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The Disney-themed fairy-tale drama is heading into season seven after six major cast departures, including original series regulars Ginnifer Goodwin (Snow White), Jennifer Morrison (Emma), Josh Dallas (Prince Charming) and Jared Gilmore (Henry).
Now, the series is opening what it calls a “new chapter” in what showrunner Adam Horowitz said is less of a reboot and more of a way to pay homage to the show’s original premise. That means new series regular West, who made his debut in the show’s season-six finale, will be playing an adult version of Gilmore’s Henry. Fellow new series regular Alison Fernandez takes on the role of Lucy, Henry’s long-lost daughter, who, in a nod to the pilot, shows up on his doorstep to prompt him into saving his family. Season seven will be built around Lana Parrilla (Regina), Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold) and Colin O’Donoghue (Captain Hook).
“We had a plan for the original show that ran six seasons, and at a point, we felt like it was time for certain characters to get their happy endings. What we’re going to do now is go on a new adventure,” showrunner Eddy Kitsis said, reassuring fans that the past six seasons would not be erased as part of the creative overhaul. The theme, said Kitsis, is “never stop fighting for what you believe in, and never give up.”
Producers also screened the first two scenes of season seven, which sees Gilmore exit as Henry leaves home after high school to explore new fairy tales in different realms and to figure out his own story. The series then jumps years ahead to another realm where West’s Henry — on a motorcycle — crashes into Cinderella in her horse-drawn carriage.
While Gilmore returns in the premiere, Horowitz also confirmed that viewers haven’t seen the last of the stars who exited last season. “As the show evolves and we’re telling some of these new stories and chapters … it’s our hope that we’ll be seeing a lot of them pop up from time to time. This isn’t the end,” said Horowitz.
Amid all the new stories and characters, producers also confirmed that Parrilla, O’Donoghue and Carlyle will not be playing new characters. “Henry is on a new adventure and wants to visit other storybooks with different stories, and he falls in love with Cinderella. … And he gets in trouble and calls out for help from his family and [Hook, Regina and Rumple] come to his rescue. It’s these three and Henry on an epic adventure, and that’s the next chapter of Once Upon a Time,” said Kitsis.
Saturday’s Ballroom 20 panel, again moderated by superfan Yvette Nicole Brown, also revealed that new series regular Gabrielle Anwar (Burn Notice) would be taking on the role of Lady Tremaine, the Wicked Stepmother from Cinderella. Anwar was joined by new stars West and Dania Ramirez (Devious Maids), who’s playing Cinderella, all of whom made their Comic-Con debut.
Producers also revealed that new recurring player Mekia Cox (Chicago Med) will play Tiana (the princess from The Princess and the Frog), while Adelaide Kane (Reign) is Drizella, one of the evil stepsisters from Cinderella. Rose Reynolds (Poldark) is taking on a new version of Alice in Wonderland, “since no one watched the spinoff,” Kitsis joked of the canceled Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. “We are looking forward to meeting new people who we didn’t get to explore as much,” said Kitsis.
Once Upon a Time, which hit a string of series lows in season six, is an important brand for ABC, as it marks an extension of the Disney franchise. With the series facing a new creative story, the drama is also relocating from its family-friendly Sunday perch to Fridays at 8 p.m. starting Oct. 6 — after Marvel drama Inhumans wraps its short run.
With such a big swing, Comic-Con marked the first true test to see if the show’s die-hard fan base would continue to embrace the series without the core of its original cast. Judging from the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the first two scenes and a clip package offering a glimpse at the rest of the new additions (watch that below), ABC should feel somewhat confident in its decision to renew the drama. (Also revealed at Comic-Con: Producers plan to do an LGBT storyline this year.)
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