The England captain's last shot at a Lions tour was taken away in the time it took tour manager John Spencer to reach for Ken Owens in the list of forwards as he announced the identity out of the tourists.
The Lions needed three hookers. Rory Best, the nuggety Ulsterman who led Ireland to victory over the All Blacks in November, came first. That Hartley could probably stomach.
But then came his England understudy Jamie George, who has never started a Test ahead of him, and finally Owens, a member of the Wales team who finished fifth in the Six Nations.
For Hartley, who has just captained England to successive championships, it must have been a tough moment to absorb particularly given the possible long-term repercussions.
British & Irish Lions squad for 2017 New Zealand tour Wed, April 19, 2017
Express Sport runs through the confirmed Lions squad for the 2017 tour to New Zealand
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Express Sport runs through the 37-man Lions squad ahead of the New Zealand tour
The opportunity afforded to George will give the Saracen the chance to prove he and not Hartley should be England's No 1 hooker from now on.
If he has a strong tour, and Owen Farrell continues to evolve into a captain-in-waiting, Eddie Jones will come under serious pressure to thank Hartley for his service to England and put the 31-year-old out to pasture.
The Lions and Hartley just do not seem to fit. Four years ago, his sending off and subsequent suspension for verbally abusing referee Wayne Barnes in the Premiership final cost him his place on the tour to Australia.
Less directly, indiscipline played its part in this snub too.
The six-week ban Hartley was served with for levelling Sean O'Brien on Northampton duty before Christmas sent him into the Six Nations badly undercooked and it showed.
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Dylan Hartley has been snubbed from the Lions Tour
The comparison between Hartley's lumbering efforts and that of George when he replaced him as a dynamic substitute was glaring. It took Hartley until the last fortnight of the championship to regain some of his lustre but by then Gatland's mind had been made up.
Even shading his head to head with George last weekend in the Premiership could not change it.
There are risks involved in preferring a player who has yet to start a Test and New Zealand is no place for the unwary. On the only occasion he has experienced that even approaches what is to come, it was George's critical throw in the closing stages of England's failed Grand Slam bid in Dublin that was picked off by Peter O'Mahony.
But Gatland regards the 27-year-old as a more impactful ball carrier and better all-round footballer than Hartley and the rest of the rugby world will now have the chance to see if it agrees.
In honouring the tradition of ignoring England captains see Chris Robshaw in 2013 and Steve Borthwick in 2009 the Lions coach could well have set a train in motion which leaves the man who helped turn around his country's fortunes on the international scrapheap.