Though Monday mornings are famously rough for everybody, Once Upon a Time fans — who went to bed Sunday night drunk from the love spell that was Hook and Emma's wedding — are having an especially rough one this week, as series lead Jennifer Morrison announced her surprise exit from the series.
"As I reached the end of my six-year contract on Once Upon a Time, I was faced with a significant decision," Morrison wrote on her Instagram page. "ABC, Eddy Kitsis, and Adam Horowitz very generously invited me to continue as a series regular. After very careful consideration, I have decided that creatively and personally, it is time for me to move on."
News that Morrison was negotiating her contract ahead of a potential Season 7 renewal hit the interwebs back in March, but judging from fan response on social media, Emma Swan exiting the series entirely was not exactly what Oncers were expecting. And with Morrison's on-screen love interest Colin O'Donoghue, her frequent scene partner-slash co-mom Lana Parrilla, and her occasionally deranged ex-father-in-law Robert Carlyle all negotiating their contracts as well, does this mean it's time to close the (story)book Once and for all?
... Probably not. But if the series does return next year, Season 7 will undoubtedly look a whole lot different now that Morrison and Emma Swan are officially saying goodbye.
The good news is, even though Morrison's exit seems quite sudden, Kitsis, Horowitz, and ABC were prepared for this. Once debuted as a ratings smash back in October of 2011, but after six years and well over 100 episodes, signs of wear have long since begun to show in the plot. So with the series leads' contracts set to expire at the end of Season 6 and ratings on the decline, ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey explained to Deadline back in January that she, Kitsis, and Horowitz were exploring potential ideas for Season 7 — but that either way, the May 14 Season 6 finale would "put a little bit of a bow" on the current iteration of the show.
"There will be a little bit of closure in this particular narrative regardless of what happens with Season 7," Dungey explained.
Then, news broke that Kitsis and Horowitz were considering a retooling of Once to focus on Emma, Hook, Regina, and Rumplestiltskin only — ostensibly leaving Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), and other long-time Oncers out of the narrative entirely. And even though Morrison departing makes O'Donoghue's exit seem like a done deal — robbing Hook and Emma of their true happy ending is just mean — Deadline reports that all three of the remaining chosen four are expected to renew.
Hook, Regina, and Mr. Gold have ridiculously strong ties to the Charmings and to Storybrooke, of course, but since the Once universe already includes multiple timelines and tons of magic, there is no doubt in our minds that Kitsis and Horowitz could conjure up a spell or two that would justify the three characters leaving their families behind. Also, while we were all focused on Hook and Emma's nuptials, Once went ahead and cast some Emma and Henry (Jared Gilmore) surrogates that will likely fuel exciting new storylines in Season 7.
Andrew J. West — whom you might remember as a handsome cannibal from The Walking Dead — will, per TVLine, play a "strong yet vulnerable leading man ... who was once optimistic and hopeful but now is a friendless, cynical recluse. That said, he still possesses a dormant, deep-seated spark of hope that waits for the right person to reignite it."
West's character will be introduced next week during the two part Season 6 finale alongside Alison Fernandez's 10-year-old "with a "constant twinkle of mischief in her eye." She comes from a broken home, and will face some (undoubtedly magical) darkness that "threatens everything she holds dear" — which sounds a whole awful lot like Henry Mills' situation back in Season 1.
So while May 14 will be a tear-jerker goodbye to Emma and whichever characters exit alongside her (likely Snow, Charming, and Henry, just to name a few), it also seems like the episode will serve as a backdoor pilot of sorts for Once 2.0. And even though we'll be sad to see Morrison and her leather jacket-clad character take a swan song, we're pretty dang excited to see what a retooled Once with a new scowly, cynical Savior and hopeful tween sidekick might look like... If also slightly dreading the thought of the Captain without his Swan.
Once Upon a Time's Season 6 finale will air on Sunday, May 14 at 8/7c.