Rhimes admitted that she was rather "shocked" with fans' dramatic response to the news that Page won't be returning for season 2 of the beloved series, which was announced on Friday, April 2.
"Usually that happens when I’ve killed off somebody that’s been around for a while," Rhimes — who is known for tragically killing off fan favorite characters in heartbreaking ways — explained before adding: "we didn’t kill him, he’s still alive!"
The 51-year-old also reaffirmed that Page's exit after season one was already in place from the start.
"That was the plan: come and do one season as the Duke," Rhimes said in an interview with Vanity Fair, which was published on Tuesday, April 13. "Anything else that was extra and wasn’t really the plan when we started wasn’t the plan when we finished."
However, Rhimes added that Page, 31, was given the offer of returning as a less prominent character in the upcoming season.
"Page was invited to return for Season 2 cameos, along with a few other Season 1 characters outside the Bridgerton family," she shared, hinting that: "there’s a lot of fantastically interesting talk that’s been going on mainly ’cause I think people are having a hard time letting go."
According to Page Six, the British actor didn't want to return because of "creative differences" with executive producer Rhimes and her team.
"He wasn’t happy with what was planned for his character for Season 2, which would have kept him a player but not the focal point of the show," the insider dished, noting that he is still leaving the show on good terms.
As OK! previously reported, the eight-part first season followed the Duke's complicated romance with Daphne Bridgerton (played by Phoebe Dynevor). The season ended with Simon and Daphne solidifying their love for one another (with the Duke overcoming his severe daddy issues) and welcoming their first child together, a son.
And it looks like no amount of money would make up for Page's lack of screen time, as he “was offered an opportunity to return as a guest star in three to five episodes of Season 2 — at a rate of $50,000 an episode," a source told the Hollywood Reporter.
Rhimes' thoughts on Page's exit come after he revealed that he never intended to stay for more than one season, as his character's life was wrapped up by the end of season one.
"It’s a one-season arc. It’s going to have a beginning, middle, end," he told Variety of the conversations he had with the producers when he was first approached for the role.
Bridgerton — watched by record 82 million households globally — was renewed for a third and fourth season, with each season following another Bridgerton sibling's life. The second season, which will follow eldest brother Anthony Bridgerton (played by Jonathan Bailey), began filming this week, Page Six reported.