True Blood seems to be doing a bit of course correction in its final season, and if the premiere is any indication, the direction it's heading now is the right one. The action is focused back on Bon Temps, which, in a nod to Hurricane Katrina, is left to fend for itself as violent Hep-V infected vampires (H-vamps) attack. Alcide is the only werewolf in sight (hooray). And the only real reminders of the complicated Bilith and Warlow story lines are Jessica's protective and unlikely friendship with Andy's daughter Adilyn; Bill having to work with Andy to save those kidnapped by the H-vamps; and, of course, Eric still being MIA after the effects of Warlow's blood wore off while he was reading nude on a mountaintop in the season 6 finale. (That last one is worrisome, but presumably, the distance between Pam and Eric and the rest of the characters will give them serious screen time together, which they lacked last season. Away from the immediate threat and responsibilities in Bon Temps, might Eric and Pam have time to reminisce with flashbacks? Fingers crossed.)
The simpler plot—H-vamps versus humans and the uninfected vamps willing to protect them in exchange for their clean blood—frees the story up to be classically scary again. That's Jessica and a blood-drooling H-vamp having a standoff in the dark in front of Andy's house. That's Bill and Andy wandering through a pitch-black abandoned slaughterhouse with Andy's small flashlight as the only source of light. That's raising the stakes so deaths happen swiftly, brutally, and without time to be properly mourned. Let's dig in.
Picking up where the season 6 finale leaves off, the H-vamps have a feeding frenzy at the mixer Bill and Sam had organized to pair humans with healthy vamps. Much ass-kicking ensues, but the highlights are a vamp who looks like David Arquette in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie asking sweet-smelling Sookie, "What are you?" before wolf Alcide attacks him; Violet saving Jason, which makes it impossible to completely hate her; Sam getting naked within the first 1 minute and 45 seconds of the season to shift and run after pregnant Nicole, who is taken hostage by the H-vamps along with others including Arlene, Holly, and clueless cop Kevin; and a wailing Lettie Mae informing everyone after the battle ends that her daughter Tara is dead.
Record scratch. Tara is dead. Dead, dead, dead. Rutina Wesley confirms it. Read our chat with her. It had looked like Tara had the vampire threatening Lettie Mae under control the last time we saw her, but off-camera, he killed her. It's shocking, but when you think about it, necessary: The character was only tolerable at this point when she was around Pam, and Pam's out-of-town. She's central enough for her death to affect so many: Sookie, Lafayette, Jason, Jessica, Sam, and poor orphaned Willa. Not to mention Lettie Mae, who was only worried about herself in the end (cause to hate her again after her genuine reconciliation with Tara?).
In the wake of the attack, Bellefleur's (formerly Merlotte's) becomes a triage center for the wounded (like Lettie Mae, who reluctantly drinks Willa's blood to heal), the self-medicating (pass the bottle, Lafayette), and everyone who blames Sookie. Jason phones Andy to tell him about Holly and Arlene, and he leaves Adilyn at home with instructions not to let Jessica inside no matter what—and callously breaks the news to Jessica about Tara's death. (Remember that Jessica killed three of his daughters, so give him a pass.) When Andy arrives at Bellefleur's, Alcide and Sam admit they lost the scent of the missing. Bill tells Andy that H-vamps will be nesting in an abandoned building, so while Jason and Violet are sent to check out one, Bill insists he accompany Andy to the closed-down slaughterhouse. Meanwhile, Sookie overhears Alcide blaming her for the massacre and she quietly storms off.
Sam's night gets worse when Vince, the man he defeated in the mayoral race, confronts him about having just seen him shift back from his dog form. Vince agrees to stay quiet for now, for the sake of the fragile townsfolk. Sam and Bill ask the humans to go home and feed their healthy vamp escorts in exchange for protection. New James™ (recast from last season) gets paired with drunk Lafayette, while No One We Know™ accompanies Sam. Alcide tries to phone Sookie, but she throws her cell into the woods; she never should have gotten reception in anyway. Sookie stumbles over a dead girl's body and just keeps going—she's seen too much death to care about someone she doesn't know.
An abrupt cut to Marrakesh, Morocco follows. Pam, who's apparently changed her name to Go F--- Yourself, plays Russian Roulette with a man who's survived 27, make that 28 times. He believes his God loves him, Pam believes her God hates her. The point of this: You think someone playing that game doesn't value life and has nothing to lose, but Pam's doing it because she cares about not losing Eric. Once her opponent meets the truth death, she asks another man where her maker is. She receives the name and address of the person she has to see.
NEXT: Just two girls, talking about boys