How I Met Your Mother

Time has always been a major — if not the — component of How I Met Your Mother. But in Season 7, it will be about timing.

"That's one of the central questions this season," creator/executive producer Carter Bays tells TVGuide.com. "Love and romance to some degree is a game of musical chairs. At some point, the music stops and you're with someone. You don't know at the beginning of the game who you're going to end with. Hopefully it ends up being the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, but there's a lot of randomness to it and bad timing on parts of all the characters."

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In Robin's case, she's the one with the bad timing. After realizing she still has feelings for Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) in the season finale, Robin (Cobie Smulders) unfortunately cannot act on them yet, as her former flame has reconnected with Nora (Nazanin Boniadi). And yes, Barney is actually serious about getting serious this time. (Hey, he does get married after all.) "The thing that Barney learned last year was how he came to be the dashing rogue in the suit," Bays says. "He met his father and realized that maybe he can aspire to more in life and he's in a place where he's genuinely looking for something more than one-night stands with hot girls. We're going to see him a little more emboldened about starting a relationship with Nora."

Though he's dating Nora, that doesn't mean Robin is out of the equation entirely. In fact, the first episode of the one-hour premiere features a hot and flirty dance number between Robin and Barney at Punchy's wedding. "That whole episode is about the chemistry of Barney and Robin and how you can't deny when there's a connection between two people," Bays says. "That's what the routine is about — they have chemistry, and how do you ignore it? Can you ignore it? Can they ignore it?"

For now, they are, which complicates matters since Robin works with Nora. It will come to a head in the fourth episode, forebodingly titled "The Stinson Missile Crisis," in which Robin has an "explosive moment" that leads her to meeting her shrink and love interest Kevin (Kal Penn). "There's no attraction initially," Bays says. "But he understands Robin better than anyone who's understood her before and that is intriguing to her. He'll be around for five or six [episodes]."

Robin remains one of the top candidates for Barney's mystery bride, along with Nora. There will be more candidates, but the reveal, which will happen this season, ought to make fans happy, Bays says. It's been more than a year since he and co-creator/executive producer Craig Thomas decided Barney would get married — a plot point they never imagined writing for the legendary womanizer when they conceived of the show, despite its themes of change and adult growing pains.

"That wasn't part of [the original plan]! I think Barney's development as a human being has been a nice discovery as far as things we've explored," he says. "In [Season 1's] 'Zip, Zip, Zip,' it was just Barney hanging out with Robin, and it was great. We were like, 'Let's file this away.' By Season 3, we said we will play [that card] with them dating and breaking up. ... By Season 6, we knew we had this goalpost of him getting married and wanted to build this season of how someone goes from Barney to being the marrying kind. We had to dig in at what is at the core of a guy who's so allergic to any commitment. And it was abandonment. Now it's the story of who Barney is marrying."

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While Barney's wedding is the framing device for the season, it's not, of course, all about Barnacle. Marshall (Jason Segel) will get his new job working for Martin Short's less-than-stellar lawyer in the second episode, and he and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) are expecting a baby, who will arrive in the season finale. "We've decided [the sex], but not the name yet," Bays says, noting that it may not necessarily be the son Future Ted referenced two seasons ago. "There's a whole episode about do you want to know the sex? We have a pregnancy calendar that's synced up with when episodes air. How big are Lily's boobs in this episode? Is she showing yet here?"

And then there's that matter of the mother. "Maybe we'll see a knee, maybe a shoulder," Bays quips. After a disastrous relationship with Zoey (Jennifer Morrison), things are looking up for Ted (Josh Radnor) — professionally at least. "The first two episodes are about Ted realizing he might have wasted some time with Zoey and he needs to start dating again, not just to date, but to find his future wife," Bays says. "Part of the season will be about him taking a good look at his life and why is it that he hasn't settled down yet. The first episode of the series, he said he's ready to get married. Six years later, why is he not married?"

Bays remains typically coy about the eventual reveal of the mother — there will be something in the finale — partially because that hinges on whether the show will stay beyond an eighth season. "We have wiggle room. There are three or four different plans," he says. "Right now, we're focused on Season 7. I think it'll be the best one yet. I think Season 6 will always be the season where things changed for me. I liked that there was a directional change in the show with the wedding mystery and we're continuing along the course, but there are big developments for everyone and some great moments that are looming on the horizon, so we're excited."

How I Met Your Mother returns with two back-to-back episodes Monday at 8/7c on CBS.