When The Vampire Diaries premiered on September 10, 2009, I had no idea what to expect. Lots of sexy hookups and action shots? Probably. The promotions leading up to the event - specifically posters of a gorgeous brunette flanked by two chiseled hunks—did little to dissuade my opinion, and I figured that, like most teen dramas on the CW, The Vampire Diaries would fall under the “guilty pleasure” television category.
Oh how wrong I was...
Thanks to a bevy of explosive cliff-hangers (“hello, John; goodbye, John”), complex antiheroes (two words: Klaus Mikaelson), and witty one-liners that packed plenty of bite (snarky Damon forever), The Vampire Diaries never failed to entertain me over the course of eight glorious seasons. But as much as I relished all the decade dances, swoonworthy declarations of love, and constant references to Stefan's “Hero Hair,” The Vampire Diaries' poignant exploration of the transformative nature of grief remains its greatest strength for me. Even when the usually fast-paced storylines started to get bogged down by convoluted mythology and plot holes emerged, when vengeful monsters ran amok and Matt Donovan suddenly became the only non-mystical person left, one thing always resonated with me: TVD's ability to delve into the most somber aspects of the human experience and turn them into stories that inspire and engage.
You see, although heavily advertised as a series about beautiful people stuck in a tumultuous love triangle, TVD had so many more profound layers to it. While the various romances (Delena, Stelena, Klaroline, Forwood, Steroline, Bonenzo, Beremy - just to name a few) and the complicated dynamic between the Salvatore brothers certainly played a huge role in the show's appeal, at the core of it all was a story about loss and perseverance. From the very beginning, in which we meet Elena Gilbert, a young girl eager to achieve a sense of normalcy after the tragic deaths of her parents, that much is evident. While she paints on a bright smile for her friends and teachers and tries to convince herself that “today will be different,” she finds solace in the solitude of her local cemetery, where she sneaks off to scribble in her journal and ruminate about her melancholic existence in this brave, new world. What Elena doesn't quite grasp yet in the pilot—she later realizes it in episode 3x14, “Our Town”—is that there's no going back to the life she once knew; the car crash that occurred on Wickery Bridge that fateful night, along with the mourning period that followed, has reshaped her journey and the only way to heal was to move forward.
And because nobody—including seemingly immortal beings in a high-stakes environment—is immune to death, our beloved doppelganger wasn't the only character who suffered immense heartache over the years. I wept as Caroline watched her mom and dad wither away; my blood ran cold at the sight of Alaric cradling the body of his murdered bride, Jo, at the altar, right after her sociopathic twin brother destroyed their dream of a happily-ever-after; and chills erupted all over me when Bonnie, after witnessing Stefan kill Enzo, released a scream of anguish so potent and raw, she created an alternate dimension. Then, just when I thought TVD couldn't wreak any more havoc on my emotions, it performed perhaps the cruelest act of all: having Stefan, freshly human and married, sacrifice himself to help save his hometown of Mystic Falls—and give his brother, whom he condemned to a lifetime of misery many moons ago when he talked him into transitioning into a vampire, a shot at happiness with Elena, and a chance to show everyone that he was “the better man.” At that point, I wished for nothing more than the ability to turn off my humanity switch and numb myself to the pain.
That being said, even in moments of terror, agony, and soul-crushing defeat, the residents of Mystic Falls always managed to pick themselves up, wipe away their tears, and muster the necessary courage to power on. Why? Because they trusted in their own resilience. Because they understood that as much as it hurts, it is better to confront your grief instead of burying it deep inside you to fester like an open wound. Because, like so many of us, they longed to find light amidst the darkness—which makes TVD's conclusion all that more meaningful.
The show, which took a bow on Friday, March 10, ended on such an uplifting note, that I had to rewatch the final montage several times just to let its impact fully sink in. Every second of it struck the perfect sentimental chord—a joyful one tinged with the undeniable sense of sorrow that tends to accompany farewells. From Sheriff Forbes looking on with pride as Caroline opened a school for children with special abilities to Tyler and Vicki watching from afar as Matt contemplated running for mayor and received a park bench in his honor; from Jo glowing at the sight of Alaric playing with their adorable daughters to Enzo standing guard over Bonnie as she took his advice about chasing adventure to heart and traveled the world; from Stefan fulfilling his death pact with Lexi to Elena becoming a doctor, growing old with Damon, and reuniting with her family—including Aunt Jenna, Uncle John, and her parents, Miranda and Grayson—in TVD's version of the afterlife, it was comforting to observe the culmination of their personal growth and sacrifices.
As for Damon? Despite worrying that he'd never be able to atone for his sins and see Stefan again, he ultimately returned home and squeezed his little brother into a tight hug. So for a show that launched on the premise of grief and the toll it takes on those left behind, its departing message was as powerful as it was gratifying: while it can occasionally suck at times, if you live the best life you can, you will find peace.
“Hello, brother” just became the new goodbye. How's that for full circle?
Did The Vampire Diaries series finale live up to your expectations or was it a letdown? What were some of your favorite scenes from “I Was Feeling Epic”? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below!
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A Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars pundit by profession, Theo enjoys freshly brewed iced tea, Greek poetry, and Whedonverse. A conspiracy theorist at heart, she’s constantly on the look-out for horcruxes and is still trying to make sense of Lost Season 6. Follow her musings on entertainment at @theodorag13.