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Riverdale season 4 release date, cast, plot and theories

It's still hard to believe that the moodiest, most over-the-top, salacious, edgy teen show on the air today is one based on Archie Comics. But just as modern Archie stories might surprise you with their progressive politics and occasional dark themesRiverdale viewers should expect the unexpected. The popular CW soap reimagines Archie, Betty, Jughead, Veronica, and all the rest as brooding, hormonal teens in the rainy, Twin Peaks-esque town of Riverdale, a hotbed of all sorts of mystery, intrigue, and bad behavior. 

Since debuting in 2017, Riverdale has pushed the boundaries of network television by placing its familiar and formerly innocuous characters into plots as outlandish and irresistible as teacher/student affairs, a death cult built around a tabletop game, gang turf wars, white-collar crime, deranged murderers, and vigilante justice. It's a far cry from the gang belting out "Sugar, Sugar" (except when it's, well, exactly that).

Riverdale returns for season number four in the fall of 2019. Here's everything there is to know about it before it begins.

When does Riverdale season 4 premiere?

The premiere season of Riverdale hit the CW as a midseason addition in January 2017. That first short set of 13 episodes (or numbered "chapters," as they're identified) proved so popular that the CW brought the show back as quickly as possible, promoting it to a fall debut for season number two with a full order of 22 episodes. Beginning with season two and into season three, Riverdale led off the CW's Wednesday night programming, airing at 8 p.m. That's not broken, and so the network isn't going to fix it: Riverdale will continue on in its fourth season — it earned an official renewal in January 2019 — with that same Wednesdays at eight time slot.

On June 17, 2019, the official Riverdale Instagram page gave fans the exact date when the show would return: October 9. It will serve as the lead in to a similar "old concept, new approach" mystery show: Nancy Drew.

Will Riverdale season 4 address the death of Luke Perry?

On March 4, 2019, Riverdale cast member Luke Perry died suddenly at the age of 52, shortly after suffering a stroke. The first episode to air after the passing of the actor, who played Archie's sweet father Fred Andrews, came with a title card reading, "In Memoriam: Luke Perry, 1966–2019." The final installment to feature Perry as Andrews debuted in late April, with the actor's final scene being a one-on-one with K.J. Apa as Archie, offering his boy words of guidance and encouragement. Riverdale writers didn't explicitly deal with the fate of Fred in season three, but will in season four. 

On June 19, 2019, showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa tweeted out the title page of the script for the first episode of season four, and it's titled "Chapter Fifty-Eight: In Memoriam." Aguirre-Sacasa added, "Probably the most important episode of Riverdale we'll do this year, if not ever. A tribute to our fallen friend. Thankful for this opportunity to honor Luke & Fred." This heavily implies that the Fred Andrews character will be laid to rest. At San Diego Comic-Con, Aguirre-Sacasa announced that the episode would feature a special guest star: Shannen Doherty, Perry's iconic screen partner from their "Dylan and Brenda" days on Beverly Hills, 90210.

Who's in the cast of Riverdale season 4?

Apart from the tragic loss of Luke Perry as Fred Andrews, the main cast of Riverdale will all be around for season four, including K.J. Apa (Archie), Camila Mendes (Veronica), Lili Reinhart (Betty), and Madelaine Petsch (Cheryl Blossom). The series will also welcome some high-profile guest stars, both familiar and brand-new.

Archie's parents are divorced, and his mother lived far away, so Molly Ringwald only appeared occasionally as Mary Andrews. With the loss of Perry, Ringwald will likely up her involvement. "We've talked about Molly having a bigger presence next year to help her son," showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa told TV Line in May of 2019. Chad Michael Murray will also return as Edgar Evernever, the creepy yet charming leader of the Farm, the bizarre, organ-harvesting cult that tore Betty's family apart. And on that subject, Wyatt Nash is set for a recurring arc as Charles Smith, an FBI agent who also happens to be Betty's long-lost brother.

Sam Witwer, best known for his roles as Mr. Hyde on Once Upon a Time and Agent Liberty on Supergirl, will join the show as a troubled writing teacher who becomes a mentor figure for Jughead when the crown-wearing kid ships off to a fancy prep school. Back at Riverdale High, teen TV veteran Kerr Smith (The Fosters, Dawson's Creek) will play tough new school principal Mr. Honey.

