As part of The CW portion of the TCA Press Tour, there was a compelling panel entitled “Running the Show: The Women Executive Producers of The CW,” with Arrow, The Flash, The Vampire Diaries, iZombie, Jane the Virgin, Reign and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all represented. Prior to the panel, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with The Vampire Diaries EP Caroline Dries to chat about what’s to come in Season 7 of the popular series.
During the interview, Dries talked about the female representation on the show, what it’s like to continue on without Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) as part of the story, where Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) go next, honoring Elena’s memory, Bonnie’s (Kat Graham) place in Damon’s life, how Alaric (Matthew Davis) is coping, where things are at for Stefan and Caroline (Candice Accola), Enzo (Michael Malarkey) having to pick a side, the trouble that Lily (Annie Wersching) and the Heretics will cause, the possibility of cross-overs, and the addition of flash-forwards.
Collider: Since we’re celebrating the voice of women executive producers on The CW at the TCA, how do you feel about the female representation and viewpoint on The Vampire Diaries?
CAROLINE DRIES: Personally, I feel that I am basking and privileged. My whole journey to become showrunner has been trail blazed for me, by these amazing women who really did struggle because they were women. I was thinking about this panel, on my way over here, and the fact that there are women showrunners, and then just showrunners. I don’t see it like that. So many of my female friends are showrunners that I don’t think about it. There are so many women who I deal with, on a daily basis, that I don’t feel like I’ve ever been stymied or struggled because I’m a woman. I feel like I’ve struggled because of my personality and my talent sometimes, but not because I’m a woman. But being on a show like ours, it’s very interesting to talk about feminism because our main character, for six seasons, was very much defined by the person she was in love with, or that’s the way it seemed. If you’d say, “Oh, Elena, what are some of your hobbies?,” she’d say, “Well, I like Damon. I like Stefan.” At the same time, the show is a love story, so you’re not going to show Elena making pottery. You’re going to show her fighting to save Damon’s life, and vice versa. It’s a feminist show, in that all of our characters are strong and all of our characters believe in equal rights. People say it’s not feminist because women are just brutalized and beaten by men, and then they go running back to them, and I can’t defend that. That’s what happens a lot of times, though.
Very few shows have lost such a major character and continued on. Is that both exciting and scary?
DRIES: It’s scary because, if you look at some examples, it’s like, “That didn’t work out.” It’s good for us because it challenged us to say, “Okay, now what?!” We’re always looking for new things to shake it up. If you look at our show, there’s Matt Donovan, Bonnie Bennett, Enzo, Stefan, Damon, Caroline, we have a lot of characters that we know. So, to fill in the empty space, it happened naturally. The big question was, when we wrote the first script, how was it going to feel without Elena, but I didn’t miss that part. Our trick now is really finding who the heroes are of the show, and Stefan and Damon are the two leads. It’s their love story, as brothers, and with their mom. It’s really finding the triangle. Lily is the most complicated character of the show, so her dynamic with the boys makes it so rich. She just has a different relationship with both of them. She’s trying to manipulate them, and they’re trying to manipulate her. It’s a cool new shake-up of the dynamic.
Where are Damon and Stefan at, this season? Are they on the same side, or do they have a difference of opinion over how to deal with things?
DRIES: Damon needs to go and unwind after losing Elena, in the only way Damon can, but he and Stefan are in a good place. But Stefan will make a decision in the premiere that Damon is not cool with, so that will instantly pit them against each other. A lot of the season will be about them working together or working directly against each other. At the end of the day, it’s their brother bond that’s going to win out. But every episode is really about what they want, and sometimes that’s the same and other times they have polar opposite wants.
Who is Damon without Elena to keep him in check?
DRIES: Without the good angel on his shoulder, and just the devil? Well, luckily, Bonnie has decided, “My best friend is in a coma. Her boyfriend is out. I’ve gotta make sure that he doesn’t become some freak show while she’s away,” so when she wakes up, he’s not a completely different person. She’s the moral compass for Damon. What she’s not realizing is that when you hang out with Damon Salvatore for a long time and you buddy up with him, some of his bad behavior starts to rub off on you, and she’s going to be Bonnie 2.0, a little bit. We’ve seen her grow all last season, as well, but instead of grieving or feeling guilty that Elena is gone and she’s not, she’s actually empowered by that. Elena gave her stamp of approval to be empowered. So, Bonnie is sort of the good angel on Damon’s shoulder, and also a little bit of a devil and encourager.
How does Damon feel about Bonnie trying to keep him in check?
DRIES: He’s the one who decided to save her life, so she wouldn’t die, but they have it out in the premiere. He’s been harboring a little bit of resentment because she’s here and Elena is not. They’ll air out all their dirty laundry, and then move on.
Is Damon doing anything to honor Elena’s memory?
DRIES: Yeah. I think the reason the first chapter works, which is how far we are, writing was, is because Elena, even though she’s gone, is still in the ether. She feels present. You’ll see, as you watch the episodes, that she just still exists. Damon talks about her. He is fighting for her, in his own way. He’s fighting to do right by her. He is holding onto that so closely.
