By Natalie Abrams
Updated July 12, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Bob Mahoney/The CW

The Vampire Diaries

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Things are looking pretty bleak in the new season of The Vampire Diaries.

After Elena (Nina Dobrev) sacrificed herself by entering a 60-year beauty sleep so Bonnie could live a full life, the series jumped ahead an indeterminate amount of time in the finale to a post-apocalyptic Mystic Falls — likely due to the fact that Mama Salvatore (Annie Wersching) released her heretics from the prison world.

“It’s these six villains who can do magic and are vampires,” executive producer Caroline Dries said at Sunday’s Comic-Con panel, calling them violent and dangerous. “It’s the first time we see our characters try and go up against them [and they don’t know what they’re doing].” The big question, Dries added, is how Mystic Falls fell into such despair, which is what the CW drama plans to address early on.

Their arrival will put Enzo in a very precarious position, said Michael Malarkey. “It’s about choosing his allegiance,” he said. “Does he go with Lily and the heretics or go with Damon? It’s a very clear struggle for him.”

Among the new villains next season, executive producer Julie Plec teased that there will be three new women introduced, Valerie and a couple named Nora and Mary-Louise, who have been together for 120 years. “They’re nasty, nasty, nasty girls,” Plec said.

But facing these new villains won’t be an easy task, especially because Elena’s absence causes Damon to spiral. “It’s, ‘Who am I without this girl right by my side?'” Plec said. “‘She’s my center, the one who grounds me.’ The lines are going to get a little crooked. We’re going to see a lot of naughty Damon trying not to be naughty.”

“Who is Damon Salvatore when he’s not pining after this girl? What does Damon do in his spare time? It’s fun for the writers to dig a little deeper into the character and [see] what makes him tick,” Dries said, teasing that we’ll be seeing more of the Damon and Stefan’s (Paul Wesley) relationship as they deal with what’s going on with their mother.

For his part, Somerhalder said this isn’t a new side of Damon. “It’s the old f–king Damon, the Damon that we really fell in love with,” he said. “Let’s bring back that energy, that sexy volatile, dangerous [energy]. All that energy you fell in love with, I’m bringing it back.”

Therefore, Mystic Falls could be a dangerous place for Bonnie (Kat Graham). “I thought it was a really clever way to keep Elena there and keep her presence there and keep the door open in a lot of ways to have her come back,” Graham said of the sleeping beauty curse. “It also creates an interesting dynamic [between Bonnie and Damon] going into season 7 and the fact that Bonnie is alive and Elena’s not. It’s on Bonnie to stay alive.”

As for Stefan, Plec said his relationship with Caroline (Candice Accola) will take “a lot of very unexpected twists and turns.” “The fun of this couple is they’re just coming together,” she said, recalling Stefan telling Caroline he’ll be there when she’s ready. “They’re just getting really cemented in their romantic status. She’s trying really hard not to be ready.” Plec also added that there would be “shirtless stuff every episode.”

The Vampire Diaries will return Thursday, Oct. 8 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

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The Vampire Diaries

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