By Natalie Abrams
September 27, 2015 at 07:31 PM EDT
Jack Rowand/ABC
  • TV Show

Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season 5 premiere of Once Upon a Time. Read at your own risk!

The Dark Swan is pissed — and no one seems to know why!

When Once Upon a Time returned on Sunday, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) landed in the Enchanted Forest with a new mentor — the Darkness within her took on the form of Rumple (Robert Carlyle) — who encouraged her to embrace her new dark side. Hoping to rid the darkness, Emma went in search of Merlin (Elliot Knight) by hunting for the Will o’ the Wisps, which brought her into conflict with Merida (Amy Manson), whose three younger brothers had been kidnapped after the Brave lass took over their kingdom. Knowing they both couldn’t use the wisp, Emma aimed to rip out her heart as the darkness nearly took hold.

Fortunately, she was swayed otherwise by the arrival of Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), Charming (Josh Dallas), Regina (Lana Parrilla) and other Storybrooke residents, who used a tornado — thanks to Zelena (Rebecca Mader), who tried to take her unborn child back to Oz — to return to the Enchanted Forest.

Foretold of their arrival in a prophecy from Merlin, King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and his knights of the roundtable welcomed them back to Camelot, knowing Emma would someday reunite them with the great sorcerer — the very same sorcerer who visited Emma as a child and warned her to never remove the sword in the stone, which was revealed to be missing its tip because it is actually the Dark One’s dagger! Unfortunately, we won’t know if she actually heeded his warning since everyone suddenly lands back in Storybrooke six weeks later, with no memory of what has transpired — though with the fully transformed Dark Swan swearing vengeance on them all, it probably wasn’t anything good. Executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis answer some burning questions:

Storyline format: Similar to season 3b, the story will flashback to Camelot while running parallel to present-day Storybrooke, though we will get a few origin stories for Merlin, King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. “It’s really about our core group of characters and what they’re going through in regards to Emma,” Horowitz says. “And we see what seems to have happened to her and exploring that mystery and how they can or can’t help her.”

However, don’t expect Emma to be “cured” by the midseason finale. “The darkness, whether it’s taken from her or she gives into it completely, it’s going to affect her,” Horowitz says. “The ramifications of this premiere are felt through the entire season. While a lot of the story in the first half we intend to wrap up by the midseason, there are bigger issues that are introduced as early as this episode that will carry over through the whole season. We’re trying to tell two separate pods of episodes and connect them, and Emma’s journey is going to encompass the whole season.”

The Dark Swan rises: Being trained by the Darkness within her will provide viewers a look at the first Dark One ever, the producers tease. However, her transition into full evil will especially affect those around her. “When you try to save someone you love and you feel helpless in doing it, that’s what we’re going to explore,” Kitsis says. “Emma is off on this thing and it could be a metaphor for addiction, it could be a metaphor for darkness. You’re going to see a lot of the people around her feel powerless in how to help her.”  

“Emma is trying to, as we see in Camelot, resist the Darkness, and then she went full-on Lady Stardust at the end of this premiere,” Kitsis continues. “We’re wondering what happened and how did that happen. That’s what we’re going to explore, which is what makes you succumb to the darkness? What makes you resist it? Her relationships with everybody are going to be tested. We love the idea of watching Hook fight for her, as well as Regina and her family, because Emma came to Storybrooke a non-believer, and now she is a leader and she’s united everyone. As you saw there, when you take the leader out, everyone starts bickering.”

Regina as a leader: Emma placed her dagger in the care of Regina — you know, before the former Evil Queen was disheartened to find it back in the possession of the Dark Swan upon landing back in Storybrooke. But wielding that much power in the meantime is going to put a lot of pressure on Regina. “It’s a lot of responsibility for Regina,” Horowitz says. “Regina is a character who has grown a lot over the years and has tried to put her evil behind her and do good, but the evil and the darkness is a part of her. She’s struggling with how does she do the right thing and how does she help Emma?”

Also, everyone in Storybrooke is looking toward the mayor now as a leader, even if some of them are hesitant. “That also impacts Regina’s relationship with Snow, with someone who has been a leader and people have turned to,” Horowitz says. “It becomes hopefully very complicated and messy in a good way, which is these familial and adversarial connections are forced to interact in a new way.”

The mystery of Camelot: Though King Arthur and his knights seem to come in peace, they very well could have an ulterior motive, especially knowing they’re searching for the Dark One’s dagger to reunite it with Excalibur. “There’s more going on than what we’ve seen so far,” Horowitz says. “In the next few episodes, you’ll see more of that explained and explored.” What we do know: Episode 2 features a grand ball, and we’ll soon see Charming and King Arthur “bro-out” as the prince’s return to the Enchanted Forest shows viewers a “reawakened hero,” Kitsis says.

