The very first episode. After Robert has dismissed Bates, Anna notices he's not at dinner and decides to take him up something. When she approaches his door - and remember that Bates had taken his dismissal stoically and without complaint - she sees him sobbing in private.
Marys face when the Duke of Crowborough rejects her.
Molesley telling Carson how useless he feels when Matthew wont let him do his job.
Mary's breakdown back in season 1 because of her father's attention to Matthew. She then lashes out at her mother who is no longer fighting the entail not because she's female but because she believes she's not worthy.
Gwens despair, when she is rejected from a job offer due to her social status:
(to Sybil) Forgive me, mlady, but you dont get it. Youre brought up to think its all within your grasp, that if you want something enough it will come to you; but were not like that. We dont think our dreams are bound to come true, because they almost never do.
This turns into a heartwarming moment, as Sybil assures her that is precisely why they must keep at it. And sure enough Sybil is able to get Gwen an interview in the next episode.
Mrs Patmore right before she has to have her eye treatment. The normally grumpy old woman just looks so scared, and in need of a hug as Anna has to leave her on her own.
Ms O'Brien gets one actually. Thinking Cora is planning to dismiss her, in the heat of the moment she leaves soap on the bathroom floor. Immediately as soon as she's out of the room, she has a Heel Realization - "Sarah O'Brien, you are not like this" - and goes to warn Cora about the soap. Unfortunately she's too late and Cora suffers a miscarriage as a result.
Despite both of them being scheming shrews, it's hard not to feel sorry for Mary and Edith at the garden party when both their engagements fall through. It's arguably even worse for Edith. At least Matthew broke it off with Mary, and she knew she had herself to blame. Edith meanwhile merely gets rebuffed suddenly and has no idea what she's done to change his mind. She looks so hurt as he walks off. Even if it's Laser-Guided Karma for both sisters, both of them look utterly devastated.
Mrs. Patmore finding out not only that her nephew is dead but that he was shot for cowardice.
Thomas bonding with and advocating for Lt. Courtenay. The lieutenant's situation is awful - blinded by gas, unable to do anything that he loves and being replaced by his younger brother, who he clearly doesn't get along with - and watching Thomas opening up to him and earnestly trying to help is a sweetness that we've never seen from him before. The fact that Thomas was actually good at cheering him up and rehabilitating him was a pleasant surprise, but Clarkson's intransigence basically guaranteed Courtenay's suicide. The way that Thomas breaks down afterwards is heart wrenching, sitting alone and wracked by sobs. The situation is even sadder because after this, Thomas probably won't try so hard to help other patients.
The whole of episode 205: William marries Daisy on his deathbed, Matthew's spine is damaged and he cannot walk or be "properly married" to any woman, we see Ethel struggling to cope with her illegitimate child, Mary becomes engaged to Richard Carlisle despite still loving Matthew and Bates and Anna still can't get rid of Vera.
Edith maintaining that the disfigured soldier really was their presumed dead cousin Patrick.
We're his family and we drove him away.
"Go back with them then, if you think they can make you happier than I will". Branson's voice (and his heart) breaks when he says this.
The look on Matthew's face when Lavina dies.
The funeral as well, when Matthew says he and Mary are cursed is sooo sad if you consider what will happen to Matthew in the second Christmas special.
Mr. Mason and Daisy at William's grave. Stop.
The last two lines of series 2. Ouch.Can't poor Mr Bates ever catch a break?
Bates, soft but fervent: I love you.
Anna, halfway to tears: And I love you. For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse.
[they kiss passionately before they are pulled apart]
It gets worse during the Christmas special. The first shot we see of Mr. Bates is him sitting on his prison cot, clutching a photograph of Anna and breaking down in tears. On Christmas Day. And just when you think it can't get any worse, he's found guilty of Vera's 'murder' and is sentenced to die by hanging. Poor Anna freaks out in the middle of the court, and Bates - who's been quite steely-jawed during the proceedings - breaks down AGAIN, calling for Anna as he's been led away by the guards. JESUS CHRIST.
Anna's shriek when she hears the sentence
Mr Mason and Daisy adopting each other as family. Many tears were shed.
