Now that we’ve said goodbye to “Game of Thrones” for its second season and are about to see “Mad Men” end its fifth, it’s time to lighten up our Sunday nights with a little bit of camp and a lot of vampires. It’s just not summer without “True Blood,” the sexy, blood-soaked and often ridiculous adaptation of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire novels, and its return Sunday on HBO for Season Five is a welcome break in the TV lineup.
Season Four wasn’t perfect and perhaps was even the weakest so far. (See: Eric’s Emo Ken Doll bit; anything to do with fairies.) But it ended on a hell of a cliffhanger: Is Tara, shot by Debbie Pelt, dead? Debbie certainly is, thanks to Sookie, but was that finale also the end for the much put-upon Ms. Thornton? Actress Rutina Wesley has been participating in promotional stints for the series along with the rest of the cast, but who knows whether her presence is thanks to her character surviving or to creator Alan Ball and his team wanting to keep viewers guessing. My money is on the latter. Wesley is doing her part to tease viewers; in interviews she has said she thinks viewers will be surprised at her role this season. Could she not be dead, but undead? Turning humans into vamps to keep them from dying permanently isn’t a bad plot device; they use it all the time on “The Vampire Diaries.” But will Tara be forced to turn into the one thing she hates most? That may just be the biggest abuse of all for her character.
So what else is in store this season? Here is a quick rundown of the new additions — and a few returning fan favorites — to the cast to get you ready:
Christopher Meloni (above, center) joins the cast this season as Roman, a 500-year-old vampire and head of The Authority, the organization that governs vampires and lays down the law. Eric and Bill have plenty to answer for, such as burying alive the King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare), at the end of Season Three and giving American Vampire League spokeswoman Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck) the true death at the end of Four. (Nan’s demise is still depressing; she routinely had some of the best lines, outside of Pam and Lafayette, and could always be counted on for comedic relief.) As we learned in the Four finale, Russell was released from his cement tomb and likely wants revenge. Roman and crew will have to deal with that drama as well as the increasing tumult between the living and the undead. Roman supports the coming-out movement for vampires and wants peace, but nothing is peaceful when monsters are involved.
Other members of the Authority include:
Rosalyn Harris (Carolyn Hennesy, above left) and Dieter Braun (Christopher Heyerdahl, above right): Harris originates from Prague but has called Texas (or what is now known was Texas) home for 500 years. She’s a big supporter of the mainstreaming movement. Braun is an intelligence specialist and all-around torturer for the organization, a role that fits Heyerdahl well. Recently he has portrayed The Swede on AMC’s “Hell on Wheels,” where he has shown his knack for playing rather heartless men.
Salome (Valentina Cervi): Here we have a twist on a historical figure as this seductress dates back to Biblical times; she’s the daughter of Herodias and Herod II, son of King Herod the Great. She’s known for her dancing, a skill that so pleased her uncle/stepfather, Herod Antipas, that he promised to grant her whatever she wished. Her desire? John the Baptist’s head on a platter. She got it.
Alexander Drew (Jacob Hopkins): Our first child vampire, this 9-year-old apparently likes to smoke and taunt his elders. His presence is sure to be one of the creepiest — evil children are always scary. Seeing fangs on a kid is the stuff of nightmares.
Kibwe (Peter Mensah): This ancient vamp of African descent prefers rehabilitation for lawbreakers rather than punishment, no doubt putting him at odds with Braun.
Nora (Lucy Griffiths): If Pam is Eric’s child, then Nora is his sister. They share Godric as a maker and Nora was turned at age 25 in England centuries ago. Now, she’s a double-agent within the Authority, and perhaps she is the one Nan referred to in Season Four when she told Eric and Bill there were factions within the AVL against the Authority.
Also new this season:
Patrick Devins (Scott Foley): Patrick is Terry Bellefleur’s former platoon leader from when he served in Iraq, and Terry believed he was dead until Patrick stopped by Merlotte’s at the end of Season Four. Something horrible happened while the men were overseas and Patrick’s appearance in Bon Temps doesn’t bode well for Terry and his PTSD. It’s great to see Foley, period, but a darker turn for the actor will be fun to watch. The guest stars (see: Michelle Forbes as Maryann Foster, Fiona Shaw as Marnie) routinely steal each season in this series. He and Meloni will probably have some of the most fun this season.
Returning cast members:
Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare): Now that the 2,800-year-old vampire has been set free, Russell surely has an agenda that involves killing a then more killing. Remember, before Eric buried him in concrete, Russell had been on a rampage against the AVL and the Authority, killing a TV newscaster on the air to scare humans and working against the mainstreaming agenda. Eric carries a lot of the blame; he killed Russell’s lover, Talbot, in Season Three, which sent Russell over the edge.
Steve Newlin (Michael McMillian): One of the best twists in Season Four was the reappearance of the former reverend of the Fellowship of the Sun — as a vampire. In Four, Newlin was described as having been missing for about six months, his car found abandoned on the side of the road with his wallet and keys inside. Now we know he was turned, but by whom and why? Much of Season Two was spent with Newlin and his wife, Sarah, as they preached their gospel of vampire destruction to Jason and others, so to see Newlin not only undead but appearing to relish his new state is an entertaining development. His first stop is a visit to Jason, who slept with Sarah and helped Eric and others escape an ambush in Season Two.
Other tidbits Ball and cast members have shared leading up to the premiere is that Pam will be featured more prominently this season — a flashback to when Eric made her is expected — and that Eric and Bill find common ground and even perhaps friendship as they try to save their pretty hides from meeting the true death. As to romance, Sookie ended Four by telling both vamps (while in matching bathrobes) that she needed a break, but will she in turn head to Alcide? And will Quinn, a weretiger from the books, ever make an appearance? Andy and Holly will probably have the sweet story this season as they begin to date, and who knows if Jessica and Jason will be able to rekindle their romance now that they have such guilt over hurting Hoyt. For her part, in addition to comforting Terry, Arlene will have to keep an eye on her baby, Mikey, a medium and the son of Rene.
So, what do you think will happen this season, and what do you want to happen? Come back every Tuesday to read a recap/analysis of each episode.
“True Blood” premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in Texas.