(Warning: this story contains spoilers from The Vampire Diaries series finale, "I Was Feeling Epic.") Heartbreaking deaths, emotional reunions, happy tears, sad tears. The Vampire Diaries series finale had it all. Everyone's favorite devil Katherine (Nina Dobrev) returned for one final attempt at wreaking havoc on Mystic Falls, but Bonnie (Kat Graham) finally got a handle on her witch powers and defeated her, destroying hell and Katherine once and for all. But someone needed to sacrifice his or her life to make sure Katherine died at the right moment. After an emotional confrontation between Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) over who would be the one to die for the greater good, Damon tried to compel Stefan to leave.
However, Stefan was on a steady diet of vervain (as a newly-transformed human living in a town full of vampires, that's just common sense), so instead he took the vampire cure out of his blood and injected it into Damon, turning Damon human. Without the cure, Stefan would soon begin to age drastically and die like Katherine did back in Season 5, so Damon had no choice but to let his little brother die in his place.
As a longtime fan of TVD, that's when my tears started flowing, and they didn't let up once for the last 12 minutes of the incredibly satisfying finale.
"It's all about the last 12 minutes, isn't it?" co-creator Kevin Williamson tells me with a laugh after I confess I rewound it five times. "For me, it really starts when Caroline [Candice King] gets out of the car, and then from there, that's when I get emotional. And when we were filming it, we were sitting on set just sobbing. Just watching Julie [Plec] sob. We were losing it too. It was hard. I was like, 'Julie, just turn your humanity off! You've got to get through this.' We were crying through the whole thing."
Before Stefan died, he had a final goodbye with Elena (Nina Dobrev) in some kind of psychic in-between state of life and death, where he gave her a message to give to his wife Caroline: he would love her forever. Stefan then walked out in the first of many moments of beloved characters finally finding peace, that long-elusive term that has never been realized on the series until now. For Stefan, he found it with his BFF Lexi (Arielle Kebbel), one of the series' best characters who was gone too soon.
But what does finding peace mean within the mythology of the series?
"We've always kept the heaven and hell out of things in terms of any sort of religious context. The idea is that there is a darkness and the other side of light," Williamson explains. "We wanted to play with the idea that the show has always been about family and loss and grief. Anyone who has suffered loss knows it's important to know and to believe that they're always there by your side. Because they're inside of you, they live through you, they guide you, they influence you, they created you, they stood by you. They're always with you. That was our idea. To see peace is to see within."
He continues, "We wanted to visually show what those internal moments of peace looked like for each character. We always wanted it to be interpreted. What did this show mean to you? You know, what's your idea of peace? Let the viewer look at it and give them a good cry but also give them a thank you and a farewell. I want people to look back, all the audience who dedicated eight seasons of their life to this show to look back on it and smile and have a good memory. That final montage at the end is like a scrapbook. You know how all the characters ended up and get the sense that they were all going to be OK. Peace was achieved by all. This show on a daily basis was a lot of dire and death and devastation. Everyone was always trying to save somebody, so it's nice to know they finally were able to take a breath and be happy."
But that idea of "finding peace" didn't come about until the series destroyed the supernatural purgatory The Other Side back in season five.
"The Other Side was always problematic in the sense that it made death not final. It took away the meaning of death," Williamson says. "That was always the struggle. It worked for us in so many great ways in the mythology and it was a loophole of how we could see characters again. I saw that as a hurdle once we created that, and I knew we would eventually have to overcome it. I thought Julie had the brilliant idea of circling it back around to the idea of peace. For the finale, it's this idea that you can be forgiven and there is peace out there for you. That's the idea of the final montage when you hear the 'Dear diary' voiceover."
After Bonnie broke Elena's sleeping curse and she finally woke up, she reunited with all her friends and shared a passionate kiss with Damon. After everyone paid their respects at Stefan's memorial, a montage began, showing viewers how everyone's lives unfolded moving forward with their own diary entry voiceovers. Matt (Zach Roerig) remained sheriff and was thinking of running for mayor of Mystic Falls. Vicki (Kayla Ewell) and Tyler (Michael Trevino) found peace with each other.
Bonnie traveled the world and lived her life to the fullest, just as Enzo (Michael Malarkey) wanted for her. Alaric (Matt Davis) and Caroline converted the Salvatore mansion into the Salvatore Boarding School for the Young and Gifted, with Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) as a teacher. Alaric's wife Jo (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) found peace as she watched Alaric and their daughters play happily, and Caroline's mom Liz (Marguerite MacIntyre) found peace, watching her daughter succeed, find happiness and do good in the world.
And speaking of Caroline, in a moment that is sure to be GIFed a thousand times over by Klaroline fans, she received an extremely generous $3 million donation to her school by none other than The Originals' Klaus (Joseph Morgan). Didn't get to read his whole letter to his longtime love before the scene changed? You're welcome:
"Dear Caroline, I have often imagined the paths your life might take, but your chosen future is more noble than I ever fathomed. Please accept this contribution to your virtuous cause. I do look forward to thanking you in person, someday. However long it takes. Yours, Klaus."
As for Elena, after Bonnie woke her up she went on to live a full, happy, human life with human Damon. She went to med school, returned home to Mystic Falls and grew old. There was an engagement and wedding ring on her finger, implying that Damon and Elena got married and literally walked off into the sunset together.
When Elena eventually died, she found peace with Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning), her mom Miranda (Erin Beute), dad Grayson (Jason MacDonald) , and even Uncle John Gilbert (David Anders). They shared one big happy family hug on the Gilbert house porch, and I was full-on ugly crying now.
"She became a doctor, Damon rebuilt her house, the Gilbert house, for her," Williamson reveals. "They lived happily. He donated his mansion to Caroline. It all worked out in a lot of ways. Stefan achieved peace."
But the episode ended, fittingly, with Damon eventually finding peace with his brother Stefan, after long believing he didn't deserve peace and would never see his brother again. Damon's final words, and the final words of the series, were spoken with relief after reuniting with Stefan: "Hello, brother."
"I really wanted that line," Williamson says. "It was the first line spoken [between Damon and Stefan in the pilot] and I liked it being the last one [in the finale]. That final moment was important."
And after eight seasons and 171 episodes of black title cards, The Vampire Diaries ended instead with a white title card. A truly perfect ending to a incredible, unique, powerful, and important series.