The sheer misconceptions about the War. Robert and William are so happy to be a part of it, believing it to be utterly noble and a grand adventure. Thomas believes just before the start of Series 2 that by enlisting early he will avoid the dangers. Everyone believes the war will end soon and that it will be 'the war to end all wars'. And Downton itself makes wartime look rather easy... there are still parties, fundraisers, etc. But when glimpses of what the War really is are played we realize just how wrong everyone truly is... and what pain is waiting for them.
As O'Brien cares for her Cora weakly tells her she's always been so good to her. O'Brien, near tears, tells her she hasn't and, without saying the exact words, begs forgiveness for causing Cora's miscarriage. Cora just keeps repeating that O'Brien's been "so good... so good". You can see that every time she says it O'Brien feels like she's been stabbed in the heart.
Mrs Hughes' entire storyline in 3x02. When Phyllis Logan cries, so will you. Oh, Elsie!
Just when it looks like things are going well for Edith, Anthony leaves her at the altar. She's completely inconsolable and devastated, especially when Mary and Sybil - her two happily married sisters - try to comfort her.
Ethel giving up baby Charlie in 3.04. When Mrs. Crawley asks her to visit - with the pretext of offering her a job - she reveals that she's stopped working as a prostitute, rationalizing that 'now she can starve alone' instead of worrying about feeding her son. The implications are heartbreaking.
Tom Branson getting yelled at by Robert when he ran to the Crawleys for help; his description of the burning of a house, his reaction to the devastated families, and that utter, broken look of desparation on his face.
Arguably, he deserved being chewed out by Robert for such despicable behavior — it's all very well being sad afterwards, but joining in with the burning of a family home is appalling, no matter how worthy he believes his political ideals to be. It can also be Moment of Awesome on Robert's behalf, having endured endless tetchy politicking from Branson for half of the third series, and his incredulity at Branson's change of heart is understandable.
Sybil defended Tom, claiming he had nothing to do with the burning of the house, holding his hand the whole time. But when she finds out he had attended meetings of the group responsible, she lets go. She looked so dissapointrd in him.
Sybil's horrific death via eclampsia in 3x05, complete with seizures, Mary, Tom, and Cora begging her to stay with them, and a lingering shot of Tom looking out the window of Downton while holding their newborn daughter.
Mary and Edith's tearful reconciliation in the aftermath of Sybil's death. They admit that it's probably too late for them to be as close as sisters should be...but they're still going to try, since there's just the two of them now....
How about Robert himself? If he and Sir Philip had taken Dr. Clarkson's warnings seriously, there's a chance that Sybil might have lived. A fact that Cora harshly reminds him of the next day, and for which he blames himself as well.
Cora's goodbye. "Because you are my baby, you know. My beauty and my baby."
The Dowager Countess, the epitome of the stiff British upper lip, on the verge of tears as she enters the house. It's the only time on the show we've ever seen her this emotionally vulnerable.
And all the servants are seen crying when they hear the news of Sybil's death. Even Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes can't hold back their tears
Mr Carson: I've known her since she was a baby.
Mrs Hughes: The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone.
Hell, even Thomas breaks down.
Thomas: *Sobs* I don't know why I'm crying really. She wouldn't've noticed if I'd died.
Anna: You don't mean that.
Thomas: No, no I don't. *visibly getting a grip on himself* In my life, I can tell you, not many have been kind to me. She was one of the few *sobs more*.
Daisy quietly asks Mr. Carson what they should do and manages to remain calm if quiet... until Mrs. Hughes opens her arms to her. Daisy instantly breaks down into sobs.
Thomas telling Bates, who is working on their new home with Anna, that he envies him for being a part of a happy couple everyone supports, while he will never experience that.
Thomas when he's forcefully and loudly rejected by Jimmy. Even worse: Alfred sees the whole thing and is then coerced into telling Carson by O'Brien. He just stands there in the middle of the hallway, tears brimming as he realizes that everything he's worked/schemed for is falling to pieces now that his secret is out. Made even sadder by the fact that everyone (Mrs. Hughes, Mrs. Patmore, Bates, Mary and even Robert) knew, and none of them cared. All of his worrying and scheming, not to mention the chip on his shoulder, could have been avoided. If he only knew that Robert was aware of his 'secret', the blackmailing scheme wouldn't have gone anywhere.
