Just when you think that the Nashville universe can’t get any crazier, Episode 8 proved that there's no storyline too dramatic for the show's writers. That episode's epic cliffhanger reaches its conclusion in Episode 9 -- and it's so damn shocking that even many of those viewers who have stuck with Nashville for years can't handle it.

Episode 9 opens with shots of Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) being wheeled into a hospital on a gurney, conscious but obviously pretty banged up, following the cliffhanger car crash Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten) almost causes 10 traffic accidents speeding to be by her side, and calls her daughter Maddie (Lennon Stella) -- who is driving home with Clayton Carter (Joseph David-Jones) -- to come to the hospital immediately. When they arrive, Deacon learns that Rayna has a shattered pelvis and hip, but (fortunately) no blood on her brain or other life-threatening injuries; she’s going to need surgery, but as soon as she sees Deacon, Rayna cracks a joke and lets viewers know that she’s going to be just fine in future episodes.

Deacon tells Rayna that the police officer driving her home from the Highway 65 offices after her encounter with creepy stalker Carl Hockney made it through the accident with little more than a scratch, which is really the first mention of the intense, deeply dramatic scenes of Carl holding a knife to Rayna’s throat that dominated Episode 8. Then, as she lies in her hospital bed doped up on morphine, Rayna tells Deacon that they have to write a final song to finish out the duet album they’ve been working on together -- one that tells their “beautiful story” without focusing too much on the hurt and pain that the couple has experienced in the past.

While all of this is going down, Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) is in bed with hunky director Damien George (Christian Coulson), the man whose affections pulled her away from bandmate Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio). Gunnar tells Scarlett that Deacon needs her to pick up Daphne (Lennon Stella) from choir practice at school — where the younger Conrad daughter is making eyes at new beau Flynn — and it’s clear that the tension between the two of them hasn’t diminished since she dumped Gunnar to go sew some wild oats and figure out exactly who she is.

The action then pans over to Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), who is experiencing a newfound pain in her healing legs. Like most would, Juliette is Googling all of the possible infections and illnesses that could be causing the pain (she’s decided it’s MRSA), while Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) tries to talk her out of her hypochondria; still, Avery makes Juliette an appointment with a doctor.

“I love you, but you’re crazy,” Avery tells Juliette, which is decidedly the best way to describe the topsy-turvy, up-and-down relationship that the two have experienced.

Meanwhile, Maddie is beginning to have a pretty major revelation: When she arrives at the hospital, surrounded by paparazzi, she is visibly shaken by her mother’s condition. She gets there just before Rayna is wheeled into the operating room, and has what looks like a panic attack. Scarlett goes to comfort her, but an emotional Maddie runs out of the hospital and into Clayton’s car, begging him to take her for a drive -- and while they're driving, Maddie starts to think that the accident was her fault (after all, it did happen after Rayna had to track Maddie down at Clayton’s club performance).

Viewers learn that Rayna’s surgery has gone well, and that she’ll be out of the hospital in a few days; she’s got a long road ahead of her, complete with rehab and physical therapy, but the news is still assurance that the queen of country music is going to be just fine. Rayna tells Deacon that she is starting to remember what happened on that fateful night, both with the car accident and the attack, and when her manager Bucky Dawes (David Alford) comes to visit, Rayna tells him that her upcoming planned performance at the CMT Music Awards probably isn’t going to happen.

Still, Rayna's dead-set on writing that song with Deacon from her hospital bed. Scarlett goes to their home to pick up Deacon’s guitar -- and for whatever reason, Gunnar is there, and he confronts her about how much she’s obsessed with Damien, but she completely deflects. While Scarlett hasn’t made up her mind just yet, it’s obvious that Gunnar isn’t ready to give up on their relationship.

Hopped up on pain pills, Rayna is trying to write with Deacon, and the words aren’t coming as easy as she thought they would. After dragging up the pain of their past in the songs they’ve already written, Rayna wants to write “a promise of something more,” but she can’t figure out what to call it. Deacon comes up with “Coda,” the notation that tells musicians to bring a piece to an end; he starts to get a little teary-eyed, because he’s obviously terrified of losing Rayna.

When Juliette visits Rayna at the hospital, she has to fight her way through a throng of paparazzi asking about her injuries, and then a nurse, who’s trying to give Rayna a little peace and quiet. But because she’s Juliette Barnes, who doesn’t listen to anyone’s orders, she marches into Rayna’s room and brings her a sleep mask (something she found invaluable during her own time in the hospital). After they talk for a few moments, Rayna tells Juliette that she’s changed, that when she “fell out of the sky, something shook out;” Juliette seems to believe her, that she really has made a transformation into a decent human being, and then Rayna begins to wonder what’s going to “shake out” of her after this set of horrific experiences.

At her doctor’s visit, Juliette learns that there is an irregularity in her bones; it’s most likely nothing, maybe nerve endings repairing themselves after trauma, and maybe partly psychological, lending credence to Avery’s theory that his wife is at least a little nuts. The doctor tells Juliette that she’s probably just going to have put push through the pain, but orders an MRI nonetheless.

In the hospital, Rayna hallucinates seeing her mother, who died when Rayna was a teenager; in the dream, Rayna’s mother tells her that maybe the song is finished. Deacon walks in and sees Rayna talking to an empty chair; he's obviously a little thrown off (or maybe "freaked out" is more accurate), but the doctor says that hallucinations could be a side effect of Rayna's heavy pain medication doses.

Despite Rayna's drug-induced hallucinations, Scarlett goes to her for a little advice on how to handle Gunnar, who feels like he’s “kind of screwed” (he can’t tell Scarlett not to see Damien because it will scare her off, but if he pretends like he doesn’t care, Scarlett might run off with Damien). Gunnar's in love with Scarlett and hurt by what she’s doing, but isn’t sure how he can win her trust back; he’ll do anything, but of course the ever-indecisive Scarlett doesn’t know what that would entail. Rayna seems to think that maybe this isn’t a match made in heaven after all.

The drama picks up when Daphne, who originally planned to skip her choir concert in order to stay with Maddie, brings her fellow singers to the hospital to sing for Rayna -- but Rayna’s vital signs begin to plummet, her kidneys begin to fail, and she’s taken into ICU. Meanwhile, Maddie is stuck in game day traffic with Clayton, and gets out of the car to run to the hospital to be by her mother’s side.

Unfortunately, Rayna isn’t able to be revived, and dies shortly after saying goodbye to her daughters and Deacon.

For viewers who have fallen in love with Rayna Jaymes for her ferocity, her talent and her heart, the tears no doubt were flowing during Episode 9. And Rayna's death leaves real doubt about whether or not Nashville will be able to continue beyond the final episodes of Season 5 -- though, sure, in upcoming episodes, there will be plenty of ground to cover as Deacon, Maddie, Juliette and the rest of those who love Rayna process their grief and figure out how to move forward.

Will former alcoholic Deacon crawl back into the bottle, or will he (as Rayna asked) stay strong and raise Maddie and Daphne? How will the girls move on without their mother? Is there a future for Highway 65? Those lingering questions will keep viewers tuning in, even without Connie Britton’s remarkable performance and powerful presence.

For now, though, it's time to mourn the loss of country music’s most bad-a--, most beloved fictional icon. Rest in peace, Rayna Jaymes.

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