'One Tree Hill' Season 9 is 'darker and more naked': Five things to expect from the emotional premiere

oth-901-ted-brooke.jpg "One Tree Hill" fans, we had the unique opportunity to watch the Season 9 premiere tonight, in a room full of fans, with many of the series' cast members sitting alongside us. Let's just say that several hours later, there are still tears in our eyes -- both from the episode and from the cast Q&A afterward.

We'll give you a full rundown of the Q&A in a later article, but we couldn't go to sleep without filling you in on some key details from the powerful episode. Here are five things you can expect from the season premiere:

1. A major death. The first minute of the episode made our hearts skip a beat, and not in a happy, romantic way. We saw images of nearly every one of our favorite characters hitting their absolute lowest points. Amongst the brutal snapshots, we see Haley (Bethany Joy Galeotti) identifying a body in a morgue. Obviously, we can't tell you who dies, but we will tell you that it is a character who is very significant to the series and who we've known for years. (And, as Paul Johansson noted, it's "not Chad.")

2. Chris. Keller. Is. Glorious.
Tyler Hilton is back with a flirty vengeance, and it's like he never left. We don't get a whole lot of information about how he's spent the last decade, but we do get 100% genuine Chris Keller douchiness. He speaks in third person. He makes a play for Haley. (B-minus for effort, though, and she's obviously not having it.) He drops some not-so-constructive criticism on Alex's music. And. Yes. He sings. Sophia Bush dished that on Tyler's first day back on set, many cast members stopped by even though they weren't working that day, and they could feel that his presence was "reinvigorating" the show.

3. Daddy issues galore. As previously revealed, Brooke's father Ted (Richard Burgi) comes back into town after being named the twins' godfather. (We're not quite sure why, especially because they choose to name Haley the godmother over Victoria, but... this is Tree Hill.) She's beyond overjoyed to see him, despite the countless times he's let her down, and it was a strong reminder of the teenage girl she once was, desperately wanting her parents to notice her. And, speaking of awesome fathers, Dan is back in the picture. When his diner burns down (in, um, an "accident") he shows up asking Haley for a little kindness.

4. Clay is a man on the move. Clay's big storyline this episode? He's sleepwalking, which is causing a lot of worry for Quinn. While the scenes do seem lighthearted, based on the teaser, we're thinking this is going to develop into some heavy stuff for the couple. "We really saw in Season 7 and 8 that I shine as an actor in sleeping scenes," Rob Buckley said, very seriously. "So Mark is really good at throwing storylines in our strike zone, so you'll notice I did a lot of power napping and sleeping in that episode, and there's a lot more really heavy sleeping to come."

5. Nathan and Haley remain adorable. Nathan has his buzz cut back, but we're not only talking about his super-hotness. We'll admit it -- this might be a trying episode for the hardcore Naley shippers, because the Scotts are never actually in the same room together. Still, they prove that they're more than capable of withstanding a little strain. It just goes to show how much they've grown and how much they've built since Haley went on tour while they were in high school. When we visited the set in September, Bethany Joy Galeotti told us, "Nathan and Haley are the homefront of the show. Mark wrote a lot toward those personalities." They prove her right in this episode.

"It's a little darker this season," Mark Schwahn told us at the Q&A.

Sophia chimed in with, "Darker, and more naked."

We'd say that accurately describes the episode. While it definitely feels like "One Tree Hill," it's a stronger, more confident version of the show. It's very apparent that eliminating the "we could get canceled at any moment!" factor has driven everyone involved with the production to turn it up to eleven.

Aside from the crushing teaser, Season 9 begins at a comfortable pace, with joyful, hopeful moments aplenty. (Trust us, we were waiting for a car to go off a bridge at any moment.) Somehow, Tree Hill feels more real to us than ever, and the characters feel even more defined. Mark tells us that this is his favorite season yet, and we have a feeling it'll be ours, too.

It all goes down January 11 at 8 p.m. EST on The CW. But you knew that already.
Photo/Video credit: The CW