As "True Blood" begins its seventh and final season Sunday, June 22, on HBO, longtime fans are bracing themselves to say goodbye to their favorite characters.
And they may be saying goodbye to some of them sooner than they think.
Within the first three minutes of Sunday's premiere, which is directed by series star Stephen Moyer, a principal player who has been with the series since Season 1 is bloodily and permanently dispatched. It's a death that could be a warning for viewers not to assume anything as they make this last trip to Bon Temps, La.
"Because it's the last season of 'True Blood,' we're not going to pull any punches," executive producer and show runner Brian Buckner tells Zap2it. "When you're in the middle of a series run and you don't know how long you're going to run, you can have characters get into trouble but they're always going to get out of it. But there will be profound consequences this year, I'll just put it that way."
During separate phone conversations in late May, both Buckner and leading lady Anna Paquin, who plays telepathic waitress (and part-fairy) Sookie Stackhouse on the hit series, both say they've been too busy just getting the work done to spend much time mourning the imminent end of the unabashedly melodramatic fantasy about supernatural doin's in a rural Southern community teeming with everything from vampires and werewolves to shape-shifters and witches.
"Obviously, on some level I know and recognize that this thing is coming to an end," Paquin says, "but I have made some amazing friends among the cast and crew on this show and I have no intention of not keeping those people in my life, so it just really doesn't feel like goodbye. It just feels like a next chapter. Our company is very tight knit and we see each other outside work, so it's impossible for me to think in terms of 'I'll never see this person again.'"
The actress fought hard to convince series creator Alan Ball she was right to play Sookie, and the show brought about some major changes in her life. Earlier in the run of "True Blood," she and Moyer fell in love and eventually married. They now have a pair of twins together, born last fall. Although "True Blood" arguably has boosted the actress' sex appeal for casting directors ("I've always thought of myself more as a character actress," she says), Paquin has routinely and gamely endured on-camera moments that were sorely lacking in glamour.
"If you watch carefully, you'll notice that anytime Sookie is looking a little too happy or well-groomed or she's just put something super-cute on, it usually means something completely vile is about to happen," Paquin says, laughing. "And we never try to justify her somehow pausing to clean up and put on makeup and clean clothes, so that's why I end up looking like I've been dragged ass-first out of a gutter half the time. And honestly, that's fun for me. We're a fantasy show, sure, but there are certain aspects that can be real, and that's important to us creatively."
For Buckner, complicating the already daunting challenges he faced on this effects-heavy show was the breakout stardom of cast member Alexander Skarsgard, a fan favorite as hunky vampire Eric Northman. The Swedish-born actor had to juggle his final season on "True Blood" with his title role as "Tarzan" in David Yates' big-screen remake of that vintage adventure classic. As a result, Buckner has been shooting the last four episodes of this season in somewhat piecemeal fashion, depending on Skarsgard's availability.
"Last night was Alex's last night with us, actually," Buckner says. "Knowing the end is coming makes the writing easier in some ways, but that also means we have moments on the set that are very sad, as you think, 'Oh, this is our last scene together.' That can be kind of heavy, because this show has been life-changing for most of us."
Buckner says this season won't have a new villain introduced as in past seasons. Instead, the hepatitis-V virus, lethal to vampires and introduced in Season 6, will be the "big bad," allowing the writers to focus more on established characters fans have grown to love.
"Sprinkled into this season are some fun flashbacks to people you thought you weren't going to see again, and we're going to learn, for example, how Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) and Eric wound up in Shreveport," Buckner reveals. "Obviously, Bill (Moyer) is looking to become less of a (jerk). We're telling a lot of character stories about redemption, forgiveness, the questions of how far is too far and can we forgive ourselves for the sins of the past. That doesn't all pertain just to Bill, but to a large number of our characters.
"I want to invite back the people who for whatever reason have not come to 'True Blood church' for awhile to come back and see what we're doing, because I think it's going to be really satisfying for the people who started with the show to feel it coming back to Bon Temps."
Photo/Video credit: HBO