“Riverdale” protagonist Archie Andrews — portrayed by star KJ Apa — and his pals have triumphed over their fair share of ruthless opponents and adverse circumstances. That distinguished list includes serial killers, gangs, cults, brainwashing, blackmail, Gargoyle Kings, Hiram Lodge and, yes, catty students.

But towards the end of shooting the fourth season, the cast and crew encountered a mounting threat they couldn’t possibly defeat: COVID-19. The global pandemic brought the Vancouvers-shot production to a screeching halt and forced everyone into lockdown.

Thankfully, “Riverdale” resumed filming its fifth season in the fall, even if new protocols and testing lead to more lengthy delays.

“It was crazy man. I had just got off a movie [‘Songbird’], which was one of the first movies shooting since COVID, so I kind of knew what it was going to be like,” Apa tells ET Canada during a phone conversation.

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“But the show is taking tremendous precautions for everyone’s safety, which I think is great,” he continues. “It’s just a different vibe now. When you walk out on set, the cast isn’t really allowed to mingle with the crew. You cannot touch anyone. It’s very strict and I feel it has to be in order for us to keep going and not get shut down again.”

There will still be plenty of drama going down on screen when “Riverdale” returns Wednesday, Jan. 20. The show’s teaser trailer hints at the fallout from a kiss between Archie and Betty… especially when Veronica learns the truth about it.

“I felt that kiss was a long time coming,” Apa offers. “We obviously have a responsibility to keep the fans on their feet. That’s definitely a way to drive them wild. But it also made sense. They’ve been friends for such a long time. I wasn’t necessarily surprised to see them kissing and that it would ruffle a lot of feathers, especially between Veronica and Archie.”

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The season premiere also features a dapper Archie attending his senior prom. For many teens, the event represents new beginnings and simply the opportunity to party. However, Archie has a lot weighing on his mind.

“Archie has so many things to figure out in this episode, whether he’s going to graduate, what he’s going to do after graduation,” says Apa. “A lot of them have planned their careers and where they are going to go. Archie is very much in the dark at this point. He’s scared and doesn’t know where his future lies. On top of that, he has to worry about that kiss and keeping that secret from Veronica.

As for how this make-believe prom compares to the real deal, Apa confesses, “I’ve never been to a prom before. We don’t really have proms back home [in New Zealand], I never went because I had always been working.”

In true “Riverdale” fashion, there’s still a big murder mystery to solve. Somebody has been sending unsettling video tapes to citizens. The tapes contain disturbing content and a possible murder. So far, it’s been Betty and Jughead sleuthing, but Archie will soon get sucked into the investigation…with disastrous results. That stuff brings up a lot of emotions about Archie’s father because of the nature of what he watches.

“Archie spirals a little bit, honestly,” Apa says cryptically. “He goes crazy a little bit. We see him search and dig a little deeper because of the connection with his father. Yeah, those tapes make him spiral.”

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Season 5 marks a brave new world on “Riverdale”. A seven-year time jump will find the gang all grown up and gone their separate ways, until a situation at home once again reunites these friends.

“Archie is back in the military,” Apa explains. “We find out that Riverdale has become a ghost town thanks to Hiram Lodge. Archie decides to come back and fix the town. That’s the one thing he has left, is Riverdale. He’s hated to see it burn to the ground, so he wants to revive the town.

This new new version of Archie, he explains, “has definitely matured a lot. He’s more of a man. In terms of the way Archie deals with things now, he’s a lot more mature. He went through a lot during his brief period in the military. I feel a lot happened over there that we will end up seeing later on.”

Considering the time jump, it seems appropriate to ask Apa to flash back five years ago to when he landed the role of Archie and relocated from New Zealand to Vancouver. What would a younger Apa’s reaction be to where he and “Riverdale” stand right now?

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“Man, I would consider myself really lucky to still be working on the show,” Apa says. “I had no idea at the beginning of the first season that this would be a show that would go this long. I would be extremely grateful.”

He concludes, “It’s such a good idea to have this time jump. It’s cool because it allows us to play our own ages. It allows us to explore all the relationships on the show, while still being able to stay in Riverdale.”

The fifth season of “Riverdale” kicks off Wednesday, Jan. 20.