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Once Upon a Time: Jennifer Morrison to exit ahead of potential season 7

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After six seasons at the center of Once Upon a Time, Jennifer Morrison will exit the drama ahead of a potential seventh season, EW has learned.

Though Once Upon a Time has not yet been renewed — EW has heard it is a near-lock to return, with ABC expected to announce renewals and cancellations this week ahead of its upfront presentation — Morrison will not return as a series regular.

“As I reached the end of my 6 year contract on ONCE UPON A TIME, I was faced with a significant decision. 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,” Morrison wrote in an announcement on Instagram. “Emma Swan is one my favorite characters that I have ever played. My 6 years on ONCE UPON A TIME has changed my life in the most beautiful ways. I am absolutely blown away by the passion and commitment of the Oncer fans. I am so honored to have been a central part of such a special show.”

As I reached the end of my 6 year contract on ONCE UPON A TIME, I was faced with a significant decision. 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. Emma Swan is one my favorite characters that I have ever played. My 6 years on ONCE UPON A TIME has changed my life in the most beautiful ways. I am absolutely blown away by the passion and commitment of the Oncer fans. I am so honored to have been a central part of such a special show. I will be forever grateful to Adam, Eddy, and ABC for giving me the gift of playing Emma Swan. As I move on to other creative endeavors, I will continue to attend the fan conventions whenever my professional schedule allows. I always look forward meeting the fans. If ABC Network does in fact order a season 7, I have agreed to appear in one episode, and I will most certainly continue to watch ONCE UPON A TIME. The creativity of the show runners has always inspired me, and I cannot wait to see the ways that they continue to develop and reinvent the show. #Onceuponatime #EmmaSwan #UglyDucklings

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Executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis released a joint statement on Morrison’s exit, which provides a bit of hope about the future: “The past six years of collaborating with Jennifer as Emma Swan have been truly magical. Watching her breathe life into Emma, she accomplished more than we could have dreamed possible — she gave life to a brand-new Disney Princess, filled with strength and intelligence and an incredible closet full of red leather jackets. We’ll miss seeing her every day, but her imprint upon Once Upon a Time is indelible. She will always be a part of the show and its heart and soul. That said, just because Jennifer won’t be back every week doesn’t mean we won’t see our savior again.”

Hot off a long stint on House and a short turn on How I Met Your Mother, Morrison originated the role of Emma Swan, the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), and the Savior who was prophesied to save the residents of Storybrooke in the Final Battle.

Morrison’s exit raises the question of what will actually happen to Emma in the Final Battle after being predicted to die earlier this season. Emma got her happy ending (technically beginning) during Sunday’s musical hour, in which she wed Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), but the Black Fairy (Jaime Murray) unleashed a curse that was meant to separate the Savior from her loved ones for the Final Battle, which will take place in the two-part season finale.

Earlier this year, ABC chief Channing Dungey seemed to indicate there could be possible exits should the show be renewed, noting that OUAT bosses Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis were looking at the potential seventh season as a springboard in a new direction. “Which doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re not bringing cast back. It’s just: How do you kind of hit the reset button in a way that gives you an opportunity to expand the stories that we’re telling?” Dungey said.

Thus, Morrison’s exit comes as Horowitz and Kitsis face a big shakeup heading into the potential seventh season. The finale will therefore provide a sense of closure should it end up being the series ender, while also launching a new chapter should the show get renewed. “We understand that this could be the last year,” Kitsis recently said. “We feel like we completed this story and the next chapter of Once Upon a Time will be completely different.”

“By the end of the season finale, a lot of what we’ve been doing for the last six years is wrapped up, and we hope in a very satisfying way,” Horowitz added. “Then, we move forward in a way that, at the end of it, hopefully, you’ll see what we’re hoping to do in season 7.”

Teeing up a possible seventh season, which would feature both old and new characters, includes introducing new faces like The Walking Dead alum Andrew J. West and Jane the Virgin star Alison Fernandez, who will both appear in the season 6 finale, with the potential for more episodes should the show get renewed. Check out our theory on that here.

When EW hit the set of the ABC fairy tale drama in February, Morrison seemed optimistic about the show returning, even if that meant seeing a whole new cast of characters in their place. “We all want what’s best for the potential future of the show, letting the show have some kind of franchise legs in the future, and letting it be something that lives on as long as possible for the fans, and so whatever incarnation makes that possible is something that I think we’re all going to support,” Morrison said.

Even though Morrison will no longer be a series regular, the actress was previously open to the idea of returning in some capacity in the future. “I will never walk away entirely, but I have been owned for the last 13 years of my life so it will be a variation of me being here because I want to be here, because I will always be there for Eddy and Adam, but probably without being owned,” Morrison told EW in February. “I love them and I owe such a wonderful part of my life to them, and I love Emma and I love the show, so I will find a way to be here — it just needs to be in a way where I also have a life.”

Once Upon a Time‘s two-hour season finale airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.