'Once Upon a Time' Bosses Tease Queens of Darkness' Ties to the 'Core Characters'

Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis talk with THR about the midseason finale and what's next for the ABC drama
Jack Rowand

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the midseason finale of ABC's Once Upon a Time.]

Once Upon a Time introduced the Queens of Darkness during Sunday's midseason finale, and after Rumple (Robert Carlyle) was banished from Storybrooke — by his wife, Belle (Emilie de Ravin), who discovered the full extent of his betrayal — he sought out the women to help him achieve his own happy ending.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the show's co-creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis to get some hints about what's in store with the Queens of Darkness, whom they have ties to and what else to expect when the show returns in 2015.

Before the show ended Sunday, there was a six-week time jump. What's gone on in Storybrooke in those missing weeks?

Adam Horowitz: When we come back, you'll see that. What we're not doing is trying to set up a mystery of the missing year. It's not what happened during that time; it's more about really letting the characters settle into the aftermath of the tumultuous events of the [midseason] finale. And picking up [with them] as they're still picking up pieces in their lives.

Have there been any major changes in those weeks away?

Horowitz: It's the calm before the storm.

Eddy Kitsis: As always, on our show!

As you're looking at the second half of the season, what theme are you most excited to play out?

Kitsis: I would say that right now, the thing we're excited about is what makes a hero and what makes a villain. And what is a happy ending.

Is this something you think fans will be debating? Or, because we've known so many of these heroes for so long, do you expect fans to be biased toward the characters they've grown to love over the past few years?

Kitsis: I think fans will be much more biased because they're our fans. But I think we'll have some surprises in store because of some new information they didn't have.

Rumple was able to persuade Ursula (Merrin Dungey) to come along with him on the quest to find the mysterious author. As they go along the journey to find him/her, what difficulties will they have in attempting to get Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Stratenand Cruella (Victoria Smurfit) to go along for the ride?

Kitsis: We're realizing that we're meeting these villains, and as we saw with Ursula, they really seem down on their luck. We see a Rumpelstiltskin who is in the real world without his magic, and he's lost everything. I think you have a lot of people who have lost everything who are dead set on getting it back.

Read more 'Once Upon a Time' Says Goodbye to 'Frozen' and Hello to the Queens of Darkness

How badly off will Cruella and Maleficent be when we see them in the real world, sans their powers? Will Cruella, for instance, be without her fur?

Kitsis: (Joking) Well, I'd hate to see Cruella without her fur! Where would be the glamour in that? We're going to see Cruella and what we're excited about is that when we did the first half, we were really faithful to Frozen the movie and didn't want to touch those characters at all. But the second half, the Queens of Darkness are very much from the Once mythology. So, this is our take on Cruella. This is our take on Ursula. And, of course, this was our take on Maleficent, whom we had already set up.

Cruella is the freshest character, because we've seen both Ursula and Maleficent on the show to varying degrees. What can you say about your version of Cruella?

Kitsis: We can say she's a lot of fun. She is absolutely who you would want to spend a weekend with. We could tell you that her backstory is different than the one in the movie. And she may even have powers we didn't realize she had.

Does she have ties to people we know?

Kitsis: Yes. She is going to have ties to a few of our characters.

Will viewers be learning about that earlier in the next run of episodes, or will they have to wait a little bit longer to find out whom you mean?

Kitsis: A little of both. We're going to see the Queens of Darkness, but it's really going to be a way to focus on our core characters. And we're really excited that the flashbacks will return to the time of season one. We're going to get much more Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin), Charming (Josh Dallas), Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), before the curse. We're going to be going back to that time period.

Maleficent and Evil Queen have a long history, and Lana teased a flashback was coming. What can you preview about that?

Horowitz: We're going to see how the Evil Queen met Maleficent. When we met them in season one and they were what we affectionately called "frenemies," we're going to see how that relationship started.

And what is their modern-day reunion like?

Horowitz: After locking someone underground as a dragon for 28 years, that'll test the bonds of any frenemies.

In your minds, especially given her history with Regina, is Maleficent the most dangerous of these Queens of Darkness?

Kitsis: I would say she is probably the most dangerous. But what Regina did to her is secondary to what someone else did to her. And that we're going to explain pretty quickly. And it will be, probably, someone you didn't expect.

So it's not going to be, say, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty (Sarah Bolger)?

Kitsis: It will be a whole new thing, and a whole new story area the audience hasn't seen.

