Next season will not be the Storybrooke we once knew, and it won't be Emma (Jennifer Morrison) leading the charge to save everyone's happy endings. The show will pivot to focus on Henry (formerly Jared Gilmore) all-grown up (Andrew J. West) and his own search for belief at the behest of the young daughter he never knew he had.
The change of direction required six series regulars to depart the show and will introduce a new batch of fairy-tale characters, though Hook (Colin O'Donoghue), Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Rumple (Robert Carlyle) will still be around to help Henry along his journey.
How far into Season 6 did you know that this was the route you wanted to take?
Eddy Kitsis: Probably a year ago. Every year between seasons we have what we call "mini-camp" where we plot out the next year. We started casually talking about it during Season 5. Then we started the year knowing that we wanted to bring this chapter of the book to a close. We just went for it.
I love how the twist parallels the beginning of Emma and Henry's story in the pilot. How much is it going to parallel going forward, or was that just to get it started?
Adam Horowitz: The parallel you saw at the end of [the finale] was intentional, but the storytelling is going to be a piece of what we've done all along, but it's going to be different. We're not going to be telling the exact same story that we did Season 1 and just switching it to adult Henry.
Kitsis; It's going to be a new adventure with new worlds and with Henry obviously and his family — Rumple, Hook and Regina — helping him out.
Horowitz: I would say the audience last night only got a brief taste of what the set up for next season is. There's a lot more that we're excited to show them — not just yet — but it's not a replay. It's a whole new adventure.
What can you tell us about how Regina, Hook and Rumple will play into Season 7?
Kitsis: I don't want to spoil anything as of yet, but we have fun plans for all three of them.
Will you address the age issue of how Henry has gotten older and they haven't — or can we expect to see them in some old age makeup?
Horowitz: The age and how Henry is as old as he is without everyone else is dealt with right away as we set up the new paradigm. I think it was purposefully oblique [in the finale] but we have a plan in place and we're also allowing Rumple, Hook and the Evil Queen to be in it and I don't think they are going to be burdened with looking like it's a sequel to Cocoon.
How is adult Henry different from the young Henry we've gotten to know over the past six seasons?
Kitsis: Without spoiling too much, we'd say from looking at [the finale], we know that Henry has the heart of a truest believer. We know that at the beginning of the two hours an adult Henry tells his daughter that someone will believe in this book. Then at the end she gives it to him. To me, it would indicate that Henry somewhere along the line has lost his belief. That's where next year will pick up.
We got to meet Henry's daughter last night — but what can you say about her mother?
Kitsis: We can't tell you who her mother is, what we can tell you is that Henry and that mother is going to be an epic romance in the tradition of Snow and Charming.
The first six seasons of the show were about Emma discovering the Once Upon a Time versions of these familiar fairy tales. Will Henry be doing a similar discovery? What kind of stories are you hoping to tell now that he is the focus of the show?
Kitsis: I would say that the main premise of the show is fairy-tale characters in the real world in search of their happy endings. That is going to continue next year with Henry in the lead. What we think is a new version and a new adventure.
Horowitz: We are going to continue to do what we have always tried to do, which is twist and re-imagine a lot of these stories and mash them up with each other. None of that has changed.
This is a very big shift that you are asking fans to make as we head into this reset of the show. What would you like to say to them to keep them with you on this journey?
Horowitz: it's still the same show. We've done lots of shifts and resets in previous seasons. This one may feel a little more tumultuous at first, but in our mind, the spirit and the feeling of Once Upon a Time remains and that's what we're going to endeavor to continue to do.
Kitsis: For us and the fans creatively, it was time for a lot of our characters... their stories were ready to have a conclusion to it. It was time for new stories to begin. We wanted to do something new creatively and honor what we did for the six years. It just felt like now was the time.
On the opposite side of that coin: Why would now make a good time for new viewers who haven't signed on yet to get into the show?
Horowitz: You can enter the show and if you've been a loyal viewer for six years you'll be rewarded by that history, but also with this kind of fresh approach you'll be able to see stories that are building from the ground up, not with six years of backstory behind them.
Kitsis: What's fun about the new iteration is that you can just jump in and if you've never seen it before — there's a lot of people who haven't seen the show and started watching it on Netflix or wanted to watch it but they feel like, "Oh, I'm four seasons behind," — the premise remains and now is the time.
Once Upon a Time returns next season on ABC.