Vampires and werewolves are a dime a dozen, but throw in humor and an ensemble cast that voraciously eats the scenery and you're compelled to watch the 10 best of HBO's "True Blood" episodes. The cast destroys stereotypes and bring vibrant life to the undead and not so dead. The South gets a few more layers of mystery to its decaying past, as these episodes prove.

  1. "Beautifully Broken" Combine vampires and werewolves and you get an evil chocolate and peanut butter blend of a "True Blood" episode. Tasty as this combination is, it'll go straight to your soul. Eric's past gets fleshed out as the conflict between werewolves and vampires during World War II is shown. Sam finds his birth parents but at what cost?

  2. "I Will Rise Up" The aftermath of a suicide bombing shows how cunning Eric can be as he creates a bond between himself and Sookie that has future repercussions. Emotions run rampant as Maryann's influence takes an overt turn. Godric leaves Eric a final lesson and Eric's reaction is magnificent.

  3. "Scratches" The horror of getting hunted through the night by a Minotaur is a terrific scare tactic to start off the episode. Jason's need to belong sets him up as opposition to Sookie's beliefs. Sookie discovers where Lafayette has disappeared to and barters for his freedom, thus bringing back one of the best characters in "True Blood." Maryann's Dionysian-type influence builds pressure in the background.

  4. "Escape from Dragon House" The episode-long thread of Jason dealing with some unforeseen effects of the drug "V" makes for hilarity. The first appearance of Eric occurs, marking the birth of a main character. One of the most telling flashbacks in "True Blood" is here as Jason protects Tara from her mother when they were children.

  5. "You'll Be the Death of Me" Here we get competition between the two leading contenders for Sookie's affection: Bill and Sam. Bill fights the sun and loses, while Sam ends up a punching bag but causes enough distraction for Sookie to save herself. Wrapping up with Jason finding a church, Sam finding his stash and Bellefleur finding an unpleasant passenger.

  6. "Beyond Here Lies Nothin" Seeing Jason and Bellefleur as action figures gone mental is genius. Maryann uses the whole town to initiate a pagan ritual to welcome her god. Sam reaches out to his adoptive parents while a new lie is born and Bill disappears, killing the happy ending "True Blood" was reaching.

  7. "Fresh Blood" Eric's humanity is fragmented to the viewer as he makes a deal with the king of vampires instead of attempting further revenge for the death of his human father. The terror and helplessness of Bill and Sookie feels like a dense fog running through this episode and delivers big. Eric's plan becomes a bastardization of Godric's last lesson and Eric's own ruthlessness thus giving the story a fragile beauty.

  8. "Never Let Me Go" The friendship between Sam and Lafayette drives this episode and epitomizes true male friendship. The most powerful line—"Of course you can have your job back."—occurs near the end of their reunion and is a gutpunch to the soul. Meanwhile, Maryann's manipulation of Tara becomes more insinuating and interesting to observe.

  9. "Trouble" Jason and Bellefleur "Odd Couple" it up as each push the boundaries of their relationship. Lafayette picks up a possible love interest while psychotic love stalks Tara. Werewolves in Eric's past are exposed and if you don't like vicious werewolves, go back to your coloring books.

  10. "Plaisir d'Amour" Eric states, "True Blood, it keeps you alive but it will bore you to death." This line exemplifies the interaction between Eddie, played by Stephen Root, and Jason as they live their own version of Stockholm syndrome.  Sam's shifting is finally exposed, figuratively and literally, to Sookie in the last few seconds and it's "True Blood" perfection.