[Warning! This story contains spoilers from Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life! Read at your own risk!]
To say that the death of revered actor Edward Herrmann in 2014 greatly influenced the interconnected narratives of Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, which debuted Friday on the streaming service, would be an understatement.
For seven seasons, Herrmann played respected family patriarch Richard Gilmore, a wealthy and sophisticated graduate of Yale University who, like his granddaughter Rory (Alexis Bledel), loved books. Married to Emily (Kelly Bishop), who was the picture of WASP society, Richard was an all-around good man despite not being around much when Lorelai (Lauren Graham) was growing up. Within the context of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Richard's death occurred four months prior to the start of the first episode, titled "Winter," and his death reverberated through all four of the revival's 90-minute season-themed chapters.
Much like when he was alive, Richard affected each of the Gilmore women in a different way in death, and even when he wasn't the topic of conversation, his presence hung over each scene. Here's how each of the three Gilmore women were affected.
Without Richard, Emily didn't recognize her life or who she was. For the first time in 50 years, she was on her own, and although her grief eventually worked to thaw her heart and release a more relaxed Emily, it wasn't easy to get from point A to point B. She was so overcome with her own grief that she initially failed to recognize the feelings of others, and although this wasn't exactly a new development, it nevertheless still stung. After Lorelai struggled to recall a positive memory of her father at his wake and thus embarrassed her mother in front of Richard's friends, Emily shut Lorelai out until Rory returned home from London four months later. Eventually, she started decluttering the large Hartford home she and Richard had shared in an attempt to reclaim her former joy, but it wasn't until a trip to Nantucket that Emily found true peace, chose to sell the family estate and move permanently to the shore.
Emily spent much of the revival's second episode, "Spring," in therapy — something most of the women on this show probably should have done years ago — and in subsequent episodes struggled just to get out of bed. She was lost and found that nothing she did had much meaning. As time progressed, and with some subtle nudging by Rory, she started to rediscover who she was as a woman and not just who she was as Richard's wife. She quit the obnoxious DAR in epic fashion and found herself working as a docent at a whaling museum in "Fall." It was a position she was oddly suited for. In the final chapter of the story, she'd found peace (and a normal-sized portrait of Richard), and lived in Nantucket with the family of the first maid she'd ever been able to keep longer than a few weeks.
Without Richard as a buffer, Emily and Lorelai's relationship was even more strained than it was during the show's seven-season run. His death — and Emily's barbs about how Lorelai couldn't understand Emily's loss because she didn't know what it was like to be married — made Lorelai question her relationship status with Luke Scott Patterson and the fact they'd never married or had children of their own together. An investigation into surrogacy — and a confused Luke who never quite grasped how surrogacy worked — later and the couple still hadn't made much progress. In fact, by that point they were keeping secrets from one another. Lorelai didn't reveal to Luke that she'd continued to go to therapy after Emily quit, and Luke didn't tell Lorelai that he'd gone with Emily to look at possible locations for a Luke franchise, which was one of Richard's dying wishes.
Eventually, after a failed attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (yes, she'd just read Wild) ended at a roadside diner with a view, Lorelai was able to unlock her emotional block. She'd found what she was searching for, and in a phone call to Emily, recalled with great detail a fond memory of Richard that showcased the loving father he was to her even though it wasn't always apparent. Lorelai returned home and then married Luke.
While Emily struggled to find herself as a widow and Lorelai struggled with unresolved feelings for her father, Richard's death affected the youngest Gilmore in a different, less obvious way. It wouldn't be accurate to say she was unaffected by his passing — after all, Rory had more in common with Richard than either Emily or Lorelai had — but rather that his death was simply the latest setback in a string of setbacks.
For most of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Rory was unmoored, aimlessly drifting between her childhood bedroom, Paris' New York brownstone and Lane's couch. Without a stable job or even reliable job prospects, she was adrift in the sea of obscurity, and she refused to admit she'd returned home permanently to Stars Hollow at 32 because it meant defeat. For most of her sheltered, privileged life, Rory was led to believe she was special, but once Rory entered the real world and discovered there were many young professionals just like her (and some who were even younger), she struggled to find success much the same way she struggled to find her once so clear identity.
In "Summer," Rory took on the job of editing the Stars Hollow Gazette just to give her life some purpose (and because otherwise Taylor was going to let it close), but it wasn't until Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) planted the seed of writing a book about her life with Lorelai that Rory had any real direction. Now, Richard probably would have had some key advice for Rory at each step of the way, and he maybe even would have tried to her her land a job, but it was through his absence and his constant memories that she was able to find the woman she was meant to be. In the final episode, Rory found peace and inspiration in Richard's office, and it was where her book, The Gilmore Girls — which Lorelai later suggested be shortened to just Gilmore Girls — was born.
All four episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life are now streaming on Netflix.