"While his death is absolutely tragic for many reasons, there\'s also a sense of full circle to his experience," co-creator and showrunner Julie Plec tells THR about that finale death.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from
After being nearly destroyed countless times throughout eight seasons of
, the small town of Mystic Falls, Virginia was saved yet again in the show\'s series finale — but not everyone made it out alive.
The evil Katherine (Nina Dobrev) returned to make sure Mystic Falls was engulfed in hellfire, but Bonnie (Kat Graham) devised a way to destroy her once and for all — it just required one of the Salvatores to sacrifice himself too. While Damon (Ian Somerhalder) stepped up to the plate, Stefan (Paul Wesley) decided that because his brother had finally returned to his pre-evil vampire self, he would do it.
Bonnie, after summoning the strength of the Bennett witches, was also able to wake Elena from her slumber. Bonnie set out to travel the world, Elena and Damon got to live happily ever after together, Matt served as Mystic Falls Sheriff (and got a nifty bench, too), Caroline started a boarding school for supernatural children with Alaric\'s (Matt Davis) and Jeremy\'s (Steven R. McQueen) help, and in the final scene, the brothers reunited with a tearful hug.
about the finale, including alternate endings for some characters, the importance of callbacks to the pilot, and Dobrev\'s big return.
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The plan wasn\'t always to have Stefan sacrifice himself so his brother could find happiness. Plec and co-creator Kevin Williamson first came up with an ideal ending back in season two. "There have been so many different versions of that in our mind," Plec tells
. "Back then, the show ended with both brothers dying and watching Elena go out and live her life as a human and grow up and be happy and have kids and get married. And all the sacrifices that they had made so that she could be human and safe made it worth it, and they could\'ve gone and passed on into oblivion."
Plec continues, "Then of course we created the Other Side and then Elena became a vampire and then Nina left the show. Once Nina left the show, all the plans of how it would end one day had to shift because ultimately it became less about ensuring Elena\'s safety and future and more about the relationships between the brothers themselves and their own path to redemption. There was a pitch on the table that was a very good pitch where Damon didn\'t make it to the end, and then ultimately the pitch that made it to the end was, I think, the best one."
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While Stefan\'s immortal life was tragically cut short, Plec says that he was still able to have meaningful life experiences. "For me, Stefan got to have life and happiness. He struggled with his — we\'ll call it his addiction — his entire vampire life, but he had his best friend in Lexi, he had true love in Elena, he had the redemption of his brother, and then he got to fall in love a second time and find a partner and a mate in Caroline. And while his death is absolutely tragic for many reasons, there\'s also a sense of full circle to his experience that he was the one that sort of got them into this mess and now he\'s going to get them out of it."
Damon, on the other hand, was "a whirlwind of chaos," Plec says. "His last moment of innocence, and I would even say sweetness, was when he was still human 160-some-odd years ago. And so for Stefan to be able to give his brother that opportunity to experience the simple peace and happiness of everyday life as a human and with his girl and all the things that Stefan was able to have I think is the greatest gift of all."
She continues, "Damon\'s done a lot of really crappy things in eight years. He has not been a model citizen. He has been extremely, extremely dysfunctional and extremely disruptive. While in no way are we trying to say the lesson is that the bad boy can be changed by the love of a woman, in this case it\'s true — and the love of a brother. And so now Damon Salvatore gets to have a second chance at humanity."
Stefan\'s death was perhaps most tragic for Caroline, who had approximately one day of wedded bliss before he sacrificed himself to save Mystic Falls. But Plec says that eventually Caroline will be able to move on. "Stefan and Caroline found beautiful best friend partnership marital love, familial love, and everything you wish for as an adult that you want out of a partner," she says. "And that\'s after Stefan had epic first love — fall down the rabbit hole, drown in it, painful love — with Elena. So there\'s no reason why Caroline can\'t move forward in her life and find a different kind of partner before her currently eternal life is over. I\'m not saying it\'s going to be Klaus, but it certainly leaves a door open for anybody."
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After spending at least a decade of her life sacrificing herself for the greater good of Mystic Falls and her supernatural friends, Bonnie needed to have a happy ending. "She has earned the right to be happy," Plec says. "Bonnie needed to survive and to grow up and to live a long life and to have everything she ever wanted. There was a pitch on the table at some point that maybe Bonnie and Matt Donovan would end up together and have children together. There was a pitch on the table that maybe Bonnie takes a series of great French lovers and never has another real relationship again because Enzo is her one true love and she\'ll see him again in peace."
There was no question in Plec\'s mind that token human Matt Donovan (Zach Roerig) would make it to the end of the series alive. "That\'s my personal battle," she says. "I\'ve argued with a dozen people over the years about the importance of Matt Donovan remaining alive in this universe. It seemed to me that as the token human, his survival, him going down fighting and being willing to sacrifice himself at any time along the way in the name of the greater good of the town and then to be left standing in that town at the end, it\'s a beautiful closure for him and so I really wanted to make sure that he lived to tell the tale."
Throughout the final hour, Plec and Williamson, who co-wrote the episode, sprinkled in references to the pilot and other key moments in the series — including the shot of Elena writing in her diary in the cemetery with a crow. "The crow was classic Kevin," Plec says. After being tasked with writing that scene, "he came back with that section with that beautiful voiceover and the crow and Damon coming to meet Elena at the cemetery. And to me, it\'s one of the most beautiful moments of the show. That is all him wanting to reflect back on his favorite elements of the first season."
One of the most personal callbacks for Plec was including music from the pilot. "I have, like, a Pavlovian response when I hear them. I just burst into tears. One of which is the return of the Fray song that ended our pilot. If you watch the [episode] with someone who was a fan in the first couple of seasons and maybe hasn\'t watched it since then, there is so much for them to enjoy about it and so many little nostalgic shout-outs — not to mention all the little Easter Eggs for the fans who know the show intimately."
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The eighth season saw the return of several key characters, and the final episode brought back a few more (including Sara Canning as Aunt Jenna and David Anders as Uncle John). That was important to Plec personally, because the
"This is a show that was borne out of loss and grief. When we met Elena, she had lost her parents and didn\'t know if she could continue and didn\'t know how she was going to make her way through life under the weight of this loss. And when we end the show, we\'re ending the show in peace — which I would go so far as to say is the
version of what heaven means. These characters, some that were ripped away from us very tragically, some that we weren\'t sure what their ultimate destination would be, to be able to show them at peace with themselves and in a version of their own peace, however you want to define it, was the perfect bookend to the grief and the loss that launched the series."
The end, which sees Elena reunite with her parents and Jenna and John, "To me, that\'s peace and you can define it however you want," Plec said. "You can define it as closure, you can define it as heaven, you can define it as some sort of spiritual other world. Whatever it is that you want to define it as, that is what peace means to me — which is that somehow you find yourself at peace because you have everything you ever wanted."