Netflix subscribers have binge-watched with delight as House of Cards' power-hungry Frank Underwood clawed (and murdered) his way up the political ladder. But after manipulating his way into the Oval Office at the end of Season 2, Frank and his wife Claire seem to be struggling to find the next rung.

"For two seasons we've watched Frank and Claire climb to the summit of Everest. Then what?" executive producer Beau Willimon tells TVGuide.com. "It's a different story when you're at the top. The question is, is there anywhere higher to go? Is the only place to go down? Are you fighting to maintain your place on the summit? And those are all the questions we want the audience to be going into Season 3 with."

Watch the ominous House of Cards Season 3 trailer now

And the answers don't come all that quickly. The early chapters of Season 3 play like a gloomier version of The West Wing, with Frank (Kevin Spacey) struggling to get a mega-expensive bill to end unemployment through Congress and navigating a tricky relationship with a Putin-like Russian president. In both cases, however, Frank meets seemingly stronger opposition than ever before. And unlike what he did with junior congressman Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) or political reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara), Frank can't exactly kill off all his opponents.

"Part of wielding the power that one has to direct armies, [is also] to make decisions about our lives and the way the government works," Willimon says. "Now the buck's completely stopped with him, and that is an immense responsibility to bear and a lot of pressure to have on one's shoulders. The way in which that pressure mounts and the way that he deals with it is something that will be new to this series."Unfortunately, things aren't much calmer on the home front. Not satisfied with simply being the First Lady, Claire (Robin Wright) wastes little time trying carve out her own political future separate from Frank. Could we finally begin to see cracks in the duo's rock-solid partnership?

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"The union between Frank and Claire has always been the core of House of Cards, and it's something that's only natural that we continue to explore," Willimon says. "I think that they have a marriage unlike anyone else's, and we continue to find new aspects of that marriage at every turn. Certainly occupying the White House is going to influence their marriage in ways that we haven't seen before. The way in which these two people make each other stronger is an endlessly fascinating subject for us — [as are] the ways that they can be a liability to one another when they're not working together."

But even if Frank begins the third season a little off his game, we wouldn't be surprised to see him come raging back. After all, nothing is more dangerous than a cornered animal. For his part, Willimon suggests Frank will continue to serve his own self-interest at all costs.

"One of the things that makes Francis different is that from the get-go, he was unapologetically self-serving," Willimon says. "He doesn't shy away from that, and he doesn't see himself as being evil as a result. I think he just sees that as the way the world works. You either hunt or be hunted."

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And Willimon says it's that mentality that endears Frank to so many viewers, despite his despicable deeds. "There's a certain vicarious deliciousness for the viewers in seeing someone who doesn't apologize for that sort of worldview or behavior," Willimon says. "[He] is able to liberate himself from allegiances, from rules, from the law, and from morality. I think at times, many of us wish that we could liberate ourselves from such things, and we either can't or don't — probably for good reason. So, while you might deplore many of the things he does, you do get to access a side of yourself that wishes that you could be as liberated as he is."

Some of those hungry fans got a sneak peek at the third season earlier this month when a technical glitch accidentally made all Season 3 episodes available two weeks early. Although the episodes were quickly taken down, some fans were able to finish the episodes they had already begun watching. But unlike the ruthless Frank Underwood, the spoiler-averse Willimon took the leak in stride. In other words, no one's going to be thrown in front of a train for the mistake.

"Absolutely not. No one's path to the presidency was threatened by that leak," Willimon says with a laugh. "Mistakes happen. We're still seeing how streaming television works, and occasionally there's going to be a kink here and there. What was really exciting to me was the enthusiasm for Season 3. People went nuts over that leak, which I think shows us just how excited they were about it coming out. I wish we could take credit for it. If it was something that we planned, I probably wouldn't admit it anyway."

All 13 episodes of House of Cards' third season will be available at midnight PT Friday on Netflix.

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