She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has come to an end after five seasons, finishing on a high note that promises a bright future for Adora and her friends—as well as the woman who helped reinvent them. io9 sat down (virtually) with showrunner Noelle Stevenson for a chat about how she feels now that it’s all over.
Be sure to watch our video interview, which shines a light on Stevenson’s time with She-Ra, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and what it was like watching that final episode. We’ve also included a longer Q&A, with any spoilers contained below the spoiler warning later in the post.
io9: I want to start by talking about you. Five seasons, a completed story arc. How are you feeling now that it’s all over?
Noelle Stevenson: It’s been for me such a long journey that it’s, like, I’m having a lot of feelings now being at the end—a lot of just kind of mixed emotions. Because it is really cool. I’ve been keeping aspects of this show a secret for the last five years, and to finally get to be able to just have it all out there and for it to no longer be a secret? I’m really, really excited about that part. But it’s also like, you know, saying goodbye to characters that I have sort of come to think of as my friends.
io9: How has your life changed since you started this journey with Adora, Catra, and the other characters?
Stevenson: I think that the show has changed my life in a lot of ways, honestly. It’s something that I never expected to affect me as deeply as it has because I really feel—I was talking with a friend of mine who [I] met while working on his show and he’s a very dear friend now—we were kind of joking around, but also mostly serious. It’s like the show kind of taught us how to love—which is a weird thing to say because it’s a cartoon, it’s an ‘80s reboot. That’s what it is. But it is something where I think because of what we went through as a crew, because of the weight of the characters’ journeys mirror our journeys in so many ways. It was like learning to love openly, be vulnerable, and be open with the people around you in order to get through hard times.
I think this last season is where the emotions that the characters go through, where they’re telling each other that they love each other. That is kind of where we were when we were ending the show. My life has changed an enormous amount since I first started working on this show. You know, I got married to my wife. I developed this community of people that are some of my closest friends now. Like everything, everything has changed and in amazing ways that I couldn’t have even imagined. So to see the characters also come to the end of their journey, as it comes to the show, it’s really cool. And I do think it mirrors the ways that I change and the way that the crew kind of changed and grew over the course of the show.
io9: Specifically, how do you feel you’ve changed as a creator since it started?
Stevenson: Being a showrunner and an executive producer, it was a job that I was in no way prepared for. I don’t know that anyone ever is. But I was 25 when I started this job, so I was very young. And there are just a lot of aspects to being a showrunner that I didn’t know to expect. The ability to not just be a creative person, but to be a leader, to be a mediator, to be someone who compromises, to be someone who looks for solutions. And not only that, somebody who works in, you know, beyond just writing and drawing stories. In sound effects and management, in directing the actors and all of these ways. All of them sort of became my new favorite thing when I was in them, because it’s like a new way to tell a story.
I think I got a lot better at kind of managing all of those different aspects of this job, and that has changed the kinds of stories that I’m interested in. And also, like the collaborative element of making a show like this—where you’re working with so many different people and groups of people in order to do it—it honestly has just broadened my horizons as a creator and it’s just really opened up what I think is possible with story, and what I’m interested in doing with stories. So I’m honestly just really excited for everyone to see what comes next.
io9: Is there anything you would change now if you could?
Stevenson: You know, I think about this sometimes because I know that I have made a lot of mistakes as a showrunner. It was a position that was very challenging at times, and it really did throw me into a position that I wasn’t quite prepared for, I think, at the time. And when I look back, I’m still like, “Ugh, why did I make that stupid mistake? Why didn’t I, you know—” I could have averted various crises if I’d only known more.
But I also think that all of those lessons that I learned, I had to learn the hard way. I had to learn through doing. I don’t think you can make those shortcuts and get the same knowledge out of it. I think that you have to learn by doing. And so I honestly, I don’t think I would change anything, even the times I made mistakes. I think I needed to make those mistakes in order to learn, and in order to know what I know now. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have learned it.
io9: When you were watching the final episode [of She-Ra], seeing this story that you had created come to fruition, what was that like?
Stevenson: I had a really kind of messy mix of feelings. When I saw that episode, it was something that—it was challenging to bring it all together, because you want to give every character their moment. How did you bring all these threads together in a way that feels satisfying? And there were a lot of pieces to work with.
