Things are changing fast on Once Upon a Time.
[Warning: Do not proceed if you haven't watched Sunday's winter premiere.]
Just when Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Charming (Josh Dallas) reunite in Storybrooke -- this time, for more than five minutes -- Regina's evil mother Cora (Barbara Hershey) and her "sidekick" Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) engage in some questionable activities, resulting in the "death" (it's complicated) of the town's lovable psychiatrist.
So why did Cora kill Dr. Archie Hopper (Raphael Sbarge), only to reveal by the end of the episode that the body found in his office wasn't actually him and that he had merely been kidnapped?
"I would look at it more as a commitment to excellence. She's focused and she's committed. She saw her daughter upset but not broken and she said she'd come back and break her. And she did. That's love," executive producer Edward Kitsis half-joked to reporters at a screening earlier this week of "The Cricket Game."
Later, explaining: "When we were coming up with this, it was what does Cora need? She needs information. If you come to this strange land and you've never been there [before], the psychiatrist is perfect. He knows everyone's secrets, he knows how they run, Gold has gone to him, Emma has gone to him, it's more valuable to her to have him alive right now. But you never know what's going to happen."
Rest assured, the real identity of Cora's victim isn't significant to the story. "If we had an alternate universe, we would be able to show that guy, his family; they're totally worried about [his death]," Kitsis joked. "To Cora, he's just a random schmuck she found."
Executive producer Adam Horowitz said of what's ahead for Cora: "Things in that storyline will progress very quickly." (Charmed vet Rose McGowan was cast as a young Cora in the upcoming origin episode centered on the evil mother.)
Much of the theme of the second half of the season is change, and whether Regina (Lana Parilla) truly is turning over a new leaf. "She's laying low and she has a next move," Kitsis hinted. "The real question is how persuasive is Cora? And we know she has a commitment to excellence."
The episode also saw Emma (Jennifer Morrison) using magic as she and her crew investigated Archie's "death." "It's obviously a new element," Horowitz teased, adding that they're "excited" to show how that will play out.
Once Upon a Time airs 8 p.m. Sundays on ABC.