Two years after the show ended its Netflix run, EW caught up with showrunner ND Stevenson and actors Aimee Carrero and AJ Michalka to discuss the power of Catradora.

Animation doesn't always have time for romance. Cartoon characters are usually too busy being superheroes or learning magic to have time for love. But the reason She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is the only animated series represented on EW's new countdown of the 100 best TV romances is because the love story between heroine Adora (Aimee Carrero) and her former comrade Catra (AJ Michalka) is key to the entire show.

Both Adora and Catra were orphans raised together by the villainous Horde army. Growing up, they were taught only to conquer. But when Adora finds the Sword of Protection and gains the power to transform into the magical hero She-Ra, she realizes the Horde is wrong and decides to aid the kingdoms of Etheria against them. Enraged and embittered by this betrayal, Catra doubles down on serving the Horde, and the two former friends spend most of the show at odds.

The ultimate nature of their relationship was a closely-guarded secret throughout the show's run, creator and showrunner ND Stevenson tells EW. But now that it's been two years since the final season of the DreamWorks Animation show hit Netflix, EW decided to celebrate our romance coverage this month by reuniting Carrero, Michalka, and Stevenson to discuss the beauty and the importance of Catradora.

Catra (AJ Michalka) and Adora/She-Ra (Aimee Carrero) on 'She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.'
| Credit: Netflix

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think back on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and the relationship between Catra and Adora?

ND STEVENSON: For me, it was like having this secret plan close to my vest for so long. Now so many people know about it. It's just a part of life now, it's a part of the world. It's just wild to think of how long it took to actually bring that to the screen.

AJ MICHALKA: I would say the fan engagement is what gets me the most. This show has true longevity. It's amazing, most shows come and go, there might be a big splash for a moment and then things trickle out and people move on, but I've really been able to see a consistent engagement with the fans. I think it's the importance of inclusivity and joyous writing. There's just something about this show that's triumphant and celebratory, and I needed that in a time of sadness and confusion and desperation.

AIMEE CARRERO: I think what I'd add to that is having been a fan of many great TV romances in the past — like I loved Mulder and Scully, I loved Xena and Gabrielle — I think the reaction from the viewership definitely felt like how I felt before as a fan. It's like lightning in a bottle. It just so happens that ND thought up this perfect love story among lots of lore and amazing complexity in the mythology of the series. The love story in particular just struck a chord. And like AJ was saying, it came right at the perfect time. I have said this before, but it just feels like the gift that keeps on giving.

Like you were saying AJ, the show could be uplifting and positive, but you all weren't afraid to get dark, either. There are times when the gap between Catra and Adora felt unbreachable, and then there's the horrible robotic hivemind stuff in the final season. So the positivity and uplift really feel earned.

MICHALKA: It's definitely earned. It takes a moment to get there. Life is not black and white, so obviously there is going to be turmoil sprinkled in and relationships are going to be busted before they're fixed, but I think that's what's so great about that final resolve.

STEVENSON: I love that because I remember the fans immediately picking up on Catra and Adora from the very first screencap that leaked before season 1 even came out, just the two of them sitting next to each other. Everyone was like, "ooh, who are they?" Then years later, during the hard parts, I remember people being like "it's okay, we still believe! It's just getting a lot harder ... "

Catra (AJ Michalka) and Adora (Aimee Carrero) on 'She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.'
| Credit: Netflix

Given what you were just saying about keeping the secret for so long — when did you reveal the truth to Aimee and AJ?

MICHALKA: I remember holding onto the information for a very long time. I wanted so badly to tell people because we'd watched the reaction when there would be a season drop and the audience would be like, "is this going to be the season? Is this going to be the season?" And I would just be like, "you just wait." So I remember holding onto it for a long time. Did we ever have a sit-down conversation about where we going? I don't remember.

STEVENSON: I think I just sprung it on you, honestly. I was really scared for people to find out, because I kept thinking they were going to tell me to take it out. So even once they were like, "no, you can do it," I was still very cautious around it, even when it came to giving you guys all the pieces of what was going on.

Speaking of that — in 2010s animation, there were several implied queer romances that maybe were more or less overtly hinted at, but not always explicitly. What would you say is so important about having the Catradora romance be textual and have them get that romantic catharsis at the end instead of just going, "Oh, we can imply this and people who know what to look for will get it"?

STEVENSON: Obviously I have a lot of feelings on this as a queer showrunner and writer, but I really felt like at the time, we were getting a lot of these really incredible, subtextual queer ships, especially in animation. A lot of that would be a board artist or a writer who was queer, but who wasn't very senior on the show, putting something that they were passionate about into the show. That's why we have things like Marceline and Bubblegum. It was someone who stuck their neck out or had that interest and was advocating for it from the position that they had — not as a producer or head writer or anything like that.

Catra and Adora were especially close to my chest because it's the story I keep telling over and over again in all the different things I've been a part of: You're super close, then you fall apart, and then you fall back together. But it felt like we were in a moment where there had been these people who had stuck their necks out to bring these queer characters to the forefront in the limited way that they could. I wanted to take that momentum and run with it as far as I could. I didn't know if it would lead to what Catradora ended up being in the long run, where it's such a big deal and so textual, but I wanted to try. I wanted to do the best I could to try and make it happen.