You mentioned Snow and Charming will get new light shed on their past, but what can you share about what's in store for them in the present?

Kitsis: We're very excited because they're going to be much more in the forefront of the second half. We're going to realize they had a secret past with the Queens of Darkness. And you know what they say about the past? It always comes back to haunt you.

The Knave/Will (Michael Socha) was a character that was brought over from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, but he didn't have a whole lot to do in the first half of the season. What can you tease about his arc going forward?

Kitsis: For us, Will was a new character on the show. He was coming from Wonderland. We wanted to slowly ease him into our world, so hopefully people would start saying, "Hey, what about him?" We're definitely going to get more of him in the second half.

Both the Rumple/Belle and Regina/Robin (Sean Maguire) relationships ended — at least for now — in the midseason finale. What can you say about what's in store for those couples?

Horowitz: Last night was a dark chapter in a book filled with many chapters. There's more story to come. We're not done telling them.

Kitsis: I would say we're in the middle of the book, so they have to keep watching. And with every great story, there are always obstacles they have to face on the way to victory or defeat. Last night ended darkly for Regina, but it was also hopeful in that you'll have Emma (Jennifer Morrison) and David and Snow White, and everyone on her side for Operation Mongoose. Things ended horribly for Rumpelstiltskin because he was trying to free himself from the dagger and have it all. In doing so, he lost it all. So we wonder can he get it back?

As writers, what is the balance like in writing Rumpelstiltskin in order to make sure he evolves, and yet guarantee you don't fundamentally change who the character is?

Kitsis: For us, we always say he chooses power over love. For us, the reason Rumple acted the way that he did is because remember, he did the noble thing: he sacrificed his life [last season]. The end result was his son died, and he became a prisoner to the Wicked Witch (Rebecca Mader) who had his knife. So his secret fear that he doesn't voice loudly is that someone can control him. There's always a leash around Rumple, whether someone's controlling him or not. So the year started with him having the best of intentions: he was going to give the knife back to Belle, he was going to be the honorable husband. And then he saw the hat. And the hat basically [indicated to him that] I can free myself, I can have it all. Now, what he should have done is tell Belle the truth, "I found this hat, I would like to free myself from the dagger and have everything." But he didn't. And because he lied to her, it blew up in his face and he lost everything. But the end result was not so much that he was doing it for villainous reasons. He just didn't want to be controlled by someone else again. The end result was he lost everything. We saw moments of humanity; he wasn't going to allow Henry to die. But we also realize that unlike most people, Rumple puts himself first. And the fun thing about Rumple is that he warned us in season one that he was a difficult man to love. And every time we remind the audience of that, they get upset; they like it when Fonzie wears a sweater [on Happy Days].

Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) was under Rumple's control for the last few episodes, and was forced to tell some lies. Will there be fallout from that, or does everyone understand he had no say in the matter?

Kitsis: I think he kind of has a pass on that. He's tried really hard to do the right thing, and we're excited: we're going to get more into his backstory in the second half. And what's fun is he and Emma are [now] a couple, so we're going to watch them grow.

See more The Making of 'Frozen'

In hindsight, what do you think worked the best from the Frozen arc?

Kitsis: That's hard to say, because it's a matter of opinion. But for us, what we really liked, was we really thought the relationship with Emma and Elsa (Georgina Haig) was great. We loved telling the arc of watching both of them come to appreciate that what makes them different, and what they once feared, is something to be celebrated. And that was what we wanted to do, and we thought that worked out pretty well.

Is there anything that didn't go the way you planned, or anything you wish you had spent more time on, or handled differently?

Horowitz: You always do. You always look back. It's the nature of making television. When you're doing 22 episodes — or in this case, 23 episodes this year — you do your best. You're working at a breakneck speed; you plan the best you can. Some things will inevitably work out better than others. You try to learn from the things that didn't work, and make the things that did work, work better. Moving forward, we try to take all the lessons from the successes and failures of the past.

Anything else you can tease about what's in store when the show returns in 2015?

Horowitz: I think with the arrival of these three new villains, the Queens of Darkness, while we're going to spend some time with them, it's going to be how are they affecting our people. And we're really excited to delve into them.

Kitsis: And really, our core characters.

Once Upon a Time returns March 1 on ABC. What are you looking forward to seeing? Sound off in the comments section, below. 

Twitter: @marisaroffman

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