Nina Dobrev
Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW
Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…

The Vampire Diaries returns tonight after a six-week hiatus, and, as exec producer Julie Plec will tell you, from here on in, it’s all about the countdown to the arrival of Klaus (Joseph Morgan), pictured here in the April 21 episode in a flashback with Katherine (Nina Dobrev). We know that Plec and EP Kevin Williamson looked at hundreds of actors for the pivotal role of the world’s oldest, baddest bloodsucker who wants to sacrifice Elena, so what did they see in Morgan? “He has a depth and an intelligence as an actor, but he’s also got this great wicked grin and these dimples that make him seem both fun and naughty at the same time, even as he’s being evil or very stern,” Plec says. “So there’s a playfulness about him that Kevin and I really liked because we didn’t want Klaus to be a one-note bad guy. The more layers that we can bring to the character, the more successful the character’s gonna be, and Joseph seems to have the ability to do all that.” (Plec says he’s also read all the L.J. Smith books upon which the series is based, and has not only done his research on Klaus, but also the vampire canon and lore in general.)

Here are a few more immediate teases/spoilers. For those hoping the fire at the Grill would mean we’d get a new eatery set on the show, sorry. “It was just a little fire mishap. The Grill is still around and kicking,” Plec says. “My joke is that I want to open a Mystic Pizza, but that, as of right now, is a future plan.”

• Caroline’s blood saved Matt, so when he woke up in the last episode after Jonas slit his throat, he was not in transformation. ”She had this romanticized idea of how [Matt] would finally respond when she told him the truth about herself and it couldn’t have gone more wrong,” Plec says. “What is she gonna do about the fact that he knows the truth, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to be able to handle it at all?” The question now: “Is he on vervain? If he is, can we get him off vervain? Should he be compelled? Should he not be compelled? Have we learned our lesson where all that’s concerned? That’s a big part of the story when we come back.”

• Tonight we find out if Katherine, John, and Isobel, who just returned to Mystic Falls, are actually all on the same side soon. “Isobel made it pretty clear to Elena when she was in town last time that she didn’t really give a damn about her own daughter, and yet, we caught a glimpse of moments between she and John where we as an audience were led to believe otherwise. So this episode is really all about trying to set the stage for what side she’s on, if she in fact can be trusted, if there’s any element of her that’s capable of caring about Elena, and why she, John, and Katherine, seem to have a behind-the-scenes arrangement cooked up that we have not been privy to yet.”

• What does Isobel’s arrival mean for Aunt Jenna? “There’s always a chance that the web of lies will unravel,” Plec says. “It’s gonna be really, really, really difficult for Elena and Alaric to get themselves out of this situation. The truth that they’ve been lying, the two of them, is standing on the front doorstep. So how they end up handling it and how that goes down, it actually shapes a storyline for Jenna over the next couple episodes that’s really powerful.”

• In tonight’s episode, Bonnie will go on a field trip looking for the site of the old witch massacre and learn a lot about how she can help Elena in the fight against Klaus, and what it will take. ”It’s big,” Plec says. ”By the time we get to the [1960s Decade Dance in the April 14 episode, where they fear Klaus may show], the tension is really high between Bonnie and Jeremy because he’s legitimately afraid for her life. Bonnie, as a witch, is one of the only weapons that our team has against Klaus. And for Jeremy, who’s lost two girlfriends already in his life — in addition to his parents — it’s really hard for him to watch Bonnie gear up for battle. He’s gonna go through a lot emotionally out of concern and anxiety, and Bonnie’s gonna go through a lot because she knows that she can help in this fight.”

• Damon won’t let Katherine — who told him she made a deal with John to save one Salvatore brother, and it was Stefan — get to him. “I think that’s the best part about Damon’s growth at this point is that this woman who’s done nothing but ruin him for a century and a half now is sort of like ‘sticks and stones…’ to him,” Plec laughs. “I don’t think there’s a single other thing that she could say that would ruin him because he’s functionally desensitized himself to the things that she does to him that are hurtful, and it’s been a nice journey for him because he’s got bigger fish to fry. He’s kinda got a thing for his brother’s girl — she’s gonna be sacrificed in a blood ritual. He’ll try to shoefly Katherine and keep his eye on the prize, we’ll see if he’s able to do that.” (For how Damon’s feelings for Elena and his opposing opinion about how to keep her safe from Klaus will affect his relationship with Stefan, head to The Spoiler Room.)

• Plec won’t reveal when Tyler will return to Mystic Falls, but she reminds us that there will be one more full moon before season’s end, and “it doesn’t seem right to have a full moon without a werewolf.” Look for him return before the season finale. (Jules will return as well. All Plec will say is, “It’s unexpected, and it’s really, really bad timing.”)

• Expect that season finale to be an emotional one. “There’s gonna be a lot to deal with, and a lot of our heroes going through some pretty dark times and trying to come out the other side,” she says. “The one thing that we know that we don’t want to do this year is leave 13 threads dangling at the end of the season. So while yes, there will absolutely be cliffhangers in the finale, it’s not gonna be like 97. We want to let the audience feel like they have begun a ride with us at the top of the season and seen it all the way through, and that we’ve delivered a true ending to them.” The body count for the remainder of the season? “It probably tips over into two hands,” Plec says. (Yes, we asked her one hand or two.)

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Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…
The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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