‘When Calls the Heart’ Stars Tease a ‘Roller Coaster’ in Season 8 (VIDEO)

Early in the new season of Hallmark’s hit frontier drama When Calls the Heart, an emotional Elizabeth Thornton (Erin Krakow) hurtles across a field on a fast-galloping horse as music swells. We can’t tell you if she’s speeding toward or away from someone, but it’s safe to say that her love triangle with hero Mountie Nathan Grant (Kevin McGarry) and adventurous saloon owner/oilman Lucas Bouchard (Chris McNally) is finally coming to a head in Season 8.

“I can assure you we will have an answer,” promises Krakow, who’s also a co–executive producer of Heart, which is based on Janette Oke’s Canadian West novels. “Elizabeth makes a choice this season. It’s time.”

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“Hearties” the show’s ardent fans, agree. The Hope Valley teacher became a widow in Season 5 when her husband, Mountie Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing), was killed in the line of duty; at the time, she was pregnant with their son, Little Jack. Season 6 ended with Elizabeth and Lucas sharing a dance while Nathan looked on with puppy-dog eyes. Last April’s Season 7 finale, watched by a series high 4.1 million people (including delayed viewing), climaxed with her hugging Nathan after fearing he’d been killed transporting a prisoner.

When the story resumes, a few months have passed, and the understandably cautious Elizabeth remains torn between her worthy suitors. New showrunner John Tinker (cocreator of the network’s Chesapeake Shores) can relate — the writers went back and forth on their choice too. “One day we’d feel this way, and the next day we’d feel that way, and the next day another way,” he says. “It was not a decision made lightly, or early.”

(Credit: Hallmark)

Explains Krakow: “The Hearties were champions of Jack and Elizabeth for such a long time, it was really important to us that whoever Elizabeth ends up with, it’s not just the next guy in her life [but] another great love for her.”

Fans have picked their teams — Tinker estimates an equal 50-50 split — but loyalties may shift as we dig deeper into the dreamboats. Lucas, who bolted town to clear his head after witnessing the aforementioned chaste embrace (it’s 1918!), returns in the premiere wanting one thing: to see Elizabeth happy. “Lucas isn’t looking to ‘fight’ for Elizabeth per se, but he wants what’s best for her,” says McNally, noting that Lucas “appreciates Elizabeth more than anything in the world.”

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He’s always supported her writing career, which continues when his mother, prickly editor Helen (Teryl Rothery), visits town and helps fine-tune Elizabeth’s forthcoming first novel. “Helen is as sharp as a tack and picks up on the [triangle] immediately,” McNally says. “She cuts to the chase with her questions, putting Lucas in the hot seat.” Helen also places Elizabeth in a tough spot when she asks her to keep a family secret from Lucas.

Nathan, on the other hand, finds his brush with death has given him a “more focused and direct outlook,” McGarry says. “He’s ready to commit to what he wants.” He’ll be less reserved in his pursuit of Elizabeth. “Fans have equated it to a shyness, but we uncover what has been behind that behavior,” the actor hints. Nathan also hopes to formally adopt his 12-year-old niece, Allie (Jaeda Lily Miller), whose estranged dad surfaces. “It’s one of my favorite relationships to play,” McGarry says. “A man trying to raise a little girl to be a woman, and a little girl teaching him what it means to be a man.”

(Credit: Hallmark)

Krakow looks at the season as a “heartwarming roller coaster,” and the rest of Hope Valley’s residents have their own ups and downs. Elizabeth’s best friends and neighbors, happily married Rosemary (Pascale Hutton) and Leland Coulter (Kavan Smith), counsel newlyweds Clara (Eva Bourne) and Jesse Flynn (Aren Buchholz) through growing pains. Dr. Carson Shepherd (Paul Greene) and his love, Faith Carter (Andrea Brooks), need to find their rhythm again now that she’s home from med school in Chicago. Spunky Fiona Miller (Kayla Wallace) opens a barber shop, and stoic Henry Gowen’s (Martin Cummins) health issues persist.

The Canfields, a Black family whose patriarch is a former pastor, receive a warm welcome. Joseph (Viv Leacock) and wife Minnie (Natasha Burnett) have two children, 10-year-old Cooper and blind 14-year-old Angela (played by Leacock’s real-life offspring, Elias and Vienna).

And last but not least, trusty judge but mediocre cook Bill Avery (Jack Wagner) takes on a new role: bachelor about town. Gossip-loving redhead Molly Sullivan (Johannah Newmarch) begins flirting with him. “This is a little cat-and-mouse game, which is just going to be fun,” Wagner says with a laugh. “Elizabeth’s romance is the key situation.” Patience, Hearties. Patience!

When Calls the Heart, Season 8 Premiere, Sunday, February 21, 9/8c, Hallmark Channel