Warning: There are spoilers ahead for those who haven't watched the first episode of season three, The Rickshank Rickdemption.
It's been nearly two years since the second season of Rick and Morty ended, and a lot has changed since then.
Co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland surprised fans by debuting the first episode of the new season on April Fool's Day, providing a glimpse at the Earth the Smith family returned to after briefly fleeing the planet to hide from the alien government. We learn a lot in episode one: Rick once again fools his alien captors and manages to escape from Galactic prison, the Galactic Federation now polices an Earth overrun with alien tourists, Beth and Jerry's toxic marriage finally crumbles, and a crazed, Szechuan sauce-obsessed Rick essentially threatens Morty to stay out of his way.
The more than three month gap between the first episode's unexpected premiere and the full season rollout has given fans plenty to speculate about. Harmon recently spoke with TIME about what to expect when the show returns on July 30.
Earth will return to normal.
In the first episode of season three, we learn that the Galactic Federation has taken over the Earthly dimension that the Smith family lives in. Humans are forced to replace their meals with pills, while Beth and Morty have seemingly given up hope that Rick will ever return. Jerry, meanwhile, is merrily moving up in his new job, which the alien government assigned to him. We see this reality start to crumble near the end of the episode after Rick destroys the galactic economy. According to Harmon, we can expect Earth to feel familiar again moving forward:
"I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Earth gets back to business as usual pretty quickly without looking back. If anything, it's just more of an excuse to allow for sci-fi premises to happen in this domestic environment without worrying about why they're happening. The answer is, there is life out there. It was here once, then it left, and Earth is Earth again. It doesn't turn into The Jetsons."
The plot will focus more on Beth.
Near the end of the episode Jerry confronts Beth with an ultimatum: it's him or Rick. Beth chooses to divorce Jerry, which Harmon says provided more opportunity to develop Beth's character:
"We definitely start turning the development heat up on Beth. Her separation from Jerry is a blessing and curse for her. She has been defining her life by her marriage straight out of high school to this unremarkable man that she in her mind compares to her mother, while fetishizing exceptionality in the form of her father. That excuse being removed, it just allows us to put the spotlight on Beth a little bit and start asking a few more questions about her, who she is in a vacuum. And that happens in season three and I'm pretty pleased with the results."
Jerry will still be a big part of the show.
But their separation doesn't mean Jerry is going away:
"He's a huge part of season three. That was my one big fear with [season three episode one] was scaring people into thinking that Jerry was just being disposed of as a character. It's a creative choice to move on from a running joke from seasons one and two, which is that Beth and Jerry are on the verge of divorce perpetually. . .Why force a runner like that when we can just move that forward and move them out of perpetual brinksmanship? We can now start exploring the form of parental dynamic that a majority of viewers had growing up, which is actual separated parents arguing over custody and what not. So we actually used that to enhance the Jerry and Beth characters. Without them being defined by each other we just sort of dive more into them as individuals. . . Jerry is absolutely crucial. To say that he's the opposite of Rick is oversimplification, but it starts there."
Things will get dark, but it won't stray from the series' usual tone.
In the closing scene of episode one, Rick pulls Morty aside and essentially bullies him into remaining loyal. He warns Morty that their adventures will only get darker, confessing that he made both Morty's dad and the government "go away" ultimately because they got in his way. It's a sinister way to end the episode, but Harmon says the dark events that ensue in season three may not top what the show's already done.
"I think that Justin's feeling about that is what Rick is really saying is: Morty, don't expect any of the things that happened in this episode to change anything about our dynamic. Yes, I technically rescued you. Yes, I technically appeared to have taken down an entire galactic government just so that you guys can have a normal life again. But that's actually not true, it only seems that way. All of it was just an elaborate way of getting rid of the real problem, which was your father. And that's what happens with people who get in my way, so stay out of my way and do what I tell you to do, which is dark thing to say. It's just him renewing the dynamic from season one. Is the season darker than previous seasons? It's kind of hard to say. I think new kind of dark things happen, but I also don't know if any of it tops the level of darkness in previous seasons."
Expect more celebrity cameos.
The first two seasons of Rick and Morty saw cameos from celebrities such as Last Week Tonight's John Oliver, The Late Show's Stephen Colbert, Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement, and Arrested Development's David Cross. Harmon says stars such as Susan Sarandon, Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, and Christian Slater have all lent their voices to characters in season three.
The season will be shorter than originally planned.
The creators had originally planned 14 episodes for season three. "Part of our slowness meant we did less episodes than we were supposed to do," Harmon says.
There won't be another Interdimensional Cable sequel in season three.
Seasons one and two both included episodes that featured snippets of TV shows and commercials from cable channels airing in other dimensions within the universe. That won't be the case for season three, but Harmon teased something else to look forward to:
"The bad news is we didn't get to make one of those this season. The good news is we tried a different take on a somewhat anthological episode."
There will be a Mad Max-themed episode.
Rick and Morty episodes are loaded cultural references from movies, books, and television shows, which range from painfully obvious to the vague and obscure. Harmon didn't say much about what parodies may be in store for season three, other than that there will be a Mad Max-esque episode homaging George Miller, as teased in the season three trailer.
"One really satisfying one that we've wanted to do for a while that we finally get to do is George Miller, Mad Max, post apocalyptic, diesel-fueled dystopia, nuclear wasteland kind of genre. Using that as a backdrop was kind of fun. [We] got to design all of those vehicles and weapons and characters, and explore themes of manhood and womanhood."