‘Once Upon A Time’ – In Defense of Emma Swan Roundtable

Emma Swan. Our heroine. The leading lady of Once Upon A Time.

She gets a bad rep in some circles, our Emma. Some say that falling in love has changed her – that she’s less of a badass because she loves. Others say that she was better in season one, that her journey hasn’t been a positive one, that the Emma Swan of today is not a heroine.

To which we say: Bullshit.

Emma Swan’s journey has been one of learning how to be open, how to accept the love of her son and her parents. It’s been one of forgiveness, of becoming friends with the woman who took everything away from her. And it’s been one of love – of finding a kindred spirit and taking the leap to real, lasting love.

So today, we want to celebrate Emma Swan’s journey, the lessons that she taught us and the wonderful woman who plays her. Thank you, Jennifer Morrison, for Emma, for showing us how to brave and yet vulnerable, strong and yet imperfect.

Our lives are better because of Emma Swan.  She’s our heroine, now and forever.

So, let’s get on with the why – and trust us, we have a lot of reasons. A lot of words. Hang on, because this is going to be long.  Emma means too much to us for just a few simple words.

Image result for emma swan smiling gif

Let’s talk Emma’s journey: What do you think her journey has been? How has she grown from the person she was when we started the show?

LizzieI think Emma’s journey has been one of self-acceptance and self-love, above all things. The Emma we meet in the Pilot was an orphan, and she had, in a way that was all about survival, shut herself off from feeling things. She wasn’t a happy woman, she was just getting by. And then Henry came into her life and Emma found a reason to fight for, and the armor started to crack, just a little. But Henry was easier than her parents, easier than Killian, because Henry didn’t require Emma to confront issues from her past. But confront those issues she did, and today, the Emma we see in our TV screens doesn’t just love her parents, she understands them and yes, she forgives them for the choices they had to make.  Similarly, the Emma of today doesn’t let Neal’s abandonment color her idea of romantic love, she’s shed the notion that she’s destined to be abandoned and she’s taking a leap of faith, planning for a future with the man she loves.




And that’s big not just because of a ship, but because of the character development. She’s come so far that no, she’s not the same person from the Pilot, and I mean that in a good way. Neither of us are the same people we were six years ago, and Emma shouldn’t be either. She should be this happy woman who’s surrounded by people who care for her and who believes that those people will be there when she needs them, that she’s worthy of their love. She should be the hero who gets it all. And I’m really, really glad she is.

Sameera:  I re-watched the Pilot recently and honestly, the growth Emma Swan’s character has exhibited is startling when you compare the early seasons and the recent seasons back to back. It wasn’t something I had even been consciously aware of until then, which is credit to the show’s writers. They aren’t perfect but they absolutely nailed how a character like Emma grows over time. Episode by episode, season by season, her walls have gone down and she has shifted into a different person.

The Emma we meet in the pilot is alone, but more than that she’s convinced herself she deserves to be alone. The Emma we know now is (literally) willing to go to Hell and back for the man she loves.  She will reach across realms for her son, reach out to her parents when she needs their support and sacrifice her soul for her friends’. Emma now knows she doesn’t deserve to be alone and won’t let herself regress to the woman Henry found: sitting in front of a lone cupcake on her birthday, despondent and unwilling to admit it.   

Stephanie:  I think her journey has been one of self-discovery and a journey to find truth. Everything she thought growing up was a lie. She thought she was abandoned.  False.  She thought no one ever loved or would love her.  False.  She thought she didn’t matter.  False. When everything you ever thought about yourself is a lie your entire sense of self hangs in the balance.

The Emma we first met was closed off and guarded.  She was a skeptic. She assumed the worst of people. She trusted no one and depended on only herself.  Today?  Emma’s default settings are all about hope, trust, faith and optimism. Did her visions cause her to doubt?  Yes, a little. But she quickly rebounded and realized she had people supporting her upon whom she could depend. She knows at her core that she is surrounded by people who love her, people who will put her first and who will fight to the death for her. She’s seen this love and devotion in action.  And beyond that, she’s done the same for those she loves. The self preservation she needed to get through her early years is gone. She puts everyone first now, her own safety be damned.  It’s glorious to see.  Even thinking about the progression Emma has made brings me to tears.  Seeing the lost little girl acknowledging (celebrating is not the right word) her birthday with a lonely cupcake in an empty apartment transform to a woman surrounded by more love than a heart can hold is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on TV.  

Ginny: Emma’s journey has been one of understanding that love and happiness can occur to even the most broken of souls, and that falling in love doesn’t make you weak. She’s grown into someone who will fight for anyone, no matter how much darkness they have had in their past. She’s changed from being guarded, walled and alone to being open to happiness, loved and loving in return, as displayed in her opening her heart to Killian, and deciding she will marry him after saying in the past that “one night stands are as far as she’ll ever go”.

Pip: I feel like Emma’s journey has been one of love and acceptance, especially when it comes to accepting oneself. She started as a very jaded and closed off character (understandably so, as her past has been revealed to us over time), and has slowly and realistically grown and moved towards a place where she didn’t have to be so cynical and shut off to everything, love especially (whether that be the love of her family, or through friendship, or through romance). She’s opened herself up to believing in others, but also letting others believe in her and letting herself believe in what she’s capable of doing and believe that she deserves happiness. Emma, over time, has really taken the steps towards living her life instead of just surviving it.



Lindsay: Emma has been on a journey of love and happiness. I remember doing a season 1 re-watch with friends recently and I had forgotten just how miserable she was. It was so sad to see her like that, but to then to follow her on this journey has been great. She was trapped by the horrors of her upbringing and she struggled to share that because last time she tried it only made things worse. Yet Emma Swan is a survivor and she has been given a real chance and as she learns more about who she truly is as person (not just as the savior), the more she opens up. The more she begins to trust again. It’s one of the most realistic character developments I’ve seen, yeah she sometimes faltered and made mistakes – that’s what makes her stronger. Those faltering steps helps her see that she has been too hard on herself and deserves happiness.

