The "Pretty Little Liars: 5 Years Forward" special was illuminating indeed, giving fans more answers than they're used to from an episode of "PLL." It also seemed helpful to the actors, getting to talk about what their characters have been through that happened off-screen. As Ian Harding says, "We have this thing of filling in all that we have not experienced."
And boy, was there a lot happening in those five years. Let's get to unpacking the special with the five biggest things fans learned about the Season 6 time jump.
The single biggest moment for Zap2it in watching the episode was learning that Mr. Fields (Eric Steinberg), Emily's dad, was killed while serving in the Army. Thousands of fans were undoubtedly wailing out loud at the reveal -- Zap2it was. Losing her father is most certainly going to have a profound effect on Emily.
"I think Emily comes back with the biggest secret ... that she's keeping from her friends," says creator Marlene King. "I think Emily comes back with the biggest baggage too, she's the most damaged."
Couples torn apart
But Emily isn't the only Liar who experienced some loss in the ensuing years. All three main couples have broken up.
"Things didn't quite work out with [Hanna] and Caleb (Tyler Blackburn), she was always gone a lot traveling and she didn't really make time for her relationship with him," says Ashley Benson. "She comes back and she's engaged. While she was in Europe she met her fiance. That was the saddest part I've ever read, that I was away from Caleb."
Troian Bellisario adds, "[Spencer] and Toby really fell apart, because he stayed in Rosewood ... they just really grew apart."
Aria (Lucy Hale) and Ezra are also no more and Aria's moved on to a new guy named Liam. "She's in a new relationship, she's fallen in love again," says Hale. "Where we catch up with her, she works for a publisher. That's how her and Ezra get reconnected, not in a romantic way but they actually start working together."
It also sounds like the girls weren't the only ones experiencing heartbreak over the five years. Harding hints that Ezra fell in love with someone else and then perhaps tragically lost her.
"Ezra has found a love. Ezra has followed the character Nicole down to South America to do Habit for Humanity, service, saving the world type things," says Harding. "This is his dream, this is his calling, this is what he wants to do and that is taken away from him very quickly and violently, so he comes back to Rosewood. Now he's back and completely rudderless. He has no sense of who he is and what he's supposed to do with his life. He falls into a really deep well into a sea of alcohol."
All is not lost, though
Obviously the favorite shipper pairings are going to be seeing each other now that the Liars are back in Rosewood, and Blackburn and Harding tease that this season is "sexier" and has "more skin" than past seasons, so perhaps they will not be parted for long.
Viewers also found out that Emily saw Paige (Lindsey Shaw) while she was in California, plus Alison (Sasha Pieterse) has started up a relationship with Charlotte's (Vanessa Ray) doctor, who becomes her husband.
"I think it's really fun for the fans to see this new relationship bloom because a lot of Alison's relationships have been interesting and dysfunctional a little bit," says Pieterse with a laugh.
Some extra scene info
Mona (Janel Parrish) and Charlotte both make appearances in the special, in scenes that take place in between the Season 6a finale and 6b premiere. There's no indication if these scenes are merely "5 Years Forward" goodies or if they'll show up in Season 6b, but either way, they provide some information about what the two incarnations of "A" have been up to.
Charlotte is being held in Welby State Psychiatric Hospital -- RIP Radley Sanitarium, now a gorgeous hotel -- and Dr. Sullivan (Annabeth Gish) pops up to help Jason (Drew Van Acker) and Alison visit their sister.
Meanwhile, three years after the 6a finale, Mona is home in Rosewood on a break from Duke University (of course Mona goes to Duke; it's kind of shocking it's not an Ivy League school) and looking to find out from Alison what Charlotte might reveal about Mona's criminal history. Alison assures her Charlotte is better.
The new big bad
The most exciting part of the "PLL" special is when they talk about the new threat to the girls that keeps them in Rosewood. Nobody is offering up specifics, but King and the Liars speak vaguely about what's coming in Season 6b.
"We can't tell you what happens when we get back to Rosewood. However, the girls do begin to receive messages," says Bellisario. "They know it's not from Charlotte and this time it feels very different ... this time it's no longer about, 'I'm gonna expose some secret that you have' or 'I'm going to ruin your chances to like get the Orchid Scholarship,' it's paranoia, blackmail, it's a life-threatening situation."
"Because it's life or death so quickly, you guys fight back right away," adds King. "You're not victims. You're on top of this right away, and I think that's a big difference between moving forward and the past."
The "scary as hell" Season 6b returns Tuesday, Jan. 12 on Freeform.