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Whoa, whoa, whoa — did Jussie Smollett just tell us he’s leaving Empire?

If you haven’t watched this week’s jaw-dropping episode of Empire yet, what is your life even? But also, be warned — we’re about to discuss some serious spoilers.

As the penultimate episode of the hit series’ second season, fans knew they were in store for something big. And given the teaser trailers hinting at a shooting, everyone was bracing themselves for the fact that a Lyon might truly fall.

More: Would Empire really kill off a main character or are they messin’ with us?

Still, who could Fox possibly get rid of? It seems like a huge risk to write off one of the main characters so soon, and the core family members all have devout fan bases.

In several of my weekly reviews of the series, I’ve alluded to the fact that Jussie Smollett’s character, Jamal, is one of the least expendable members of the Lyon family. In fact, he and Cookie are arguably the lifeblood of the show.

So imagine my shock when Jamal wound up being the one to take a bullet on this week’s episode. However, I remained resolute in my conviction that this was simply part of some dramatic crescendo meant to carry the characters into next season.

Cliffhangers are great for ratings, right? Then I saw this tweet, and it honestly through me for a loop: 

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time w/ @EmpireFOX. I love you all. Truth. Time 2 make a record & some movies. #Empire,” Smollett apparently tweeted after the episode aired last night on the west coast.

Wait, say what? Did Smollett just tell us he really is leaving Empire? This cannot be… can it?

Surely if there has been trouble in paradise — aka Smollett felt the show was holding him back or there were problems with contract negotiations — we would have caught wind of it at some point.

You know what? I’m not buying it, you guys. Nice try, though!

For starters, if you follow Smollett on social media, you know he’s a bit of a prankster. He is forever pulling stunts on Taraji P. Henson, like filming her catching a cat nap.

Secondly, I stand by my review of this week’s episode and all of the reasons Smollett will stick around that I detailed in it. Second, this isn’t exactly the first time in this TV year that stars and producers have toyed with fans’ emotions for ratings.

More: Empire‘s [SPOILER] just got shot, but there’s no way the show will kill them off

And, hey, I get it. In this day and age, there is so much transparency that it is pretty much impossible to keep anything a secret. So they’re starting to think outside of the box by extending the art offscreen as well, in that they are still acting.

You know the bit: The show must go on. In order to remain relevant and prevent spoilers from stealing the element of surprise, TV shows are adapting with new ways to keep the cloak and dagger going.

Just last week, after a particularly emotional episode for her character, Dr. Callie Torries, actress Sara Ramirez tweeted, “That’s a wrap for Doctor #CallieTorres #Season13 #GreysAnatomy #ThankYou all for an enriching & unforgettable #Rollercoaster ride!” implying she was leaving the medi-drama.

Given she is in the promos for this week’s episode and we’ve heard nothing confirming her exit, it’s entirely possible her tweet is part of a ruse to amp up the intrigue surrounding her story arc.

And who could possibly forget last year’s episode of The Walking Dead when Glenn was supposedly killed off? Producers and cast members went to great lengths to convince fans their favorite character really had gone the way of the walkers when he really hadn’t.

Besides, here’s the truth. When you sign on for monolithic shows like Grey’s, The Walking Dead and Empire, you obviously must agree to non-disclosure agreements and other legal documents preventing you from revealing key story lines.

More: Empire haters need to calm the hell down about Jamal’s gay sex scene

Would Grey’s really let Ramirez clue fans into her character’s departure before we see it happen on the show? Unlikely. Would Empire allow Smollett to reveal Jamal’s fate — especially right before the finale, the ideal time for a cliffhanger? Doubtful.

In actuality, it seems like an emerging PR trend. The show and the actors are using social media as yet another vehicle to build hype. Plus, and here’s the clincher, would Smollett have posted this to Instagram if he wasn’t returning?

ICYMI, that says, “See you back in chi town June to start season 3.” Mmm hmm. Unfortunately, though, we’ll likely have to wait until next season to learn the truth regarding Smollett’s character either way.

Don’t miss the season finale of Empire on Wednesday, May 18 at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Empire cast facts slideshow
Image: James Dimmock/FOX

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