(SPOILER ALERT: Avoid reading this post if you don't want to know what happened on Sunday night's episode of "The Good Wife.")

"Alicia, I'm sorry. I want what we had. I want to be with you and only you. Forever."

Were those the last words Will Gardner would have uttered to Alicia Florick if his phone call to her hadn't been interrupted?

Or is that only wishful thinking?

Would he instead have delivered an angry, bitter message? Would it have been just a generic business call with no ulterior meaning?

Apparently, we'll never know.

On Sunday night, "The Good Wife" began dealing with the fallout from Will's shocking death -- a death that stunned fans of the critically lauded legal drama and sent its characters hurtling in new narrative directions.

Written by executive producers Robert and Michelle King, it was a powerful and touching episode that was mercifully free of heavy-handedness. When at its best, "The Good Wife" has an observational shrewdness and an eye for detail that few shows possess. Those powers were on ample display tonight as the characters all reacted to Will's death in ways you would expect.

Alicia, of course, is a mess. "I'm going crazy. I don't know what to do," she tells Kalinda.

As she tries to process the shock, Alicia's main motivation is to try to piece together the final moments of Will's life. Along the way, she's haunted by a phone message that Will left her during a break in court proceedings. But the message is frustratingly incomplete because he was called away and never had a chance to get back to her.


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Alicia listens to the fractured message over and over. What did he want? What was on his mind?

Various scenarios play upon her mind. For a while, she fears that Will's final thoughts of her were acrimonious ones -- that he was angry at her for poaching a client. But she learns that was not the case. Finally, she makes a hospital visit to see the prosecutor who huddled with Will in his last moments. But he's under the influence of pain-killers and really has no idea what Will wanted when he called.

Her frustration is apparent and anyone who has lost a loved one without a chance to truly say good-bye could surely relate.

Meanwhile, other characters are dealing with the news in their own ways:

-- Kalinda, like the savvy detective she is, wants answers and she wants them now. She also wants revenge. She confronts the shooter -- Jeffrey Grant -- in his cell and, at one point, offers up a belt so that he can hang himself. But then she pulls it back. "No, you're going to have to live with this," she says.

-- Diane, like everyone, is in shock. But she must deliver the sad news to members of Lockhart Gardner. She's disgusted to see an intern who barely knew Will sobbing uncontrollably and fires her. And later, when a wealthy client rudely demands to be seen that day (or else), she fires him. The stunned client tells her Will wouldn't have done that, but Diane replies: "If I were dead, it's exactly what Will would do."

-- Cary, meanwhile, is also dealing with someone with a shortage of compassion. This guy, a slimy rival lawyer spurns Cary's request to put off a deposition to another day. Cary reluctantly agrees to proceed with the deposition, but uses it to angrily tear into the lawyer and his client.

-- Peter, of course, actually has something to gain from Will's death. But rather than taking any comfort from it (now), he's trying to perform the role of good husband and be there for Alicia. He hurries to her side, gives her a hug and asks if she's all right. But her mind, of course, is elsewhere.

It's on that phone message.

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After last Sunday's deadly plot twist, a lot of angry fans vowed not to watch "The Good Wife" anymore. I wonder how many stuck to their guns. Tonight, the show delivered an episode that surely formed a strong bond of empathy and compassion between the characters on screen and the viewers who stuck around.

What did you think of the episode? Are you in or out?

Contact Chuck Barney at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.ChuckBarney, or Twitter.com/chuckbarney