'Cobra Kai' Creators Reveal Which Characters Can Return To The Show And What To Expect From Season 4 [Interview]

The good news was that Cobra Kai season 3 premiered on Netflix earlier than previously annoyed. The bad news was that meant we couldn't schedule an interview with creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald until the new year. It was a small price to pay for getting Cobra Kai early, especially for the fans who've been waiting almost two years since season 2 on YouTube.

Season 3 dealt with the aftermath of the high school battle royale that ended the previous season and left Miguel (Xolo Maridueña) in the hospital. Daniel (Ralph Macchio) went to Okinawa to save his auto dealership and reconnected with some Karate Kid II characters. The Cobra Kai and Miyagi-Do kids kept fighting throughout the season, but the season finale set up a new battle for the future. 

Hurwitz, Schlossberg and Heald spoke with /Film by phone this week about season 3 of Cobra Kai and where things might be headed in season 4, which Netflix has already ordered. Cobra Kai seasons 1 through 3 are on Netflix now.

This interview contains spoilers for season 3 of Cobra Kai.

The season premiere was called "Aftermath" but the aftermath of the high school fight really lasts the whole season, doesn't it?

Schlossberg: Yeah, I would say it will continue on even beyond this season, the ripple effect. We didn't want to just brush that under the rug. We knew going into season 3 that we had to deal with the ramifications of everything that transpired at the end of the high school fight, but we felt that eventually we knew we wanted to get back to the fun and all the feels that people love about the show. We knew the first couple episodes we had to deal with some heavier stuff. 

Is a lot of this season about learning that your teacher doesn't know everything?

Hurwitz: The thing that's great about season 3, and this is by design, was we really wanted to explore the origins of Miyagi-Do Karate and Cobra Kai and the effect that your teaching can have on you. We saw what happened in that fight at the high school and we're dealing with the aftermath of that, but going further to see where Kreese's karate came from and to see what his teacher was like, to learn more from Daniel and through Chozen, to learn that Mr. Miyagi chose not to teach Daniel certain things because there are certain things in Miyagi-Do Karate that maybe he didn't feel were necessary for a teenager in the valley to be learning. But all of our senseis and the effect that they all have on their students, obviously Kreese and Johnny as well, from our older cast to our younger cast, the teachings that you had can have a massive impact on what's going to happen to you going forward.

I was even thinking, Mr. Miyagi happened to be right four times in four movies. If you follow any teacher long enough, as long as the Cobra Kai series is going, all they can do is give you guidance and they don't know what's going to happen next.

Schlossberg: It was very important to us through the seen with Kumiko reading the letters that Daniel hear that Mr. Miyagi was clueless, or that he didn't know — he was lost himself and didn't know where to go. Ironically it was Daniel who helped send him on the right path. You see that your mentor who you view as this god who's teaching you all this wisdom is actually just a human being themselves with their own flaws. You definitely get that on both the Cobra Kai side and the Miyagi side.

Did you feel like you could use those letters to actually write new Mr. Miyagi dialogue?

Heald: As the show goes on, we're looking for new and interesting and thoughtful and goosebumpy ways to continue to bring Mr. Miyagi into this universe. We view Mr. Miyagi as a character on our show. It's a very powerful character. The Miyagi-Dos train in his house and there's only so many flashbacks you can do to the Karate Kid movies before it starts to feel like, "Okay, here comes another one." This is one where Daniel is specifically looking for new insight as to what is going on and where he is in his life and knows that he doesn't have what he's looking for from the experience he recalls with Mr. Miyagi. The letters were just kind of the perfect device to talk about as a writers room and decide okay, what if this existed? Then to give it context where it ties into Mr. Miyagi's own love story and it ties into exactly where Daniel is in his life and it ties into Mr. Miyagi's death, it was just an avalanche of emotions that enabled us to do something like that. 

Schlossberg: I thought Michael Jonathan Smith did a really good job writing those letters and capturing that Miyagi voice in terms of he gives a lesson but then a little joke at the end, mentioning that, "Did you like that, Yukie? I heard it in a car commercial." It felt like the type of thing Mr. Miyagi would say back in the day. You'd remember that it wasn't all wisdom. He had these little one liners too that were sometimes designed just to make himself chuckle.

Did you work with the fight choreographers to invent new Mr. Miyagi techniques that were still consistent with what was established in the movies?

Heald: Yeah, we always ask Hiro Koda and Jahnel Curfman to make sure that the fighting is really on story for the characters and their journey and their training and their style of Karate. So when introducing Chozen's version of Miyagi-Do and how it can be much more aggressive than what Daniel was used to, it enabled us to look further to the past in terms of where did Miyagi-Do Karate come from and ask the question of does Daniel really know everything or did he learn a style of Karate that Mr. Miyagi took from Miyagi-Do but didn't give him the entire playbook because it was a different set of circumstances? Did Mr. Miyagi teach him a much more calmer and gentler Miyagi-Do because what he was dealing with was high school bullying whereas Chozen is learning something directly from the well that came more from the live or die playbook.

