"Ezria" 'shippers breathed an all-too-brief sigh of relief after the Feb. 18 episode of Pretty Little Liars revealed Ezra Fitz (Ian Harding) was not the nefarious "A," as fans had been led to believe for months, but actually the author of a true crime novel that examines the disappearance of Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse).
Normally finding out your boyfriend is not the psychopath who has been tormenting you for years would be a good thing, but this revelation still means Ezra's entire relationship with Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) was built upon a lie since he initially cozied up to her in an attempt to get inside scoop on Alison.
This twist was born out of a game that's very popular with the PLL writers. "We play 'What If?' a lot in the writers room," executive producer Marlene King told BuzzFeed. "I always thought it was fascinating that when Ezra meets Aria in the pilot, she's staring at Ali's missing poster. That became the perfect opportunity to explore the questions: What if Ezra knew about Alison? What if Ezra knew Aria was friends with Alison? What if that's why Ezra started talking to Aria?"
After weeks of trying to poke holes in the story to ensure it would hold up to the scrutiny of PLL devotees, the writers had to answer one more monumental question before they could commit: Could Ezra be redeemed after this reveal? "The big worry was that fans would just want him to go away," King recalled. But their success with redeeming Mona — "She hit Hanna with her car and now people feel sorry for her" — and Paige — "She's dating Emily now and once tried to drown her" — made the writers confident they could eventually get Ezra back in the fans' good graces. That's when they took the idea to Harding and Hale.
Hale, meanwhile, told BuzzFeed that she initially felt "confusion mixed with relief mixed with curiosity" after learning Ezra's real motives, while Harding found the revelation to be incredibly revitalizing. "There's this phrase I've heard: 'You don't truly know somebody until you know what they want,'" he said. "Over the last few years I've come up with my own justifications for scenes, but now knowing what Ezra wants, and has wanted, kick-started the character for me again."
"I like the fact he's had this skeleton in his closet the whole time," Harding added. "So it changes a lot about how I perceive him and how I play him." The revelation also alters Aria on a fundamental level. "She's confused about how she missed the signs and how she could fall for someone who was hiding a whole other life," said Hale. "She feels used." It's an emotion that King believes is perfectly indicative of how mature PLL has become over the years.
"As our audience grows up, the show grows up, and our girls get more complex issues," she said. "Aria's problem isn't black and white. This isn't about whether Ezra is or isn't 'A' — ultimately he was trying to help, but in doing so, he built their whole relationship on a lie. Now it's about how she processes that, so, at her core, she's questioning every single thing he ever said, every single thing he's ever done, and every single thing her world has been as a result of him. The rug was truly pulled out from under her."
For all the couple's issues, Hale said she's of the mind-set that this will not be the end of Ezria. "I want to believe she is still madly in love with him." Harding took that one step further, saying "I don't see that their relationship could be what it was before, but then again, with every true love relationship, you experience extreme pain and hardship that come from the other person. If you look at it through that lens, this has the potential to make them stronger, make them into something entirely different and, perhaps, more unstoppable."
King concurred. "I've always said that Ezria is part of the DNA of this show and I stand by that statement," she said. "Whether they're together or apart, they will always have a relationship in some way, shape, or form." Although King warned, "By the end of this season, there's a whole other set emotions that tip their relationship in yet another direction."
Which brings up an all-important question: If Ezra isn't "A," who is?
Countless suspects have been in the girls' crosshairs throughout the last four seasons, and while the Ezra reveal is tragic, King teased that it tees up an important series of episodes that ask big questions and offer even bigger answers.
"Aria finding out about Ezra is a huge, dramatic moment," said King. "Our hearts will break for her, but at the same time, the end result is a new 'A' suspect and the mission to figure out if this person really is 'A' propels us toward the end of the season."
Rest assured, Ezra will be back next year. Harding revealed that he's officially been asked to return for Season 5 and the clues his character has gathered will prove invaluable in this new hunt. "Ezra knows so much and that information can help the girls," he said. "I think he holds the key to bringing this journey to a close. In what capacity he's going to help the girls next season is up for grabs, because some things happen at the end of this season that throw that possibility into question. But I'm personally excited to see if he becomes part of the investigation team."
King confirmed that Ezra will play a big role in the PLL's ongoing search for "A," telling BuzzFeed, "In all of his surveilling, Ezra's found out some information that will help the girls truly unmask 'A' — so some good will come out of all this pain."