Josh Dallas stands in front of a massive war room table, his Prince Charming rallying the troops in a last-ditch effort to prevent a great evil from stealing their happy endings. A combination of old guard and new from Once Upon a Time’s seven-season run sits before him.

“A new generation has joined the fight,” Dallas says in his most Charming tenor, nodding in the direction of Alice (Rose Reynolds), Robin (Tiera Skovbye), Henry (Andrew J. West), and Ella (Dania Ramirez). “Enemies have become friends,” he continues, looking to Regina (Lana Parrilla) and Zelena (Rebecca Mader). Charming concludes by addressing the presence of Wish Realm Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) as a new friend who feels like an old one. Once Upon a Time is days away from completing production on the final episode of the series, but everyone has gathered for his and real-life wife Ginnifer Goodwin’s final day on set.

The moment is charged as Charming reveals they’ve uncovered final villain Wish Realm Rumplestiltskin’s (Robert Carlyle) ultimate plan. Goodwin’s Snow White signals the Black Knights to bring in a stack of personalized storybooks — but so does Charming. They’re both trying to have their characters take the lead. When Dallas also does the signal during their third take of the scene, Goodwin can’t help but break character, ribbing her husband: “You can’t not do that, can you?” Mader cuts in with a laugh: “That’s called marriage.”

While OUAT has depicted Snow and Charming’s epic love story since the show’s launch in 2011, fans also got to watch their portrayers fall in love. The duo, who began dating while filming the show, got married in April 2014. They welcomed their first child a month later and their second in June 2016. Though Goodwin and Dallas left the show at the end of season 6, the two will return for the upcoming series finale, which airs over two weeks starting this Friday and concluding May 18. EW hit the set on the couple’s final day of filming to talk about the show’s legacy. [Editor’s note: The interviews took place separately, but were stitched together.]

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As you head into your final day of production, how are you feeling right now?
GINNIFER GOODWIN: Oh my gosh, I’m a mess. Leaving a show was a really tough decision, but one that we spent years making. … It involved a lot of discussing child rearing with our showrunners, because we really wanted to be spending more time with the kids. We really needed to start Ollie in school — we had gotten him into a school in Los Angeles. But anyways, we had decided that that was what was best for our family. Though a difficult decision, it was one that we were very confident about. We left celebrating. I realized in coming back and having had the show decide to tell its final story in this final episode, that I had always counted on this show as being here — I always counted on my being able to return, sort of like when we all go off to college, we know that home is still home. Now knowing that home is being obliterated, as it were, that the sets will be torn down, I’ve been really overly emotional. I have been crying for the past 24 hours. It doesn’t help that the scenes, of which we are part, are classic Once Upon a Time scenes. They’re inspiring. The word “hope” is batted around an awful lot, so it is very nostalgic feeling. I’m definitely mourning the loss. I wish that it could just go on forever and that we always knew that it would be here when we’re homesick.

JOSH DALLAS: It feels surreal to be back, but also wonderful. I’m so grateful that I was part of the fabric of Once Upon a Time, a show that seemed to touch a chord in so many people and had a fan base that is so passionate, so smart, so vocal, and so willing to go along on the ride with us. It will always be a great thrill in my life that I was part of Once Upon a Time, and I got to play this character, and hopefully show a different side of this character to people, and show you things that you didn’t know about him. And hopefully, the show inspired. It’s a show about hope and it’s a show about how it’s your actions that define who you are. You’re not either all good or all bad. It’s about your choices that make your character. Saying goodbye to it is bittersweet, but I’m so grateful.

Credit: Jack Rowand/ABC

Ginnifer, what does it mean to you to have had a strong female character like Snow White brought into a new era?
GOODWIN: It’s amazing that, honestly, these guys wrote a truly female-driven show. I mean, they began years before we joined the fray in 2011. It was instrumental then in my choosing to take part. I was coming off of a female-heavy show [Big Love]. I was coming off of a show that was written in which the roles for women were very strong, but to come on to a show that was female-driven, and by the way written by men, was important to me. The way that women were depicted in this show, it was brave of the men to write them so bravely. It’s wild to me, also in the current climate, in talking about television, that it hasn’t been highlighted that Once Upon A Time has always done this. [Showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis] both come from very strong relationships with very strong women. Those have been definitely celebrated on screen in their writing.

