Tougher Than the Rest
Season 6, Episode 11
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Airdate March 5, 2017
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Episode Guide
Wish You Were Here
Murder Most Foul
Tougher Than the Rest is the eleventh episode of the sixth season of the American fantasy drama series Once Upon a Time, which aired on March 5, 2017. In this episode, Emma must find a way to escape the Wish realm as she tries to convince Regina that Robin Hood is part of the universe, while David takes matters into his own hands when Gideon arrives, thus making matters disturbing for Gold and Belle.

View the Tougher Than the Rest Gallery.


Opening sequence

A enchanted tree from the Wish realm is featured in the forest.

Event chronology

The Land Without Magic flashbacks take place during winter 1990, one year after the flashback of "The Dark Swan", and a few years before "Snow Drifts". The Dark Realm flashbacks take place many years after the Black Fairy kidnapped Gideon in "Wish You Were Here". The Wish Realm and Storybrooke events take place after "Wish You Were Here".

In the Characters' Past

In Winter 1990 Minnesota, a young Emma has ran away from a group home and is living on the streets of Minneapolis. While she is tearing pages out of a fairytale book to keep her warm, a teenage boy approached her and stops Emma from tearing the pages. He then shows her a story from the book - The Golden Age Compendium of Children's Fairy Tales - "The Ugly Duckling," to tell her that out of the bad things that she sees around her that great things will come her way. Emma agreed to return to the group home, and tells the woman who took her in that her last name was Swan.

In the Wish Realm

After they miss the opportunity to escape back to Storybrooke, Emma and Regina are forced to hand over their items to Robin, whom Regina believes is real although Emma says otherwise. When they hear horses coming, Robin escapes but Emma and Regina are now hiding from Prince Henry, who believes Regina is still the Evil Queen. Afterwards, Emma comes across Pinocchio and after explaining that they're from another realm they come up with a plan to build a magical portal called "magical wardrobe" so they can return home. Regina, on the other hand, decided to find out about the Wish realm Robin, and tracked him down to his tavern. While there, she asked Robin if he would’ve been better off if she had never pursued him, only to have their conversation interrupted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, and are placed in jail. Regina discovers that Marian in this realm has died and Robin is unhappy; in this realm, Robin is a wanted thief as he keeps everything he steals instead of giving it to the poor. Suddenly the Wish realm Rumplestiltskin arrived and frees them, but instead of Rumplestiltskin returning the favor for freeing her after she did the same for him, Regina finds herself at Rumplestiltskin's custody because in this realm she had Belle killed. Regina tells Robin that where she came from the real Robin was murdered. Robin agreed to help Regina escape and they do.

Meanwhile, Emma and Pinocchio start working on the ingredients needed to create the portal, when they come across a Wish realm version of Hook, except this one is a alcoholic and wants to start fights. As Emma uses her magic to send him back to his ship, Hook accidentally breaks one of Pinocchio’s magical tools. Pinocchio gives Emma a present, which turned out to be a wooden figure of a swan, similar to the one Emma saw in “The Ugly Duckling" in the flashback, and learned that he is the teenager who convinced her to return to the group home in the real realm. Pinocchio wanted Emma to know that because of him inspiring her, Emma has inspired him now to embrace the magic within. After Pinocchio finished the portal, Emma and Regina are ready, with the latter bringing Robin with her. As Robin gives Regina a feather similar to the one the real Robin was about to give her before he died, Regina believed that the real Robin's spirit still lives on in this Robin. The threesome enter the portal and returned to Storybrooke.

In Storybrooke

At the Pawn Shop, Gideon explains to Belle and Gold about how he was raised by the Black Fairy, but he resisted turning evil on his own will, although he still plans to kill Emma, because her powers as a Savior are the only way to kill his grandmother, and he wants to defeat her. Hours later in the woods, Gold meets with Gideon to offer his help, but Gideon refuses upon being provoked by Gold to attack him. At the loft, David, who by now is frustrated and even has Hook worried while looking for their unwanted visitor earlier, explained to Snow (via cellphone as she is still under the shared sleeping curse) that until the threat is over he won't wake her up. Belle shows up at the loft to tell David about Gideon being the one who'll kill Emma, and is hoping they can come up with a plan to stop it.

As Emma returned to Storybrooke, the vision is about to be played out, and as expected is suddenly approached by Gideon; the two start their sword fight, with Gideon eventually managing to knock Emma's sword from her grasp and into the air, and catch it, before teleporting his original sword away. Emma’s family and friends arrive to stop them, but Gideon freezes them, so they can't interfere. Emma gains the upper hand when she regains confidence in herself, gaining control of her shaking hand, and releasing a burst of light magic that sends Gideon into the air, and breaking the sword. Emma grabs a fragment of the sword's blade while Gideon is still stunned, and she places the sword at his throat, only to have Gideon (at the request of Gold not to kill him) end the battle by disappearing, until they meet again. Hours later, Emma meets up with August to ask him about their past encounter in Minnesota and discovers that he was keeping tabs on her to keep her safe; both work on a plan that could change Emma's destiny with August adding a new chapter to the storybook. Meanwhile, Gold tells Belle that he doesn't want Gideon killing Emma, or darkening his soul, and the two agree to help their son, who, in the wake of his defeated battle with Emma, takes out his frustrations by destroying the face of the clock tower.


Rebecca Mader is credited but does not appear in this episode. Jaime Murray and Rose McIver appeared in flashback clips but are not credited in this episode.


The episode's title is named after a song of the same name from the Bruce Springsteen rock star's 1987 album Tunnel of Love, who Adam Horowitz is a fan.


  • The object/animal/person in this episode is an Enchanted Tree.
  • When Emma visits August toward the end of the episode, there is a brief glimpse of what is presumably Pinocchio's story on the typewriter. One of the phrases is Pleasure Island, which will become important in the next episode.
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