Charles: I see Emma’s journey as realistic and growth. Back when we first met Emma, she was a loner. Very closed-off to the world in general. However though the series, we have seen Emma grow thanks to love of her family and opening her heart up to Hook. Emma still has flaws but name me one character on any show that doesn’t? She has fought her way through darkness to become someone who love and fights for her family and her home.

Katie: Emma has come so far from where she was at the start of the show. Her journey has been a journey of belief. When we first met her, she didn’t believe in much. Life had taught her that believing in things—hoping for things—only breaks your heart in the end. But then the Truest Believer showed up on her doorstep and opened her heart to the idea that believing is a sign of strength rather than weakness. Henry’s belief in her helped her believe in her true identity, and from that moment on, she has grown into someone who believes not only in magic but in herself. And that was only possible because she opened herself up to love—the love of her family, her friends, and her pirate. By drawing strength from their love and support and by opening her heart to loving them, Emma has finally allowed herself to believe that she is worthy of her own happy ending and that she has people who will help her fight for that happy ending—that she doesn’t have to do things alone, which is such a huge and beautiful change from the woman we met in the Pilot.

Maria: It’s incredible to look back on this character. She changed so much and sometimes you feel amazed that it’s the same woman. Emma’s journey has been something that shows the audience survival. Tough situations don’t last, but tough people do and that’s what Emma showed us throughout her development. Strength to her was never vulnerability or love, but her walls and armor. When we first meet her we see a broken woman who bought a cupcake on her birthday to celebrate alone. She was abandoned and did not trust a single person, but when that adorable ten year old knocked on her door, that all changed. It’s so beautiful to watch a character many people relate to and to see her journey. Starting as someone who did not believe in her family, love, or hope, and becoming someone who can basically write the book on it (self help books from Emma Swan, anyone?) was probably one of the most touching moments in TV history.

It took so long for Emma to accept her role as a savior and her family, but when she finally discovered that that was where she belonged, that was when Emma Swan was a changed woman. You can’t forget a very important factor in Emma’s development: Killian Jones. This man never gave up on her like the others. He understands her because they basically lived the same life. When you see these two fall for one another, you can’t help but notice how far they have come. “Firebird” showed us one of the last pieces of Emma’s insecurity, her armor. Not only does Killian become the one who knocks her walls down, but he’s the reason she doesn’t need her armor anymore. Emma Swan of the Past would freak out if there was a crack in her armor, but now she tossed the leather aside and wears her vulnerability with pride.

Heather: Self acceptance and to feel worthy of the love she deserves. Emma Swan has always been my favorite character and dare I say my favorite character in any medium. TV, film, literature… she’s it. She went from a woman with walls 100 feet high to a woman fully embracing and accepting the love she’s receiving. That is growth. And it’s beautiful to witness.

Meredith: Emma Swan’s journey has been what Henry told her she was going to do as the Savior: bring back the happy endings, including hers. When we met her in the pilot, she was an orphan who had to fight most of her life to survive, not necessarily  to live. She built her walls sky high after various people let her down. The only person she could trust was herself. Now, that lost girl has reunited with her family, embraced new friendships, and has opened herself up to true love in her life. Her journey has shown how love heals and restores the hurt and brokenness that can leave scars. She radiates on the screen now with the love that fuels her, and it’s beautiful to witness.

Funmbi:  After this season’s “Awake” episode, I missed Season 1 so much that I started a re watch. Of course, my feels were in total disarray because I’d forgotten things like how delicious the Mary Margaret/David angst had been and how much of an unbeliever Emma Swan was. In Season 1, Emma was quite resistant to Henry’s and August’s claims that she was the Savior. Furthermore, she resisted having a permanent role in Henry’s life as his mother. And truth be told, even after being freed from the Dark Curse, Emma still spent much of Season 2 doubting her abilities, the broader role of magic in all of their lives, and whether she was capable of being part of a family unit (as a daughter, as a mother). This is, in fact, what I think Emma’s journey has been… this struggle to believe in herself. To understand that she is the product of true love, and she is capable to wielding the power and responsibility that comes with it. To accept that she is deserving of family and true love, herself. By the time we get to Season 6, Emma still has some doubts (as any human being would), but she has also grown. Emma is open to new possibilities, as well as the love of her family and future husband, Killian. *FLAILS*

La Shawna: I think her journey has been one of self-discovery.  She has learned a lot about herself over the past few seasons, most importantly that she can open her heart to love again. When we first met Emma she was a guarded and trust did not come easy. Her defense mechanism was to build a wall when things got rough or when emotions came into play. Over the course of the seasons, we have slowly seen her take her wall down and open her heart to love and learn that she can count on people when needed. It all started with believing in her son, believing in magic, accepting her parents, loving her parents, and finally opening her heart to a chance at a happy ending with Killian. Instead of turning inward and building her wall as we have seen in season 1, we finally see Emma believing in hope/love and being able to lean on the ones she loves for support.

RoseEmma’s journey to me has been about finding what’s been inside of her all along. From having a life starting out for her with nothing but being alone she was lost inside empty inside missing love which is a big part of life. As strong as she was, even in the beginning of the show she still with missing the certain strength and confidence in herself that we see unfold as the seasons progress. When we meet Emma in season one she was so closed off, she didn’t have faith in life, love or people, I think in general. I think Emma was just surviving day-to-day the best way she could her whole life. Each season her character’s growth has grown in leaps and bounds and it’s been beautiful to watch her literally become the Swan that she was always meant to be.

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