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Cobra Kai's stars explain why Season 3 has you shifting allegiances with every kick, flip, and spin

By Adam Pockross
Cobra Kai

Now that Cobra Kai Season 3 has officially kicked its way to Netflix, it’s time to get into what viewers new and old can look forward to. Granted, after that huge school-wide karate melee at the end of Season 2, we already knew that one of Cobra Kai’s finest, Miguel Diaz (Xolo Maridueña), wouldn't likely be doing much kicking at all, not after Robby (Tanner Buchanan) launched him off a cafeteria ledge and square onto a backbreaking railing. What a bloody mess in the karate-krazed Valley! 

With Johnny Lawrence’s (William Zabka) Cobra Kai and Daniel Larusso’s (Ralph Macchio) Miyagi-Do karate houses doubtlessly responsible for such mayhem, there’s much fallout to sort out in the new season. Thankfully, SYFY WIRE had some super solid Season 3 senseis, as Macchio, Zabka, Maridueña, Jacob Bertrand (Hawk), and Mary Mouser (Sam) recently hopped on a video chat to help us balance it all out.

Of course, balance is key, including the balance between good and bad. With Robby and Miguel at the center of it all, we are once again trapped in that gray area the show has become known for, where good guys and bad guys are often found in the same body. 

“It’s really on that day that we decided, and I think Tanner can attest to this, how dark this ending was going to be,” Maridueña says about shooting the Season 2 finale. “Was it going to be an ending where Robby looked back and knew he was kicking Miguel that hard? Was it truly an accident? That was a big question that we were asking that day and that Tanner was definitely freaking out about, like, ‘But he’s not a bad guy right? It was an accident, he didn’t see!’ And so I think on that day we kind of figured it out and found a really good medium in between it being an accident and it just being a rage-filled kick.”

Cobra Kai

“I remember once we wrapped, we all kind of looked at each other like ‘Alright, what next? Where do you go from here?’” Mouser adds. “And I remember [the showrunners, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald] being like, ‘You know, it’s not over. We blew it up and we have to put it back together and we’re gonna see how that goes.’” 

Obviously, Robby and Miguel aren’t the only heroes/anti-heroes in this dojo, as the show is basically built upon that premise. And the show, when you get right down to it, begins and ends with our very gray heroes/anti-heroes, Daniel and Johnny

“I think that the gray areas that you mention are a big part of the Cobra Kai series, and a big part of what differentiates it from the original Karate Kid film, and that’s refreshing: It allows these characters to breathe, add more dimension, see them in their adulthood, and in the case of Larusso, see where he might have lost his way, and is out of balance without his mentor,” Macchio muses. “Episode to episode, your allegiance for who you're rooting for may change in this show, and I think that’s great, because you see them constantly... not just Johnny and Daniel but other characters as well in the young cast, have to redeem themselves.”

Cobra Kai

Eli “Hawk” Moskowitz is one young character who definitely has a lot of redeeming to do. “I think next season is definitely sort of a redemption arc in a lot of ways,” Bertrand says of his finely coiffed character. “I think Hawk is really trying to find himself and who he is under the new Cobra Kai that is led by Kreese [Martin Kove]. I think even in Season 2 you start to see how Kreese is digging his fangs into Hawk and manipulating him in some ways and pushing him to vandalize Miyagi-Do and do all these things. There’s a lot more of that in Season 3.”

Hawk’s instigation no doubt led to the Season 2-ending rumble, but when Peyton List’s Tory broke out the spiked knuckles, that’s when things really escalated. And it didn’t end well for Sam, who finds herself in a bad spot at the beginning of Season 3, dealing with the PTSD that comes from such violence. 

“It was really important to me, though, that that was as honest as can be and I think it was great that all of Season 3 kind of went deeper and darker into the heart and emotion side in addition to keeping the fun, and the lightness, and the badassery,” Mouser says. “So I was excited to get to kind of sink my teeth into that and show Samantha healing in all of the ugly ways that you heal from something that traumatic. It was really important to me to play it as honestly as possible and its aspects of things I can relate to really strongly with my own life, so it was fun and not so fun and therapeutic and cleansing and good and I’m excited to see how people respond to it.”

Cobra Kai

From the beginning of the franchise, one thing fans have always responded to is that “badassery” that Mouser refers to, which has been evident in the karate sequences since Daniel first fought Johnny on the beach to defend Ali’s (Elisabeth Shue) honor (and ghetto blaster) in the first Karate Kid. But at least for the older generation, it ain’t easy keeping that up all these years later... but it’s worth it.

“I love it. I love doing the fights. When we have proper time to rehearse and to train and to choreograph, it’s great. I love it,” Zabka says, while also admitting he’s not quite the same Johnny Lawrence he was in 1984. “We’re always hoping for at least one good fight but we also like to leave it to the younger guys to carry the weight on that, as Ralph says. But yeah, you know, you’re stretching a little bit longer, and it takes a little longer to get the kicks high and to calibrate your spins and all that but it’s a real fun part of it. The physicality of the characters is part of their character, so to get to express yourself in that way, it’s awesome.”

“Yeah, everything takes longer and hurts more but you do the proper prep time and you know you gotta be careful, because you’re doing things over and over and at a high speed,” Macchio adds. “We don’t have the time like we had when we made the original film, so that’s the most concerning thing is that we have those time constraints and we have to pound through them quickly and you just have to really remain focused and spend a lot of time stretching before, during, and after. And you know, a little Ibuprofen by the bedside table... there’s more of that these days.”

“Nothing a little Epsom salt can’t take care of,” Zabka chimes in.

Granted, you don’t have to be a Gen X coverboy to feel the pain.

“I have more than my fair share of mishaps," Mouser admits. "I’m a clumsy enough person before they gave me stunt work, and it just doesn’t get any easier from there. And luckily, the show, they keep challenging us to do something new and something bigger and something crazier, and so naturally my clumsiness gets bigger and crazier."

“I’ve had a couple of injuries, all pretty much completely on my own, messed myself up, mis-blocked a kick, and hyperextended these three fingers backwards once, had to go to the ER, but I was all clear, all good," she continues. "Then I fought the whole next day and did all of the Episode 10 of Season 2 fight the next day after that. I messed up my own ankle rolling out of bed weird, and yeah, just ridiculous things like that. I’m very often covered in bruises while filming this show, most of them completely self-inflicted.”

Cobra Kai Season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.