Damon went through so much with Elena, but his best friend, Alaric, also suffered a horrible tragedy. Can they be there for each other?
DRIES: That’s basically how they start, in the premiere. They’re both crying on each other’s shoulder. They’re going through the exact same thing. Alaric is going through the real world version of what Damon is going through. They’re there for each other, in the way guys are, where they don’t really talk about their feelings, but just by existing, they are coping. They’ll definitely be bros.
How is Alaric coping?
DRIES: We sat around, as writers, and were like, “His wife died on the altar, with babies. What is the realistic reaction to that? What do we do?” All I’ll say is that the story that we are telling feels like, in the most messed up way, a realistic reaction to what he’s going through.
Is it important to you to keep that human element in there, in some way, to remind people that these characters still live in a real world?
DRIES: Yeah, it is important. Our problem is that when you lose the touchstone, which is humanity, then when you have something like humans dying, it needs to feel profound. If it doesn’t, than you have to figure out what you’re doing wrong. If ten humans can die and nobody cares, then we’ve messed up somewhere.
Where are things at between Caroline and Stefan, at this point?
DRIES: She says, “I have all of this emotional baggage. I turned my humanity off, my mom died, and I’m trying to sort through all of these emotions.” So, he kisses her on the cheek and says, “I’ll wait for you.” So, it’s just a matter of time before Caroline realizes that Stefan is the hero of the show and she’s not going to do any better than that. At the same time, she’s not going to just jump into a relationship. When it feels right, she will come back to him and that will be good. But as their relationship develops, they’re going to have a rocky road ahead of them. There will be some unforeseen complications.
Will she also have her own journey, this season?
DRIES: Yeah, she’ll have a really cool, interesting journey, and we’ve never seen anything like it. She had her own journey with her mom, last season. Everyone made that somehow about Stefan, and said that the way to bring Stefan and Caroline together was to kill her mom, but that’s not why we did that story. We wanted to give Caroline her own story, and the story was saying goodbye to her mom. We’re going to do something similar this year.
Where does Enzo go next, after having been a hero or a villain, and sometimes both, to some of these characters?
DRIES: That’s exactly how he starts the season. They literally say to him, “Pick one of those sides because you’re confusing us.” So, he makes a decision about what side he’s going to be on, but the grass is not green on either side, as it turns out. He’ll continue to struggle with, “Did I pick the right side? Who am I? Am I a villain?”
Kai was such a deliciously awful villain. Where do you go from there, with your big bads?
DRIES: Kai was so fun that it’s going to be hard to replicate that energy, not that we would try. He was just so entertaining to watch. What we decided to do was make Lily a little bit more villainous. I don’t think we ever really see her lift a finger, but she is so manipulative and calculating that she is interesting to watch. And then, she brings her family of these Heretics back, who each have their own past. We don’t want to inundate the audience with new characters and tell them to care. We know that people want to see Stefan, Damon, Bonnie, Caroline and Matt. But we want to slowly feather in these backstories, personalities and relationship dynamics, so that you do start to care and say, “I’m scared of this person,” or “I’m rooting for this person.” That’s what we’re trying to do this year. We’ve never introduced five characters at once. That’s going to be heard. Even with The Originals, first it was Elijah, and then Klaus, and it was slowly but surely. This is going to be an interesting experiment, even just from a filming point of view. To set up a scene with the Heretics, you have to light from every direction and it takes forever. One of them doesn’t even talk. He’s mute, but you have to still light him and shoot him. It just takes forever. So, you just have to choose your moments wisely. It’s been a fun experiment.
Do you feel like you’re past the point of no return for doing cross-overs with The Originals, or are you still open to that?
DRIES: I am more open to cross-overs than anyone you’ll ever meet on either show. I am the spokesperson for cross-over desire. I just want to shake it up, and I like to be challenged. It would be impossible to do a cross-over, scheduling wise, but it would be fun. It would be fun to just mix it up. With 22 episodes, I sit around with the writers and I’m like, “Does anyone have 22 big concept ideas?” We don’t. So, I’m like, “Let’s talk about other ideas.” If it were a 12-episode season, than no, but 22 is a long story. That’s why I’m always about shaking it up. We’re doing these flash-forwards this season for our teasers, which is going to be awesome. It’s telling a whole other story that happens in the future, and I love that. It’s a puzzle. It’s fun. That’s what a cross-over does.
What led to the flash-forwards?
DRIES: We were like, “Okay, it’s Season 7, what’s the new thing we’re doing?” Last year, we had prison world, which was cool. We just thought flash-forwards would be cool because how do you keep the audience vested? Like with Lost, you’re figuring out some weird mystery. Granted, I think a lot of that never added up, but ours hopefully will add up. Our fans are so savvy and they watch the show so passionately that we want to throw them stuff to pay extra attention to. If they don’t want to figure it out, fine. You don’t have to know what that even means. But, it’s this fun little add-on to the season.
The Vampire Diaries returns for Season 7 to The CW on October 8th.