Can you talk about the oddity of playing Jennifer Morrison’s mother for years when you’re basically the same age?
GOODWIN: Yeah, I know. There’s always sort of this safety net of, “We are fairy-tale characters, and therefore we are ageless.” Colin’s character, Hook, is supposed to be — I don’t remember how old — hundreds of years? Rumple is hundreds and hundreds of years. In that way, in justifying it in character, it’s always sort of made sense that we could be so similar in look and in spirit. As an actor, we’ve only really felt old in realizing that this next generation that we’re representing today really did graduate from college like a minute ago, like they really could be our children. That’s what’s made us feel old.

And Josh, what has it meant to you to play Prince Charming?
DALLAS: It’s meant everything to me. It changed my life as well as other people’s lives, our fans’ lives. It’s meant everything to me. It did change my life and helped create my family, my own family at home. Like I said, I’m just forever grateful to be part of it.

What do you think it was about Once Upon a Time that made it last this long?
GOODWIN: The show is so optimistic, while being really realistic. These characters were all extraordinary, but we can see ourselves in them. I think that the part of us that wants to escape, can. We can disappear into their stories. I feel like everyone can find not just one, but probably several characters that they relate to, and whom they would want to be. But at the same time, these characters are really flawed and messy. I think that their feelings are so universal. Yeah, it’s that relatability. I love extraordinary stories that are full of really relatable characters. Who knew that fairy-tale characters could be relatable in any way?

What do you think Once Upon a Time’s legacy will be?
DALLAS: I think it will be a show that preached hope. I think that’s the legacy.

GOODWIN: Oh my gosh. Well, I like to think that it was the first of its kind. At the time that we made the pilot, no one was doing anything like this. And I feel like it even pre-empted the swashbuckling princesses on the big screen. It was so new. And I hope that it’s remembered as being groundbreaking. And I hope, as we’re discussing, that it’s remembered as being representative of the strongest kinds of complex and beautiful women. And I hope that there is enough love for the show that we do reunion specials along the way.

What was the most poignant fan interaction you’ve had because of this show?
DALLAS: There really has been so many. I’ve been so humbled and grateful that there have been so many. Many people coming up saying how Once got them through a rough time or how it inspired them to love better, to hate better, to do everything better, and to know that they’re not alone. I’ve heard that from several different people. Those are always memorable.

GOODWIN: I feel like, more than it being about anything that’s been said, having fans not just come to Comic-Con, but show up in Vancouver on location dressed as our characters, has been truly amazing to me. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the fact that people relate to it to that extent I find to be powerful. The show’s been fun, and it has been meaningful to me because of what I’ve gotten from the scripts, and also because of the relationships that I have formed on set. The fact is that my entire real life has blossomed because of this show. Early on, to see that the show meant that much, that people went to that extent in representing the characters, made me really take what we’re doing here more seriously. And then, I could not respect more that the creators also took that seriously and really have listened to the fans over the years, and really have written the show for the fans. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of something where there was that kind of focus. I mean, there’s always been a need, obviously, to draw in viewers. And I don’t mean monetarily, I mean just in general what we do, we want people to need us. We need to be needed. But to have a show that’s written on or of the public, I find to be really special.

Do you have any regrets about leaving the show when you did?
DALLAS: No. None at all, none at all. It’s always worked out. It’s worked out the way that I hoped it would. I’m forever grateful for our time on it, and when we left, it was time. It was time for us to go.

How would you describe the finale and how it compares to past OUAT season enders?
DALLAS: The series finale compared to all the other finales is special because it is the last one, and it’s emotional like true Once Upon a Time style, but it’s also satisfying because it again comes full circle and ties everything together. I think it will leave our viewers and our fans so happy that they invested their time and their hearts into watching our show.

GOODWIN: I will say that, for the Evil Queen, there is a definitive change in this episode in what she really reveals she has learned, what she has taken to heart. I find it to be so powerful that I cried. That’s part of why I cried all through yesterday.

What brings Snow and Charming back into the fold?
DALLAS: They get a message that Henry is in a tight situation and needs some help, so they do what any great grandparents would do that know how to use a sword and a bow and arrow, and they come to help out. They come to help out and rally the troops.

