Nashville's showrunners shocked fans during Thursday night's (Feb. 23) episode by killing off Rayna Jaymes, played by Connie Britton, following a car accident. Shortly after the episode aired, Britton shared a heartfelt message of thanks to her Nashville family and the fans for giving her the opportunity to portray the character during the show's five seasons.

In a post on Instagram, Britton thanked everyone from Nashville creator Callie Khouri to the show's cast, crew and musical team -- but, "finally and most importantly," she expressed her gratitude to the TV drama's fans.

"You made Rayna. You supported her and loved her and gave her inspiration just as she was able to inspire you. You were the energy source, the power behind her heart and soul and life. Rayna lived for you," Britton writes. "And, from the depths of my heart, I thank you, for her and for me. It has been an honor to be part of that creation."

Britton ends by noting that, "as I know she would want it," Nashville will go on without Rayna. According to Variety, Britton's character will appear in the next two episodes of the show, in flashbacks and for Rayna's funeral, before Britton officially exits the show.

CMT picked up Nashville for a fifth season in early June, after ABC canceled the TV drama in mid-May, and thanks in part to fan demand. Rayna's death and Britton's exit from the show especially come as a shock to fans because she denied rumors that she'd be leaving Nashville. During an interview with Ellen DeGeneres just before the TV drama's Season 5 premiere on Jan. 5, Britton said, "I’m in it. I’m in. I’m in for the duration."

"To be completely honest, I was taken off guard. I had no idea that Ellen was going to bring up [the exit rumors]," Britton now tells TVLine. "I was really [put] on the spot, and I had to protect the story."

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