“Once Upon a Time” fans experienced quite the roller coaster ride over the course of the past week, and that was even before Sunday’s game-changing Season 6 finale aired.
ABC picked up the fairy-tale drama series for a seventh season on Thursday, but this was quickly followed by the news on Friday that the upcoming run would be without its core cast members, as Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow) and Josh Dallas (Charming) are joining Jennifer Morrison (Emma) out the door at the end of the season.
“OUAT” co-creators and executive producers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz tell TheWrap in an interview that they have known for the better part of a year that these cast members would be leaving, and that the show’s refocus is all about what’s best creatively. However, they are aware that some fans might not exactly be thrilled to say goodbye to their favorite characters — or less euphemistically, that there are viewers who want them to “rot in hell.”
The showrunners also weighed in on which departing cast member still wanted to stay with the show, how soon viewers will meet the mom of Henry’s daughter and why the new season will be similar to the first.
News broke last week that a number of cast members are leaving. How do you feel about fans’ reactions to the shakeup?
Adam Horowitz: To be quite honest, we haven’t looked at a lot of it because we can guess that the reactions [range] from, “I will never watch this show again,” and “Rot in hell.” But these are the same people two weeks ago that were saying, “When are they going to give someone their happy ending?” So if we listened to the internet, there’s too many voices and too many opinions. What we felt was the show always was bold: At the end of Season 1, we broke the premise of the show, and we broke the curse. And I think everybody would agree six seasons later that if Emma still didn’t believe in it, the show would not be on the air. So we felt it was time to end one adventure and begin a new one.
Edward Kitsis: We want the fans to enjoy the show, obviously, but we have to find the way to keep it surprising and keep it fresh and keep it moving forward. If there are questions about what we’re going to do and how they feel about it, I think our hope is that when they see what we’re planning to do, that they’re just as engaged as they’ve always been.
The Season 6 finale felt like it could have been a series finale. At what point were you assured by the network that the show would be coming back?
Kitsis: We have been talking with the network all year, but in a lot of ways, it could have been a series finale, absolutely. As we said, we wanted to end the chapter to that first book. We had gone into the year always wanting to do that. If we didn’t have a Season 7, that would have been exactly how we ended the show. We’ve been putting this new iteration together for a while.
Horowitz: We’ve been talking with the studio and the network about this for a very long time, and if it hadn’t worked out, it would have ended the same way, but we’re just glad everybody wanted to continue.
Josh and Ginnifer told you about a year ago that they were ready to move back to Los Angeles [from Vancouver, where the series shoots]. But when did you know that the other cast members would be leaving? Were any of the casting decisions made in an effort to save money and help ensure that the show gets renewed?
Kitsis: It’s really a case of, it’s an ensemble show, and a lot of people are at different points in their life. And after 134 episodes, some people, they’ve been living away from home for six years, and some people wanted to return, some people had kids. So we started the year kind of knowing who wanted to stay on if we were going to get another year, and who decided it was time, as we said, to retire their jersey after a hall of fame career. Josh and Ginny, we knew they were going to leave this year, so we wrote a year that allowed them to get their happy ending. Everything was amicable — there was [nothing based on] pickups. Everything was made out of a creative decision, which is hard for people to believe, I guess.
Horowitz: It’s funny because the announcements came out last week, so as far as the fans were concerned, it was like, “Wow, all at once.” But this is stuff we’ve been talking about all year, so we’ve designed the whole season to reach this point. It wasn’t like, all of sudden last week we had to do a giant rewrite. It’s just, it kind of is what it is. Shows that are lucky enough to be on as long as we have, have to at certain points change and grow and go in different directions, and I think that’s what’s happened. For us, this is a natural evolution of what the show has always been.
Kitsis: For us, every year felt like a new season of a new show anyway, so we’re willing to do another high-wire act.
It sounds like Rebecca Mader (Zelena) wanted to continue with the show. Was that just a situation where there aren’t more stories to tell with her character?
Kitsis: That was a really hard one because we worked with Rebecca on “Lost.” We literally created the role for her — we called her and said, “We have a role for you — will you come on and do the show?” She’s phenomenal. “Wicked Always Wins” is one of my favorite songs from the [“OUAT”] musical. And it’s like having this great player, but we felt like we’re kind of doing this new thing next year, and unfortunately, creatively there wasn’t a place yet. But that doesn’t mean we won’t see her back because we love Rebecca, we love that role. We don’t think it will be the last we see of her — it just means she’s not going to be a regular in the way she’s carried on for the last few years.
How often might the exiting characters pop up in Season 7 cameos?
Horowitz: I think what we can tell is you can see everybody. Even people who have been dead on our show come back three years later. There’s a difference between, “I want to do a couple [episodes] a year,” and “I want to be there permanently.”
Kitsis: I think if all goes according to plan, you’ll see a lot of people pop in and out. It wasn’t like we did a finale for Season 6 where there was a massacre at the end. These characters are going on, so we would love to have them go in and out as they can and if the story warrants it.
The finale revealed that Henry has a daughter. How soon will we find out who the mom is, and is it someone from the fairy-tale realm?
Horowitz: We will find out who she is in the premiere. It will be somebody from the fairy-tale realm, and what we can tell you is that Henry and that woman will be an epic romance in the tradition of Snow and Charming.
Fans have been trying to guess which new characters will be introduced. What can you tease about that? Can we assume Moana might be on the horizon?
Horowitz: Like always, we will be pulling from the iconic, both the new and the historical. For us, the fun of this is getting to retell origin stories, finding out who people are in the real world without magic.