After eight seasons of moonstones, witches, doppelgangers and more neck breaks than one could count, The Vampire Diaries aired its final episode on Friday night. The series finale, titled “I Was Feeling Epic,” was written by co-creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec. Williamson left at the end of Season 2, making Plec the showrunner, but the pair reteamed for the final installment, which paid homage to the show’s long history, brought back old faces from the past, and ultimately left its characters with some closure.
The biggest return of the final hour was Nina Dobrev, who got to reprise not one, but two roles. Dobrev has been sorely missed since she left the show after its sixth season, and each moment she’s on screen here feels warm and familiar. As comforting as it is to see Elena back, it’s even more satisfying watching Dobrev portray her deliciously evil doppelganger, Katherine Pierce, one last time. The plot of the finale centers predominately around Katherine, who last appeared in Season 5, when she died and was mysteriously banished somewhere (although it was heavily implied that she wasn’t being sent to some peaceful resting place). Naturally, in the time that’s passed, Katherine’s become Queen of Hell. It wouldn’t be a Vampire Diaries seriesfinale without Katherine getting revenge on the Salvatore Brothers, and her return is nothing short of glorious.
This show has gone on a long time, but understanding every bit of the plot here isn’t crucial, or even necessary to enjoying the finale. The episode feels like it could have easily run for two hours, and as a result, the story feels a bit rushed, but viewers who stepped away a few years ago, whether when Dobrev left or earlier, can still follow most of the emotional beats that play out. This was always a strength of The Vampire Diaries - despite all the supernatural threats, more often than not, the show took time to put its characters first. That philosophy remains true for the finale: In between all the bell-ringing and hellfire, Williamson and Plec’s script gives long-time fans several touching character moments that still completely land even if you skipped out on this season’s overall arc: Caroline’s phone call to Stefan is a beautifully-acted scene that illustrates just how far these characters have evolved (and is also a reminder that Candice King needs to appear on more shows), while Damon and Stefan’s goodbye in the tunnels is easily one of their best moment from the the series. For the most part, the finale offered a sense of completion to the long, winding journeys these characters have been on, and that’s all I can ask for as a fan. These were endearing people that viewers watched come into their own, from teenagers to adults (the ones who weren’t immortal, anyway) over nearly a decade. It’s heartening to watch their final moments on-screen and to then imagine what the rest of their lives might be like.
Series finales are immensely difficult to pull off, and while some outcomes here might be “safe,” I applaud Williamson and Plec for not pulling any cheap stunts. For instance, I’m so glad that Bonnie, who like most characters on this show, has already died before, doesn’t get killed off in some meaningless way. Instead, she gets to save the day by channeling the strength of her entire witch lineage to stop the hellfire. It’s great to see a woman of color have such agency on-screen and it really solidifies her as one of the major heroines in the story, alongside Caroline and Elena.
On an emotional level, I think the finale delivers for its fans in spades. The biggest theme from the episode, and in a way, the series as a whole, is finding peace. Caroline loses Stefan, but gets to raise her daughters and run a school with Alaric; Bonnie decides to travel the world; Matt, who sadly never got enough to do throughout the entire series’ run, at least gets to see his sister one last time and chooses to stay in the town he loves as Sherriff. Stefan sacrifices himself for his brother, allowing Damon and Elena to live a human life together. While that might not sound so happy for Stefan, after all the history he and Damon have shared, it feels like they each get the respective redemption they deserve. At the end of his human life, he and Damon reunite. It’s fitting that for a series’ that was always about romantic and familial love, that the final shot isn’t of one of the series’ many couples, but of the two brothers embracing each other. Last, but not least, there’s Elena: the show started with her losing her parents and ends with her getting to see them again. In the end, the series didn’t give everyone a pat, happy ending, but managed to allow the characters to find their own version of peace, while still leaving the door open for some interpretation. There has been no shortage of supernatural shenanigans over the past eight years, but the show also been able to explore real emotions surrounding life, loss and grief. In many ways, this finale feels like the appropriate culmination of those ideas.
There was a lot to love in the episode, but not everything made sense: like why, exactly, was Stefan’s final wish to open a Charles Xavier-type school for supernatural kids? That whole sequence, coupled with the not-so-subtle “that’s another story” voice-over felt designed to leave the door open for another TV series in The Vampire Diaries universe down the line. Still, even as someone who never got invested in The Originals, I appreciated the nod toward Klaus at the end.
When The Vampire Diaries premiered in 2009, the show came with a significant amount of pop cultural baggage - most notably, genre fatigue. Just for some context, Twilight was already a worldwide phenomenon and the first season of HBO’s True Blood had pulled in viewers wanting something more adult out of their supernatural fiction. There were plenty of reasons to flat out dismiss a third vampire series at its outset, but The Vampire Diaries flourished when it could have just as easily faltered. At almost every turn, the series proved smarter and more substantive than its peers, making bold, surprising decisions and crafting complicated narrative choices that largely felt earned (something True Blood and Twilight repeatedly fell short of).
The show knew what it was; it just had to prove that to everyone watching it. Early on, it proved again and again that it was more than its name, and more than a high school show about vampires. The plot was propulsive - a single episode could contain as many twists and reversals as entire seasons of other series. Its mythology was always just fun and complicated enough that you could tell the writers took the time to think everything through, without any need to start drawing LOST or Fringe-like diagrams to keep track of all the moving parts. The show never really got enough credit for how quickly and confidently it tapped into the TV zeitgeist that we've become accustomed to over the course of the last decade. Especially in those early days, it was doing things nobody else was. It’s difficult to bring any story to an end, especially one that’s lasted for 170 episodes. The Vampire Diaries had a long, successful run, but I’d still encourage anyone who missed out to give it a chance when the entire series becomes available to stream. As for Friday night’s finale, the show said goodbye in style, honoring what came before. This wasn’t a finale that took huge risks; rather, it was one that tried to sincerely give something back to its fans. Thanks, TVD. It’s been epic.