Jack Rowand/ABC
May 13, 2013 at 04:27 AM EDT

Speaking of simplifying — over the course of season 2, you introduced a ton of new characters. Do you ever worry about the cast getting too unwieldy?

KITSIS: What’s funny is, we added a lot of characters [in] season 2 — but more new characters are introduced [in] season 1, as opposed to the pilot. The characters that got on the boat at the end of the year — we’re really interested in watching this kind of dysfunctional family on this journey together, and I think we’ll meet new people along the way. But our hope is never to have the new people overwhelm it. Season 3, we really want to dive deeper into our core characters, and continually tell their story.

HOROWITZ: We now have the ability to draw out familiar faces from the past when they’re appropriate. Hopefully, the audience is now familiar enough so that it doesn’t feel like you’re adding new characters, but like you’re playing within a large, rich world.

KITSIS: To us, it’s much more fun that Robin Hood steals from Rumpelstiltskin, and that’s who he’s going to kill, as opposed to Knight #3. But what happens then is that people are like, “Hey, it’s a new character!”

So when you drop in somebody like Robin Hood, you don’t necessarily intend him to get a backstory episode. It’s a possibility, but it’s not inevitable.

KITSIS: It is not. Would we like to tell a Robin Hood backstory? Someday, but not at the expense of the other characters.

Between things like Regina killing an entire village and Rumpelstiltskin and Cora’s sexually charged spinning, this season’s been a little darker and sexier than season 1. How difficult is it to keep Once feeling like a family show?

HOROWITZ: These fairy tales always have an element of darkness, and for us, there’s a big distinction between darkness and unpleasantness. And we never want to go there. We’re never going to be a serial killer show. We want to touch on the darkness and the scariness that are inherent in these stories.

KITSIS: This year probably was a little darker. But as Adam said, we’re not trying to alienate our entire audience; what’s fun about this show is that everybody can watch. But season 1, don’t forget, we had Regina rip out the Huntsman’s chest and control him, and she killed her own father.

HOROWITZ: We also try to never lose sight of one of the guiding principles of this show, which is hope.

KITSIS: Even if you look at the end of the year — what’s happened to Henry is a very dark thing. But what he wanted in the beginning of the year was his family to come together — and here they are on a ship, working together to go after him.

HOROWITZ: The irony is, he’s getting [a family] without being there. Emma, Regina, Mr. Gold, Snow, Charming – they’re all united together for a common purpose, which is him.

How do you think Regina and Snow are going to relate to each other, now that they’re working on the same side?

KITSIS: Regina and Rumpelstiltskin are on that ship, and we know what tricks they employ to get what they want. We also know that the Charmings have their own code of honor.

HOROWITZ: Just because you want the same thing, doesn’t mean you agree on the methods. And that’s going to be some of the drama there. Despite the fact that they all want to save Henry, they have a long and difficult history with each other that they need to deal with.

So after Regina’s selfless move in the finale, do you think she’s been redeemed, or at least gotten closer to redemption?

KITSIS: The metaphor we used in the [writers’] room was, she was an alcoholic and magic was her bottle. One of my favorite moments of the year is when she looks at Emma in the finale and says, “Everyone thinks I’m the evil queen. Let me die as Regina.” In that moment, that was her arc of the season. Now that they took Henry, now that she’s on this ship, the game has changed, because the goal is not self-betterment — the goal is to save her son.

And Rumpel is also fighting to save Henry, despite that prophecy saying Henry will be his undoing.

KITSIS: Rumpelstiltskin’s whole life, he’s always chosen power over love. He even did it in the finale — he tried to kill Henry in the opening. And then when he sees that boat coming, he knows what he has to do. He knows this is a one-way trip, but he knows it’s the only way to lighten his heart.

But then again, I’m sure you picked the wording of that prophecy very carefully — because “undoing” doesn’t necessarily mean “death.”

HOROWITZ: “Undoing” — he could be untying his shoes! In all seriousness, it’s kind of what Belle articulates at the end of season 2: The future, it’s never what you think. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be terrible, but it’s never quite exactly what you think. What that prophecy actually means and how it’s going to play out is something he’s going to find out the hard way.

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Read more:

‘Once Upon a Time’ finale: Wait, [SPOILER] is the Big Bad?!

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‘Once Upon a Time’: Michael Raymond-James talks this week’s finale and Baelfire’s fate

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