CARRERO: At the risk of giving a compliment to your face, ND, I think that's what makes you such a brilliant writer. There's this breath of fresh air, and it's nice to give a place of importance to the emotional truth of characters. So often, especially in the TV culture that I grew up watching, that was not of the case. So much of it was, "well, the hero can't be bothered with a love story because the hero has other things to do, this is a procedural show and we don't have time for that" or whatever. That tended to be the thing and then romance was relegated to the fandom.

So it is wonderful and brilliant, and I can go on and on about ND's talent for decades, that not only was he committed to immortalizing, in a way, that relationship, but also just giving it its proper due in the story and the formation of a hero. This is a very important part of Adora's life and it's not all work. Maybe that's just also a millennial urge, to remind people that you also are here to live and not just to work.

Catra (AJ Michalka) and Adora (Aimee Carrero) on 'She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.'
| Credit: Netflix

Aimee and AJ, was there any particular way that you played scenes between Adora and Catra differently than maybe their scenes with other characters? It always felt like Catra would have an effect on Adora that was unlike any other character, and vice versa.

CARRERO: For so long, it was like, the only thing Adora needed from Catra was the only thing Catra couldn't give her. And the one thing that Catra needed from Adora was the one thing that Adora couldn't give her. They were stuck in this dance. Sometimes it got very violent, physically and also emotionally, until they figured out a way of like, "no, no, no. Actually, that's not your responsibility to make sure that I feel this at all times. I have to be in charge of my own happiness." That stuff we learn in therapy.

Then on a more basic note, I like to think that AJ and I have a natural chemistry. I really like her as a person. She's very easy to have deep conversations with. It's the same way with her acting as well. So you immediately feel an intimacy there.

MICHALKA: That's really sweet. I feel the same way. Aimee and I have a built-in chemistry that really worked with a lot of the scenes. I think the approach doesn't change but you realize that you grow as an actor as you work on a project. I had never played a villain before, so the more I was able to play Catra, the more I was able to develop, what exactly is this girl really going through? And why does she feel the way she feels? A lot of it is psychology 101.

I think some of the emotional battle scenes between Adora and Catra, from an acting standpoint, it's like, "all right, I have a ton of work to do and I'm going to approach it all and we're going to see what happens, but the writing's great and I'm working with an actor that I trust, and I can be extremely vulnerable in this moment." A lot of times in the booth, you end up bringing yourself to tears. There were times where Aimee and I I would look at each other and we were both crying. It really feeds the work and it's natural, it just happens. So yeah, it's really cool. I think it's all about the people you work with and the talent surrounding you makes everyone just rise to the occasion.

STEVENSON: I just wanted to add to that because I feel like there were a few times where I really wanted Aimee and AJ together in the booth, but they're both super busy, so we couldn't always make it work. But I was always blown away by how, even when we didn't have them at the same time, they seemed to be reading each other. They seemed to be playing off each other in a way that I was like, "This is kind of spooky. We had AJ last week, we had Amiee this week. How does Amiee know what AJ did?" And some of that is our amazing voice director Mary McGlynn, she's incredible and really great to act with as well. But it was something where I'm like, "The chemistry is here even though they're not in the same room together."

Catra (AJ Michalka) and Adora (Aimee Carrero) on 'She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.'
| Credit: Netflix

Do you guys have any particular favorite moments or scenes from Catra and Adora's relationship that we haven't touched on yet?

MICHALKA: Maybe this is my own f---ed-up thing, but I love when there is a complicated situation like, "are they going to fight or are they going to kiss? I can't tell." And so I love those moments between Catra and Adora where it's like, the tension has to be broken somehow, right? It's either they're going to beat the s--t out of each other or they're going to have sex. We don't know. And so I loved the tango at the prom.

CARRERO: It's funny you said that because the Princess Prom really stands out to me as one of my favorite moments. It's so early on, but it's so telling as to what the future could be for them.

STEVENSON: It was so long in the making, but "Save the Cat" is an episode that I wanted to write for years, even before She-Ra actually was a thing for me. It was something that I had pitched on the first show I worked on, which was completely not the tone of this show, but in my head I was like, "I can see this space opera melodrama." So it was something that I'd been holding really close. It's me at my most self-indulgent of like, "let's really put them in this f---ed-up situation and then everyone's crying and they're reaching for each other." All of that is just my shit. So that whole episode, when I finally got to write it… well, it was actually harder to write than I thought it would be because I'd been anticipating it for so long. But it was just almost this hemorrhage of feelings for me.

In that episode, not only did these two totally brought me to tears, but the moment when Catra wakes up in her arms and says, "Hey, Adora," for the first time, snapped out of the mind control. And I'm just like, "Ahh." I got goosebumps, I got tears in my eyes. It's something that I feel like the viewers have needed for so long and it's finally that moment that's like, "It will be okay." So yeah, I think that's my favorite part.

A version of this story appears in the March issue of Entertainment Weekly, available on newsstands Feb. 18. Read more from EW's celebration of TV's best romances of all time.

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