When One Tree Hill ended last year, several characters got happy endings. Brooke (Sophia Bush) got her proposal, and Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) and Nathan (James Lafferty) found out they were expecting Baby No. 2. (Left-for-dead couple Clay (Robert Buckley) and Quinn (Shantel VanSanten)? Not so much.)
Series creator Mark Schwahn says when the show returns on Tuesday (8/7c on The CW), the good times won't immediately be ripped apart. In many ways, Season 8 will be a return to the heart of the One Tree Hill, focusing on the faces we've been watching since the beginning. Here are some of the changes — the return of Lucas? — viewers can expect to see when the show returns:
Brooke gets to be in love for good. Brooke Davis is no stranger to heartbreak. She was on the losing end of the love triangle with Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Peyton (Hilarie Burton), she never had a strong bond with her parents, and she was physically attacked in Season 6. But Schwahn says that she's finally found her way in her relationship with Julian (Austin Nichols). "Last year we threw a wrench into that, but they overcame that and I want to respect the fact that they did. So whatever obstacles befall Brooke in Season 8 ... [she'll] face those with Julian by her side," he says.
Alex finds a new triangle. As "the wrench" in Brooke and Julian's relationship last season, Alex (Jana Kramer) has moved on to a new guy and a new triangle. She took a liking to Chase (Stephen Colletti) after he and Mia (Kate Voegele) broke up, but in the final episode, Mia made it clear via text that she regretted the decision to end it with him. This season, viewers will see who Chase really wants to be with. "[Alex] took an interest in Chase at the end of the year," Schwahn says, adding that "the Chase-Alex-Mia situation is front and center at the beginning of the season."
Fewer characters. Schwahn admits last season introduced too many characters; there were more than 30 with multiple-episode arcs. This time, there will only be a dozen so that "the supporting characters support the core audience like they once did."
The return of an opening theme song. Fans noticed the song synonymous with the series, Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Wanna Be," disappeared for good in Season 5. Schwahn felt that not only was the message no longer appropriate for the characters after a four-year time jump, but that he wanted those extra 42 seconds devoted to story time. But fans missed it, so he changed his mind. Just don't expect to hear the same song. "I thought, 'Let's have a guest artist redo the title every week. Aimee Mann is going to do one, Patrick from Fall Out Boy did one. It's great to hear the female voices like Susie Suh and Kate Voegele," he tells us. But don't worry, Gavin isn't gone for good. He'll start out the season, pop up again mid-season and then finish it out.
Fewer crazy storylines. With kidnappings and psycho stalkers, One Tree Hill isn't exactly known for its ties to reality. But with Season 8, Schwahn would like to change that. "A girl who has a potential in-law she has to meet and hopefully get along with right away? That made a lot of sense to me. It's something that's relatable and that's where we'd like it to live as opposed to her coming to town and kidnapping someone." Schwahn is referring to the upcoming storyline of Brooke, who will be meeting Julian's mother Sylvia (Sharon Lawrence) soon. He also says that he wanted to shy away from the show's evolution into a world of fame and wealth. "We have a very 20-something audience, and when you look at [their] world, it's a bit of a struggle economically, " Schwahn says. Last season Nathan was a basketball star in the center of a scandal, but this season will shift the focus to him as a family man. "I wanted to tell stories about Nathan as a young father and husband as well."
Lucas will be back. Well, sort of. Schwahn says the premiere begins with, "Dear Lucas," an episode written from Haley's point of view. And he does hope for Chad Michael Murray (Lucas) and Hilarie Burton (Peyton) to return. "If Brooke's wedding is approaching, I think it would be nice to see Peyton and Lucas and their family... If Haley has her baby, it's nice to have the opportunity to see Lucas. Fans were disappointed when Haley's mom passed away [and Lucas was absent]. In my mind, Lucas was at that funeral we just didn't see him." Although Schwahn knows that it's realistic for friends like Lucas and Haley to grow apart, he adds, "it's always nice to revisit who you were when you were growing up, and especially people who were so important to your lives. I'd like to see them again."