The high school musical drama Glee said goodbye to Finn, its beloved singer-quarterback, while paying tribute to Cory Monteith, the late actor who had portrayed him, in a much-anticipated episode that aired Thursday.

Just how Glee would handle the death of Monteith had haunted the Fox series and its fans since the 31-year-old star was found dead in a Canadian hotel room in July of an accidental alcohol and drug overdose.

Soon after, the decision was made by the show's producers to write Finn out of the series, and decisively: He, too, would die.

But as viewers of Thursday's emotional yet reflective episode found, Finn's death wasn't dramatized, nor was his funeral seen. Instead, the episode picked up several weeks afterward, focusing on the impact of his death on his friends. Tears flowed, and tempers flared. The episode was more a meditation on what death means to those left behind than on death itself.

In fact, the cause of Finn's death wasn't disclosed.

"Everyone wants to talk about how he died, but who cares?" one character said. "I care about how he lived."

Coach-turned-principal Sue Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, said the way to honour Finn was to take care of the people he loved. How? "By not making a self-serving spectacle of our own sadness," she said.

The episode seemed to try hard not to do that, if not always successfully, as Glee characters grieved by remembering Finn and, of course, by gathering in song.

Numbers included Fire and Rain, Seasons of Love and If I Die Young.

Details of the character's fate left out

If certain key details relating to Finn's fate were glossed over, reality intruded vividly on the show's make-believe tale, not only by Finn's absence but by the particular grief displayed by Lea Michele's character, Rachel, who didn't appear until late in the hour.

Michele and Monteith had been romantic partners off-screen, and the loss she displayed in her scenes as Rachel must have been heart-felt.

"I loved Finn," Rachel said, choking up, as she stood before the glee club crowd.

Then she tearfully sang the episode's show-stopper: Make You Feel My Love.

While the storyline didn't touch on the issue of drug addiction, a brief public service announcement delivered by cast members over the closing credits reminded the audience how Monteith had battled substance abuse and lost his battle.

Glee now takes a break of several weeks as Fox airs baseball's World Series.