Where will season 4 take the story of Riverdale?

The fourth season of Riverdale will also mark its characters' fourth year at Riverdale High. Senior year is an important time for so many teenagers, and it will be for Archie and the gang, too. It figures so large in their lives that regular, normal high school stuff will take prominence in the action of Riverdale's upcoming episodes. "Season four is definitely senior year, high school-focused, more about relationships and those dynamics," Camila Mendes (Veronica) told Entertainment Weekly at San Diego Comic-Con.

But will teen drama supplant pitch-black plots like the Black Hood's killing spree, or Archie's involvement in a deadly underground boxing ring while doing time in juvenile hall? Not quite. Mendes added that Riverdale will certainly explore "the mystery of what we saw at the end of season three": a bleak flash-forward depicting a blood-soaked Archie, Betty, and Veronica. Lili Reinhart (Betty) also promises that early in season 4, the show will introduce another major mystery, the details of which currently remain… mysterious.

Are Jughead and Betty still together in Riverdale season 4?

Unlike in the comics — which found Archie in a love triangle with Betty and Veronica and Jughead preferring cheeseburgers to the opposite sex — Riverdale's four main characters have paired off in general harmonious monogamy. Through the end of the third season, it's been almost entirely "Archie and Veronica forever," and "Betty + Jughead = true love." They've stayed together through a lot of tumult, but season 4 will see them face their biggest challenge yet: physical separation.  

"Jughead goes to prep school in this season. He's only back in Riverdale on the weekends," Cole Sprouse (Jughead) told Entertainment Tonight. And apparently, absence doesn't necessarily make the heart grow fonder for either half of the romantic duo nicknamed "Bughead." "I think that is going to inevitably put stress on the relationship between Betty and Jughead," Sprouse added. "I think it might be a little bit tense. They might fall, turn away from each other, only to come back together way stronger."

Will there be a Riverdale crossover with Katy Keene?

Riverdale only debuted in 2017 and it's already led to two other shows based on classic Archie Comics properties: Netflix's supremely dark and witchy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and, as of fall 2019, Katy Keene. In the comics, Katy was a bubbly, optimistic, go-get-'em fashion designer trying to find her way in the big city, and the adaptation will adhere close to that, as Pretty Little Liars star Lucy Hale takes on the title role. She'll be joined by Ashleigh Murray as Josie McCoy (as in Josie of Josie and the Pussycats), meaning Murray will leave Riverdale for Katy Keene, which takes place five years after the events of Riverdale. 

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa created all three ArchieVerse shows, and he's not above some crossover. "There's more chance of Riverdale kids popping up in Katy's world than Katy characters going to the Riverdale world," Aguirre-Sacasa told TV Line, adding that he has an appearance by one particular Riverdale character in mind. "We think it might be fun to see what Kevin Keller is up to five years in the future: coming to see Broadway shows and hanging out with his step-sister Josie and her group of friends."

Will there be special theme episodes in Riverdale season 4?

Riverdale can't always be about mystery-solving teens in grave danger. Every so often, the series breaks the tension with a fun high-concept episode. A 2018 installment flashed back to Riverdale High twenty-something years ago, centering on the antics of the present-day adults of Riverdale when they were teens… and portrayed by the show's young cast members. A few months later, a meta, self-referential episode found Riverdale High's drama club staging a musical production of the high school movie Heathers. 

Riverdale season 4 will offer at least one such novelty installment: the fourth episode of the season, airing on October 30th, marks the show's first ever Halloween-themed chapter. "We've got a really fun, spooky episode for everyone," showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa mentioned during a 2019 San Diego Comic-Con panel, adding that "someone dies," but that it's not a major character. It's not just a Halloween episode, either; if all goes as planned, it'll also pay tribute to superheroes. Said Aguirre-Sacasa, "I know what Archie's gonna be dressed as, and we're trying to get clearance on some DC comic book characters" for costumes for Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch) and Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan). Considering the fact that Riverdale shares a network with DC's "Arrowverse" shows, we may well be in for some tongue-in-cheek Halloween fun.