Expectations for the upcoming fourth season of Once Upon a Time have never been higher.
After three seasons of introducing various fairy tale figures from years past—including characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Peter Pan, Pinocchio and even The Wizard of Oz—the ABC drama is tapping into a property that was released less than a year ago: The highly popular Frozen.
When Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) returned from their time-traveling journey to the past in the season 3 finale, they unknowingly brought along a stowaway from Rumplestiltskins’s (Robert Carlyle) vault: Frozen‘s ice queen Elsa (Georgina Haig), who made a chilling entrance before closing out the third season.
Picking up where we left off, Elsa will properly make her way into Storybrooke during Sunday’s premiere, leaving a trail of ice and snow in her wake as she struggles to find her bearings. “She doesn’t know where she is,” Haig tells EW. “It’s all completely new and she doesn’t have Anna [Elizabeth Lail] with her, who is her rock. She’s very scared. Dealing with her fear is something that’s very difficult for her.” It’s not surprising then that a familiar snow monster will plague the residents of Storybrooke as Elsa faces those fears.
Though she’s been locked up in Rumple’s vault for an indeterminate amount of time, Elsa is less the villain than she is the victim. “The reason that we were so inspired by her character and that we loved Elsa so much was the fact that she reminded us of some of our characters where they’re misunderstood, they have powers they don’t really understand, they know they’re not like everyone else, but they have to realize that’s what makes them special,” executive producer Edward Kitsis says. “What Elsa’s motivation will be will be revealed in the premiere, and I don’t want to spoil it, but I can tell you that she won’t be a villain.”
Instead, viewers should prepare to meet a second frigid character, the Snow Queen, portrayed by Lost alum Elizabeth Mitchell. “What we can say about Elizabeth on the show is that for the first time, we’re showing a villainous side to Elizabeth Mitchell,” executive producer Adam Horowitz says, before Kitsis interjects: “Not just working with the Others because she has no choice, but a truly villainous side. We can’t wait to scare everyone.”
Not coincidentally then, the “Snow Queen is connected” to why Elsa landed in that vault, according to Carlyle. “Rumple’s told them at this point that he didn’t know that Elsa was there,” he says. “At this point, I genuinely don’t know whether that’s true or not. I doubt it because it’s his vault.”
Elsa’s eventual arrival in town springs from Anna setting out on an adventure to uncover the truth behind her sister’s powers—the same journey that claimed the lives of their parents. “The biggest theme for us is never give up on the people you love,” Kitsis explains, adding that we’ll get hints as to who their parents were going to see in the premiere.
“They’ve finally gotten one another back after all this time away from one another,” says Lail, who deftly captures the spirit of Kristen Bell’s clumsy, yet endearing Anna as she seeks to strengthen their sisterly bond. “They’re really willing to do whatever it takes to hold on to one another. Her goal is to find happiness for her sister. She doesn’t always know what is best, but she does it with all her might.”
Anna’s adventure will temporarily put the kibosh on her wedding to Kristoff, played by Greek alum Scott Michael Foster, who isn’t quite as shaggy as his film counterpart these days. “We had a wig that didn’t work,” Foster explains. “We thought that was the best way to go and grow it out throughout the season.” And for those wondering, Kristoff won’t be speaking for his reindeer, Sven, though they will still have conversations.
Alas, Anna’s journey isn’t the only hurdle they’ll face before their nuptials. Lest we forget, Frozen sociopath Hans (Tyler Jacob Moore) is still out there and has not been redeemed since the events of the film. “Whether he’s responsible or somehow tied to Elsa winding up in that urn in Rumple’s vault remains to be seen,” Horowitz says, promising that we’ll see several of Hans’ 12 brothers.
Adds Moore of where we’ll pick up: “He’s going back on this boat to be with his brothers, who are probably not going to be too happy that he tried to kill all these people to become a king.”
Anna will also cross paths with several familiar faces, including Belle (Emilie de Ravin), whom she’ll meet during a flashback episode that introduces the Beauty and the Beast character’s mother Colette (Frances O’Connor), and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), with whom Anna shares a deep connection. “We are going to go back and see a great story about his journey,” Dallas shares. “It’s the most important friendship that he’s had in his life outside of Snow and it really changes the entire path of his life and sets him on that road to being a hero.”
