'Nashville': Is This the End for Connie Britton?

Nashville S04E08 Still - H 2015
Mark Levine/ABC

Nashville S04E08 Still - H 2015

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of CMT's Nashville, "Stand Beside Me."]

Is it time to start putting dirt on Rayna James' grave?

Nashville sent viewers into a spiral Thursday after beloved leading lady Rayna James (Connie Britton) faced not one but two brushes with death in the same hour — the second of which left her life hanging in the balance.

After getting a protective court order against her stalker, Carl Hockney, Rayna was dismayed to discover he was out of jail and had shown up at their front gate (still keeping at least 300 feet away from Rayna.) Surrounded by round-the-clock security for herself and her family, Rayna seemed to have all her bases covered until she went into Highway 65 to listen to some music. With her headphones on and her defenses down at Highway 65, Rayna was horrified to see Hockney burst into her office with a knife in hand.

Despite the imminent threat to her life, Rayna was able to engage in a heartfelt conversation with Hockney, now better known as Wayne, about their abusive fathers and their tortured pasts. "I wanted to tell you that you understand me better than anyone I've ever known," he said. Although Rayna slowly made progress with Wayne, he took her hostage when he saw her dialing 911 from her phone. Thankfully, Rayna's private security team and the local police entered in the nick of time and Wayne was convinced to remove his knife from Rayna's throat and surrendered.

However, just when viewers thought Rayna was out of harm's way — "It's OK," she told Deacon (Charles Esten), "I'm OK" — the police car she was in was hit by a truck on her way home. The promo for next week's episode revealed a nurse identifying the victim as Rayna James just as Deacon (Charles Esten) asked Maddie (Lennon Stella) to meet him at the hospital. The promo also contained a shot of Gunnar (Sam Palladio) calling Deacon's niece, Scarlett (Clare Bowen) in a panic. "This is the episode of Nashville you cannot miss," the promo voiceover warns.

So what does it all mean? Hints at Rayna's potential exit were sprinkled in throughout the episode, particularly when her youngest daughter Daphne (Maisy Stella) got her period for the first time. "I got my period the week after my mother died. That was awful — nobody around to help me," Rayna told Deacon. "I had to figure it all out by myself."

Then there was another comment Rayna made when she gave Daphne a "first moon gift" from Tiffany's. "It's always going to be my pride and joy as your mother to celebrate every single milestone with you," Rayna told her.

There also has been cause for speculation offscreen. In August, it was reported that Britton was eyeing a reduced role on the country music drama — signing on for just 10 of the 22-episode season on CMT. Thursday's installment marked the eighth episode of Nashville's fifth season. The midseason finale, episode 11, is set to air March 11.

However, the actress downplayed rumors of her exit in the months that followed. In February, while promoting season five, Britton told Ellen DeGeneres, "I'm in. I'm in for the duration."

When discussing season five with The Hollywood Reporter, Nashville co-showrunner Marshall Herskovitz emphasized Britton's involvement in the new storylines.

"Connie had a lot to do with that," he said in January. "We had a very long and interesting conversation with her before we started and she talked about her feelings about where Rayna would be right now and also [with creator] Callie [Khouri]."

Nashville airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.

Watch Herskovitz and Britton break down the episode in the clip below.