Let’s be real: there’s no way I could narrow down the best moments from The Vampire Diaries to only ten. Most shows take a whole season to get through all the plot points TVD blasts through in an average episode. Even the side quest, flashback, or road trip episodes are guaranteed to yield a great Damon nickname, a bonding moment between former enemies, or a new insight into a character we thought we knew.
So, as we head into the last five episodes of the show’s final season, please consider this a representative, non-exhaustive sample of my favorite instances of the tropes and plot devices that make TVD such a treasure…
Matt teaches Katherine how to be Elena
(S5, Ep. 12 “The Devil Inside”)
No one does entertaining villainy better than Katherine, and the storyline where she gets passengered into Elena’s body and impersonates her is one of my favorites. Katherine relishes getting to take advantage of Elena’s popularity while being supremely annoyed at the good behavior she has to maintain if she wants to fool anyone. The scene in which she compels Matt to divulge pertinent Elena facts, like her birthday and whether she likes Caroline or Bonnie better (“please say Caroline, please say Caroline,” she mutters) exemplifies what makes Katherine so perversely likable: her determination to survive and her sheer force of will.
Damon sees Rose off into the afterlife
(S2, Ep. 12 “The Descent”)
This is one of the first times Damon does something truly selfless. His friend Rose gets fatally bitten by a werewolf, and after he tries in vain to find a cure, he nurses her and then eases her way to the Other Side by doing the vampire-mind-control thing (a trick the show only ever seems to remember when a character is on their deathbed) to make her think she’s on the farm where she grew up. It’s one of the first times Damon shows an emotion that’s not related to Elena or Stefan, and it allows us to see a side of him we didn’t know existed at this point in the series.
The Mikaelson Family Ball
(S3, Ep. 14 “Dangerous Liasons”)
It wouldn’t be a “best of The Vampire Diaries” list without a party scene, and this one is a doozy. Not in terms of bloodshed—the worst thing that happens is Matt going in for a handshake with Kol and getting his hand crushed—but in terms of relationship drama and general scheming. Elena is still sorting out which Salvatore brother she wants to be with, so they both squire her and then proceed to fight over whether she should be getting enmeshed in Mikaelson family intrigue. Caroline is still in love with Tyler but being pursued by Klaus. There’s dancing, toasting, soul-binding rituals, and even a drunken hookup.
Katherine chopping off John’s fingers
(S1, Ep. 22 “Founder’s Day”)
One of the things that makes Season One so terrific is the gradual emergence of different degrees of villainy. Damon is the show’s ur-villain, but it doesn’t take long for him to be eclipsed by Katherine. She kisses Damon while pretending to be Elena just for the hell of it and then saunters into the Pierce home after Aunt Jenna catches her in the act. But by maiming Evil Dad John, she effectively becomes the T-Rex to his velociraptor—the dependable danger that can be redirected to defeat an even greater danger.
Elena stabs herself and kills Elijah
(S2, Ep. 15 “The Dinner Party”)
It would have been so easy for Elena to be a passive character. She’s surrounded by vampires, all of whom are older and more powerful than her, and she spends the first two seasons constantly being tripped up by new information. On top of that, she has an evil doppelgänger whose scheming ways are constantly presented as a foil for Elena’s essential kindness. But Elena is a fully realized character, with or without the contrast to Katherine. Stefan and Damon try to manipulate her into staying out of the way while they take out Elijah, but when their plan goes awry, Elena takes matters into her own hands and stabs herself in the stomach, catching Elijah off guard enough that she’s able to do the deed herself. Afterward she matter-of-factly tells the Salvatore brothers that they’ll be doing things her way from now on. DAMN STRAIGHT.
Caroline reads Tyler the riot act
(S5, Ep. 14 “No Exit”)
I was a staunch Tyler apologist for many seasons, not because that character is a good person but because it helps the show to have a hothead, and Michael Trevino is a wonderful actor. But his slut-shaming tantrum upon finding out about Caroline and Klaus’s tryst in the woods pushed me over the edge; he and Caroline weren’t together anymore when it happened, and his outburst about Klaus killing his mother would ring a bit less hollow if she wasn’t one of, oh, fifteen or twenty parents on the show who get murdered by vampires. So when Caroline finally has enough and tells him off, I stood up and cheered.
Damon’s farewell to his mom
(S7, Ep. 8 “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”)
I tried not to include too many “up yours” moments in this list, even though TVD is full of really satisfying examples. But there was no way I could leave out Damon’s horrifically cold farewell to his dying mother: Lily is one of the least redeemable villains to ever cross the Salvatore brothers’ path, and more importantly to the show, the least fun. Her blank, wounded stare is so inappropriate that it occasionally borders on hilarious, but mostly it’s just irritating. She demands that everyone, including the sons she abandoned, love her, and she has perfected the “I’m not angry, just disappointed” reaction when Damon refuses to play ball. So it’s incredibly satisfying when he leans over her deathbed and says with a smile, “You made your bed. Have a nice nap.”
Damon dances with Elena at the Miss Mystic Falls pageant
(S1, Ep. 19 “Miss Mystic Falls”)
TVD gets a lot of mileage out of the Stefan/Elena/Damon love triangle, and with good reason. Both brothers have strong personalities and they love Elena in different ways, and she’s not a shrinking violet who just lets their romantic overtures happen to her, passively. For my money, no single moment sums up the desire and tension and conflict of this love triangle than Damon squiring Elena at the pageant in Stefan’s place. By now Damon has evolved enough as a character to be genuinely pained at Elena’s disappointment, instead of gleefully enjoying ruining this moment for Stefan the way he would have earlier in the season. Neither he or Elena have had to face their feelings for each other head on—until now.
Damon and Bonnie flipping pancakes
(S6, Ep. 2 “Yellow Ledbetter”)
Everything about Damon and Bonnie’s friendship in the 1994 prison world is magical. Their affectionate sniping, the way he calls her “Bonbon,” their fierce loyalty to each other when Kai tries to break them apart. The scene of Damon flipping pancakes while Bonnie keeps plugging away at the Sunday crossword encapsulates everything I love about TVD: team-ups, grudging respect, nicknames, and genuine friendship.
Elena beats the crap out of Katherine and makes her take the cure
(S4, Ep. 23 “Graduation”)
I thought FOR SURE that I knew where Season Four was going. A cure for vampirism conveniently shows up the second Elena gets turned? Gee, I wonder who’s going to end up taking it? And I was bummed about this, because I like Vampire Elena and I hated the idea that no permanent changes were allowed to happen to any of the show’s leads (this is still a show that loves to hit the Reset button, but it remains so unpredictable that I’m OK with it). So imagine my surprise and delight when Season Four ends with Elena shoving the entire glass vial into Katherine’s mouth and clamping her jaw shut on it. It’s brutal in a way I would never have expected of Elena, and I love that she’s allowed to evolve into someone less pure and innocent but still immensely likable.
Ashley Wells writes about film for Fiction Advocate and Tribeca Shortlist. Besides movies, she enjoys cheese, Hearthstone, ancient Rome, and athletes being cute with animals. She lives in Brooklyn and you can find her on Twitter here.