[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday's True Blood finale. Read at your own risk!]
After destroying the vampire internment camp, killing off pretty much all of this season's villains and making sure that Sookie (Anna Paquin) didn't end up as Warlow's (Rob Kazinsky) fae-vampire bride, True Blood jumped ahead six months, effectively wiping the slate clean — which is exactly what showrunner Brian Buckner wanted.
From the onset, Alan Ball's successor hoped to get the show back to its roots, which meant streamlining the tangled web of storylines — namely by ditching the wolf pack and bringing the town of Bon Temps back together thanks to Terry's (Todd Lowe) funeral (RIP!). But there were — per usual — some crazy turns along the way, including a detour into Sam (Sam Trammell) and Sookie-ville, Billith (Stephen Moyer) and a severe lack of Tara (Rutina Wesley) this season. In an in-depth interview with Buckner, he defends the HBO series' sixth season and teases what's in store for Season 7 — yes, Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) will be back, and so will two other vamps that have been bumped up to series regulars. Get the scoop:
Was blowing up everything at the end of the season a chance for you to really start fresh next year?
Brian Buckner: It is. I think we've had more success at the outsets of our seasons when we've done an adequate job setting the table for the following season. It's a bit of a reset and it's also establishing a story that is for every vampire, a human, for every human, a vampire. It's to try to return to the show's promise in Season 1, which is if vampires exist, let's examine the relationships between humans and vampires. Now we get to do it with many different pairings rather than just Bill and Sookie. The hope is — and this is what I was hinting at Comic-Con — that by putting all of our characters essentially into one story, now it's Bon Temps vs. the world, the characters people love will get more screen time because these stories don't have separate demands. We just get to tell a simpler story and then experience them through our characters.
If vampires and humans are now working together, where does the tension come from?
Buckner: I don't mean to say there are not complications with those relationships. The driving force of the show is going to be the relationships. What does Alcide (Joe Manganiello) or Sookie having to take on a vampire feeding partner do to their relationship? Every relationship is complicated because it's a three-way or four-way. That's what we're looking at. I don't think it's all going to be hunky-dory. It's going to create tensions between makers and makees because, "You love that human, don't you?!" It's a bit of a shift back from plot-driven big bad to some of the soapy elements of the show. It's the relationships that are interesting, not the plot that the bad guy is necessarily providing.
Can you talk about the threat of the mutated Hep-V?
Buckner: That's the work of next season. Specifically, viruses do mutate and that's part of why we gave ourselves a six-month time passage. This is a disease that, as Dr. Overlark (John Fleck) explained when he was injecting Nora (Lucy Griffiths), can be spread in any number of ways. It has spread around the world very rapidly. Bon Temps is a microcosm of what's happening out there in the world. The vampires who are infected, their appetite for human blood is increasing. They need to feed more often in order to survive this disease.
Have vampires essentially overrun the world at this point?
Buckner: It's a major outbreak. You see how people got upset about Bird Flu and no one really had it. The idea here was to isolate Bon Temps to make it the town we know vs. the world so we don't have to leave Bon Temps in order to get story. They can only depend on one another; that's what Sam is talking to Andy (Chris Bauer) about. Andy obviously has his own feelings about vampires right now and whether or not they can be trusted. Sam's point is we don't have a choice but to trust them. Without their help, we can't protect ourselves. It's a very uneasy alliance. I don't want to suggest that it is conflict-free. Of course, we promised a pretty big payoff at the Bellefluer's bar.
Presumably that means Season 7 picks up right where we left off?
Buckner: That's a fair presumption.
Turning to the biggest question after the finale: Is Eric really dead? What kind of role will Alexander Skarsgard have next season?
Buckner: In the olden days, this was a fun tease for an audience [Laughs]. The actor Alex Skarsgard and the character of Eric Northman will be back on the show next year. He'll be a series regular. We've obviously promised a "Where is Eric?" story and it would feel incredibly cheap to deliver the goods right away. We sent Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) off in search of him and if she were to find him right away, we would be doing a disservice to ourselves and to the audience. How we use him is going to be up to us, but we want people to rest assured that he will be back in their living rooms next year or wherever they watch. Boy do they love him! Wow!
Pretty sure he broke the internet after going full-frontal.
Buckner: It was crazy. I got a question about the discussion on that and said, "He's Swedish. There was no discussion whatsoever." I even called him to say, "Are you sure this is OK?" and he said, "No problemo."
People thought it might be a body double.
Buckner: Nope! One day the tell-all will come out that that guy is as cool as Eric Northman. He doesn't sweat the small stuff.
Because you jumped ahead six months, we missed Sookie and Alcide's courtship. Will we see some flashbacks to that?
Buckner: Whether or not there will be flashbacks, we don't know at this point. The writers will be back in the room starting September 3 and we'll start to figure this all out. I think there is fun in, "How did this happen?" but you will see what sparks flew. It's not like we're going to skip over all the Sookie-Alcide fun. In terms of going back and filling in those six months, that I don't think we'll be doing, but the audience will see what they want to see.
What does this mean for Bill next season? Will he seek redemption in order to get Sookie back?
