After six seasons on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Actor Raul Esparza has left the long-running police procedural, and fans are having a hard time saying goodbye.
Esparza joined the cast of SVU as a recurring character, Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba, in season 14. Soon after, his role was raised to a series regular in season 15.
In Wednesday's episode, Barba walked out of the District Attorney's office after pulling the plug on a brain-dead child. This leaves the door open for Barba to return to the show as needed, and for Esparza to come back as a guest star or a recurring actor once again.
Still, for fans of the show, Barba's exit is an emotional pivot point in SVU. After six seasons with the character, they're feeling emotional knowing that he won't be on their TVs every week.
Esparza tweeted a link to the episode on NBC's website.
"If you missed it: Watch," he wrote, along with the hashtag "Barba On Trial." It was a nice way of addressing his onscreen farewell without spoiling it for fans who aren't caught up. Those who were in the know began to respond.
"Watching right now, and my heart is pounding... and breaking," wrote one fan.
"Going to miss seeing you on SVU," wrote another. "So sad to see my favorite go. God Bless you in your next venture."
"Anyone else have a breakdown upon his departure?" asked a follower. "Oh man I didn't see it comin! Love ya Barba!"
Peter Stone — played by Philip Winchester — has stepped in to fill Barba's role as Assistant District Attorney, and many are now struggling to accept the new ADA so soon after losing Barba. Esparza, at least, believes in the new attorney.
"@RaulEEsparza thank you for welcoming me with open arms, for having such integrity and for showing me the ropes," Winchester wrote on Twitter.
"I don't need to show you the ropes," Esparza responded. "You got this, my man. Welcome to the family!"
While fans hate to see Esparza leave the small screen, many are excited for his return to the big stage. The actor will be on Broadway for a revival of Chess at the Kennedy Center.