When Once Upon A Time's Evil Queen first appeared on our screens five years ago, full of vengeance and vows to destroy Snow White's happiness, it was impossible to imagine that she might one day not only let go of that quest, but cast off that malevolent identity altogether to become one of Once Upon a Time's true heroes: Regina Mills — the equally as fierce but markedly less terrifying mayor of Storybrooke. Her redemption arc has been one of the most hard-wrought and satisfying transformations, aided not only by actor Lana Parrilla's brilliant ability to scrape out the heart and humanity beneath even that which seems incomprehensible, but by Regina's bonds with her former enemies turned family, as well as her son Henry. In an interview with Bustle, Parrilla speaks about Emma and Regina's powerful connection, how Henry's relationship with her will change, and Regina's continuing Once Upon a Time Season 5B journey to her happy ending.
One of the most important relationships on the show — indeed, one that's largely been the heart of the series — is that between Regina and Henry. While they've certainly experienced their share of growing pains, the bond they share these days not only with each other, but as a family unit with Emma, is solid as a rock. But, Henry is not only becoming a young man, he's also the Author now. And, while Parrilla acknowledges that Regina's relationship with her son will necessarily change, she's excited to see how their connection grows and how Henry will come into his own.
"I’m like you! I'm very excited to see what happens with their relationship. Henry is on this heroic path — he wants to earn the title of being a hero and Regina supports that," Parrilla explains. "I think she’s been fighting all these years to be a hero herself because she wants the love and respect of her son. She wants to see that her choices, the fact that she's trying to do the right thing and staying on the heroic path, has inspired Henry." Parrilla continues:
She wants Henry to be that hero himself, too. She’s constantly giving him positive reinforcement and validation. Henry’s always been her heart and soul, and he’s also going through his teenage years. He’s growing up, he’s changing, he even had a girlfriend in one of the episodes! It’s requiring Regina to let go of Henry a little bit and let him become his own young man. He’s the hero now and the Author. He’s growing up before her eyes, and Regina is so proud and excited to see him explore that.
Thankfully, she won't have to go through the growing pains alone, because she's got Emma Swan by her side for support. Not only have Regina and Emma perfected the art of co-parenting their son, but the women also share a deep-rooted and unconditional friendship — a connection that has resonated deeply with viewers and portrays a powerful message about what can be accomplished when strong women work together instead of against one another. When the former Evil Queen and the Savior team up, magic happens — literally. So will we get to see more of that in 5B?
"Yes, absolutely! You’ll definitely see more of that," Parrilla says. "They're best friends and Regina supports her and her decisions — that’s how we end up down in the Underworld to begin with. We’re supporting Emma. She feels guilty and wants to save Hook, but we’re not letting her go down there alone." Parrilla also opens up about just how powerful the characters' friendship is.
We know they possess magic, and when they work together, they’re so much more powerful than they are apart. Emma needs her power team behind her, and Regina is a huge part of that. I think that what we’ve seen in the past with Emma being the Dark One and it was Regina that was constantly trying to talk some sense into her and vice versa, that's their dynamic. It's what they do for each other. They’re each other’s conscience, and so we’ll definitely see more of that, as well.
Despite the dangers inherent in such a risky rescue mission, it could just be the strength of this makeshift family that makes everything turn out alright in the end (though such a result is likely still quite a few episodes away). But, unfortunately, there might be a pretty big problem cropping up soon — one that was hinted at by Hades at the end of the 100th episode: Zelena.
While Regina successfully sent Zelena through a portal back to Oz in the winter finale, fans know the Wicked Witch likely won't concede defeat that easily — and maybe that's a good thing. While Zelena has always blamed Regina for her troubled past, is it possible that they might someday find some common ground and develop a familial bond?
"I think Regina ultimately has gone many years without a blood relative, never having a sibling or at least never knowing that she had a sibling. There’s an episode coming up where you’ll see their relationship sort of shifting," Parrilla teases.
I think ultimately, Regina would love to have a healthy relationship with Zelena. She’s kind of fed up because Zelena’s always blaming her for everything, but Regina never even knew she existed, so it wasn't her fault. It’s a complicated relationship, but also a foreign one. It’s like, I have a sibling, but I don’t know who you are. I didn’t grow up with you. Emma is more like family than Zelena is, in that way.
While the future remains very much up in the air, Regina seems to be prepared to live in the moment. While she's spent the past year searching for her happy ending, I asked Parrilla whether she feels as though Regina's finally found it. After all, she's got Robin, she's made peace with Snow White, she has the love of her son, and someone who truly has her back in Emma. Is that all there is, or is Regina looking for something more?
"I think it’s more of the latter. It’s a process that’s going to be ongoing that we’re still discovering," Parrilla admits. "Regina knows that happiness doesn’t lie in a man, that it does come from within. There are some other sides of Regina that we’ve yet to explore and some inner demons she has to confront." She further teases Regina's ongoing journey:
What I’ve learned with Regina is that even though she’s a very temperamental and outspoken woman who speaks her mind and really is fearless, there's a privacy within her. She doesn’t really talk about the things that are really hard. She does in moments to the right person, but ultimately I think she harbors a lot of secrets and I think what we’re going to see over the course of the season — and hopefully next season, since we know that's happening now — is that we’ll be exploring more of her inner demons and struggles. I think there’s a lot there that we’ve yet to explore. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think that she’s still discovering what it means to be happy, truly happy, and I feel very lucky to take the journey with her."
We're just as lucky to witness it, that's for sure.