But the bigger mystery is what happened during those missing six weeks in Camelot. “Going forward after the premiere, on the Storybrooke side, our characters are really wrestling with the mystery of what they could have possibly done to Emma to make her this way,” Horowitz says. “Emma plays her card very close to the vest, but that does not prevent her from interacting in very direct and close ways with characters like Hook, Regina and Henry. While there is this mystery of what’s going on about what may or may not have happened, we’re going to see the relationships move forward in a new way in the present, which is where we have a very dark Emma appearing. At the same time, in the past, we’re going to be seeing these relationships interacting and a lot of choices are going to be made, and choices are going to be made by different characters, both Emma and the people who care for her. Some choices that seem like they may be the absolute correct thing to do are going to turn out to be the worst thing to do.”

Charming family squabble: Charming and Snow won’t always be on the same page about how to save their daughter. “Mary Margaret and David have a past with someone from Camelot, who we saw in the opening, who we realize wasn’t there, which is Lancelot [Sinqua Walls],” Kitsis says. “We also know that David is going to become pretty close with Arthur. We know that Mary Margaret was able to have a child because of Lancelot, so we’re going to see those two as desperate parents wanting to save their daughter, feeling powerless and not knowing who to trust. There’s going to be a bit of palace intrigue. When you’re married and there’s a bad situation, and you can’t do anything about it, sometimes you turn on each other. We’re going to see Snow and Charming fight in a way we’re never seen before. We hope that the fact that they share a heart wins out, but it’s all because of the emotion of them trying to save their daughter.”

Merlin’s debut: Yes, that movie usher who caught Emma stealing a candy bar was, in fact, Merlin. “He warned Emma not to pull the sword,” Kitsis says. “We saw Arthur pull the sword, and we realize the Dark One dagger and Excalibur were meant to be whole. We’re going to explain to you why that is, why Merlin is where he is.” Horowitz adds: “Why he was warning Emma all those years before, it’s not something we’re going to make you wait the whole half season for.”

Mr. Gold’s fate: Still in a coma back in Storybrooke, Mr. Gold “might wake up,” Kitsis teases, before adding that keeping Carlyle in a coma all season is out of the question. “His arc in Storybrooke is something we haven’t fully seen before. It is going to go right into his very essence as a character.” In that vein, it was also important to them not to keep Belle (Emilie de Ravin) sidelined this season worrying over Gold’s comatose body, hence the introduction of the iconic Bell Jar and rose that tracks Gold’s status. “My favorite Belle is the one where she’s strong and we’re going to see that strength this year,” Kitsis says. However, Horowitz cautions that there’s still trouble ahead for RumBelle. “It’s important to note that Belle cares what’s happening to Gold right now, but that doesn’t mean that all is forgiven and everything that’s gone on before doesn’t need to be dealt with. It does,” he says.  

Pregnant and angry: Foiled in her attempt to return to Oz, Zelena was brought along on the journey to Camelot, which may ultimately be a mistake on the heroes’ part.  “She was willing to cut off her own hand. You have no idea what she’s about to do. She’s scary,” Kitsis says. As for her pregnancy, she’s roughly six weeks along now, but, Kitsis says, “I would be disappointed if I didn’t see a baby. I’m sure it wouldn’t happen during sweeps.”

The return of Ruby and Mulan: Both familiar faces will be returning for multiple episodes, providing the show an opportunity to fill in the blanks of what’s been happening in their lives these last few years. “We’re not just planning to drop them back in the show with no explanation,” Horowitz says. “We do want to give a taste of where Mulan’s [Jamie Chung] been, what she’s been up to and what she’s been going through, and the same with Red [Meghan Ory]. There are other characters who may return as well, and we want to do that as well. We want to honor the idea that their lives have been going on… we want to give a taste of where they’ve been and see how they can reconnect with everyone else and what that’s going to mean moving forward.” While Ruby’s wolf form will likely make another appearance, we’ll see Mulan in a more romantic setting.

Henry’s new love: As we previously teased, Henry’s going to explore his first crushed, which will happen sooner rather than later. “I would watch the second episode, where we might meet Henry’s crush,” Kitsis says. “You can’t go to Camelot and not fall in love.” Plus: We’ll see more of Henry working with Hook in a bid to save Emma. “What we love with Henry is that he’s growing up and he can take a more active part in the adventures now,” Horowitz says. “You’re going to see that he takes a more pivotal role in some of the things that are coming up.” In fact, Kitsis says, “Episode 5 is Henry’s episode and it’s one of my favorites.”

Merida’s future: Though she revealed to Emma her plan to make her brothers’ captors pay, Merida’s near-death experience has changed her motive moving forward. “If you watched the movie Brave, you realize that Merida’s problem was she punches first and asks questions second,” Kitsis says. “That’s what we’re seeing here is we’re going to find her in the middle of a very intense situation and we’re going to definitely explore her story more.” Also, though we know her father died, we’re going to see both her parents in an upcoming Merida-centric flashback episode.

Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Everything you’ve ever read about fairy tales is true—the residents of Storybrooke are living proof.
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