“Once Upon a Time” creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis answer our SwanQueen questions

For the second year in a row, SwanQueen won top honors in our Ultimate Femslash Competition, proving once again that the Once Upon a Time duo of Emma and Regina is one of AfterEllen’s favorite on-screen pairings. Last year we spoke with Lana Parrilla about playing The Evil Queen and the subtext fans can find in her relationship with Jennifer Morrison‘s Emma Swan. This year, we went to the creators and executive producers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, to find out their thoughts on one of their show’s fiercest ships.


Edward Kitsis & Adam HorowitzScreening Of ABC's "Once Upon A Time" Season 4 - Arrivals Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

AfterEllen.com: SwanQueen fans are obviously a very passionate lot. Did you ever anticipate that Emma and Regina’s on-screen moments would spawn such a strong reaction from fans who were hoping they would end up a romantic pairing?

Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis: Both Emma and Regina are characters we initially conceived to be strong people with strong points of view. And who would be put in opposition to one another with their son caught in the middle.

We went to great pains to give both characters valid arguments for their points of view. The goal was that, minus Regina being an actual Evil Queen, we would be portraying two regular individuals who both loved (or would grow to love) a common son. The sparks between them generated amazing conflict and spectacular drama for us to mine as the show began. Over the years, it has been a joy to evolve that relationship from an adversarial one to one of mutual respect.

As for the response it would elicit from fans, we had no idea. When you create a show, you have no idea if it will strike a chord with anyone, and the fan response to Emma and Regina, and the show as a whole, has elicited more passion than we ever dreamed. “Shipping,” we’ve come to learn, is a big part of the reaction to Emma and Regina—and many of our characters—and we love that we have created something that has spawned that kind of emotional attachment from fans. But did we anticipate it? Not in a million years—we thought we’d be canceled after three episodes!

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" - Season FourPhoto by Jack Rowand/ABC

AE: When you are writing for Emma and Regina, do you do anything that is a kind of a wink and a nod to Swanqueen fans, or is it more in how Jennifer/Lana play it that you think fans pick up on?

AH & EK: Honestly, we don’t keep “shipping” in mind when we write any of our characters. It seems to be a common misconception from some fans that we approach the writing of the show from a relationship angle. We are trying to tell the story of these characters, and service them as people first. To us, relationships are just one facet of who we all are as people. Emma’s journey and Regina’s journey have both been about so much more than who they find themselves falling in and out of love with. 


AE: Once has a ton of LGBT fans who were thrilled to see Mulan return and with a (possible) new love interest this season. How do you successfully create storylines that might excite a specific community without pandering?

AH & EK: Yes, Mulan has—returnedand we plan to see her more this season—but the story and character reasons for her return haven’t all been revealed or explored yet. What we have planned for Mulan is something that we haven’t spoiled yet, and we hope you understand if we don’t want to spoil her story now. We want the world of Once Upon a Time to reflect the real world and the diversity within it.

As for successfully creating storylines to excite a specific community? That’s not how we approach storytelling. We don’t target certain stories for certain communities because we fear that can have the effect of marginalizing people. Our hope is that all people can see themselves in the world of Once Upon a Time without feeling that we are pandering to them. Instead, we want the audience to feel like we have an inclusive world where gender, sexual orientation, and racial diversity aren’t the reasons for stories but rather just everyday facts of life.

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" - Season FivePhoto by Jack Rowand/ABC

AE: Has there ever been any conversation surrounding the possibility that Emma and Regina could ever truly end up together, or do you think Swanqueen will forever remain enjoyable in subtext?

AH & EK: Subtext is one of the amazing ways that shows can take on a life of their own. All we can do is create stories and characters, but once it’s put out there, it’s up to the audience to consume as they will. We never created “Swan Queen” or “Snowing” or “Rumbelle” or “Captain Swan” or any of the ships, subtextual or not—our fans took our stories and ran with them. We fully expect them to continue to do so. 

As for who will end up with who? The show has never been about building to that kind of ending for any of the characters. When we started Once Upon A Time, we consciously began the pilot with the most iconic ending in fairy tale lore—Prince Charming waking up Snow White. Our intent was always to take the “happy ending” most people take for granted—romantic love—and use that as the beginning of our story. We intend to continue to do that. We don’t want to reduce our character’s inner lives to being just about who they end up with, and we don’t want to define happiness on purely relationship terms because a happy ending isn’t an ending to us, it’s a beginning of a journey toward finding the way to live a happy life.

Once Upon a Time returns Sunday, March 6 on ABC.