Why 'Family Guy' Killed Brian Griffin

September's season 12 premiere was down 21 percent from last year. Did Seth MacFarlane orchestrate a bloody stunt?

Family Guy
Fox
The Griffins on 'Family Guy'
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Update: See Brian's Family Guy replacement in the series' revamped opening credit sequence.

Family Guy sent one of its most beloved characters – the sensible and relatable talking dog Brian Griffin – off to a bloody grave on Sunday, letting him get run down by a car in a surprisingly somber episode that was nevertheless filled with the cartoon series' trademark one-off jokes and wacky cutaways. In the two days since, Brian's death has hit many Family Guy fans hard, leading them to protest the decision with an online petition but also to wonder if his death is really permanent.

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Though executive producer Steve Callaghan explained Brian's death as a "fun way to shake things up" on the show, some suspect the reasons for Brian's death might also have something to do with the ratings for Fox's long-running cartoon series: September's season 12 premiere was down 21 percent from last year, and a bloody publicity stunt like this might just help the series get a boost in viewers – and rake in some extra merchandise sales in time for the holidays.

Indeed, signs suggest that Brian will come back sooner or later. Vinny, a cool-headed pooch voiced by Sopranos actor Tony Sirico, has taken Brian's place as the dog of the Griffin household, but Deadline points out that Sirico is only booked to appear in six episodes. Gawker also notes that Brian's name appears in the title of two future episodes on the Family Guy Wiki – "Brian's a Bad Father" and "Brian the Closer" – and that Callaghan recently spoke with Entertainment Weekly about an upcoming episode featuring Brian.

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Adding to the speculation is the website BriansAnnouncement.com, which is promising "a special announcement" after a clock counts down from 10 days. Family Guy producers have chalked up the website as a hoax, confirming that it has no affiliation with the show or 20th Century Fox. But many fans still think that Brian will be resurrected – perhaps for the "Christmas Guy" episode set to air on Dec. 15?

Sunday's episode "Life of Brian" suggested that it'd be possible to bring Brian back to life – all it would take is a little elbow grease on Stewie's part, and a crucial part he'd need to rebuild his time machine. Though he couldn't get his hands on that part in "Life of Brian," one mustn't forget that in the farcical world of Family Guy, anything is possible.