I’d gone to the desert with some friends [on] the weekend that I got the animation for the final episode back. I saw that it had come in, and I just was like, “I need to go and be alone for maybe a few minutes, maybe an hour.” I just went into a bedroom by myself and I just watched it, and then I watched it again...There was a part of me that was, like, “Is this right? Is this good? Is this what I wanted it to be? Is this—what am I even looking at?” There’s a part of your brain, I think, that disassociates. Especially when it’s something that is so close to you.
Then I just went back out and I was like, “Y’all need to come watch this with me because I don’t know what I’m looking at.” And my friends just came in. They had worked on the show with me. We all got in bed together, just like we were having a slumber party. I’ve got Molly [Knox Ostertag, Stevenson’s wife] on one side crying on this shoulder and then our script coordinator Shane [Lynch] on my other shoulder crying as we’re watching. That was what it was like: “Yeah, we did it.”
io9: I remember asking you this question back when we had just gone through season three. I’d asked you what character do you feel changed the most and took on a life of their own that you didn’t expect. And now we’ve gone to the end of the series, and so much has happened to all the characters. So I’m asking you again, who changed the most and surprised you the most?
Stevenson: I think that the answer is maybe the answer that I gave last time, although I don’t quite remember. I think the answer has to be Catra [Note: She was right, it was Catra last time too]. Because I think her arc really did take on a life of its own, but at the same time I also feel like Catra’s arc was the one that was the most planned out? In my original pitch, every season ended with Catra betraying the person who was above her and climbing another rung in the ladder. And that kind of has held true I think, all the way through the final season.
But also just, I think, the weight of that character has hit with so many people. The way that she’s ended up being such an important character—not just for me and not just for the crew, who was sort of pouring our feelings into her—but also to the fans who are seeing a version of this kind of female antihero, villain, hero character that reflects the darkest, kind of most dangerous messiest parts of ourselves. I think that the amount of empathy and the amount of evolution that the character went through, it felt very organic and it felt like something that we were just trying to keep up with as a crew and to do justice to. To make sure that that character’s arc felt natural and earned and satisfying. Yeah, so I think in the long run, it really has been Catra.
io9: The series ends without an epilogue—apart from Adora’s, which showed us a future we could hopefully see for these characters. In your mind, where do you see Adora, Catra, Glimmer, Bow, and the others five years from now?
Stevenson: That’s one of my favorite parts about the ending is that I want people to be able to imagine what happens next, and have a world and a wealth of possibilities without having to have it laid out for you. Like, “Oh, here they are 20 years later. They decided to go to college and here’s who married who and here’s what everyone’s kids look like.” I think that we can still imagine those things, how we want them, but I like leaving it open. There’s a world of possibility, there’s so many directions they can go, and we get to just like imagine that for them.
Honestly, I didn’t want to have any kind of epilogue. I don’t want to have any kind of future flash. It was actually something that I pushed back against when we were in the writers’ room. And then I was in the middle of writing the finale and I was like, “I have a great idea.” I texted our story editor, Josie: “I’m putting the epilogue in. I found a way to do it!” And she’s like, “Are you sure? You were really against this.” I’m like, “No, it’s going to work. I love it.”
I like that it is a possible future, and it doesn’t lay out too many specifics. You just get to see a little bit of how the characters hope to grow, or who they want to be in the future. It’s not set in stone. It could be anything. But I like to imagine, you know, that they—they’re kids who have grown up as soldiers, who’ve grown up in a world full of war. And now for the first time, they don’t have to fight that war anymore. So I think that the idea of them just developing hobbies? Them going on space road trips and making new friends and just kind of hanging out. That’s what I like to imagine.
io9: I know that working on a show isn’t exactly like being [a soldier in the Horde], but I imagine it can feel pretty similar in terms of the amount of work and effort and stress that goes into it. And now, like the characters, you are free. So, what is next for you?
Stevenson: There are some cool things that are unfolding right now. I am back at work. I took a little bit of a break, which was just kind of the wind-down period of She-Ra. But I’m really, really excited for everyone to see what I am doing next. I can’t talk about in much detail yet, but it feels good. I’m at the place where I’m like, it’s good to see She-Ra come to an end and have my horizons just open up again, and be like, “All right, what are we gonna do next?”
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