Carson's remarks are cutting, even if he doesn't mean them to be. To hear a character whom we are fond of using words like 'foul' and 'revolting' when speaking of homosexuality is fairly upsetting. The fact that Thomas is more upset than we've ever seen him doesn't help matters.
And later when he's outside, crouched in a corner, hat in hands, weeping and Mrs. Hughes asks him what's wrong. He clearly wants to tell her, but he's terrified of her reaction.
"I'm... I'm afraid that... that if I do, Mrs. Hughes, it will shock and disgust you."
Just how broken Thomas seems when Bates is up in his room, as much as we've loved to hate him.
Branson bursting into tears at the memory of his dead wife in the second Christmas special.
Matthew's death at the end of the second Christmas special.
What's horrible about his death is that just before the accident, he looks so happy. For the first time since he's been at Downton, everything is going well, and then the truck...
It's that last shot of Mary in the hospital, looking so happy with her new baby, completely unaware of what's just happened. It didn't help that the scenes with her kept switching back to Matthew's body, bleeding and broken.
Just the thought of what his mother's reaction is going to be has been enough to have fans who otherwise were not fans of Matthew in tears. This is going to shatter Isobel Crawley, and her fans know it.
Then there's the fact that the last time she ever saw him was when the family was going up to Scotland. She smiles and waves goodbye to her only child, neither of them knowing that it's the last time she'll ever see him alive...
A more subtle one from the 2012 Christmas Special: Lady Flintshire has a strained relationship with her daughter Rose that becomes more evident when the Crawleys come up to their estate. The Dowager Countess seems to side with Rose, and when she tells Lady Cora that her mother is overly concerned, Cora says that of course she is, that mothers always worry about their babies (Rose is the youngest of three children)...and there's this quick but devastating and heartbroken look on her face. Branson isn't the only one who still desperately misses Sybil.
When the Dowager comforts her you can see that she realises, this time, that Cora is not being an over-emotional American, but a grieving mother.
After everything, Thomas is still in love with Jimmy. He gets badly beaten trying to protect Jimmy, and all he wants in return is platonic friendship. This might go under 'heartwarming' if Thomas wasn't so surprised and grateful that Jimmy is willing to be his friend. He really was expecting to be rejected again.
Mary in the entirety of the fourth season premiere, in the six months following Matthew's death. She's pretty much dead to the world, barely holding back her grief and anger at her husband's death, unable to bond with her baby son. Thankfully, she's starting to come out of it now.
There's a short scene when Anna lays out clothes for Mary to wear. Mary immediately asks her to lay out black clothes for her to wear. It's a grim callback to the first episode, where Mary asks Cora if she has to wear full mourning in the wake of her then-fiance's death. It's a subtle sign at how deeply Matthew's death has affected her.
Mary again, when she blankly states that she doesn't see her being a good mother to George, and that whatever softness Matthew found in her dried up and withered away when he died.
Isobel Crawley. Dear God, poor Isobel. She's in a similar state to Mary: locked in grief and refusing to leave her house. When Violet comes to see her and asks her to at least see her grandson, she says she doesn't want to interfere. And then she follows it up with saying "You see...when you're a widow who's lost her only son, you're not much of anything anymore."
Even worse is when Isobel does try to see George, the nanny sends her away.
4x03. Anna. Raped. Dear God, what viewer didn't leave that scene shaking and crying?
The aftermath of it is heartbreaking as well. Anna refuses to let Bates come near her and ends up moving back into the estate after Edna leaves. She's obviously traumatized, to the point where even Robert asks her what's wrong. Bates is still in the dark, and assumes that he must have done something to push his wife away.
