[WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for The Vampire Diaries.]
Season 6 of The Vampire Diaries drew to a close Thursday by saying goodbye to the series' lead character, Elena Gilbert. But despite the emotional events of the season finale, The CW's long-running vampire drama is far from over. Because as soon as star Nina Dobrev announced a few months ago that she was leaving at the end of the season, showrunner Julie Plec made sure to let fans know that the show would go on.
And so with that knowledge going into the finale, many viewers were curious (and scared) to see just how and why Elena would leave her friends, boyfriend Damon and Mystic Falls. The episode titled "I'm Thinking of You All the While" did not disappoint, as Elena didn't die but instead sacrificed herself for her best friend Bonnie. A spell cast by villain Kai linked the two ladies together and put Elena in a deep sleep that will remain in effect for as long as Bonnie's still alive, meaning the door is still open for Dobrev to come back to the show one day.
Yet in an age where characters are being killed off left and right, it's a little bit surprising that Elena didn't bite the dust (as a vampire or otherwise). So TVLine sat down with executive producer Caroline Dries, and she explained just what went into making their big decision:
We knew we didn’t want to kill Elena because we do want her to come back one day, maybe in the series finale. And we didn’t want her to walk off into the sunset and get a job somewhere because that felt fake. We thought, “What could she do that proves to her friends and to the viewers who she is as a person?” And of course she would make a sacrifice so her best friend could live out the rest of her life. We thought it was fitting that, at the end of the day, after all these sacrifices made on her behalf, she takes the bullet for her friend and goes out Sleeping Beauty-style.
In keeping Elena alive, The Vampire Diaries managed to not alienate the fans they'd worked so hard to get, while at the same time respecting Dobrev's decision to leave the show. They've made room for the show to continue, yet it keeps the story open for Dobrev to return at any time.
It also does double-duty by allowing Damon to grow as a character in choosing to keep Bonnie alive rather than get Elena back. As Dries says, "How did Damon change from Season 1 — asshole, selfish Damon — and how did Elena affect him? This was the best way for that to manifest. He made the selfless choice, for once, which was also kind of his gift to Elena."
But Damon isn't the only character who'll be dealing with the repercussions of Elena not being around in season 7. Dries says Bonnie will decide to make Elena's sacrifice worth it as well and become Damon's new moral center. Meanwhile, Caroline and Alaric will need to find themselves again after all the death that surrounded them in season 6. But most importantly, the focus of the series will go back to Damon and Stefan and their storyline as brothers.
While season 6 brought one major chapter of The Vampire Diaries to a close, the heart of the series has always been the friendship and relationship between Damon and Stefan. Taking Elena out of the equation allows the brothers to get back to where they were before they came to Mystic Falls, but with a new closeness and lease on life.
The Vampire Diaries returns this fall on The CW.