WARNING: The following article contains SPOILERS for the Vampire Diaries finale
It's been a long time coming, but the story of the Salvatore brothers and Mystic Falls has finally come to an end with the series finale of The CW's Vampire Diaries. The road to its final destination was an uneven one, even for the most devoted of fans - but when you start as strongly as the show's first seasons did, that's almost inevitable. Over the years beloved characters have arrived, departed, been murdered, resurrected, and reincarnated... but it was all leading to the finale episode... and a final sacrifice.
The workload for the Vampire Diaries series finale was taller than most, leaving the fate of Mystic Falls in jeopardy, the series' biggest bad alive and well, and the uneasy - but obvious - fact that not everyone was bound for a happy ending. In the end, though, the creators left their fan base with more warm fuzzies than broken hearts. We'll get to that final sequence, but first, let's run down the final fates and last battle fought by Elena, Bonnie, Matt, Caroline, Damon, Stefan... you get the idea.
It shouldn't really come as a surprise to find that Katherine (Nina Dobrev) was the one pulling the strings behind Cade and just about every other headache for the Salvatores, eventually deciding that consuming the entire town in Hellfire was her only fitting goodbye. That, and tormenting Damon for old time's sake, empting the coffin in which Elena has been lying comatose and briefly playing her part. The charades drops when Katherine's ego hits maximum overload, bragging that not even the King of Hell could resist her charms (a boast we... somehow believe).
We'll get to where the real Elena is, but the real showdown here is between Damon and Katherine, as the former attempts to gain some high ground by rubbing Katherine's face in the fact that both he and his brother chose Elena over her. Katherine wins that argument by reminding Damon that Stefan trumps him, every time. Simply put: he is the "better man." And as Damon is forced to wrestle with the idea that Stefan and Elena may be better off without him later in the episode, those words echo throughout the finale. And, fortunately, are among Katherine's last...
After almost being killed through extensive use of magic in the previous episode, Bonnie finds herself in an ethereal dream world, face to face with the consciousness of Elena. For those in need of a refresher, Elena immediately notes that there's no way the two should be able to share the same plain anymore. Thanks to their connection, Elena can only return to the land of the living if Bonnie dies... and it's far from her time to go. To drive home the point, the spirit of Bonnie's lost love, Enzo arrives to tell her that while being reunited is what she craves, it isn't what's right. Her friends need her, and Bonnie returns with the answer to their problem.
The real threat isn't Katherine, but her latest minion Vicki Donovan currently charged with ringing the Maxwell Bell at intervals until the town of Mystic Falls will be swallowed up by Hellfire. Her brother Matt leaps into action, evacuating the town and attempting - with his father - to talk Vicki down from condemning them all to death. It's a small subplot in the grand scheme, but a sad one nonetheless, since Vicki has been driven to the point of craving total destruction rather than the afterlife she's destined to return to.
To keep the town safe, Bonnie discovers that they don't need to stop the Hellfire from coming forth... they need to let it, so that she can send it back. SPOILER: Bonnie succeeds, channeling the energy (after it annihilates Vicki) away from town through the underground tunnels, confronting it before sending it back to Hell. It's the moment Bonnie fans have been waiting for, since she falters before the spirits of Enzo, Grams, Beatrice, Lucy Bennett, and an entire squadron of witches surround her. She pulls it off, and then finds a way to break the enchantment between her and Elena, returning the latter to life (don't ask why, it's the finale).
So her part of saving the day is over. But the harder part of the plan was left to the brothers Salvatore.
Stefan & Damon
The other part of the plan Bonnie came up with required Katherine be returned to Hell... and one of them would need to sacrifice their life to make it happen. It's here where the show finds its strongest footing, since Vampire Diaries was always at its strongest when based on the conflicted, but always unbreakable bond between brothers. Knowing that there may be some truth to Katherine's words, Damon believes that he should sacrifice himself, and let his brother, the "better man" live on. For him, it's a way for him to finally live up to what's expected of "the big brother. I'm sorry I wasn't better at it until now."