After Edna has taken advantage of Tom's loneliness and the fact that he was, by his own admission, very drunk to get him into bed, she tries to spring the rest of her Baby Trap on him by telling him that if he was good enough for Sybil, she's good enough for him, his knee-jerk response is to angrily forbid her from using his wife's name. But it's Edna's blink-and-miss-it response which really clinches it: "You were free enough with it last night." Oh, Tom...
Daisy putting on a brave face to congratulate Alfred, then breaking down in tears afterwards.
Isobel's reaction to Mary getting friendly with Anthony. She knows full well that she can't expect Mary to pine after Matthew for the rest of her life, but it still hurts for her to watch.
Anthony proposing to Mary, who tearfully but gentle rejects him because she still loves Matthew and grieves him too much to even think of marriage for several years, at least. Even worse, Mary seems to recognize that Anthony is a good man who would treat her and her son very well, and there is a spark between them, and when Tom asks her what's wrong, she tells him that she may have done something she will regret for the rest of her life.
After years of feeling like The Unfavorite, Edith finally says it out loud to her father when he finds her crying.
Robert: Edith? My most darling girl, what's the matter?
Edith: But I'm not "your most darling girl", am I?
Robert: I love all my children equally.
Edith: I don't know why people say that when it's almost never true.
Edith's situation in general for the fifth season. She's still unmarried, doesn't have anyone to turn to for affection (romantic or otherwise), doesn't have any duties to keep her busy, is still in mourning over Gregson and is cooped up in the house all day watching everyone dote on her sisters' children while her illegitimate daughter is being raised by a farmer and his wife in secret. And while she does drop in to see Marigold from time to time, it's clearly not enough for her. Even worse, Margie - the farmer's wife, who doesn't know the truth of Marigold's parentage - is terrified of Edith's interest in their child and thinks that one day she's going to come and snatch her away from them. It comes to a head in episode 5.03, when Tim has to tell Edith to stay away from them for an indefinite period of time. The look on Edith's face is heartbreaking.
And as always, it gets worse for poor Edith. She can't keep away from Marigold, and it gets worse when she brings Lady Rosamund to see the baby. Mrs. Drewe has all but convinced Mr. Drewe to sell the farm and move away if Edith doesn't stop showing up, an ultimatum that causes both him and Edith distress. Rosamund and The Dowager's own solution - to send Marigold away to a French boarding school to be brought up under an alias - is no better for Edith. In either scenario, Edith sends up having her daughter taken away and it's tearing her up inside.
Nasty as Thomas is, it's hard not to feel sorry for him: in 5.04, we discover he's started a course of medicine to "cure" his homosexuality. Whatever's in it, it's obviously making him physically sick as well as miserable.
Edith reaching her Despair Event Horizon when she discovers that Michael Gregson has indeed been killed by the Nazis and promptly taking Marigold and running away from Downton.
Speaking of Marigold, there's Mrs. Drewe's absolute grief and heartbreak when Edith shows up and tells the truth about Marigold's parentage. She screams at her husband for lying to her, tears up Edith's copy of the birth certificate, but ultimately there's nothing she can do. Not only would it be wrong to keep Marigold from her birth mother, but Edith is the daughter of their upper-class landlord. They have no choice but to let Marigold go. The Dowager's subsequent visit to their home finds them still torn up about it.
When Edith takes Marigold, Mrs. Drewe is fighting and screaming until it becomes apparent that Edith really is going to take the baby and there's nothing she can do; then she hands over Marigold's teddy bear too, so that the child can at least be happy and comforted even if it can't be with her. The little pat she gives the bear is heartbreaking.
Isis dying of cancer, spending her last night nestled between Robert and Cora in their bed after Robert had spent the last few scenes carrying her around like a lost little boy.
Mrs. Patmore's attempt to get her nephew, who was shot for cowardice during WWI, a place on the Downton war memorial is pretty heartrending; especially when she defends him to Robert telling him about how he could have stayed at home until he was conscripted but instead had joined up right away.
Anna being arrested for the murder of Mr Green in the season finale. She's upset, terrified and on the brink of tears as she's handcuffed in front of her husband and led away.
Bates brokenly begging Mr Vyner that he can't be without Anna. Robert has to physically step in front of him to stop him from chasing after the police as they take her away.
