Heroes and villains will align in the third season of Once Upon a Time.
In the closing moments of the Season 2 finale, Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Emma (Jennifer Morrison), Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle), Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) set sail for Neverland to chase after Greg (Ethan Embry) and Tamara (Sonequa Martin-Green), who had kidnapped Henry (Jared Gilmore). Foes-turned-friends will have to team up to track down the one they love — which should be interesting since they've spent decades trying to destroy each other.
"What's exciting to us is what happens when you take characters who have been at each other's throats from the beginning and give them a common goal and throw them together on a little pirate ship," executive producer Adam Horowitz tells TVGuide.com.
This journey to rescue Henry will force each member of the ragtag group to channel what executive producer Edward Kitsis calls their "core character." "Snow needs to be Bandit Snow, the Snow we saw who wielded the sword in the beginning," he says. "Emma is going to need to be the savior. Rumplestiltskin is going to have to be the dark one. Prince Charming needs to be Prince Charming right now."
What that means for Regina — the former Evil Queen who succeeded in her attempt to get redemption when she planned to sacrifice herself to save Storybrooke in last season's finale — and her quest to be good remains to be seen. Just because Kitsis didn't mention her, doesn't mean she won't need to channel her dastardly evil side on their mission to retrieve Henry. "One of my favorite things is when Regina says, 'Everyone thinks I'm the Evil Queen. Let me die as Regina,'" Kitsis says of the season finale. "This is before they took her son, so right now, on that ship, she'll do whatever it takes to get her son back. If that means Regina is required, she'll be Regina, but if that means the Evil Queen is required, watch out."
"I don't think Regina thinks of it in terms of good and evil the way the other characters look at her and paint her with those strokes," Horowitz adds. "Regina thinks about it in terms of what she wants, what her pain is, what she needs and how she's going to get it. How everyone else interprets it is on them."
While Regina continues her struggle with what magic does to her — the producers love to liken it to how alcohol affects an addict — Emma will be exploring her new expertise. As evidenced in the finale, Emma has more power than she could imagine after helping Regina stop the trigger from destroying Storybrooke. But her knack for magic is something she hasn't had time to explore since she first used it back in Season 2. "In Season 3, you're going to see Emma questioning why she has magic, what does it mean to be the savior and what about her happy ending? Or is her job just to make sure everyone else has one?" Kitsis says.
Although the producers previously dealt with only "Neverland-adjacent" stories, Once will actually venture to Neverland in Season 3, following Captain Hook's ship, the Jolly Roger, being swallowed by the portal. "It's a world we've glimpsed and now it's a world we'll explore," Horowitz teases.
Waiting there is Peter Pan, who has been searching for Henry for centuries — certainly longer than Emma's son has even been alive, which makes it all the more curious how Pan's Lost Boys already had a perfect drawing of Henry handy. Don't worry, the why behind Pan's fascination will be explained post-haste. "That is a huge part of what Season 3 is meant to be about," Horowitz says. "That's something that we don't intend to hold on to for the entire season. We want to reveal it and make it a big part of what the show's about." For the record, Horowitz notes that Greg and Tamara were "unwittingly working for Peter Pan," so we're looking forward to the magic haters discovering who their real boss is.
With Once introducing Neverland, stranding the still-living Neal (Michael Raymond-James) in fairy tale land and leaving a group of characters back in Storybrooke, the third season could quickly get convoluted. But the producers say the division of the upcoming season — the first 11 episodes will air uninterrupted in the fall, with a break until spring — will help alleviate that problem. "The first 11 episodes are its own season, so we get to be a little more focused and a little more in depth and we're probably less hopping around," Kitsis says. He adds that they're not hesitant about continuing to show multiple worlds next season. "Even in beginning, it said the curse will cross all lands. It's about doing it in a way that doesn't overwhelm our core characters and it doesn't overwhelm the viewer in a way where they have to follow a flow chart. We're not going to make the show so complex that there are five different timelines."
"Even if we are in different worlds, hopefully the story and the characters will carry you through," adds Horowitz: "It's about the characters, not the world. So if you're with the characters, where they are is secondary to what they're going through."
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Once Upon a Time returns this fall on ABC.
Additional reporting by Robyn Ross.