The ABC Family drama will finally unmask mystery villain ''A,'' whose hidden identity is the hit series' key secret. SPOILER ALERT: EW was on the ''PLL'' set for the much-anticipated episode that reveals all

By Tanner Stransky
March 16, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”No tweeting!” Marlene King screeches that command at anyone within earshot on the set of Pretty Little Liars, the buzzy ABC Family teen mystery series she oversees. On this December afternoon, King is doing all she can to protect a big secret that’s about to be revealed on the show’s Burbank soundstage: the identity of the elusive ”A,” a cyberbully who’s been terrorizing pals Aria (Lucy Hale, 22), Spencer (Troian Bellisario, 26), Hanna (Ashley Benson, 22), and Emily (Shay Mitchell, 24) since the puzzling death of their queen-bee friend Allison (Sasha Pieterse, 16) in the show’s 2010 premiere. Considering that the Twitter following of Pretty Little Liars‘ four young stars is more than 2.4 million combined — and there are 80 random extras on set for the demented fairy-tale-themed masquerade ball where the secret begins to unravel — King’s paranoia about leaks seem justified.

A variety of other safeguards have been put in place: Scripts aren’t allowed off set and are immediately shredded after shooting. ”I can’t wait to watch it with the fans,” King says of the season 2 finale. ”It feels like our present to them. We totally have the most loyal fans of any show. This is us saying, ‘You’ve earned this. Here it is.”’ King says she first began mulling over when to expose ”A” during the creation of the pilot. She ultimately decided a season 1 reveal would be premature, but as season 2 progressed, she realized viewers wouldn’t wait much longer. ”Fans were getting to this place where they really were owed an answer,” King says. ”They might start getting tired of the show if they didn’t get one.”

Pretty Little Liars is based on a series of novels by Sara Shepard, and the identity of ”A” was uncovered in a 2008 book. But on the show, ”A” could be anybody, and the producers have carte blanche to make the character whoever they want. ”Sara Shepard doesn’t have a clue,” King says. ”I think she’ll be happy with this ‘A,’ but we’ll see.” Mitchell — whose character, Emily, experiences her own harrowing bombshell in the season finale — assures us that the wait will be worth it. ”Fans will fall off their chairs, couches, beds — wherever they’re watching it,” she says. ”Everybody will be pleasantly surprised and shocked.”

But how risky is it to give up the secret that holds the whole series together? ”We’ve always felt like this show’s about a lot more than who ‘A’ is, so we went for it,” says King. And the story might end up being more complicated. ”Just because you find out who ‘A’ is doesn’t mean we got the sole person in this whole thing,” adds Mitchell. ”Is it the person who killed Allison? We don’t know. How are they going to top this? I don’t know, but there’s no doubt in my mind that they will. This is just the ending to the beginning.”

The Top Suspects
”A” could be anyone, but Pretty Little Liars showrunner Marlene King offered some intel on the most speculated-about characters.

Mona Vanderwall (Janel Parrish)
”She really is ‘A’ in the books, so that makes her an instant suspect. That’s how I would put that.”

Jenna Marshall (Tammin Sursok)
”Jenna is a suspect because the girls are complicit in the loss of her eyesight, and so she has strong motive.”

Ezra Fitz (Ian Harding)
”He was new to these girls in a very timely way. ‘A’ did not enter their lives until Aria met Ezra.”

Melissa Hastings (Torrey DeVitto)
”She’s a Pretty Little Liar herself. She’s been caught in many lies. We can’t trust her at all, and she’s carrying Ian’s baby, which makes her a suspect.”

Four little liars and a being named “A” (who may or may not be the fifth little liar) try to live their lives in Rosewood. It’s complicated.
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