Fans of the ABC magical drama Once Upon A Time are experiencing whiplash this week as a series of announcements come down from the top brass. Deadline reports the reimagined fantasy world has been picked up for a seventh season. This should be good news. But coupled with a few bombshell casting announcements, it instead turns into a question of whether or not it’s time to put up a “And they all lived happily ever after” title card and put Once Upon A Time back on the shelf.
The ratings for OUAT have been in decline for a while, and not even the musical episode where Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) and Hook (Colin O’Donoghue) finally tied the knot was able to boost viewership. As far back January, ABC was preparing fans for the show to end with the sixth season, with ABC entertainment President Channing Dungey telling Deadline, “regardless of what we decide to do at the end of this season, I think [the showrunners will] put a little bit of a bow here, and then there is a next piece that comes after that, so they are trying to figure out what that is and how that works.” But it wasn’t until the last week that fans realized exactly what that meant when a series of prominent cast members announced they won’t be returning next year.
First Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, who play Snow White and Prince Charming, revealed they were hanging up their crowns. The couple met on the set of Once Upon A Time and their real life romance mirrored the show. They wed in 2014 and currently have two children together. Next, star Jennifer Morrison, who plays the lead character Emma Swan, announced that outside a single cameo next year, she too is moving on. Then Rebecca Mader, who plays Zelena, took to Instagram to add she too is exiting the series. Rumor has it actor Andrew J. West (The Walking Dead) will be introduced as the character around which OUAT re-centers itself. Based on looks alone, I have to wonder if he’s playing the grown-up version of Henry Mills. Only time will tell.
But perhaps the weirdest bit of news currently surrounding Once Upon A Time is who isn’t leaving. Both Lana Parrilla (Regina) and Robert Carlyle (Rumpelstiltskin) are confirmed to be returning. As is Colin O’Donoghue. It’s the last one that has me scratching my head. The “will they/won’t they” dynamic been Hook and Emma has been an integral part of the show since its inception. Shippers of CaptainSwan were delighted to see the two finally marry in last week’s episode. But with Morrison out and O’Donoghue in, where does that leave their characters’ relationship at the end of the current season? Is announcing that kind of a big spoiler for the season finale? Is a reset without three of the main characters and one of the most prominent relationships even the same show or just a husk of itself limping along until the axe comes down and mercifully ends the charade? As the cancellation of Sleepy Hollow on Fox proves, rebuilding a series after the departure of a major actor is difficult to pull off. OUAT has more years invested in their universe, making a seismic shift in the structure even more precarious. Will fans tune in to watch Hook without Emma or Regina without the Charmings as her foil?
The future could hold anything, but fans should brace themselves. Season seven of OUAT has good odds of being its last.