The CW’s promos for Nina Dobrev‘s last episode of The Vampire Diaries implored us to “Say Goodbye Before It’s Too Late,” but in the season 6 finale it really felt like it wasn’t enough time to bid farewell to such a beloved character.

“I’m Thinking of You All the While” was the end of an era, the end of Elena Gilbert as the central focus of The Vampire Diaries, and perhaps the end of The Vampire Diaries as we know it. It was always bound to be an emotional experience, but just how did it all go down?

The Red Wedding

As last week’s Vampire Diaries ended with a bang and fans steeled themselves for an emotional goodbye, no one could truly prepare for all of the losses in the finale. The Alaric/Jo wedding truly was a bloodbath, as the finale officially confirmed that Kai (Chris Wood) killed Jo (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) — and possibly Alaric’s (Matt Davis) will to live — and her unborn babies. Leaning into his role of the villain, Kai had no problem killing everyone at the wedding, including himself. The twist, of course, was that he had Lily’s (Annie Wersching) blood in his system and was in transition to be a vampire, but that death still led to him killing off the entire Gemini coven blood line.

 Credit: Tina Rowden/The CW

In one of the most heartwrenching early scenes of the episode, half-dead Liv (Penelope Mitchell) and Tyler (Michael Trevino) reminded themselves that they still loved each other. In another act of selflessness that mirrored her saving Tyler from triggering his werewolf curse earlier this season, Liv — who knew there was no way she was getting out of this alive — had Tyler kill her so he could turn into a werewolf on what was “luckily” a full moon and heal himself.

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As for Elena, Kai didn’t do the obvious and kill her. Instead, he put her in a sleeping spell that linked her body to Bonnie’s. The specifics of the spell meant that as long as Bonnie (Kat Graham) lived, Elena would never age and would be stuck in a slumber. Any attempt to counteract the spell would lead to both friends’ demise. Kai assumed this would mean that Damon (Ian Somerhalder) would kill Bonnie and never be forgiven by Elena, but instead, Damon used Kai’s own lack of soul to get his guard down and karate chop his speechifying head off. If anyone needed more proof that Damon Salvatore was a changed man, they could look no further than the fact that Damon chose to save his best friend — Elena’s words — over his girlfriend.

The Vampire Diaries characters said goodbye to Elena via dream sequences. Credit: Annette Brown/The CW

Say Goodnight, Not Goodbye

Throughout the episode, there were dream scenes with each of the characters and Elena, but it wasn’t until all the chaos/madness was over that the audience was clued into what was going on. These dreams were each part of the TVD family’s individual goodbyes to the character. Elena had a moment with each one of her friends and family, even Tyler, telling them her wishes for their lives without her — especially poignant for the humans since only the vampires in the group would have the possibility of seeing her again. It was the stroll down memory lane that we’d hoped for and really needed.

Caroline (Candice Accola) and Bonnie’s goodbyes to Elena took place in the form of a classic sleepover at the Gilbert household, with Caroline feeling guilty that she was taking Bonnie’s goodbye away since she would be able to see Elena again. Before Elena sent Caroline away for one-on-one time with Bonnie, she asked them both to keep diaries of all the amazing things they’d done in their lives, so when Elena finally woke in 70 years or so, she’d be up to speed with the remarkable lives her best friends had lived. Yes, the titular diaries were back! They even had Bonnie levitate some feathers for old time’s sake.

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For Alaric, whose life had once again completely crumbled beneath him, Elena pleaded with him to be strong. That strength wouldn’t come from a bottle or by repressing his emotions, but rather by letting all of his emotions out and truly feeling them even when it all seemed too hard. It was advice Elena should have taken when she turned off her humanity or when she had Ric erase her memories of Damon, but you live, you learn, you know?

For Matt (Zach Roerig), she wished his cop dreams to come true, as he has always been the “loyal” and “good” human of the bunch, and she wanted to know that would continue without her being around. Based on the end of the episode, she got her wish, but at what price?

As for Tyler, Elena didn’t want his wolf to define who he was but instead be an awesome part of the person he was. She also told him to leave town to figure out the type of person he was, which explained how Michael Trevino was also written off the show.

A returning Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) was the person who made an otherwise strong Elena momentarily break down with emotion as he let his sister know that he was finally living the life he was born to live.

The Triangle

As for the Salvatore men, those goodbyes were also as beautiful and heartbreaking as they needed to be in this end of an era. Elena thanked Stefan (Paul Wesley) — at the waterfall where she’d told him she didn’t want to be a vampire — for introducing her to this exciting world and let him know she couldn’t wait to see what his new life would be when she finally woke. And Damon — the last goodbye, of course — they danced. They could have danced all night. They could have danced for the rest of their lives.

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It was a well-deserved goodbye to Miss Dobrev, who more than excelled in what could easily be the most thankless role of the series. As the center of a love triangle, Elena Gilbert was always something more than “just” the love interest — she was the hero. And for six seasons, Nina Dobrev got the chance to play every facet of that, as well as the villain with the ever-dynamic Katherine Pierce, in addition to other doppelgangers like Tatia and Amara. There was probably no more fitting a way for Elena Gilbert to leave The Vampire Diaries than by doing so in one final moment of sacrifice, and hopefully, she’ll wake to a better world than what the last moments of the season finale brought.

Wait, what?

The episode ends with a time jump, to the supposedly not-so-distant future, and all we can say for sure is that Mystic Falls clearly can’t function without Elena Gilbert. With Lily’s Heretic “family” now free, all signs point to them having turned Mystic Falls into a a crime-ridden, Starling City-like wasteland. But what’s up with cop Matt and stealth vigilante Damon? Only time — and season 7 — will tell!


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