Buckner: Yeah, but I don't think it's manipulative. One thing that I've heard a lot online, and it applies to Bill too, is this idea that characters can change. Lettie Mae (Adina Porter) does not have a trick up her sleeve. It's genuine. People can feel incredibly ashamed of the way they've treated their children down the line. I know my mother does, right? Lettie Mae does not have Hep-V. She's not trying to infect Tara and trick her. There's not a plot thing behind every character motivation. To the same effect, Bill has truthfully seen the error of his ways. When Lilith left him, he lost his powers and all of his feelings for Sookie came rushing back. The real question is, yes, this season is about redemption for Bill, but can he be forgiven? We're establishing a new triangle — with Eric clearly unresolved, but not part of the picture in Bon Temps in the short term — the Sookie, Alcide, Bill triangle is going to be in play.
We didn't really see much of Tara this season, except for acting as a big sister to Willa — which I hope is a set up for her to someday be a maker. What will we see for her next season? Does she need to repair her relationship with her mother first before she can move on?
Buckner: The only two pairings that you know of so far are Tara and Lettie May, and Jason (Ryan Kwaten) and Violet (Karolina Wydra), right? The pairings are going to dictate a lot of the story that we tell. But your point is certainly well taken about the character of Tara. My feeling is that the problem on our show has been telling too many separate storylines and there's no room for all your characters. I don't think we have a too-many-characters problem. I think we had a too-many-stories problem. My sincere hope is that by telling a simpler story that demands less plot and less exposition and less locations, that we're going to be able to really examine characters and relationships. You can tell we've abandoned the wolf pack. The books were about one thing and I have immense respect for [author] Charlaine [Harris] and what she did, but people are keyed in — as are we as writers — on these vampire-human relationships and that's what the show needs to focus on.
Speaking of the books, if viewers hadn't read the final book that just came out, it would appear that the Sookie and Sam thing came out of nowhere. Why did you guys decide to explore having Sookie take a shot at a relationship with Sam?
Buckner: Well, it was organic. Sookie was looking for a reason to stay alive, right? A lot of her usual sounding boards weren't there because they were in a vampire prison. She went to Bill, not because she loves Bill, but because she thought of all people, my first boyfriend, he's not going to say, "Oh cool, go ahead and become a vampire." But he did. It was a slap down. She went to Sam not to say, "Let's start this now," but to say, "Do I have a human connection? Is there anything in this town and this life left for me?" And when she got slapped down by her backburner guy, she said, "F--- it. I don't even know if my brother is alive!" It was a very fatalistic, dark Sookie. Then she goes to this funeral and experiences community. That funeral wasn't just about Terry deserving more screen time. It's about this place, this town, what these people mean to each other, this sense of community. When she experiences that and hears Arlene (Carrie Preston) finding some peace, even in the midst of all that pain, she realizes, "I have a place in this town." That's why she goes back to Warlow and says, "Let's try this out." Now he ran out of patience, but that was her storyline.
Do you think there's still the possibility of exploring Sookie and Sam?
Buckner: I'm aware that Charlaine got a lot of blowback for that pairing in the book. I think anything is worth exploring. I don't have the answer to how much longer we're going to be doing this show. It's not where I'm leaning. That scene was more connected to Sookie looking for a reason to be here and truthfully about us trying to earn pushing her to the place where she would really consider being made vampire. They have an incredible friendship and I think she sees more eye-to-eye with him than she does with any other man in her life, but it seems that he's in the friend-zone where Sookie is concerned and I think she was grasping at straws. The cool thing about that scene was that neither of them were wrong; she just had really bad timing. On another day, maybe Sam would've been more receptive to that.
Violet and Jason have a very odd relationship in that she expects him to pleasure her, but she won't reciprocate. Can we really trust her?
Buckner: I trust her so far. She came on strong. She seems like a b---- at vamp camp. Of course the way she claimed Jason, that seemed pretty b----y, too. If she's b----y to Pam, everyone is going to be protective of Pam. The job was, how do we get her earn her way back in our hearts because she's joining as a regular next year, as is James (Luke Grimes). One of the things that we realized pretty early on is that as much as people complain sometimes that there are no humans left on True Blood, if you do the math, there aren't very many vampires left, so we needed to populate it more. The two of them are just stunning. It was a strange casting call in the middle of the season knowing that we were going to be casting for series regulars for the following season, but I think we hit the jackpot both times. We trust her — for now. I think she has a code. We're a show that has Pam, so if you want to have a new, tough female vampire, you have to create a different character. Pam doesn't give a sh-- about anybody, so the instinct was to give Violet this code. "If Sookie is your family, she's my family. I will put my life on the line for her." She's earning her way into our hearts by going to bat for Sookie and Jason in the finale.
Has Andy really let Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) off the hook?
Buckner: There's always going to be tension there, but if he were going to hold her responsible, he would've pulled the trigger. Chris Bauer has really been an MVP for us this season, because we took a character who was usually comic relief and asked the audience to care. I think he did an amazing job. Andy deep down knows that even though he's the sheriff and even though he has guns, he's up against something much bigger. Jessica did the right thing in saying, "I'm not asking for anymore of this family's blood. I'm giving you my protection, you don't have to say yes." He shuts the door. To me, that moment is about her standing guard out there and he knows it. I don't think they're all the way healed, nor do I think they can ever be all the way healed.
I need more Pam, Lafayette and Tara next season