Though Once Upon a Time‘s upcoming fifth season will heavily explore what it means for the savior (Jennifer Morrison) to turn to the dark side — oh so much scoop on that here — it should be noted that the fairy-tale drama will also be delving into quite the opposite: Regina (Lana Parrilla) will be stepping into the light.
“Regina is going to the hero,” Parilla says. “It’s really her journey of exploring that. It’s an immense amount of responsibility. We’ll see her evolving into this role and we’ll see where she ends up.”
However, don’t expect the former Evil Queen to step into this role willingly. “Emma saved her life because Emma promised that she would give Regina her happy ending no matter what,” executive producer Edward Kitsis tells EW. “Emma sacrificed herself for Regina’s happiness, and if you know Regina, nothing pisses her off more than owing someone.”
In fact, it’s the darkness within Regina — and also within Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) — that will play a big role in Emma’s journey this season. “We love the notion that two of the people that she’s expectedly and unexpectedly grown closest to over the years, Regina and Hook, are both people who have battled darkness themselves,” executive producer Adam Horowitz says. “The fact that she’s facing darkness, and they’ve faced it, and how their experiences can inform what she’s going through and either help or hinder her, is something that we want to explore in this half of the season and beyond.”
“Regina is very experienced when it comes to crossing over into the dark side and committing evil acts,” Parrilla adds. “She fears that the darkness is going to take over and Emma may never return back to her true self. She’s just worried — and worried for everyone, not just Henry [Jared Gilmore]. Everyone’s doomed.”
While Regina struggles with her new role, some of the residents of Storybrooke are even more hesitant to trust their former captor. “It’s one thing to ask everyone’s forgiveness, it’s another thing to lead people,” Kitsis says. “We’ve seen Regina on our side helping out the heroes, but she’s going to be thrust into a leadership position in saving the town with a town that, quite honestly, a lot of people are still frightened of her.”
It probably doesn’t help that Regina’s familial relations are, quite literally, wicked. After assuming the identity of Robin Hood’s (Sean Maguire) long-dead wife, the now-pregnant Zelena (Rebecca Mader) is locked up in Storybrooke General Hospital’s psychiatric ward. “Zelena’s role in the premiere is she’s the Hannibal Lecter of Storybrooke,” Kitsis says, before Horowitz adds: “And I’d say pregnancy has changed her, and not necessarily for the better, and if that’s the case, then it’s pretty scary.”
“I don’t know if Zelena is redeemable,” Parrilla adds. “If she’s not willing to look at herself and confront those horrible aspects of who she is, then their relationship can only go so far.” Though, Mader is optimistic that the impending baby could force Zelena to face those issues head-on. “Hopefully it’ll change her in a positive way, or it’ll help heal her in some way, because Zelena’s had a really rubbish life,” she says.
But expecting Zelena to shed her green-with-envy skin anytime soon is a pipe dream since she’s still determined to crush her sister’s chances at happiness. Fortunately, Robin Hood has no plans to leave Regina’s side, even if he feels an obligation to his unborn child. “There’s no confusion in my head playing him, he loves Regina and only Regina,” Maguire says. “If anything, he’s more clear about his objective that he loves Regina. He sees Henry and Roland and her as a family now.”
“Robin, like a lot of our characters you’re going to see, is swept up in a tornado of events that really force everyone to — not forget about the things they’re dealing with — but have a whole new circumstance and crisis to deal with,” Horowitz very cryptically teases. “Where, in the case of Robin Hood, his relationship with Regina, the fact that Zelena is pregnant with his child, all that stuff remains, but is now complicated by the new situation he and everyone finds themselves in.”
Ultimately, Maguire says, “This season is our Empire Strikes Back, our dark chapter where it’s going to be intriguing and it’s going to be tough, but I think it’s going to be really good storytelling.”