Are happy 'One Tree Hill' couples are a thing of the past? Antagonism runs rampant

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"One Tree Hill"
fans, there's less than a week before you'll finally get to watch the Season 9 premiere -- the last first episode ever! We're thrilled to share the new teaser with you above, but we'll warn you -- it's not going to make the wait any easier. This is absolutely the most harrowing two minutes we see in the episode.

If you want some dish on the premiere, we've posted every spoiler we're allowed to share right here -- but we do have lots more scoop from Thursday night's "One Tree Hill" panel in Los Angeles. Cast members Paul Johansson, Tyler Hilton, Bethany Joy Galeotti, Sophia Bush, Shantel VanSanten, Robert Buckley, Jackson Brundage, Stephen Colletti, and Lee Norris joined exec producer Mark Schwahn (and moderator Meg Masters) for a fantastic Q&A that revealed plenty about the next season.

First of all, if Season 8 was about major milestones for many of the couples and about everyone finding a relatively happy ending in Tree Hill, Season 9 puts the happy couple thing aside.

Don't get us wrong -- the couples are still together and going strong. Early on, though, their happiness is tested, big time, by a series of scary events.

"This is my favorite season," says Schwahn. "The last couple seasons we wanted to be sort of organic, and do things with our couples. More relationship driven stuff, and stuff that was, as I always say, reality plus ten percent. We did some psychos, but really, we did a lot of couples stuff. We haven't had really good antagonists on the show in a while. It was nice, the energy of having Chris Keller and the energy of having Dan Scott... they're fun to work with as people, but to have antagonists was really fun. The new energy was fun, it was kind of old school."

Bush teases that the show has made some significant changes. "We're very excited to see what you guys think, because it's our show, but it's very different," she says. "It's very intense."

Don't get too scared, though -- you won't feel betrayed by the show you've loved. "It's very much a 'One Tree Hill' season," Schwahn says. "It's still 'One Tree Hill.' There's a little heartache, there's some hopefulness, there's some bittersweetness. There are allies you don't expect. There's all that, but at the same time... knowing that it was our final season in the writers' room, it was like, these are our last stories to tell, so let's raise the high wire a little well. We felt beholden to the fans that have been with the show since day one, but we also felt beholden to the fans who have been there since day one, but we also felt a new creative energy."

Back to those antagonists.

oth-night-sophia-mark.jpgDan returns in a blaze of... well, a blaze of something, as his diner burns to the ground and he turns to Haley for a little reprieve. Back in the lives of his son and his grandchildren, he's sure to cause his share of tension. The question remains as to whether he's genuinely a changed man, or whether he's just going to take the first opportunity to incite devastation yet again.

By way of a tease, Johansson explains that there's no direct flight from LA to the set in Wilmington, so over the years on the series, Johansson had plenty of layovers at airports. "After the first season, I would stop in the layover, and people would just hate me," he says. "People would grab their kids and pull them away. Third and fourth season, people were kind of scared - they'd pull their kids, like 'Don't look at him!' Fifth and sixth seasons, people were coming to me for advice. Now, I just want you to know, I'm so glad that Mark brought me back for this season, because you have no idea what people will do now."

Johansson, an Emmy winning director, also gets behind the camera this season, with the cast unanimously agreeing that he's one of their all-time favorite directors.

Meanwhile, Chris Keller manages to get himself hired to help Haley out with Red Bedroom through a little bit of Keller-esque trickery. Keller is so true to who he was when we last saw him on the show, it feels like we never missed a beat.

"He just let me read the first few pages and I was like, 'What? I'm in the car with who and we're saying what and there's guns and what the hell?' I felt the same way as you guys. 'Mark, what kind of rabbit hole are you taking us down, friend?' It worked out wonderfully... I think this is my favorite season."

"Not only has the show jumped forward, but I haven't been on for a while, so it's 30 years later in Chris Keller time," Hilton jokes. "I think I'm in my 70s, like a Gandalf kind of a**hole." He doesn't reveal where Keller has been over the last ten or so years, but he does promise: "I don't think people that hate him will be disappointed... I'm in every episode, so there are layers. I don't just come in to piss Haley off."

oth-night-jackson-joy.jpgSchwahn and the cast raved about the "egoless" Hilton. Bush even noted that cast members came in on their day off to watch him do his first scenes. "You knew that you were getting something that was reinvigorating our show with this energy because of the relationships and the history that Chris Keller has with everyone on this show. It's hilarious."

"It was like going back to high school after five years," Hilton says.

We didn't reveal anything about Mouth's storyline in the premiere because... Mouth isn't in the premiere. When his story kicks off in Episode 2, we find him to be a whole new man. A whole lot of man. "He has a very big storyline," Colletti teases.

"This is Mouth like you've never seen him before," Norris says. "Mouth gained about sixty pounds this year." The weight gain - and particularly the reason for the weight gain ("Mouth ate Skills!" they cracked) - is the basis of his storyline for a large portion of the season. "It's handled really well. You want to handle that with respect. It's something that I never thought I'd get to do on 'One Tree Hill.'"

Norris asserts that the storyline was born after he and Schwahn played a game. "I think what happened is after I beat you, you decided to make me sit in the makeup chair for four hours every day," he joked.

There are certainly some major unexpected changes and some creative leaps this season, and after checking out the first episode, we feel confident that fans will feel satisfied with the general direction of the show. What we're really waiting for, though, is that ending.

After nine years on the show, Bush's and Galeotti's characters have had a particularly harrowing journey, complete with many soaring romances and devastating losses. When ask whether she's happy with how Haley turns out, Galeotti says simply, "Absolutely."

Bush had a bit more to say about the final couple of episodes. "For all of the intensity that comes with the season, you get to the end, and I remember - I was given 12, which was our second to last episode, as a director, and that made me cry. Everything makes me cry. I was like, 'Really? You want me to do it? Okay.' So I got the script, and again, I'm crying, going 'This is so great. Everyone's going to be so happy.' I cried every day on set, like 'This is perfect, cut! Sorry!' I was a wreck. And I thought, you know what, if I'm sobbing this much... I think that everybody's going to be able to feel it in their hearts, the way that we all did."

For the record, yes: Bush had tissues on hand and had to use them (and share them with fans) on more than one occasion. We cried, too. It's an OTH thing.
Photo/Video credit: The CW