'Vampire Diaries' Boss Talks "Grim" Season 7, "Complicated" Salvatore Family Bond

The Vampire Diaries S06E22 Still - H 2015
Annette Brown/The CW

The Vampire Diaries S06E22 Still - H 2015

The Vampire Diaries is about to officially enter its next phase of the series.

The CW drama closed a significant chapter of its run in May when Elena (Nina Dobrev), the show's female lead, was hit with an unbreakable spell which would keep her unconscious as long as one of her best friends, Bonnie (Kat Graham), was alive ... and Elena opted to not fight it, saying a tearful goodbye (for now) to the people she loved the most. (The move was made to accommodate Dobrev's real-life exit from the series.)

When the series returns this fall, life will move on for Elena's loved ones.

"Obviously the big thing for us is we lost the main character of the show," The Vampire Diaries executive producer Caroline Dries tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We had the privilege of Nina gifting us with the knowledge that we'd be losing her midway through season six. And so, once we knew we were losing a main character, we could build the main infrastructure for a show that could exist without her. Not just Elena Gilbert, but Katherine Pierce — who had already left. ... We had been looking at this for a while, ever since Katherine left: how do we fill that voice of the very confident, sultry, sexy woman who is a villain? How do we keep the love and heart and soul that is Elena? And that's what our task was as employed writers — to go, 'Let's pull this off.' "

Dries spoke with THR to share a bit more about what's to come in season seven:

The series will dive deeper into the characters it already established.

Though a whole group of new faces have joined the show in light of Dobrev's exit, Dries shared that the plan is to explore the characters fans already know and love in season seven.

"Our show has 500,000 cast members on it, so we have gotten to know them, watch them mature as characters for 130 episodes," she says. "So to fill the void of a main character, it just means seeing people we already know very well a little bit more. This season, the guts of the show is really the Salvatore brothers. And it's really Stefan's relationship with Caroline. ... The show feels like it's still Vampire Diaries, but there's this level of maturity to it now. Especially with the presence of Lily and Caroline's character now. She just feels like she's getting more mature and more self-assured of herself. Damon and Stefan are dealing with way more adult problems. The show feels the same, but feels new."

The season starts off "a little grim."

Following a season that saw the deaths of Sheriff Forbes (Marguerite MacIntyre) and Alaric's (Matt Davis) pregnant fiancee, Jo (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) — as well as the exits of Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) and Tyler (Michael Trevino) — things won't be entirely pleasant when season seven kicks off.

"Tonally, it's a little grim at first, because you got a little glimpse of that town [in the flash-forward]," says Dries. "It doesn't necessarily start that way, but that vibe will be [present] in the show. Personally, I think the show is best when we do a heavy episode and then like a college party episode and then a heavy flashback and then a fun dinner party. I think the show is best when we're mixing it up. My sensibility is to do things that are a little bit more fun and less really dark and daunting. But every once in a while, I think that works."

The Salvatore family will form a "love triangle" of sorts.

With Lily's (Annie Wersching) family — aka the heretics — now loose in Mystic Falls, that only further complicates her relationship with her biological sons, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder).

"It's this love triangle, if you will, which we've created between Damon, Stefan and Lily," teases Dries. "Lily has naturally entered as the third point in the triangle."

Working to Lily's advantage is the very complicated feelings the Salvatore brothers have toward their mother. "They love her, and care for her, in different ways," Dries acknowledged. "They hate her, they have mixed feelings towards her, they have resentment, they love her, because they used to love her and she raised them. They feel guilty because she died and they didn't know she was still alive. There's just a million emotions."

And Lily's complications don't extend to just her sons. "Right now, she is the heart and soul of the conflict," Dries shared. "When I talk to directors when we do our tone meetings, I say, 'Lily Salvatore is the most complicated character on this show. She has a lot going on in her brain; she has different loyalties. She's made huge mistakes, but you can also root for her.' She is kind of our villain because she wants things our characters don't want to happen. But she's also very grounded. She can kind of manipulate them differently. Her goal is to turn them against each other."

But after being a part of more than one triangle which did cause a rift for the brothers, Lily's plans might not work out the way she hopes. "In turning them against each other, the brothers remember, 'Hey, you and I have been together 150 years,'" says Dries. " 'Let's not let this woman come and mess with us.' "

Here(tics) comes trouble.

At Comic-Con, Dries shared that the introduction of the heretics is "the first time we've seen our characters go against them and they go, 'Oh, we don't know what we're doing.' It's very hard."

One of the things that doesn't help is the sheer numbers against the characters. "There's six heretics in total: three men and three women. We meet five of them in the premiere," says Dries. "The three women are this little posse of bad girls. Valerie, who has this brooding darkness to her. We learn early on in the season she got burned in the past, and it transformed her into this person; she wasn't always this way. And then there's Mary Louise and Nora who are very fun and a gallon of pep and fireworks. They're very different — they're dating, but they have different desires. One wants to explore the world; Nora, is like, 'Look, we just got out of prison, let's stretch our arms and legs a little bit.' And [Mary] is like, 'I'm insecure in letting you go.' They're fun to watch, because they have this great, normal relationship in an abnormal environment."

"[And for the boys] there's one guy named Beau, who is Lily's henchman-y guy," continues Dries. "He's very loyal and mysterious. And so he is very scary and weird. And then there's this guy, Malcolm, who is the kiss-up, Lily's pet. And then there's a mystery guy, Oscar, who is only mentioned in the premiere. We're wondering where is that guy? But he's a real trip when you meet him."

The show will explore Lily further via flashback.

Though Lily and her heretics have a huge amount of unmined backstory, the show won't use flashbacks more than usual. "It's shaping out how our normal seasons go," says Dries. "Episode [three] will be a flashback episode. We have one coming up in a little while. But it's just little flavors."

"Lily gives us this great [gateway] into seeing her old-school life," she continues. "The boys existed in that world as well, we just didn't realize it. We're always looking for an excuse to do a flashback story, and the reality is we've exhausted the Salvatore boys' life. We know every year of their life. She does allow us the excuse to tell more stories in the past."

Wesley and Somerhalder may step behind the camera again.

Both Wesley and Somerhalder each directed hours of The CW drama last season (Wesley's second time and Somerhalder's first), and Dries says she'd be open to having them return this season. "We want to keep nurturing them, so if Paul and Ian want to do it again, they did such a good job [last time]," she says.

The Vampire Diaries returns on Thursday, Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. on The CW.