Mrs. Bates, is that you? — producers and actors Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery, Siobhan Finneran and Elizabeth McGovern. Warning: Major poilers ahead!

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Upstairs

Robert, Earl of Grantham (Bonneville) - His snazzy red riding coat in the trailer indicates he's involved in the cavalry ... but in what capacity?
Cora, Countess of Grantham (McGovern)
- Cora has been worried abou her youngest daughter, Sybil, who has been rather despondent lately. McGovern adds, "Cora has been derailed by the advent of the war. It's not her war, not yet anyway. She doesn't have a lot invested in it personally. It's more of a giant inconvenience for her because she's losing servants and the house is invaded by convalescing soldiers. More than that, she hasn't found what her role is. It takes her a long time for her to roll up her sleeves and be useful. She has to look to her children who are adusting and making a great response to the war. I think it's a painful adjustment for her because it's not the way she envisioned life going for them."
Lady Mary Crawley (Dockery)
- According to the previews, Mary will do a lot of weeping, and for good reason. Dockery explains, "You first meet Lady Mary in the second series when she returns from London, having done one of the seasons. It's very obvious from the very beginning that she's still in love with Matthew. She finds out quite spitefully through her sister Edith that he's engaged. He has moved on, so Mary very quickly moves on herself and she brings home someone she met in London. He's a media mogul, Sir Richard Carlisle played by Iain Glen (Game of Thrones), who you may be familiar with. She tries to move on and make a life with him. But it's not easy. There are complications. It's not completely resolved with Matthew so don't lose hope. As far as her war effort goes, she's reluctant to get her hands dirty in the beginning when Downton becomes a convalescent home. She's not quite as productive as the other girls because she is a snob in some ways. She does roll with it and she goes with the changes and she does wear an apron at one point."
Lady Edith Crawley (Laura Carmichael)
- She learns to drive. Also, Dockery says, "The rivalry [between the two oldest sisters] is still there. It softens a little in the second series. There are more important things going on. They do look out for each other a little bit more but there's enough there to keep the audience entertained."
Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay)
- The youngest daughter finds losing many of the young men she's known to the war is disheartening, but finds solace in a new hobby.Matthew Crawley (Stevens) — He has a new love interest, the redheaded solicitor's daughter Lavinia (Zoe Boyle). Says Stevens, "In Series 2, he's surrounded by a lot of explosions. He's in uniform for a load of the time and is very much a serving soldier, very active at the front. It's a bit of a darker story line. He's very duty bound and moments of heroics, dashing across No Man's Land. It's quite a change."
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith)
— Neither the trailer, nor the panelists, explained what she's up to, but she does still have the same sharp tongue!

Downstairs

Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) - As usual, he's the go-between for the aristocracy and servants. He also brings Lady Sybil's new hobby to the Countess' attention.
Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol)
- It appears her eyesight hasn't suffered since she's still the cook and has taken on a new pupil.
Sarah O'Brien (Finneran)
- Last we saw the scheming lady's maid, she just realized her soap mishap was unwarranted since the countess was not looking to replace her after all. "I won't say she's wracked with guilt, but she's carrying quite a lot of guilt with what she did. But she doesn't turn into Mother Theresa, you'll be pleased to know," Finneran says. "She's very lonely when the second series starts because [Thomas is] not there. She's got no ally, got no sidekick."
John Bates (Brendan Coyle)
- The valet reunites with his estranged wife Vera (Maria Doyle Kennedy from Dexter), but he still has eyes for Anna (Joanne Froggatt)
Thomas (Rob James-Collier)
- The ambitious footman has gone to help the war effort. "He does go off to war, but he comes back," says Finneran. "O'Brien can survive on her own but she really enjoys Thomas' company because he's nearly as devious as she is. They're a good team. They're slightly sparky with each other this second series. They're not quite singing from the same hymn sheet."
William (Thomas Howes)
- He's stayed in service and did not go off to war.
Daisy (Sophie McShera)
- She continues putting up with Mrs. Patmore, whom she must share with a new cooking pupil.
Ethel (Amy Nuttall)
- She's the new housemaid, replacing Gwen (Rose Leslie), who got hired on as a secretary last season. Ethel also has some rather funny, progressive ideas. "O'Brien doesn't take to Ethel or anybody who's got aspirations where O'Brien feels she should have them," says Finneran. "She'd quash them. She has fun with Ethel, actually."

Downton Abbey 2 premieres on Sunday, Jan. 8 on PBS.

Which Downton Abbey character are you looking forward to seeing again? Do you want Matthew and Mary to get together?