Last week, "The Vampire Diaries" loaded the deck for a bang-up winter finale -- Damon's fellow prisoner Enzo popped up, Damon and Elena both fell under Wes' inhospitable care, and Katherine continued to (quite literally) fall apart. I spoke to executive producer (and the writer of tonight's episode) Caroline Dries to get a sense of what's in the works. There's some torture and suffering ahead, which isn't great news for our vampires, plus Katherine, well, she's not getting any younger. But the good news? If you like seeing Elena enjoying herself instead of being racked by guilt all the time, you're not the only one -- which can only mean good things... at some point. 

It seems like we're really going to be exploring Damon's character now that he's faced with a betrayal from his past, a really Big Bad and the torture of his girlfriend.

One thing we're really using a point of tension is, how does Damon react when he realizes when Enzo is alive? And what is Enzo going to do when he gets his hands on Damon? A lot of tension is built into that relationship. They're soldier brothers in a way, because they've been through five years of misery together, and Damon is his only friend. 

 

When we saw Enzo last week, he was humming to himself. Has he gone around the bend, or has he just become zen about being poked and prodded? 

I think you can say he's reached a point of zen. He's definitely on edge; he's unpredictable and can be explosive, but when you think about what he's been going through for decades, what his body has endured, that makes sense. He has a way of coping and a way dealing with what he's going through.

 

So, what should we expect from Enzo? 

He's more of a fun personality, and it's going to be interesting to see how he interacts with Damon. 

 

What's happening to Katherine is intriguing -- we don't have that many humans left on the show, much less one who's rapidly aging. 

I'll say, at the beginning of the season, we knew this would be the season of Katherine Pierce, but the only way for her to redeem herself was for us to do a version of the terminal cancer story. We gave her terminal cancer, so the question becomes, what do you do in your state of decline? 

 

She, apparently, makes jokes, hooks up with Stefan and goes to a trainer. 

At the core of who she is, she's very vain. She wants to look her best, and she might be avoiding the reality of the situation, trying not to ask herself, "Does this mean I'm dying? I'm aging very quickly." Matt's her trainer, but his storyline is going to bring him closer with Nadia. They're going to have a very complicated, layered relationship. There are some feelings there, but Nadia's always going to be Katherine's daughter, so it's complex. 

 

It seems as if, with the Originals being spun off, the show is moving away from the rapid-fire pacing to give us (and the characters) some time to absorb and deal with all that's happened. Do you feel that you have a little more room to explore now?

I never thought of it like that, but I think you're totally right. The realization I had was that I loved seeing Elena happy, and the premiere was a great example of that. When Bonnie's on the phone with her mom, we see what it's like when Elena doesn't have the world on her shoulders. I love that. That has brought a lot of character opportunities for us, so we're not just running every episode. With Katherine, we also get some opportunities to explore her humanity. It's not interesting to see someone working out on most shows, but here it's not a scene in a normal TV show and we get to explore what she's going through. 

 

So what's going on with her and Stefan? Was that just a one-time hook-up?

Katherine's crisis is that she's starting to age rapidly, so she's thinking, "I just had a shot with Stefan, what do I need to do to hold on longer, because I don't want to blow this." For him, it's "what do I do after spending a summer drowning in a vault, who am I post-Elena Gilbert, who am I, who do I love, who do I like?" It's more of a self-reflection episode in how he handles it. 

 

We haven't seen much of Caroline, except to know that she's still ticked at Elena for not dumping Damon. 

Caroline, I've read so much stuff about her recently. I see the hate Tweets about Caroline, and to me she's the voice of reality. When you date a murderer, bad things are going to happen, so she's thinking, hello, yes, I'm trying to protect my best friend. She's raising the question of whether or not Elena is changing, and if so, is Elena changing her point of view about things because of Damon, who's not a nice guy necessarily. Caroline adds a layer to Elena's story. We want to show she isn't perfect either, and how that affects her and her friends, and show it's not as simple for her as it seems to be. 

 

We have a pretty nasty Big Bad in Wes, but I sense that he really cares about Aaron. 

I totally agree, and I think that's what grounds Wes. If more characters were human on this show, we would totally be on Wes' side, but because we're attached to Damon and Stefan, we're automatically against Wes. He wants to kill evil, and the vampires kill people. But because the show is focused on the vampires, Wes is the bad guy. 

 

But he also experiments on those vampires. Is there a bigger message in what he's doing?

There is. What Wes is doing is a more sophisticated version of some [real-life experimentation], and what he learns in the episodes coming up will have lasting effects on the seasons to come.