The Charming family connections don’t stop there. The dynamic between Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and Elsa will play an important role this season seeing as they both grew up away from their families with magic that they didn’t understand. “When they meet and realize they are both looking to do good things, they’re immediately connected and they have so much in common.” Morrison says. “It’s a real opportunity to grow. They can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.”
Emma will need help in that department after basically ruining Regina’s (Lana Parrilla) happy ending by rescuing Robin Hood’s (Sean Maguire) late wife, Maid Marian (Christie Laing), from the Evil Queen’s clutches in the past. “Regina is pissed off,” Parrilla says. “She wants to strangle Emma and she has every reason to. She’s been trying to do the right thing for so long and look where she ends up. She’s planning and scheming on how to deal with the whole Robin Hood heartbreak.”
Still, Horowitz promises that Regina won’t necessarily revert to her season 1 self. “What she’s going to become is an evolution of that character, the character we saw last season who was struggling with discovering that there is some light magic in her, and this new character that’s the latest evolutionary step in her,” he says. “Will that be good? Will that be bad? Is that some mixture of both? That’s what we’re going to explore.” On the bright side, a mission with Henry (Jared Gilmore) could keep her Evil Queen tendencies from coming out. “Maybe some of his light side will rub off on her,” Kitsis adds.
Either way, it will be difficult for Robin Hood to choose between his late wife and Regina. “He as much as said he was in love with Regina last season,” Maguire points out. “It’s a really complicated situation. He’s a righteous, decent man, but when you’re in love, you’re in love.”
As Emma struggles to make amends for her mistakes with Regina, that may drive a wedge between her and Hook. “He’d rather have her focus on him, but he understands that they have to clean up the mess they made,” O’Donoghue says.
“Hook and Emma are definitely very connected and want to try to find a way to make this work, but they are also incredibly screwed up from their pasts in certain ways and have a lot to overcome in order to try to be vulnerable with each other. There’s a lot of emotional stuff going on with Emma,” Morrison says of the season, which will include more flashbacks into Emma’s past as she struggles with what it means to actually call Storybrooke home—and yes, she will be the sheriff again!
As for Hook, we will discover much more about his past, including details on who he traded his ship to, his father and what living in the real world means. “That obviously starts with a wardrobe change,” Kitsis says. “We will get him out of the costume, but we will never take the guyliner off.”
But settling down will come with some consequences: “Hook and Rumplestiltskin have a very long history that is blood-riddled and difficult that has been put aside for a little while due to circumstance, but now that circumstances have changed, that past history is going to rear its head again,” Horowitz says. Carlyle promises, “The gloves are off.”
Rumplstiltskin will have plenty of other drama on his hands this season after deceiving his new bride Belle. “We’re going to explore why he lied to her about the dagger,” Kitsis says, hinting that they’ll be diving into a brand new storyline with Rumple that kicks off in the premiere.
Meanwhile, Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming will have their hands full this season as they really face parenting for the first time. “Mary Margaret and Charming thought that having the second baby would not necessarily wipe away what had happened before, but in being given the second chance, they were expecting things to be much easier emotionally,” Goodwin says. “Instead, having Prince Neal has illuminated all of the things that they missed with Emma and it’s made it all the much harder.” Making parenting even more difficult is a new job being “thrust upon” Snow.
And last, but certainly not least, Elsa is not the only newcomer in Storybrooke. Once Upon a Time in Wonderland’s Michael Socha will make his way back to town as Will Scarlet, who was previously a member of Robin Hood’s Merry Men before betraying them. Suffice it to say, they have a contentious relationship, as Socha describes a scene they recently filmed: “There were darts involved and obviously Robin Hood has a good aim,” he says.
Not surprisingly, the Knave will make a lasting impression in town. “He’s a bit of a cheeky sod,” Socha says. “He’s a thief, he’s a naughty boy sometimes. He rubs a few people the wrong way quite early on. He ends up in jail at some point. And out of jail at another point.”
For Wonderland fans wondering what that means for his apparent happy ending with Anastasia (Emma Rigby), the producers promise there will be answers. “For those who may not have seen Wonderland, that story will be explained in a way that we hope will be entertaining and fun to discover as well,” Horowitz says. “If you already know a little bit of his backstory, we think you’ll enjoy how he comes in.”
Once Upon a Time returns Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC.