This article contains episode summaries for the fifth season of Once Upon a Time.
In the U.S., original episodes of season five started airing on Sunday, September 27, 2015. The 23-episode season is divided into two arcs of 11 and 12 episodes, one airing in the fall/winter of 2015, with the winter finale airing on December 6, 2015. The season resumed on March 6, 2016, with the two-part season finale airing on May 15, 2016. A special recap episode aired before the season premiere on September 27, 2015.
Fans this season are invited to join Emma Swan, Snow White, Prince Charming, the Evil Queen, Captain Hook, Rumplestiltskin, Belle and all the other resident fairytale characters of Storybrooke and beyond as they cope with the savior's new role as as the Dark One and begin the search for Merlin. This is a journey that will take our heroes from the Enchanted Forest to Camelot, and along the way it will bring many surprises, including encounters with the brave and headstrong warrior princess Merida. As the season continues, new fairytale characters will be revealed and old acquaintances will be revisited. Not everyone can be trusted, but one thing remains true: you never give up on the people you love...
For a breakdown of the characters' appearances, checkhere.
1 Also played the serum version of the Evil Queen in 5.23.
2 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 23 appearances; also played the role of Prince James in 5.12 & 5.19.
3 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 16 appearances.
4 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 21 appearances.
1 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 11 appearances.
2 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 10 appearances.
3 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 8 appearances.
4 Also featured in archive footage in 5.05, accounting for 3 appearances.
5 Also featured in archive footage in 5.09, accounting for 3 appearances.
6 Not credited.
7 Also featured in archive footage in 5.10, accounting for 3 appearances.
Plot Synopsis: Immediately after becoming the Dark One, Emma disappears and the heroes must band together to save her, but first they have to find her, which will require the help of an unlikely ally. Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest, Emma struggles to resist her dark urges as she searches for Merlin in the hope that he can stop her transformation. Along the way to Camelot, she gets help from the plucky and brave warrior princess Merida, as well as King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
Plot Synopsis: In an effort to protect Emma, Regina steps up in a surprising way that will test her mettle as a force for good. King Arthur and Queen Guinevere throw a royal ball to welcome the heroes to Camelot, but when the celebration takes a deadly turn, David and Robin must leap into action or lose a crucial asset in the fight to save Emma. Back in Storybrooke, Hook deploys a tried-and-true technique in hopes of bringing his Dark Swan back into the light while the heroes discover that some unexpected baggage has followed them home from Camelot.
Plot Synopsis: In Camelot, the heroes feverishly work to free Merlin; determined to help Emma, David embarks on a quest to retrieve a magical relic that Regina could use to communicate with the imprisoned sorcerer, but, when the prince leaves, Arthur insists on joining him because the dangers ahead are greater than he can imagine. Meanwhile, Mary Margaret discovers the fate of her old friend Lancelot. Back in Storybrooke, Arthur seeks David's help to catch a thief who threatens the safety of his people while, across town, Emma reaches out to a conflicted Hook as she sets about her plan to draw Excalibur from the stone.
Plot Synopsis: After receiving a cryptic warning from Lancelot about Arthur's intentions, Mary Margaret realizes that Camelot's faithful leader may in fact be the heroes' biggest threat; however, when she is unable to convince David of the danger his new friend poses, she is forced to take matters into her own hands. Meanwhile, Hook's unwavering love for Emma provides a glimmer of hope in her struggle against the unrelenting voice of Rumplestiltskin and, through further flashbacks, Guinevere senses that her husband is losing his way - consumed by his obsession with making Excalibur whole - and so she sets out with Lancelot on her own quest into the heart of darkness. In Storybrooke, the Dark Swan unleashes a secret weapon in the next phase of her plan to find the brave soul she needs to draw sword from the stone.
Plot Synopsis: In Camelot, with Mary Margaret and David attempting to retrieve the Dark One's dagger, Emma uses a dreamcatcher to look into the past to see how Merlin was transformed into a tree. Together with Regina, she figures out the critical ingredient they must acquire to free him, but it's a race against Arthur, who doesn't want the Sorcerer released. Tangential to this, with a little encouragement from his moms, Henry finally musters up the courage to ask Violet out on a date while, back in Storybrooke, the heroes break into the Dark Swan's house hoping to locate Gold; what they find instead, however, will give them a glimpse of her ultimate endgame plan. At the same time, far from prying eyes, Merida sets about the mission she's been tasked with and begins molding a well-known coward into the kind of hero that's needed to draw Excalibur.
Centric Character: Belle Other Backstory Character: Merida
Plot Synopsis: In flashbacks to Camelot, a chance encounter with our heroes gives Merida new hope in her quest to save her brothers from the usurping clans of DunBroch. Unwilling to leave anything up to fate, she brings Belle along on a dangerous journey that culminates in an invaluable lesson in bravery. Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Regina and the Charmings discover a spell that allows one of Merlin's chosen few to communicate with him; they grow suspicious, however, when Arthur fails to reach the missing Sorcerer. As this goes on, Emma commands Merida to kill Belle in hopes of forcing Mr. Gold's heroic transformation, and with Merida unable to disobey the Dark Swan's orders, Gold must find the courage to fight for his true love's life or risk losing her forever.
Centric Character: Merlin Other Backstory Character: Nimue
Plot Synopsis: In Camelot, Merlin spearheads a mission to reunite the dagger with Excalibur so that he can use it to save Emma from the darkness threatening her soul; as such, with Zelena in tow, the others sneak into Arthur's castle to steal the broken sword. Meanwhile, the Sorcerer brings the darkened savior on a journey to confront his ancient nemesis and retrieve the sacred spark he'll need to reforge the sword. Both parties are tested, but one suffers a blow that could derail the entire operation. In further flashbacks, young Merlin finds purpose after he is blessed with magic and immortality, but everything changes for him when he falls in love with a young refugee named Nimue, for their romance starts a chain of events that affects every one of our present day heroes.
Plot Synopsis: Tensions in Camelot come to a head when Merlin, now under Arthur's control, delivers an ultimatum to Emma: hand over the Dark One's dagger and the Promethean spark or he will kill her entire family. Refusing to give in, Emma and our heroes face off against the King and his new powerful lackeys in an epic battle of magic and will; just when the end is in sight, the darkened savior is forced to make a gut-wrenching choice that no one sees coming. Back in Storybrooke, Zelena's pregnancy mysteriously accelerates while Hook goes to new and desperate lengths to get answers from the Dark Swan.
Plot Synopsis: Zelena and Arthur journey to DunBroch on a mission to retrieve an enchanted relic that will provide the advantage they need to vanquish Emma and our heroes. Their path will cross with Merida's, who is on a journey of her own to pay a debt that her father, King Fergus, owed to a certain witch when he died. To do this, she enlists the help of two friends: Mulan and Ruby. However, in order to satisfy the witch and save DunBroch, Merida first must discover the identity of the knight who killed her father, and, in flashbacks, she is seen learning about bravery and honor as she trains for combat and rides alongside Fergus into the infamous battle that claimed his life.
Plot Synopsis: In flashbacks to Camelot, Hook, having just become a Dark One, finds himself once again out for Rumplestiltskin's blood. When he and Emma disagree about their best course of action, the final pieces of the puzzle are revealed as the events of the past catch up to the present and we witness a charged confrontation between the forces of light and dark that sends our heroes on a collision course with destiny. Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Hook's centuries old lust for revenge against Gold puts both of their fates in jeopardy. At the same time, the Dark Swan's love faces the ultimate test as she tries to convince Hook to turn away from the darkness before she, her parents and Regina embark on a new mission, and an unsuspected evil is released.
Plot Synopsis: The dark siege of Storybrooke is underway as all of the resurrected Dark Ones target a living soul for sacrifice so that they can return to the realm of the living. With doom imminent, Gold advises Mary Margaret, David and the rest of the heroes to spend their last fleeting moments enjoying the company of their loved ones; Emma, however, refuses to give up, knowing that it's her responsibility to right all the poor choices she made as the Dark Swan. There's only one problem: Dark Hook. When they face off, with the fate of the town at stake, Hook's actions will devastate Emma in a way no one sees coming. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, the Evil Queen tests Hook's mettle by forcing him to confront a demon from his past before contracting him to dispatch one from hers.
Plot Synopsis: Emma, teamed with the entirety of her expansive family unit, arrives in the Underworld on a mission to rescue Hook, only to discover that the search will be more difficult than originally anticipated. The inhabitants of the Underworld - a conglomeration of souls with unfinished business, many of whom harbor quite personal vendettas - hound our heroes at every turn. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, a familiar face from the Evil Queen's past returns to present her with the perfect birthday gift.
Plot Synopsis: In the Underworld, an escapee from Hades' prison informs the heroes that Hook is being held captive; however, before they can rescue him, they must first face the terrifying beast that guards the prison, prompting Mary Margaret to search for an old childhood friend who knows how to defeat it. Once reunited though, she discovers that he is no longer the hero he once was. Meanwhile, in the Enchanted Forest of the past, a young Snow White struggles to preserve peace in her kingdom and must learn how to be a true hero if she wants to one day become Queen.
Plot Synopsis: When Hook fails to choose which three of his rescuers will have to remain in the Underworld, his captivity takes a dark turn as Hades threatens to condemn him to the River of Lost Souls. Meanwhile, Gold is suddenly eager to help Emma and the others find the deceased pirate so that he can return home to Belle, but in order to do so he must first find his late wife Milah somewhere in the town and ask for her help. Concurrently, in the fairytale land that was, Rumple and Milah face a life-or-death crisis concerning their son Baelfire that forces the former to make a deal that will haunt him forever.
Plot Synopsis: Finally reunited, Hook and Emma must find a way to defeat Hades so that they can return to Storybrooke with the others, and a surprise visit from the pirate's dearly departed brother Liam might just provide them with the lead they're looking for. Others who have tried to overthrow the Underworld's leader spoke of a book that contained the key to his downfall; while the others search for this book, Henry secretly takes matters into his own hands, tired of watching from the sidelines. Meanwhile, Hades redoubles his efforts to trap the heroes in the Underworld by playing them against one another and, in flashbacks, the bond between the two young Jones brothers is tested and strengthened on a merchant ship heading into a dangerous storm.
Centric Character: Zelena Other Backstory Character: Hades
Plot Synopsis: Emma and the others continue to search for a way to free everyone from the Underworld while, at the same time, Gold creates a portal to Storybrooke at Hades' behest, bringing over Belle, Zelena and Baby Hood. It isn't long before the Evil Queen and the Wicked Witch get into a sibling squabble, and Rumple has to deliver some shocking news to his wife that will change her life forever. Meanwhile, Snow and David hopelessly attempt to send a message to their son Neal and, in flashbacks to the land of Oz, Hades learns about a very special spell of Zelena's and decides to pay her a visit with the intention of striking an alliance. However, he finds himself with more than just a partner in crime...
Centric Character: Belle Other Backstory Character: Gaston
Plot Synopsis: Belle turns to Rumple in the hopes of finding a way to protect their child from Hades; however, they disagree on whether to use dark magic, for she forbids her husband from using his powers for evil. At the same time, Hades meets with Gaston and encourages him to seek revenge on the Dark One, and Emma has a terrifying nightmare that she realizes is beginning to come true. Meanwhile, in the fairytale land that was, Belle and Gaston meet for the first time, but their blossoming romance comes to a halt on the eve of the Ogre Wars.
Plot Synopsis: In flashbacks, Ruby and Mulan meet Dorothy when they find themselves in Oz, and together they witness Zelena's return to her homeland and proceed to look for a way to defeat her once and for all. However, Dorothy mysteriously disappears and Ruby's search for her new friend lands her in the Underworld, where she teams up with Emma, Regina and Snow. The latter struggles alongside David with not being able to protect their son; as such, they devise a plan so that one of them can escape back to Storybrooke.
Plot Synopsis: Now that Hades and Zelena are reunited, the Lord of the Underworld tells his wicked girlfriend that he wants a future with her outside of his demented realm - all she needs to do is heal his heart with a kiss of true love so that they can leave together and trap the heroes there for eternity. When Regina overhears this plan, she enlists her mother's help to find a way to separate her sister from Hades; however, Cora reveals a family secret that could change her two daughters' lives forever. Meanwhile, David finally meets James, only to realize that his twin is determined to seek revenge on him for stealing the life he could have had.
Plot Synopsis: While Zelena finds herself a captive of Rumple and Pan, Hades finds himself going to the heroes in order to ask for their help in getting her back, offering to remove their names from their tombstones in return. However, when Hook is still unable to leave, he and Emma must journey into the depths of the Underworld, but Cruella makes it her mission to make sure they all still remain trapped. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Emma searches for answers about her family and makes an unexpected friend.
Plot Synopsis: Emma and the others have finally returned to Storybrooke and are able to reunite with Snow, but, unfortunately, they still have to contend with Hades, who continues to deceive Zelena as he lays out his plan to use the all-powerful Olympian Crystal to take over the town. The heroes desperately search for a way to defeat him as Hook does the same from the Underworld, looking for those missing storybook pages. Regina and Robin, meanwhile, take a more direct approach which culminates in an epic showdown that will leave our heroes forever changed.
Plot Synopsis: Regina is left reeling after the death of Robin Hood and everyone tries to give her room to grieve, but when the heroes discover that Gold has stolen Hades'Olympian Crystal and tethered all of Storybrooke's magic to it, they set out to stop him. Henry decides that he can no longer stand all the pain magic has caused his family, so he goes rogue; with Violet in tow, he quests to destroy magic once and for all. Meanwhile, Zelena, Hook and the Charmings attempt to open a portal that will return Merida and the Camelot folk home, but things go awry and the group winds up in a deranged new world.
Plot Synopsis: With the possibility of magic being destroyed and the fate of Storybrooke hanging in the balance, it's a race for Henry's two mothers to track him down before his villainous grandfather can get to him first. Regina continues to struggle with her frustrations over her formerly evil self while, elsewhere, the other heroes are imprisoned and must contend with two very disturbed individuals who just might give Mr. Gold a run for his money.
Due to the second half of the season being set primarily in the Underworld, all of its title cards (from "Souls of the Departed" to "Firebird") feature their respective subject amid the land's red skies.
Gallery of photographic posters released to promote the season.