Once Upon a Time is undergoing a major overhaul heading into season 7, which means new characters, new locales, and even a new curse. To keep track of all the big changes, EW will bring you interviews with the cast — new and old — along with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis over the next two weeks until the ABC fairy tale drama’s return.
Once Upon a Time‘s diehard fans should prepare themselves. After six seasons — and the exit of six cast members — OUAT is turning the page, shifting focus to an adult Henry Mills (now played by Andrew J. West) for an ambitious reboot that has the chance to truly revive the long-running fairy-tale drama… if viewers can get on board with the big changes ahead.
Here’s what’s in store: Ever the hero, Henry leaves Storybrooke in search of his own tale, finding an epic romance with a different iteration of Cinderella (Dania Ramirez), with whom he has a precocious daughter, Lucy (Alison Fernandez). But the family is torn apart when a new, yet familiar, curse traps them and a trio of returning characters — former Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla), one-handed pirate Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), and the Dark One Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) — as well as a quintet of new characters (see the full character rundown here) in the Seattle neighborhood of Hyperion Heights.
If that sounds like a brand-new show, that’s the point. “In a world where superheroes can reboot, we thought, ‘Why not fairy tales?'” executive producer Edward Kitsis says, calling season 7 a “requel” — half reboot, half sequel.
In a bid to attract old viewers and new, the show will be taking familiar elements from the stellar first season and putting a twist on them. The format will still be split between Enchanted Forest flashbacks and present-day real-world Hyperion Heights. There’s that aforementioned classic romance à la Snow and Charming between Cinderella and Henry. There are new iterations of familiar characters like that glass-slippered princess and Wonderland’s Alice (Rose Reynolds) — no, they’re not replacing Jessy Schram and Sophie Lowe, respectively, but are playing new versions of the characters from other storybooks. And there’s yet another curse, which leaves them all once again without magic — though this one has a disheartening bent that could prove even more difficult to break. “Lady Tremaine [Gabrielle Anwar] wants to push everybody away, wants to gentrify the neighborhood, so that all these characters are separated forever,” executive producer Adam Horowitz teases.
However, the beloved returning trio have been radically reimagined thanks to that curse. Regina is now a denim-clad bar owner named Roni, while Hook is a despondent cop named Rogers. Rumple, as ever, remains a mystery. “It really is like we’re starting a whole new show,” O’Donoghue says. “Lana, Bobby, and I essentially are creating new characters and that’s always exciting and terrifying at the same time.” Not to confuse the matter, but for those who may not understand how OUAT curses work, they are still playing characters who appeared during the first six seasons; these are just their cursed alter egos in Hyperion Heights.
Fear not, some other familiar faces from the show’s original run will also return, including Jared Gilmore as a young Henry in the premiere, Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan for an emotional curtain call in episode 2, Emilie de Ravin and Giles Matthey as Belle and Gideon, respectively, in the moving Rumple-centric fourth hour, and Rebecca Mader reprising her role as Zelena, a.k.a the Wicked Witch, for multiple episodes in season 7.
At the show’s center is still a familiar hero in Henry Mills, but instead of being the wide-eyed believer, Henry is now a cynical former author-turned-Uber driver. Yes, seriously. “I don’t want to mimic what Jared [Gilmore] did, because Henry’s a different person, he’s older now,” West says of the role’s original portrayer. “But it was important to understand the essence of those relationships to be able to do the job.”
Those relationships, however, have definitely changed since Henry left Storybrooke, much in the same way that all the new faces have altered the dynamic on set. “It’s new energy,” Parrilla says. “I loved working with the old cast, but I think change is really healthy; it challenges us, it makes us uncomfortable, but it actually forces us to step out of the norm, and remain open-minded.”
That’s exactly what the cast hopes the audience will do heading into this rebooted season. “Genuinely, the writing this season is some of the best I’ve read,” O’Donoghue says. “It’s really important to reiterate and reassure the fans that Eddy and Adam are super excited, even more so because there’s so much enthusiasm about creating this new world.”
And those aforementioned changes also allow for new viewers to join in, a rare feat for a series going into its seventh season — and heading to Friday nights for the first time in the show’s run. “Part of the fun with this was being able to start over,” Kitsis says. “If you’ve never seen Once Upon a Time, you can absolutely watch episode 1 and not miss a beat.”
Once Upon a Time returns Friday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Check back Tuesday for our full Q&A with executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis.