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[Warning: Spoilers ahead from Sunday’s episode of Once Upon a Time, “Quiet Minds.”]
Once Upon a Time said goodbye to a series regular this week.
Neal (Michael Raymond-James) sacrificed himself for his family in Sunday’s episode, “Quiet Minds,” breinging the character’s three-season arc to an end. Before dying he asked Emma (Jennifer Morrison) to tell his son, Henry (Jared Gilmore), still without his original memories, that his father was a “good” man. Raymond-James, for his part, called Neal’s death “bold.”
Pivotal episode last night with Neal’s death, which brings me to my first question: He’s really dead, right?
Adam Horowitz: The death is real and the character has really died. The aftershocks of that will probably be felt for some time amongst our characters and how they deal with all the things going on. We want to deal with it in a real way and let our characters and our audience mourn the character.
How early on did you know that Neal’s death would be part of the season plan?
Horowitz: We knew pretty early on. The way we like to approach each season is by doing big-picture planning of the big character moments for the year and decide how it will fit in on the long-term planning. This death was a part of that planning and it was something we wanted to build to because where the story was going with our characters and the larger story for the show we’re trying to tell, it’s something we take very, very seriously. We love Michael Raymond-James — he’s a great actor — and we loved the character we created and [he] played for almost three years now. And hopefully the audience has an attachment to the character, so it’s very difficult all-around. But when you’re telling a larger serialized story there are tragic events — that’s part of the drama.
Eddy Kitsis: We felt like in this character’s evolution, him sacrificing himself for his family when given the chance — as his father did for him in the winter finale — we loved that aspect and growth of his character breaking the cycle of that family’s bad parenting. And of course, to bring someone back from the dead — as we say, magic has a price — so you see it extracted. What we loved from a character basis was the son realizing that he was almost following his father in an obsessive pursuit and that in the end when he had a chance to do the right thing, he did.
Were you toying with other ways to end Neal’s arc?
Kitsis: No, this was kind of what we wanted to do thematically. This was kind of how we always felt. We always felt that Neal or Baelfire at his core was a hero; he always tried to stay away from magic. We saw him as a young boy sacrificing himself to save the Darlings to go to Neverland. For us, this was a natural outgrowth of that, and what we wanted to play with was watching his obsessiveness and trying to get back, and when he realized the mistake, he paid for it, he didn’t run away from it.
When did you notify Michael that his time on the show was ending?
Horowitz: We let him know this season. It wasn’t something we talked about last year. We didn’t know specifically until this year when it would happen and we told him right away. We talked about it, we talked about his character and nobody knows that character better than he does. We talked about the best way to make the exit as emotionally affecting and real as we all could.
Neal’s death certainly served as a catalyst for Emma’s new drive. What can you say about what her loss, and even Rumple’s, means for them moving forward?
Horowitz: What has been a threat that has been [felt very strongly by] everyone has now taken on a deeper, more personal dimension. How that affects Emma’s thinking, as well as Rumple and everyone else, is something that you’re going to see played out in very strong ways in very strong weeks.
Neal’s request that Emma tell Henry that he was “a good father” really brought his whole journey to a close on a nice note. Can you talk about that moment?
Kitsis: The idea behind that was, of course he understood that Henry had come back with no memories, and he deep down is worried that what Henry knows is what Emma knew before she understood the truth, which was he was a guy who let her go to jail. He spent so many years thinking his father didn’t love him and that his father wasn’t a good guy, that when he made peace with him, he needed Emma to understand that at the end of the day, “Let Henry know I did this for him. I did this for my family. I may not get to be his father and be with him and watch him grow up but I am protecting him the best way I can.” It was, for us, a noble ending because he did this great sacrifice and he wanted to set an example for his son about what a hero is.
Is there a chance Neal will return in flashbacks?
Kitsis: Absolutely. Keep watching.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
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