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The real reason Donald Glover left Community during season 5

At this point in pop culture history, most people are aware of Donald Glover's extreme range of talents. You may think of him as the Emmy-winning creator, writer, star, and occasional director of the FX series Atlanta; as the Grammy-winning rapper Childish Gambino; or even as the younger version of the charming gambler Lando Calrissian, who won bets and stole hearts in Solo: A Star Wars Story. But before Glover was all of those things and more, he was shining bright as the well-meaning jock Troy Barnes on the much-loved sitcom Community

Running for six seasons (but no movie) between 2009 and 2015, Community focused on the bizarre and whimsical exploits of a group of students attending a community college. Though Community was something of a cult hit at the time, the series helped kick-start the careers of not just Glover, but also Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Yvette Nicole Brown, Ken Jeong, and Alison Brie. 

Sadly, during the hiatus between the series' fourth and fifth seasons in 2013, it was announced that Glover would be leaving Community part of the way through the upcoming season, which premiered in January 2014. NBC wound up dropping Community after season 5, and though the streaming service Yahoo! Screen temporarily revived it, the show never truly recovered its early magic without Glover on board.

So, why did he leave in the first place? Here's the real reason Donald Glover dropped out of Community during season 5.

The show was experiencing behind-the-scenes turmoil

While it somewhat paved the way for future quirky NBC comedies like Brooklyn-Nine-Nine and The Good Place, Community was seen during its run as the network's awkward stepchild. Its viewership was never very high, but its fan base was intensely loyal, even when Community endured serious troubles. In 2011, NBC dropped Community from the schedule mid-season in favor of 30 Rock – the show Glover had actually previously written for. As promised, Community did return later in the season, but it was an ominous sign that the network could easily toss Community to the side. Then in May 2012, after the series' third season, Sony Television fired creator Dan Harmon, supposedly for being "difficult." And after a rocky season 4, actor Chevy Chase was fired from the show for his increasingly aggressive and reportedly racist antics on set. 

Given all this turmoil, it's not all that surprising that Glover decided to take the star power he gained from Community and try something new on a show that was decidedly calmer behind the scenes. In August 2013, it was announced Glover was doing just that: he was creating the half-hour comedy Atlanta for FX. Though Harmon eventually returned for Community season 5 and even managed to persuade Glover to appear on five episodes before truly calling it quits, he admitted that Glover had outgrown the series and that Community suffered greatly without Glover on board. Harmon told The Hollywood Reporter in August 2017, "I needed to convince myself that Donald leaving wasn't the death of the show, but now that it's all over, I think we can agree that it was."

Donald Glover was having a relatable quarter-life crisis, and wanted to focus on himself

A few months after Glover announced his impending departure from Community, he revealed that his reasons for leaving the series were more than just professional in nature. In October 2013, he posted to Instagram (via Hypable) a series of letters explaining that he left Community because he "wanted to be on [his] own" and was working through difficult events in his personal life that made him reassess what he truly wanted to do. In addition to admitting to a ton of fears and revealing that he worried that Harmon hated him, that he was scared of "letting everyone down" by moving on from Community, and that he believed his future projects might fail, Glover said that he wanted to release his album Because the Internet that Christmas to give people hope for the next year. 

Shortly thereafter, Glover clarified his slightly jumbled thoughts in an interview with VIBE. He told the outlet, "I asked to leave [Community] 'cause my heart really wasn't in it. I feel like if I stayed there, I'd be doing my life a disservice. Community is, I think, one of the best shows on television, but it's not mine... I just want to make dope s*** from now on, on my own terms."

Donald Glover appreciates the power of an ending

In 2016, Glover was more direct about his decision to depart from Community. Two years after his last episode aired and a year after Community wrapped for good, the multi-talented creative revealed that he chose to leave the show partially because he appreciates the future opportunities that endings create. At the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer tour, Glover explained that while he wasn't trying to "run away" from Community, he feels that every good thing must come to an end in order for growth to happen. This, of course, includes his run on the sitcom.

"I just like endings. I think everything should have death clauses in them like humans have death clauses," Glover said. "It's important that things end. It forces events to progress... It wasn't like I wanted to run away from it."

Since leaving Community, Glover has been nominated for seven Emmys (winning two) and seven Grammys (winning five). Regarding Glover's fears about his former Community colleagues' resenting him for leaving the series and not appearing on the finale, they appear to have nothing but love and admiration for him. Troy's sailing endeavor may not have gone well, but Glover's horizon is dawning bright. 

Glover's former co-stars are as impressed by him as you are

Glover's fears that Harmon and his Community co-stars are holding a grudge against him for bowing out have proved unfounded. At a Glover-less and Chevy Chase-less reunion of Harmon and the main cast in 2019, Alison Brie said she felt honored that she and the rest of the cast had got to witness the start of his rap career. "[It] will be forever really special to me that we would hear his music before anyone," she told the audience. Yvette Nicole Brown also praised Glover's creative abilities and warm personality. "I've said this 1,000 times before: I think he's one of the most talented human beings I've ever met ... He's also a kind man... So I just wish him every success," she said.

As for Harmon, as much as he understood Glover's desire to move on, he admitted that his departure really was the death knell for Community. In 2017 he told The Hollywood Reporter, "I needed to convince myself that Donald leaving wasn't the death of the show, but now that it's all over, I think we can agree that it was." In 2020 he clarified that he wasn't slamming the rest of the cast, just acknowledging that the shifting dynamic left a gap. Troy's departure meant losing, "half of Troy and Abed and one-seventh of this perfect family," Harmon said, explaining that the loss proved too much for the show to carry.

The show buried Troy's fate in an Easter egg

Glover values a death clause, but Community was more ambivalent about Troy's fate. 

Glover's last episode, "Geothermic Escapism," is the perfect Community cocktail of wacky concept (a college-wide game of The Floor is Lava) and heart-wrenching pathos (Troy's final goodbye with Abed). In the end, Troy heads off with Star Trek actor LeVar Burton (playing himself) to sail around the world on the Childish Tycoon, in order to claim his inheritance of Pierce's Hawthorne Wipes shares.

If you're a casual viewer, you might still be wondering what happened to Troy and Burton. Sharp-eyed, detail-oriented fans found the answer, as it turns out — and it's bad news. In the episode following Troy's departure, "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking," we briefly see a ticker at the bottom of a newscast that reads: "Levar Burton and non-celebrity companion captured by pirates in the Gulf of Mexico." Presumably, Troy is that non-celebrity. Oops.

But Community fans are used to overcoming ominous news. At the Community Comic-Con panel in 2014, Harmon hinted that he hadn't forsaken Troy yet: "Troy's out there somewhere — he may be in peril ... that's what movies are made of," he said. At the 2019 reunion, he said he suspected Glover might be up for a movie if he wasn't so busy being brilliant.