By David Canfield
July 19, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT
Michelle Faye Fraser/SyFy

A feminist-tinged supernatural Western about a demon hunter living in a town called Purgatory, you say? Indeed, the Syfy series Wynonna Earp, based on the comic book series by Beau Smith, boasts a truly original premise. For the uninitiated: Its handgun-wielding heroine, played by the fierce Melanie Scrofano, battles monsters each week, fending off evil forces that threaten her family and town. It began as a strange little genre experiment that flew under the radar. “In the first season, we were running around the woods in the middle of winter, doing what felt like these crazy demon-hunting skits,” Wynonna showrunner Emily Andras cracks. “We had no idea if people were going to like it.”

But the show quickly attracted a modest but loyal fan base (the self-proclaimed “Earpers”), and Andras says she believes the series is really hitting its stride in season 3. There’s even a special Christmas episode that’ll mix the spirit of the season with some Earp madness. (Andras assures, “Don’t rule out a rabid reindeer chomping on somebody!”)

Gearing up for Friday’s season premiere on Syfy at 9:00pm EST, Andras spoke with EW in a wide-ranging interview about what to expect in season 3, how the show has developed its fanbase, and just what kind of havoc the return of Mama Earp (Megan Follows) will wreak. Read on below, where you can also see an exclusive first-look photo of the show’s aforementioned Christmas episode.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You ended season 2 on a nice cliffhanger — what can you tease about where things pick up?
EMILY ANDRAS: One of the fun things about season 3 is we don’t pick up immediately after the events of season 2. I would say there’s a slight time delay, maybe about six weeks, which just gives us a chance for everybody to get back in their emotional heels. People haven’t had a chance to really digest what it means for Wynonna to give up her baby — and not just Wynonna, but Doc Holliday, and Wynonna’s sister Waverly, the whole gang really. What we do know is at the end of season 2, Wynonna has gone via motorbike, as you do, to visit her long-thought missing mother. We’ve only seen the back of her mother’s head; we get the sense that Wynonna has always known where her mother is, even though the story that she has told Waverly is that mom abandoned them when they were kids. So that is going to create some serious Earp sister angst. There’s a huge mystery surrounding Mama Earp. I’m so excited for the fans to see what kind of woman would a) leave these three little girls with their alcoholic father, but also b) raise such kick-ass heroines.

What can you tell us about Megan Fallows’ performance, and Wynonna’s dynamic with her mother?
Megan is known in Canada for playing a beloved character called Anne of Green Gables, and the last thing that Megan did that other people will know her for is Queen Catherine in Reign. It was a lot of petticoats and languid shots. So we basically threw her into the middle of Alberta and said, “Okay, you’re this hard-drinking, hard-partying former rodeo queen mom of the Earp sisters!” You don’t really know her backstory, but needless to say we really see where Wynonna gets her sass and her badassery — and a lot of it is from mom. Megan just really went for it — I think she has incredible range and what we got out of her is amazing. And her dynamic with Wynonna — Megan’s dynamic with Melanie is so fun, but also, the tension and angst and sass-off between Mama and Wynonna is super energetic and fun. It really injects the show with something new in season 3.

What else did you want to build on in season 3? What did you figure out from seasons past?
One of the things that people underestimate on a show like this, which is about a family of underdogs, is the audience wants to see the group together. As writers, our instinct is often to create drama by separating them or putting them at odds; if anything, I feel like in the third season, so much of the pleasure for the fans is going to be really seeing this group that has really come to trust each other, with all of their flaws and problems and quirks. They know that they can’t do it alone — particularly Wynonna. She may be the Earp heir, but she needs all these people around her with their different levels of skill, if she’s going to actually break the Earp curse. What I really lean into in season 3 is a confidence with the team, which leads to huge victories, and huge stakes and losses. There’s something really fun about leaning into the ensemble. We have such a strong cast that people just want to see them being together. That’s what the fans get pleasure out of, and that’s what we’re doing — that Ocean’s 8 feeling where everybody’s coming together. Everybody has a role to play. Everybody is supportive. Even with their fighting, they’re still a family; when the chips fall, they’re going to have each other’s backs. It feels like everybody’s on the team — until they’re not. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Michelle Faye Fraser/SyFy

What made you decide to write a Christmas episode?
It’s one of those delicious golden turkeys from a distance. When you’re a writer, sometimes networks really balk at the idea of a Christmas episode or a seasonal episode because they’re locked into a certain timeline, which is December. Luckily, Syfy was so open to it. They just loved the idea of an Earp Christmas, which of course is so untraditional and so country and thrown together. I also just think there’s something so amazing about that holiday, in that it’s a chance for people to come together and really be honest with one another. Maybe like confess feelings or talk about what they really want. What better time to ask for what you really want than Christmas? Also, any time you get to do evil Santa or bad elves — and I’m not saying we do — is a good time for the genre. It just feels fresh. So yes, we will be airing Christmas in August or September, but there’s no reason for you not to get a cup of hot cocoa and settle in under the air conditioner.

I’m dying to know: What does holiday season in Purgatory look like?
The Earp sisters definitely have a low-rent Christmas tradition. Obviously, the presence of Wynonna’s missing daughter is felt immensely, as this would be baby Alice’s first Christmas. There’s lots of stuff happening in the background as far as danger and demons. There’s some really good Christmas delights for all those shippers out there … There’s some amazing Earp sister feels as they kind of decide that they are together and this is what their Christmas is going to look like. They’re going to start their own traditions as far as Christmas goes. But this being Wynonna Earp, as I said, don’t rule out a rabid reindeer chomping on somebody.

You’re three seasons in now and the fanbase continues to grow. What’s the feeling reflecting on that, heading into season 3?
Just triumph and relief and gratitude. I feel like in the first season, we were running around the woods in the middle of winter, doing what felt like these crazy demon-hunting skits. We had no idea if people were going to like it. Second season, I feel like people were starting to get the show, and it was getting some buzz as really off-kilter, filling a niche that people felt they weren’t getting from other shows — this fun, badass supernatural Western with lots of diversity and strong female characters. Season 3 just feels like a gift. It feels like, “Oh my God, we made it, it’s a real show, which sounds crazy. I think in this landscape that getting three seasons is remarkable. I have to tell you, that is 99 percent due to the enthusiasm of the Earper fandom. They’re loud, they’re doing Wynonna Earp conventions, they’re constantly on social media making art and cosplay. Part of the benefit of being on Friday nights was we really created this live-tweet party environment where everyone would get their whiskey and donuts and we’d all live-tweet together, and we’d cry over the show and make fun of the show. In a weird way, I feel like this belongs to the fandom because I just love making a show that means so much to so many people, but still feels like an underdog. I like being the underdog. It feels like you’ve got something to fight for.