“Damon?” Elena (Nina Dobrev) says — the most fitting first word she might say, after waking up from her long, magically induced coma. And just as Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) are pulling themselves together, from the shock of finally seeing something they’ve dreamed about so long right before their eyes…. Comes that familiar, evil laughter.

It’s Katherine. Once again getting her kicks from still being able to fool the Salvatore brothers so easily: Even though Bonnie’s (Kat Graham) heart stopped beating for a minute, Elena remains unconscious — and the Queen of Hell is officially out for revenge. This last-ever episode of “The Vampire Diaries” starts off with a bang, and our whole final hour in Mystic Falls is quite an emotional ride.

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Caroline (Candice King) stands by her promise to Alaric (Matt Davis) that the girls won’t grow up without a mother — with considerable pain, Mystic Falls’ proudest daughter eventually leaves it to, presumably, burn to the ground… Along with her husband Stefan, who refuses to leave his brother behind, and who in turn refuses to leave town without Elena’s body. It’s a gut-wrenching, painful goodbye.

caroline crying A beautiful sendoff    and exciting future    in The Vampire Diaries series finale

But the emotionally intense farewells are just beginning. The most complicated, most vital relationship of the entire series, the Salvatore brothers, also have to split. Stefan insists he stay in Mystic Falls to save Elena’s body, making up to everybody for his Ripper times, and for just a moment it appears Damon will let him once he points out that his now-human life is just a blink compared to the eternity he has waiting for him when Elena wakes up.

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“You are human,” Damon agrees — but taking a page from Katherine’s playbook, it’s merely a fake-out. What Damon means, of course, is that he can compel his brother out of town to save his life.

“I am the big brother,” Damon says. “I’m sorry I was’t better at it until now.”

Bonnie summons all her powers, and with the help of Grams and her entire lineage of witches, going back to Colonial times, transfer the bell-tower hellfire through the tunnels beneath Mystic Falls, and back to where it came from. It’s the most powerful we’ve ever seen Bonnie — and she’s done a hell of a lot for her friends and loved ones.

bonnie gif A beautiful sendoff    and exciting future    in The Vampire Diaries series finale

But Caroline is still in the dark as to how the whole Hail Mary plan should shake out: The hellfire is gone, but that means nothing if Katherine is still alive. Luckily, Stefan has been on vervain since the day he became human, and was never compelled. Stefan surprises his brother with a syringe full of his blood — and thus, the Cure — and then grabs tight onto Katherine, holding her hostage to the blast.

elena crying A beautiful sendoff    and exciting future    in The Vampire Diaries series finale

Stefan passes through Elena’s dream-state on his way to the afterlife, and gives her a secret message to take back with her: That he heard Caroline’s final voicemail to him, once she’d gotten clear on the whole plan and finally come to understand what he was trying to do — they wish each other peace, and promise to love one another forever, and it’s lovely — and even more lovely, of course, that it’s Elena who’ll be passing the message when she finally awakes.

Matt stays at home, as the new Sheriff of Mystic Falls, watched over by the spirits of Vicky (Kayla Ewell) and Tyler (Michael Trevino). Bonnie heads out to see the world, after finally freeing Elena from the spell — and with the constant presence of her beloved Enzo (Michael Malarkey) by her side. Alaric and Caroline open the Salvatore Boarding School for the Young & Gifted, as promised — and with the blessing of Jo (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) and Liz Forbes (Marguerite MacIntyre), not to mention a healthy donation from Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) himself… Hmm, wonder where that’s headed?

klarline gif A beautiful sendoff    and exciting future    in The Vampire Diaries series finale

There’s always hope — and ultimately that’s the message that “Vampire Diaries” wants to leave us with: That death is one thing, but the peace we find in love is such a different thing it’s hardly worth comparing the two — and that ultimately what we lose is never going to outweigh what we already have. Elena was a girl who was dead inside, as she reminds us in her last diary entry, until she found people to come back for. That’s how the story began, and that’s how it had to end.

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Elena writes in her diary that Damon’s biggest fear continues to be never seeing his brother again. But the afterlife is there, and always will be — there will come a day, and we see it in the end, that Elena is reunited with her family, just like there will be a day when Damon reunites with Stefan.

“Hello,” his brother Damon sees in this vision of the future — just as fitting last words as we can imagine. For a show so alternately concerned about and careless with death, it’s inspiring and impressive that ultimately its most “epic” (ugh) moments are so domestic, so focused on wordless comfort and the presence of family and the strength of kinship. It’s funny, but feels very right, that in the end the romantic triangles and boondoggles didn’t really matter at all.

Romantic love changes and it challenges us; it destroys us and it builds us back up again. It takes us apart and hopefully puts us back together shinier and more impressive. But it’s not the only kind of love we know, and it’s certainly not the most sustaining. For a show that deals in eternities, immortalities, forever-deaths and pretend-hells, that could never be the key. Sex and shipping may sell, but for a good show to be great, it must build on and always return to something less sensational, something sturdier — a love and a peace much grander, and simpler, than all the drama that floats on top.

And there is no question that “The Vampire Diaries” achieved greatness, in its eight seasons. And for that, we’re very grateful.

Posted by:Emily Bicks

Freelance writer in LA. Sometimes, I'm on camera. And sometimes I'm not. Twitter: @missbicks