Stefan takes the opposite stance, finally seeing that his unnaturally long life has allowed him to watch as his brother became the better person he could be - once was, and won't let him walk away from the life with Elena now possible. The sentimentality reaches critical mass as Damon compels Stefan, commanding him to leave and not return until after the sacrifice has been made. The trick's on Damon, though, as Stefan keeps his vervain-based immunity a secret - leaving only to later return, inject Damon with the cure for vampirism, and sacrifice himself alongside Katherine.
In the world of the living, Stefan's farewell comes in the form of telling Katherine to burn in Hell... and one final "Goodbye, Brother" to Damon.
Stefan & Elena Get Their Goodbye
Before heading to the other side, Stefan makes sure to appear to Elena in a dreamlike version of their high school - the first of many callbacks to the show's earliest episodes injected for pure fan service. Meeting her where they first met, Stefan gives Elena his blessing to spend her life with the now-mortal Damon. Finally, he tells her, she can get to know the version of his brother that he first knew "when I was a boy." He makes his exit from the school to the "don't let me go"s of The Fray's "Never Say Never" to drive home the pilot connection, and gets into a car with his old friend Lexi personally escorting him to the other side.
The white light makes it clear this is the sentimental moment of love and sacrifice it should be, as Stefan is all too happy to let his brother live, considering the century he had spent hoping Damon would want the life now possible for him. He explains his decision to Lexi by throwing her own phrase - and the finale episode's title - back at her: he was simply "feeling epic."
The Mystic Falls Gang Gets Their Happy Ending
From there the show shifts focus to the lives that awaited those who survived the night, and series. The saddest beat is clearly Caroline, having only been married to Stefan hours before his death. But the pair seemed to have an understanding before the end that whatever came of this final fight, family would prove to be as important to Stefan as it was to her. She made her exit from town with Alaric and their daughters, possibly sensing that Stefan wouldn't be coming back. She left him a voicemail explaining that she understood, and loved him (a message he received).
Eventually, viewers learn through this glimpse into the future, Caroline and Alaric turned the Salvatore house into a boarding house for... 'gifted' children, with Jeremy and Dorian employed there (they've got some experience). Meanwhile the spirit of Jo watches over her daughters as they grow up, and Caroline's mother does what she can to help Caroline on his new mission. Caroline also receives a letter of substantial donation from Klaus, expressing his hope to see her again... someday (suggesting that their story may not be over, as far as the showrunners of The Originals are concerned).
Fans can hold out hope for an appearance there from Bonnie, too, since she's headed off to enjoy her life with Enzo watching over her from a distance. And in a truly fitting note, Matt has finally found a place and purpose of his own. His work as Sheriff of Mystic Falls has earned him a park bench in his honor, signifying that he has come to be valued and embraced by the town (his kind of success) and may even, someday, be Mayor Donovan. He also senses Vicki is at peace, as her spirit is shown alongside Tyler Lockwood's.
The Final Scene: Elena & Damon's Afterlife
It wouldn't be an ending without showing the show's unlikely star-crossed lovers find some peace. Their life turned out beautifully, too, with Elena finishing medical school and the couple moving back to Mystic Falls. The return of the famous "Dear Diary" moments return as Elena writes and entry at Stefan's grave, revealing that Elena doesn't buy into Damon's theory that he'll be headed for Hell when he dies. It's her belief that when all is said and done, living a full life means ending it by returning to those you loved, and who loved you in return. And after Damon and Elena finally do pass on... she couldn't be more right.
Returned to their youthful forms as they cross over, Elena runs up to her family home and is reunited with her parents, her Aunt Jenna, and even her Uncle (and biological father) John. Elsewhere, Damon heads for the only place where his loved one awaits him: the Salvatore home. As Stefan stands gazing into their fireplace, he suddenly knows to answer the door, even without a knock. And he knows who will be waiting on the other side.
Having this time arrived when expected, Damon speaks a final, peaceful, and warm "Hello, brother."They embrace. The End.
The final episodes, like the final seasons, struggled to manage more than just plot and character work. Departures of key cast members changed the writers' plans, so it's satisfying to see all involved return for a proper sendoff. Even if it came at the expense of completely sound logic, or wrapping up loose plot threads in shockingly simple ways, it's better than leaving them with a half-baked finale.
Taken for its final sequences, it's the kind of ending that most Vampire Diaries fans will walk away from having found - like the characters - some kind of peace.