The fifth season of Orange is the New Black was the best of times and the worst of times. Set over the course of a three-day prison riot, the season was composed of convoluted timelines and changes in perspectives. All at once, it displayed the show’s ambitious spirit — and its haywire trajectory.
After that iffy season — which Vox called an “irredeemable mess” — changes are coming to the Netflix show. When Orange is the New Black returns to Netflix on July 27, it'll be very different, thanks to a writers' room overhaul. Only two writers from season 5 were hired back for season 6, hopefully resulting in a more narratively cohesive season than the last. These changes may affect which characters come back for season 6.
We don’t blame you if you can’t quite remember where we left off with each character at the end of the prison riot. Some women were hiding out in an abandoned a pool, right? Others had escaped. And even more boarded buses headed toward an unknown destination. Phew – it really was a whirlwind of a season.
Before we start with who is coming back, let’s review who definitely isn’t returning. Towards the end of last season, the inmates were freed from two of their most palpable threats. The heinous Piscatella (Brad William Henke) was shot in the head by a stray bullet, and the similarly heinous Officer Humphrey (Michael Torpey) was killed when Kukudio (Emily Althaus) blew oxygen bubbles into his IV after he was shot in the leg by Daya (Dascha Polanco). Other prison administrators will definitely return, though. Hunter Emery will be back as CO Rick Hopper. Linda (Beth Dover) is still disguised as a prisoner, and wherever Linda is, Caputo (Nick Sandow) isn't far behind. Natalie "Fig" Figueroa (Alysia Reiner) had an eventful season trying to broker a peace between the inmates and the prison, and will be back in season 6 to deal with riot's aftermath.
Now, onto the inmates. The fifth season ended on an explosive cliffhanger: A SWAT team blew up the door of the abandoned bunker in which 10 women were hiding. Season 6 will resolve the mystery of what happened to the women in the bunker: Frieda (Dale Soules), Suzanne (Uzo Aduba), Cindy (Adrienne C Moore), Taystee (Danielle Brooks), Red (Kate Mulgrew), Piper (Taylor Schilling), Alex (Laura Prepon), Nicky (Natasha Lyonne), Gloria (Selenis Leyva), and Blanca (Laura Gomez).
We're all but guaranteed this core contingent will be returning. Danielle Brooks, who plays Taystee, confirmed she’ll be sticking with the show through the seventh season. “After seven, I think it might be time for me to spread my wings, but I don’t want to speak too fast on that,” she told Entertainment Weekly. Plus, there’s no way Orange is the New Black will kill off Piper Chapman after her revelation last season that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Alex Vause.
So, that takes care of one set of inmates — how about the escapees? Both Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning) and Mei Chang (Lori Tan Chinn) escaped prison during the riot. Pennsatucky was last seen with her rapist, Coates (James McMenamin), in his cabin in the woods; Mei Chang slipped through a hole in the gate and said, "See you later, motherfuckers!" We hope Mei gets away with it.
Most of the other prisoners didn’t escape or hide in the bunker. Most boarded buses headed towards unknown destinations. Flaca (Jackie Cruz) and Maritza (Diane Guerrero) are forcibly separated and put into different buses. Lorna (Yael Stone), who’s definitely pregnant with Vinnnie’s baby, boarded a bus.
A subtle detail in a teaser posted on Twitter gave us an idea for where those buses might be going. The jail seen in the opening credits is no longer Litchfield but a maximum security prison, complete with a shower with built-in handcuffs. Ostensibly, at least some of the participants in the prison riot last episode will be traveling to maximum security prison — perhaps for a reunion with Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst), sent to max at the end of season 1.
As for Daya (Dascha Polanco), the prisoner who shot Officer Humphrey? There’s no telling if she’ll be back. Polanco has hinted at her character's ambiguous destiny. "Daya's on her own; she just committed a crime [and] obviously that will be punished. You might not see her ever again," she told USA Today in June 2017.
Finally, we’ll be getting a new character in season 6. Rebecca Knox, who previously appeared on CBS' Bull, will play Tina Swope, an inmate who Knox describes as being a “tough little thing." According to an interview Knox held with Seat24F, most of her scenes are with Natasha Lyonne (Nicky) and Yael Stone (Lorna).
No matter who stays and who goes, what's for sure is that season 6 will still have a tremendous number of storylines to juggle. Better read that recap before July 27.