Sonja Flemming/CBS
September 30, 2013 at 06:00 AM EDT

Warning: Do not read this post if you haven’t watched the season premiere of The Mentalist. 

At the end of last season of The Mentalist, we narrowed down the list of Red John suspects to seven. And by the end of tonight’s premiere, that number had changed.

Yup, RIP Partridge. He was the first suspect to fall. But will Lisbon (Robin Tunney) be the next victim? Read on for our chat with executive producer Bruno Heller.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Obviously, you started off the season big by killing off one of the suspects right away. Tell me about the decision to kill Partridge first.

BRUNO HELLER: It wasn’t my decision; it was Red John’s decision. And it’s part of a much larger, dastardly plan that will reveal itself over the next few episodes. This is a good question. This is the first time I’ve been asked this question, but it’s a very good point. Why DID he kill Partridge? What possible reason could he have for that? A very good reason will be revealed down the line. So it’s both a fun way to start the season and embedded in that scene is a big clue to the identity of Red John that will pay off big time later.

Well, he did whisper ‘Tiger’ before dying.

Yes, he did. And that’s another clue that will have big ramifications later on. These next few episodes, essentially the first episodes of this season, all have those kinds of revelations and clues and hints and big steps forward in the mystery. And all will be revealed.

When do we revisit the Tiger clue?

Watch episode 4 and you will get some answers to that in episode 4. I can start very specific now about those. Episode 4 will give you some answers that go a long way to answering that question.

I have to admit, Partridge was my No. 1 suspect. So after he died, I thought to myself, ‘Of course he’s going to go first!’

That’s the thing. Everyone has different No. 1 suspects, which is good. That’s one of those things as a writer; you can spend a lot of time weighing which one people think is the likely suspect. That’s very much a subjective choice. I know that are a lot of people out there who think Jane is Red John still.

…even though you’ve said explicitly he’s not!

I know. They don’t necessarily have to believe me, I suppose. I’ve never denied that it was Lisbon. So I suppose it could be Lisbon.

For you, as a writer, was it ever going to be someone else first?

No. Because like I say, as convoluted and as elaborate as the plotting might appear, you have to know exactly what you’re doing way before you do it. So things might seem mysterious or too complicated to work out what the hell is going on, but as these episodes unfold, the story will unfold itself in a clean and clear fashion. It was very important that Partridge die at this point in the story. It’s not just — he didn’t just kill him as an act-out.

Can we expect more deaths among the suspects?

Yeah, you can expect more deaths of suspects; I think I can say that without giving too much away. It’s not a Seven Little Indians thing, where one drops dead every week. But part of Red John’s plan involves bad intentions toward the other suspects on that list. It’s not a good list to be on.

What I found interesting was that you brought the rest of the team into the fold so quickly. Tell me about that decision.

Well, because, we’re getting to the point right now where they’re getting so close to Red John that the cracks between John and Lisbon and how they like to operate are becoming much clearer. When Red John was an abstract target, Lisbon could put up with Jane’s very different moral universe. Now that they’re getting closer, it’s exactly that kind of issue that’s going to cause conflict between them. Jane’s obsessive secrecy is very much in conflict with Lisbon’s professional and personal desire to keep things above board and honest. She needs and wants the help and support of the team because she feels uncomfortable freelancing — because she’s not a freelancer, she’s a cop. And Jane has the freedom to do whatever he wants but she has to think about the law. So partly for that reason, and partly because….up until this point, Red John has been able to pull all kinds of tricks on Jane but he’s always been able to work out how a particular trick was done and how Red John got the better of him. But here, Jane has no idea how it’s possible Red John got that list, and it raises the terrible prospect in the back of his mind that maybe Red John is a psychic. Maybe Jane has been wrong his whole life. In which case, his whole set of beliefs have been thrown into question and Lisbon — seeing that in Jane — is a little spooked because she’s never seen Jane genuinely stymied and genuinely unable to workout what the hell is going on. So she feels she has to take the initiative and take control of the situation. As you see it, it ends up to be the right decision in the moment but the wrong decision by the end of the episode.

Preview the next episode.

That story continues. I’ll tell you, one of the outstanding questions for Jane leftover from last season is how the hell did Red John get into his head and know about that young woman who died who was a child in Jane’s childhood. How did he do that? That question is going to be answered. But at the same time, every week we’re still telling a closed whodunit story which is solved every week. So it’s as much that story as the other story.

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