Eight seasons, 171 episodes, a spinoff series and an infinite amount of fan favorite relationships later, The Vampire Diaries is finally ready to say goodbye. The series finale, airing Friday at 9 p.m. on The CW after an hour-long retrospective special, promises to be a satisfying conclusion to the saga of the Salvatore brothers, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder), and all the supernatural and human residents of Mystic Falls.
Over the course of the past eight years, Stefan and Damon have fallen in love with the same girl (twice), Stefan went from being a vampire to a human married to a vampire, Elena (Nina Dobrev) was put in a "sleeping beauty" curse in a coffin with her life tied to her best friend Bonnie's (Kat Graham) death, Caroline (Candice King) gave birth as a vampire surrogate to two little girl witches, Matt (Zach Roerig) shockingly stayed alive as a human ... and oh yeah, did we mention that they all just killed the devil? A lot has happened to these characters, so ending the show was an extremely emotional task for everyone involved, including the show's creator Julie Plec.
"I guess we could talk in 30 years for the reunion special," she says, cracking a joke to me over the phone as we discuss the legacy of The Vampire Diaries for one last time. "It's definitely bittersweet [to end the show] because it's been such a good experience and creatively fulfilling and personally fulfilling. But it also feels like, just because you're enjoying something doesn't mean you should run it into the ground. So I think that being able to call the end of it and say we were ready to put the story to bed and tell that story with as much integrity as we could, it was real blessing. So I'm glad that we decided to do it this way."
The process of writing, filming and delivering a satisfying series finale has always been a tricky beast. It's destined to be a love-it-or-hate-it situation for longtime fans, as there's no way to please everyone. Plec has always known how she was going to end the series with fellow showrunner Kevin Williamson, so despite the daunting task of ending a TV show that's become a worldwide phenomenon, she isn't nervous to finally have the series finale air, letting the fans see her vision come to life.
"We set out to tell a story that delivered on the season. It has a really propulsive and exciting finish to the plot that we've set up all season," Plec says. "And then we set out to make sure each and every single one of our characters had a respectful and emotionally complete journey to give them the finish and the closure they deserve. We did that. My hope is that people enjoy it, but if they don’t, they're probably looking for reasons not to."
Plec has always been open about the fact that she's had the TVD series ending in mind for years, and that ending only changed a little when the Other Side was destroyed back in Season 5. Over the years, she's never second-guessed her vision for the final episode.
"The ending has had a million different iterations all rooted in the same emotional instinct," she says. "What we have accomplished is exactly the emotional feeling that we wanted to have and that we wanted to write six years ago when we talked about what the ending of the show would be for the first time."
When I can't hold back my excitement and gush about how I can't wait to finally see the ending she's been talking about for years, she laughs. "I'm excited for people to see it," Plec says. "It's a series finale of a show that's been on for eight years. The curiosity alone I think will make people really excited to tune in."
The final few episodes of Season 8 have not come without their surprises. First, Bonnie lost the love of her life. Then, Stefan and Caroline got married without anything spoiling their happy day. Then, Katherine (also played by Dobrev) was revealed to be the new leader of hell after everyone killed the devil, and she was back in Mystic Falls to get her revenge on everyone who put her there. And then, the person carrying out Katherine's plans is none other than Season 1 fan favorite junkie vampire Vicki Donovan (Kayla Ewell), back from hell and ready to destroy all of Mystic Falls with hellfire. But the moment everyone has been waiting for is being held for the finale: Dobrev's long-anticipated return after she exited the series back in Season 6.
"It was a lot of fun having Nina back, not just because we love Nina but also because those characters are so vivid and so much a part of the tapestry of the show," Plec says of the surprise twist of bringing back Katherine in addition to Elena. "Katherine has always been a writer favorite and a fan favorite, and it felt fitting to be able to bring her back for one last time."
While Katherine's return came as a surprise, every other "surprise" return coming in the series finale was actually revealed weeks and months in advance thanks to social media. The cast went wild posting photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook of their long-awaited reunions with former fellow cast members like Ewell, Melinda Clarke (who played Vicki and Matt's mother), Michael Malarkey (who played vampire Enzo), Steven R. McQueen (who played Elena's brother Jeremy), Michael Trevino (who played Tyler Lockwood) and David Anders (who played John Gilbert). And those "spoilers" don't bother Plec.
"I made the decision a while back when there were press outlets calling for confirmation based on actor's tweets or rumors that they'd heard, and I just said, 'You know what? Part of the fun of building up to this finale is letting the fans be a part of the experience, pick up the clues on their own, search social media posts on their own,'" Plec says. "Press doesn't need to be involved in it. If by the time the show airs the audience knows everyone who's showing up, fine."
But she pauses, then adds mysteriously, "But I still think, within that, there's always a nice surprising face here and there even for the most diligent of spoiler junkies."
As one of the chosen few who knows exactly how TVD will come to an end, Plec has some words she'd like all the passionate fans to keep in mind as the last shot airs and the credits start rolling for the very last time.
"We set out to bring each character and each relationship to a finish for better or for worse," Plec says. "Set aside whatever internal fandom shipping bickering that [fans] might have and just appreciate that there's an opportunity here to say goodbye to the characters that they love so much."
She pauses, then laughs before adding, "And be good to each other as they gloat over who walks away into the sunset."
Here's to hoping that everyone gets their happy ending — although considering the fact that a main character is going to die in the finale, that's probably too optimistic. Start your prayer circles now.