'Once Upon a Time' EP's Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis talk Season 3 premiere, Neverland, mermaids, and more

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In order to save Henry from Greg and Tamara (and the mysterious "Home Office"), Emma, Snow, Charming, Gold, Regina, and Hook travel to Neverland in the "Once Upon a Time" Season 3 premiere on Sunday (Sept. 29). However, this isn't the Neverland we all know from childhood stories. It's actually a metaphor, according to executive producers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis.

"We always wanted to go to Neverland, and we wanted to focus on the core characters. Neverland is a place where you don't grow up, so you have to confront your past," Kitsis tells Zap2it. "Our inspiration was that these characters would have to return to who they were before the curse in order to achieve this and at the same time we wanted to have them dig deeper into what everything means. Last year was such a bullet and so we wanted to have time to reflect on what's happened and what does it mean. Yeah Emma looks at Mary Margeret as her mom but does she really actually think of her as her mom?"

Neverland will act as its own character in at least the first two episodes of Season 3. "We were really trying to use Neverland -- and we will continue to do as the season progresses -- as a prism through which we can see these characters hopefully more clearly and more equally," Horowitz tells Zap2it. "Layers will start to peel back on all of them, and that will continue going forward."

One character we will get to know more about is Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold. "He definitely seems to have [daddy issues]," Kitsis says. "We've hinted in the past that his father was a coward and his father's name is something that haunted him. His father left him."

"We see that those issues have played themselves out in his relationship with his son, so whatever happened to Rumpelstiltskin in his past is fueling a lot of his problems he has today," Horowitz adds.

"It's something we're going to see this year. And for us, this is the understanding that this is a man who wants to break the cycle of his past," Kitsis continues. "He wants to be a good father but it's like that quote: 'I can resist everything but temptation.' That's also his weakness. He's a difficult man to love and just when you begin to love him he does something so awful you go, 'Aw man.' Episode 4 is called 'Nasty Habits' and that will be his first backstory that we see this year."

As for new romantic developments, viewers who ship Hook and Emma will start to see a spark between these two strong-willed people now that they believe Neal is dead -- though he is actually alive in Fairytale Land. "Obviously they think Neal's dead, and obviously Hook is a man who likes ladies," Kitsis teases. "As we saw last year when they climbed the beanstalk Emma has probably captured his heart a little bit. But in the same respect, we see that Neal is fighting like hell to get a second chance with her. And right now, Emma is focused on getting Henry. She's not someone who likes to let her walls down. Her heart's been broken too many times for her to be worried about dating right now."

While the first episode takes place in Neverland and Fairytale Land, viewers will get an update on Storybrooke through a surprising source ... and Horowitz promises we will get to see Storybrooke this season. "It will be a little while before we're actually in Storybrooke, but in this first half of the season it will not be limited to just flashbacks," Horowitz says.

"Once Upon a Time" loves to spin new takes on classic characters, so when mermaids show up in the season premiere, expect to see them in a new light. "We like our mermaids saucy," Kitsis says. "That's symbolic of Neverland. It's never what you think it is. Most people think of Ariel when they think of mermaids and what they don't know is that she's surrounded by really, really hot-tempered mermaids."

We will get to meet Ariel this season -- played by JoAnna Garcia -- and she will be different from the mermaids we meet in the Season 3 premiere. "We'll be seeing Ariel in episode 6 which is called 'Ariel.' It's our spin on Ariel," Kitsis reveals. "She's going to be different than how we saw the mermaids in the premiere. I think the spirit of Ariel you'll see that JoAnna Garcia plays really well. It's the spirit of somebody who wants to see the world, wants to experience things outside of what they know. And there is a fork."

"Once Upon a Time" Season 3 premieres on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Get more scoop on the premiere here.

Photo/Video credit: ABC