Is Tomi Village really a mall now?

Heald: It's interesting, I was in Okinawa. There are portions of our Okinawa scenes that were shot in Atlanta and then there are some that were in Okinawa. I can tell you, when I was on the island there, it is very modern. It does feel like you're almost in the valley at times and you really have to go search for those areas that feel like okay, this is definitely not Southern California. We found those natural places but it is very modernized there and very commercialized. It was fun. It was a great time but there is definitely a truth to [it.] That mall where they go in our show is here in Atlanta that we redressed. It was partly because we felt you don't have to go halfway around the world to find a place that looked exactly like this place here. We wanted to make sure that we got the most bang for the buck when we were in Okinawa and get the places that you couldn't get here.

Hurwitz: But every store or restaurant that you see in Tomi Village on the show is an American store or restaurant that they actually have in Okinawa.

Heald: And also, in Karate Kid II, Tomi Village was designed on the island of Hawaii where they shot the movie. It wasn't in actual Okinawa so for us it was real and very important that we actually took the production to Okinawa and finally delivered the Karate Kid to the island. We took some creative liberties with what happened to this somewhat of a fictional village. 

Schlossberg: We just love that they're excited that they just got a Jersey Mike's. From Daniel coming from New Jersey, it's the last thing he's looking for. 

I love at the town council meeting when all the randos believe that Daniel was the bully and that Samantha stole Tory's boyfriend. Does that speak to how victory is fleeting and the narrative is always changing? You're only the hero until the next rumor people believe.

Hurwitz: It's partly showing some of the premise of our show that heroes and villains are in the eye of the audience member. Anyone's the hero of the their own story but the villain of someone else's. It's also a little bit of a nod to the fan theories that go on with the Karate Kid universe. "Daniel Was the Real Bully" was a popular YouTube video. It's one of the debated things in pop culture, so we thought it was sort of fun to acknowledge there in there. Same goes for that Sam line, that it's not necessarily that everyone feels one way, but it's making it that different sides are being argued. Daniel and Amanda, frankly, are being confronted with the perception of the LaRussos right now and Miyagi. Even the guy in the crowd yells about "that Miyagi crap." So he knows vaguely that there is this Karate thing, but because this kid got injured, everyone's assuming that it's a bad thing. It was something that was kind of fun to play with at the beginning of the season.

Were you always planning to do Kreese's Vietnam backstory before Martin Kove started pushing that?

Heald: That was something that we were talking about in the earliest stages of this project before Martin Kove was even back in the franchise again. We knew that Marty probably had a lot of ideas as to where his character had gone in the years since the Karate Kid franchise as well as where he came from in the first place. We knew that Rob and Billy had a lot of ideas as well. So it's always a conversation with the performers in terms of their instincts and their ideas and ours. With that one, it happened to line up pretty well in terms of where we thought his Vietnam experience brought him and how it spit him back out into the world as the Kreese we know. It was likely a lot more acceptable for him to play because it had been something that was on his mind for a while. But, the flashbacks were something that we actually toyed with the idea of doing in season 2 and we didn't have enough real estate to do it so we decided that would become much more of a front and center storyline in season 3. 

Had you always planned to bring back Kyler?

Hurwitz: Yeah, we've said this before. We fall in love with the characters in our universe. When there's a performer that we enjoy and that's meaningful to other characters on the show, we're always looking for an opportunity to bring them back. We love the work that Joe Seo did in season 1 and when we're entering the season 3 writers room and thinking about the storylines of our characters, Hawk is in the Cobra Kai dojo. He's top dog but what are things that we can be doing this season that are going to challenge Hawk/Eli mentally as he's trying to be the top dog in Cobra Kai? To have a kid who bullied him in the past or a group, a couple bullies, kids who made fun of him show up there and be right there in his face with this new version of himself, it felt like something that would be additive. We felt that Kyler also brings a comedic voice that we enjoy on the show. 

At the same time, we say goodbye to some cast members. It makes sense that Aisha's parents would send her away after she was involved in that violent incident. She was such a fan favorite, did you go down any paths of what her story might be before you decided that there wasn't enough for her to do?

