By Emily Zemler
Special to CNN
As "True Blood" has developed over the past five seasons, the series has expanded from the story of the people -- and vampires -- living in the small town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, to a sprawling, multinarrative saga about how supernatural beings can exist in the modern world.
Season six premieres on June 16 with the show's first episodes since the departure of creator and showrunner Alan Ball. New showrunner Brian Buckner will immediately bring fans back into the action from season five's tumultuous finale and, eventually, back to where the series all began.
"There's a real energy and excitement, and I think that came this year from the top down," said Joe Manganiello, who stars as werewolf Alcide. "The show got really big in its scope during seasons three, four and five, and it became more about the world and these creatures with so many plot lines. In season six, there's a concerted effort to make this show return to what made it great in season one and two. It was about these people who lived in a town. It was about the town versus the rest of the world. I think (the show) really returns to that at the end of this season. The way that it's pulled is really smart, and I think it's going to be really fun for the audience."
When last season came to a close, the governing Vampire Authority was under attack, the TruBlood factories had been destroyed, and vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) had transformed into all-powerful god figure by drinking the blood of Lilith. Meanwhile, Alcide had become the werewolves' packmaster, and Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) was being pursued by an ancient and mysterious vampire named Warlow. The season's premiere episode, "Who Are You, Really?" quickly draws the action forward to reveal just how much is at stake for the vampires, the humans and everyone in between.
"The tone is pretty dark this season," said Rutina Wesley, whose character, Tara, became a vampire last season and left viewers with a glimpse of a possible relationship between her and her maker, Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten), in the finale. "I think the ads that they're putting out right now say it best: No one is safe this season. There's definitely a war going on. The vampires have to fight that war, (and) the humans have to fight that war -- so it's like survival of the fittest."
Various new characters emerge in the picture as it becomes clear that a conflict is brewing against the vampires -- and possibly the werewolves and shape-shifters as well. Louisiana Gov. Truman Burrell, played by new cast member Arliss Howard, leads the crusade against the supernatural while Nicole, played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell, appears as a pro-vampire activist. Meanwhile, Sookie's faerie grandfather Niall (Rutger Hauer) materializes to help his granddaughter seek out Warlow.
"We always have these amazing new characters played by unbelievable actors," van Straten said. "We have guest stars like Rutger Hauer. That, for us, is really lovely. I just remember being in scenes with Denis O'Hare (in past seasons) and thinking, 'This must be what it's like to play tennis with (Roger) Federer.' You just rise to the occasion. You just want to bring your best game when you're with someone like Rutger Hauer."
"How Warlow is going to be introduced is rather amazing," Wesley added. "You're not gonna see it coming, I think. It takes a minute to figure out who Warlow is, because he is introduced, but he's not introduced as Warlow. The guy who's playing him is an amazing actor, so it's going to be really nice."
On the relationship front, Sookie has seemingly exhausted her obsession with vampires Bill and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) and will meet a new love interest played by Rob Kazinsky, who may also be supernatural. Alcide, who Manganiello says is learning that the benefits of being packmaster include his choice of women, may not totally be out of the picture, though.
"It was about to go down, and she threw up on his shoes, so I think there's a lot left on the table still," Manganiello said of Sookie's relationship with his character. "They haven't even gone there yet, come on! I think the door is definitely still open."
For van Straten, the possibility of a romance between Pam and Tara is compelling, mostly because the two characters have hated each other over the course of the past few seasons. Although the actress won't confirm whether the two vampires will end up in a relationship, van Straten is interested in how these two characters interact on the show.
"What's fascinating to me is that after six years, it starts to seem normal and make sense," van Straten said. "They're both very strong women who have been through some very hard times, and they're not victims, they're survivors. So we have this interesting chemistry. I just started wondering as the season was being filmed last year when it would happen."
But the biggest mystery awaiting fans of the series this season is the question "Who will die?" Rumors that season six will feature the death of a major character have flown for months, leading to extensive online speculation and a looming sense of dread. According to the actors, there is truth to the rumors.
"That's true," Manganiello confirmed. "But I'm not going to say who. I can say that that's true, but that's about it."
On a less morbid note, the show is still replete with nudity and sex scenes, some involving several characters. Manganiello, who regularly bares all for the series and appeared as a stripper in last year's "Magic Mike," just sees it as part of job after several seasons.
"I'm as naked as I ever am (this season)," Manganiello admitted. "There's always all these questions before your first nude scene, but even my first nude scene on 'True Blood' wasn't my first nude scene ever. I did a play during college in an off-Broadway theater where I was full-frontal, and I did another show in college where I emerged onstage naked as well, so I think once you get over it in front of a crowd of live, paying customers or your classmates, it's like, whatever. It's not that big of a deal. I think it's probably a lot of the motivation behind why I work out so hard. It's at least a part of it!"