Even worse is that she doesn't even get to say goodbye to Bates properly, unlike in season two where they were allowed to exchange endearments before Bates was arrested.
The fact that as of season six, 95% of the household is no longer bothering to disguise their contempt and loathing for Thomas. His bitter "You're wrong about me, Miss Baxter - I do care about what people think of me" is heartwrenching. He's gone from being one of the top dogs of the household to little more than a nuisance, and he knows it.
The full depths of Barrows isolation and self loathing are heartwrenching to watch unfold. Without OBrien or Jimmy he is completely alone, and the few who are nice to him like Andy, Baxter, and Anna, are actively encouraged to not engage with him. Meanwhile Carson constantly makes belittling and alienating comments about him being a pointless waste, while Thomas himself is constantly on tenderhooks waiting to be fired, which would also entail him being evicted from his home of 15 years and leaving the only people he knows, who all love reminding him how much they wont miss him. Even the Family can see how withdrawn and depressed hes getting, yet none of the servants other than Baxter seem to notice the mental anguish he is undergoing. Just watching his face anytime Carson reminds him to get another job or Baxter tries to talk to him is enough to make you weep.
The look on Thomas's face every time Andrew turns down his offers to do things with him or teach him jobs. He really does just want friendship with the guy and every time he's turned away, he looks like he's trying so hard to mask over tears.
When Andrew apologizes for treating him so poorly, Thomas shrugs it off, saying "I've had worse."
Made even worse by the fact that when Andrew does accept his friendship, his intentions are misinterpreted, and he gets a tongue-lashing from Carson that leaves him sobbing all alone in the dark and empty servant's hall.
Poor old Sir Michael Reresby, the man Thomas goes to for a job interview. His wife has died, his two sons died in World War I. He like many Blue Bloods are slowly going broke as most of his large house is empty he seems to live entirely in one room with his laundry drying by the fire place and old worn-out furniture. He has only a part time maid and gardener for staff. As he describes the good old days that he swears are going to come back.
Sir Michael: Do you know what I shall always remember, the women going up to bed at the end of the evening their faces lit by the flame from the candle, yes, the diamonds twinkling as they climbed up into the darkness...
Phyllis Baxter's face when she realizes what Thomas has done in the series 6 finale. Whether Thomas knows it or not, there is one person in that household who gives a damn about him — and her heart is visibly breaking for him.
The episode at the racetrack, when Talbot's best friend dies in a crash.
Worse is how much it totally shakes up Mary and makes her completely reevaluate her situation with Henry Talbot. As she notes, she can't deal with losing another husband in a car crash.
The whole situation between Edith and Mrs. Drewe. Two mothers, one baby. There's no solution where both women get to keep the child they both care so deeply for, and someone's heart is going to be broken.
Seeing how much Mrs. Drewe misses Marigold is heartbreaking. So is the fact that the Drewe family, who have been at their farm for generations, are forced to relocate because the situation with Marigold has become too problematic. Think about it. Mr. Drewe did an enormous favour for Lady Edith and it ended up breaking his wife's heart and forcing him and his family away from their home. Talk about no good deed goes unpunished.
When Mrs. Drewe low-key kidnaps Marigold from the festival, it's very hard not to blame her. She probably knew she'd only get a few more hours at best with the child she missed desperately, and she knew how much trouble it would cause when she was inevitably caught, but she does it anyway. When the Crawleys catch up with her, she's just holding Marigold, rocking her back and forth, spending precious moments with her.
Speaking of Lady Edith, her heartbreak when Mary tells Bertie Pelham the truth about Marigold and his engagement to Edith is called off.
Lady Cora telling Robert that Edith didn't want Mary to find out the truth about Marigold was because she was afraid Mary would use the information as a weapon against her. It speaks volumes about their relationship. Even worse, she was right. After finding out, Mary uses the information to ruin the best chance of happiness her sister has had in the entire series.
While it is surrounded by Heartwarming moments, Gwen quietly saying that she and Sybil kept in touch... until she heard about her death. It is clear that Gwen, just like Tom, still feels the utter sting of Sybil being gone.