'One Tree Hill's' Final Season 'Will Be Dark,' Says Creator Mark Schwahn

One Tree Hill S9 EP1 Austin Nichols Sophia Bush - H 2012
Fred Norris/The CW

One Tree Hill S9 EP1 Austin Nichols Sophia Bush - H 2012

After nine years and more than 170 episodes, One Tree Hill begins its ninth and final season (really this time!) on Wednesday night.

One Tree Hill’s creator Mark Schwahn has said that the last 13 episodes "will be dark" compared to the most recent seasons of the CW drama.

The first few minutes of the first episode seem to prove him right. The characters are each thrown into what looks like hell and havoc. There’s fighting and crying, a burning building and Haley standing in the morgue over a dead body.

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Schwahn wouldn’t tell The Hollywood Reporter much about the mystery death. “I will say that we won’t end the season with the cast that we start with, and I think for fans of the show, that will be emotional and powerful,” he said. “I think in One Tree Hill, rarely is all what it seems, so there’s always that to factor in.”

The first episode moves on from the jaw-dropping devastation teaser to show the main characters in a pretty happy state. It focuses on the existing couple relationships: new parents Brooke (Sophia Bush) and Julian (Austin Nichols) as they try to get a handle on rearing twins, Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) and Nathan (James Lafferty) and their two children, Clay (Robert Buckley) and Quinn (Shantel VanSanten) and Chase (Stephen Colletti) and Alex (Jana Kramer).

But don’t expect the final season to simply be a retrospective covering the 187 episode and nine years of the show’s existence. Schwahn is purposefully moving the plot forward in big ways, and even bringing back some familiar faces, including Tyler Hilton, who will reprise his role as Chris Keller. And yes, he still talks about himself in third person.

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“In a season that could have just been a look back or a pat on the back or something quiet and soft, I just really felt like let’s go out being forward thinking and challenging the audience a little bit,” said Schwahn, who added that he felt the ninth season is definitely his favorite.

With the return of another major antagonist, Dan Scott (Paul Johansson), this season is sure to be cut-throat, and Schwann says it will “explore morality in a way the show never has before.”

THR asked Schwahn to look back for just a moment, and think if there’s been any story line that he never got to cover. For a show that’s had everything from kidnappings to school shootings, dogs eating hearts to murders, what could Schwann have missed?

“We seriously pitched zombies a couple years ago,” said Schwahn. “We had this great opening where Jamie came into the bedroom and woke up Nathan and said, ‘Uncle Keith’s at the door.’”

“Outside of the Scott house everything was on fire and everything was desolate,” he added, with a laugh. “And we wanted to do a whole season where our characters were still our characters, and the rest of the world is zombies. If I'd gotten the green light, I'd probably have done that."

One Tree Hill’s final season premieres Wednesday, Jan. 11, at 8 p.m. PT/ET on The CW.