GOODWIN: I will say that I don’t really know what they’ve been up to. I mean, they’ve been in retirement. I think there have been a lot of lazy Sundays. What we do see is longer Snow hair. We don’t really know what has happened to them, but we know that they have gotten the message that they are needed, and they have answered the call.

How do you feel about the ending for your characters and how it comes full circle to the beginning of the series?
GOODWIN: The pitch for the whole show was, “What would a world look like in which the Evil Queen got her happy ending?” And we feel that we’ve finally figured out what that would look like. Josh and I talked in the few minutes we were still awake after yesterday, we talked and talked about what an honor it was to be part of her happy ending. It was beyond satisfying. It was emotional, it was thrilling. It was dreamy. It’s where we always hoped it would go, but it has taken the Evil Queen … like her journey has been so dramatic. That circle has been so dramatic and she’s gone so far, she’s grown so much, that to see the fruits of the writers’ labors was really satisfying. I can’t imagine the fans won’t gobble it up.

DALLAS: It was really emotional, actually. The story began with Snow and the Evil Queen and Charming. We’re ending it with Snow, the Evil Queen, and Charming. The idea that Regina gets her happy ending is really emotional, that it’s finally come full circle, [it shows that] you just gotta keep at it and you have to keep believing.

GOODWIN: I love that the ending is open-ended. I feel that even our coming back just exemplifies the fact that nothing is ever over. Despite my devastation that we are ending the show in general, I do feel like we’re leaving it in a way that we could do those specials we discussed, that we could come back in five years, in 10 years, and revisit this. I fantasize about a special miniseries we could do — streaming, I don’t know. I think the revisitation is appropriate. This is the epitome of a Once Upon a Time episode, this is an old-school, nostalgic Once Upon a Time episode.

Can you talk about the importance of sending a message that anyone can get a happy ending?
DALLAS: I think it’s so important to send that message, particularly in this day and age when we have so much negative-seeming in the world, and to know that you do have a second chance, that you can have redemption, is super-powerful. I think if you go through life and you don’t believe you can do that, it’s pretty bleak. I feel like Once Upon a Time can shine a little bit of lightness in the dark.

GOODWIN: I just know it to be true. I am dead-certain that Snow White is right, that hope is the magical ingredient in the potion. That is, everyone can find love, everyone can find happiness. Dreams are achievable. And the hope speech in the pilot, Mary Margaret’s hope speech, was what sealed the deal for me in the first place.

What are you doing to take away from this experience?
DALLAS: Total gratitude.

Do you have a different affinity for fairy-tale characters after your experiences on OUAT?
GOODWIN: My fairy-tale affinity/Disneyphilia is probably a bit stronger. It was part of the appeal in the first place because I love that whole world, these whole worlds. But yeah, I would say that it definitely hasn’t burned me out, it’s definitely fed the addiction.

If you could open up a new chapter of Once Upon a Time 10 years later, what would you want it to be about?
GOODWIN: Yes! Well, we’ve been joking about the line Charming has today about the new generation that’s joined the fray, and we do have an opportunity, because of our agelessness — though it has made us feel very old today, that line. I’d like to think that we would be able to because all of the realms represent generation after generation after generation of magically infused beings. Yeah, just keep introducing more. I mean, I would love to have Snow White come back and fight alongside her great-great-granddaughter.

DALLAS: I hope there’s more adventures. I hope there’s just more adventures and these characters still keep trying to figure life out. I think that never ends for anybody, not just these characters, just anybody. You’re always trying to figure it out. I hope they still are pushing forward and they’re still growing and they’re still going on adventures.

You both have pilots in contention for the fall — Josh on NBC’s Manifest and Ginnifer on ABC’s Steps.
GOODWIN: Yes, I cannot leave the Disney company, obviously. I did a play after we wrapped last year, after Once Upon a Time wrapped. And then my husband and I both took the fall off, and the winter, and we both just shot pilots, and mine is again with ABC. This one shoots in Los Angeles, which was the vital thing for us as a family in terms of keeping our kids in school, and why we left the show last year in the first place. So yes, ABC found for me yet again a magical life on another ABC show.

Once Upon a Time’s series finale will air over two weeks, kicking off this Friday at 8 p.m. ET and concluding Friday, May 18, at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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Once Upon a Time

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

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