When Castle returns for its eighth season premiere Sept. 21, the long-running ABC drama will feature major changes both on and off-screen.
Season eight will be overseen by new showrunners who both have long, varied histories with the show: Castle writer Terence Paul Winter and former The Following co-showrunner Alexi Hawley. Season seven boss David Amann, as well as series creator Andrew Marlowe are not returning. In addition, the series has added some new blood to mix things up for Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), newly appointed Capt. Beckett (Stana Katic) and the crew. Neighbors starToks Olagundoye joins the cast as Hayley Shipton, a stealth security specialist with a shady past. So what do all the changes mean for the series and will season eight be Castle's last? The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Winter and Hawley to answer all the burning questions ahead of the premiere.
New showrunners generally means a shift of some sort. How has it been collaborating so far?
Hawley: It's been fantastic. Terence and I worked together for three seasons back toward the beginning. We have a real shorthand with each other and we have a lot of fun breaking story and writing scripts.
Will fans be able to see big changes because of your collaboration throughout the season?
Hawley: I'm a little biased, but I really enjoyed my time here. Our storytelling — especially in seasons two and three — was a bit more fun, character-based stuff and a little less procedural. Terence was excited about that idea as well — to simplify the cases a little bit to give us room to tell character stories. Coming into this season, we had shot 151 episodes … we've pretty much done every kind of case you can do, so it's really more about the characters and how they interact with each case.
Winter: And how the cases affect our characters and change the relationships and move our guys forward.
In the first part of the season eight premiere, titled "XY," Beckett goes missing and the episode is shown through Castle's perspective. What else can you tease about the premiere?
Hawley: It's a very dynamic episode. We wanted to engage on every level that Castle engages in. The great thing about the show is, tonally, we get to be really funny. We get to be serious, emotional, scary and all those things. So we put all of that into the pot on this. We also need to redefine a few things at the beginning of the season with Castle and Beckett and the P.I. office with [Beckett] being captain and Alexis (Molly Quinn) working there [and] introducing new characters. We want to do it in a really dynamic way.
Toks joins the cast this season. What can you say about how she is will interact with Castle, Beckett and the rest of the cast?
Winter: It's exciting because she brings such a new dynamic. Toks really brought some new flavor to the show. What's exciting is Hayley is not paired with Castle. She's not paired with Beckett. However, we have episodes where she's working with Castle. She's working with Beckett … she's working with the boys. She's become like a big sister to Alexis as Alexis is playing around with this idea of becoming a P.I.
Will viewers find out what happened when Castle disappeared last season?
Hawley: Yes! That's one of our missions this season: to delve into that and complete that storyline. Part of the fun of the season — and you see it a little bit in the first episode — is [Sen.] Bracken (Jack Coleman) comes in a very unexpected way and it is ultimately connected to something with Beckett's time in the Attorney General's Office, which is unexpected. We play that out in episode two and you get more information on that. We liked the idea of being able to connect some dots throughout the season.
In a larger sense, how are you approaching the season if this year is more focused on character development?
Hawley: We came in with a conscious idea of telling a complete story this year. The majority of Castleepisodes are stand-alones … they're cases of the week. We want to start a storyline in these first two episodes that we revisit as we go through the season. We are constantly changing the character dynamics and there are new things to discover. We're excited about it because we think this allows us to dig deeper into our characters on the show in a new, exciting way.
There have been rumblings this could be the final season. How much longer do you see the series running?
Hawley: If you ask us, the show would run forever. I do think there are still stories to be told. The strength of the show is its characters and its actors and we've got that like crazy. Part of what we are trying to do this season is add fresh energy … by picking things up a little bit to infuse it with a bit more character all across the board is set ourselves up hopefully to go for a long time — but that's not our decision. We hope we are talking about season nine next year.