Schlossberg: There are so many factors at play when you're figuring out what the story of the season is. It is tricky, especially when you have a half hour show. I would say that we probably have more characters and stories and arcs than a typical half hour show. You end up with situations where you're deciding okay, well, what stories do you want to focus on? We're also thinking, not just for one season, but the long game. We think of every different possibility, we understand that Aisha's a favorite character. She's probably one of our favorite characters that we ever created. We love the arc that we gave her in season 1 but we also know that we only have so much time. We looked at how the season was going to be its best and every decision we make is based on what we think the best story is. You saw, as we just discussed with Kyler, how he's back in season 3. That provides a little bit of fun energy because he wasn't there in season 2. I think without saying too much more, we told Nichole [Brown] before season 3 that just because she wasn't in season 3 doesn't mean that the character can't come back. We want the audiences to feel that anything is possible in this universe. It's a soap opera that characters can come in and out. This is just how we felt the best version of season 3 would be. 

So you embrace the soap opera nature of Cobra Kai?

Schlossberg: I guess it's structured a little bit like a soap opera at times where the human drama becomes the big plot twists. Johnny finding out that Daniel has been training his son. Johnny's former mentor coming back. Some of those things, when we say soap opera, I would say Star Wars is the exact same way. "Luke, I am your father" and all that stuff. We're having fun with family drama mixed in with our plot.

Heald: We talked from the very beginning how this is a Karate opera set in the valley with multiple characters fighting for the soul of the valley. It's like what Hayden's saying. It has epic Star Wars stakes but it's also got a very soapy structure that helps the multiple storylines.

People think of the daytime soap operas being cheesy but they forget nighttime soaps like Dallas were also soaps. 

Schlossberg: When I was a kid, Dynasty was really popular and that also had these feuds of two families fighting. There's an element of that with the Karate element to it. So we use that to have fun and keep it entertaining but that's the serialized aspect of it. I think for the most part, we don't want to go too far into the campiness where it's like you're losing touch with the heartfelt feelings and goosebumps of the original movie. 

Amanda had been sort of removed from the rivalry for the first two seasons. Was it fun to get her knee-deep in the Kreese drama?

Heald: We love Amanda's journey from rolling her eyes at this high school rivalry that's bled over into adulthood, all the way to finally slapping Kreese and seeing him for the psychopath that she finds him to be. It's been really enjoyable and it's got to be just a great exhale for Daniel to finally have his wife on the same page. Like, "You see? It's not just me." At the same time, Amanda's a character that can tow that line and can still find new things to discover and realize that everybody else seems to be living in this world where Karate is this major thing that can take over your entire life and can be your livelihood and can be the deciding factor as to whether or not you're allowed to live in the valley. She's a great breath of fresh air to comment on the world but when she steps into it and experiences it and actually engages with it, it takes it up a notch and that was really fun to do with season 3.

I love the line "being a badass doesn't mean being an asshole." Is that really the mantra of the whole series?

Hurwitz: I think that feels like that's the Eagle Fang motto more or less. I think that's what Johnny's sensibility is and what Johnny's learning on the show. I think that above all else, our characters want to have the confidence of a badass. They want to be cool. They want to be fearless but I think we see on our show that when you're too strict with the teachings of Cobra Kai, you can end up crossing that line to be an *sshole and a bully. I think that's not something that Johnny wants to be going forward.

Schlossberg: I think if Johnny were to look back at himself in the past, he wouldn't want to change at all. The motorbike was cool and his confidence and the ability to kick ass and things like that. His style of Karate and fighting is good as long as you're using it in the right way I think.

Have you set up season 4 to be more of a traditional tournament season, winner take all?

Heald: Obviously, we've set a challenge at the end of season 3 that sort of gives everybody their marching orders as to the war to come and how this rivalry is going to be decided to a degree, but we're not going to comment on season 4 specifically in terms of when that's coming and how we're getting there. There's a lot more to explore immediately. This is the first time that Johnny and Daniel are looking at each other and really finding the most common of ground to put their heads together and get on the same path towards trying to beat Kreese, this monster that they can both agree on. So the fun of season 4 is going to be starting to decide will these guys actually be able to stay on that path that they've now decided to embark on together.

Are you waiting for the all clear to go back into production?

Schlossberg: We're in Atlanta right now so we're hoping that very soon we're going to be starting. So we're gearing up right now. 

I saw Jon on Twitter say that the Jaden Smith movie is a different universe. Have you ruled out that one day, maybe in season 7 or 8, Dre Parker and Mr. Han come back from China?

Hurwitz: Yes, we've ruled that out completely. Jackie Chan is mentioned in season 1 of the show as a human, so I think in our world, Jackie Chan is an actor and a performer. If the characters on our show have seen a movie called The Karate Kid, they've seen that one. 

Did I read that Thomas Ian Griffith already declined to do Cobra Kai?

Heald: There's been no official news on that.

Hurwitz: That's not accurate. I think you may be getting that confused with we had approached Chad McQueen to return as Dutch in season 2. He was unable to do it.

Heald: He was unable to do it because of a scheduling conflict but we don't comment on any legacy characters who may or may not be appearing in the future. 

I understand that, I was just worried there was a definitive no.

Hurwitz: You don't have to worry. There's not a definite no.