When Calls the Heart Season 8 ended with Elizabeth finally declaring her love for saloon owner Lucas over Mountie Nathan. It wasn’t an easy choice for the widowed schoolteacher, who’d spent most of the previous 11 episodes waffling between the two men. Nor was it a simple decision for the show’s writers, who “wrestled long and hard” before finally deciding to pair her with Lucas, according to executive producer Brian Bird.
‘When Calls the Heart’ wanted to explore fresh stories and ideas
Elizabeth’s (Erin Krakow) husband Jack (Daniel Lissing) died at the end of season 5. At that point, When Calls the Heart was faced with a choice about what direction the show would take.
“After the death of Jack, we felt, ‘We don’t just want to start over in the same way,’” Bird said during a recent conversation with The Christophers blog. “The show still had, we felt, plenty of life to give and plenty of seasons to give to the Hearties.”
“We wanted to try to explore something in a new way,” he added. “And we thought, ‘What better thing to do to sort of bring some fresh ideas and fresh storytelling to the show, than to have two very eligible bachelors?’”
The goal was to keep the Hallmark Channel show ‘unpredictable’
While it would have been easy for the show’s writers to simply recreate the Mountie-teacher romance after Jack’s death, that wasn’t the direction When Calls the Heart decided to go — to the disappointment of some loyal fans. Instead, the Elizabeth-Nathan-Lucas love triangle was introduced in season 6 and continued until the end of season 8.
After Elizabeth finally chose Lucas (Chris McNally) in the season 8 finale, some viewers objected. A number felt the pairing deviated too much from the spirit of Janette Oke’s When Calls the Heart novels, which inspired the show.
But according to Bird, having the show and its characters evolve was the point.
“Some people would look at Lucas and say, ‘He’s not a Mountie, he’s a businessman, he’s an entrepreneur, he runs the saloon, he’s dabbled in oil…’ That’s not the typical archetype for the When Calls the Heart fans or the books, for that matter, because the archetype was always the teacher and the Mountie in the books,” Bird said. “We fully acknowledge that. Our challenge, I think, in trying to come to a resolution for this year was, ‘How do we do the thing that’s the most unpredictable?’”
Keeping the show’s viewers guessing was a way to ensure the future of the series, he added. The goal, Bird explained, is to “keep [When Calls the Heart] going as long as possible.”
Putting Elizabeth and Lucas together was ‘the harder choice,’ Brian Bird says
Still, the decision to eventually have Elizabeth end up with Lucas wasn’t arrived at quickly, Bird said.
“We wrestled long and hard with which guy to go with,” he explained. “We knew fairly certain in theory earlier in the year that we probably would probably head in the direction of Lucas, but we also didn’t know exactly how that would unfold.”
Ultimately, the drawn-out love triangle allowed the show to give Elizabeth time to process her grief and deal with the emotions surrounding the loss of her husband. Those feelings rose to the surface again in season 8 when she learned that Nathan (Kevin McGarry) was originally supposed to lead the training mission that ended in Jack’s death and that Nathan had come to Hope Valley because he felt obligated to look out for Jack’s widow and young son.
As she processed that information, the Elizabeth of season 8 “was a different Elizabeth than we’ve seen in the past,” a development that didn’t sit well with all When Calls the Heart viewers.
In the end, Elizabeth realizes her feelings for Nathan weren’t really about him. She was “projecting her own grief about her deceased husband onto him. And that wasn’t fair to him and it wasn’t fair to her either,” Bird explained.
That realization led her into the arms of Lucas, who had supported her as she pursued her career as a writer and waited patiently until she indicated she was ready to take the next step in their relationship.
“It was the harder choice we made,” Bird said when discussing the end of season 8. But the Elizabeth-Lucas pairing — though controversial — sets up a range of storytelling possibilities for season 9, which is currently filming and should air on Hallmark Channel sometime in 2022.