Our favourite TV vampires have returned to Netflix, where The Vampire Diaries’ love triangle, perennially autumnal Mystic Falls setting and somersaulting lore have found a new host of fans to latch onto.
Standing out amidst the late-noughties bloodsucker craze, The Vampire Diaries instantly found a legion of dedicated fans when it first aired in 2009. Eight seasons and two spin-offs later, we can finally look back on what the CW show was and sort the good, the bad and the downright despicable.
Much like there will always be a Team Edward and a Team Jacob or Spuffy shippers and Bangel die-hards, the long tail of the Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley) divide forever haunts the show discourse, regardless of who Elena (Nina Dobrev) actually ended up with.
So since each of those battles will be fought until the demise of Twitter, Threads or whatever it is we’re then using to debate such matters of international importance, let’s dive in from a place of romantic neutrality.
Because we all know she should have ended up with Stefan anyway. No, wait: we mean Damon. Or actually Stefan? Okay, we digress – into the eight seasons we go.
8th. Season Five (2013)
We’re going to start at the bottom of the blood-soaked barrel, so at least it’s onwards and upwards from here.
Imagine a Wednesday: it’s a fairly nothing day, with equal distance from the weekend just gone and the one coming up. You’re tired. None of the coffee you’re inhaling is hitting the spot in the way it should, because all viable batteries are drained.
This is the spiritual feel of The Vampire Diaries’ season five. It was the point it looked like all might be lost for our beloved vampire crew.
This was the season the Originals saw the writing on the wall and took flight from Mystic Falls with their backdoor pilot. It was the season that made us wonder: how lousy are these villains going to get? It was also the season to prove the age-old adage that taking a TV show’s high school kids off to university seldom works. Look on in fear, Euphoria.
The looming doppelgänger mystery was finally solved to ring in the show’s hundredth episode, but the revelation was so drawn out and the Travellers so yawn-inducing you had ceased to care by the time the thing was unravelled.
The one bright spot came with Katherine Pierce, who time and again proved more compelling on screen that her angelic counterpart Elena. Watching Katherine suffer some mutant strain of the flu meets hay fever meets smallpox was a delightful comeuppance that ended with a final bittersweet goodbye.
7th. Season Eight (2016)
Unless you’re biding adieu to one of the aforementioned illnesses, goodbyes are rarely easy. They’re often awkward, clumsy and when your lead star has already abandoned ship, they can feel rather redundant.
Yet The Vampire Diaries tried to give us a goodbye to remember. And we did, but for all the wrong reasons.
Enzo and Damon spent the majority of the show’s last season under a misfire of mind control, the devil himself finally got some screen time to little real effect and then Katherine came back from that nasty cold.
Then there was the series finale itself, in which death seemed to be the plat du jour. It was very Lost of them. The cast of characters must have finished The Vampire Diaries feeling they could have been in that happy afterlife this whole time. Also, no concrete Caroline and Klaus endgame? Criminal.
It’s been years since the finale aired, but we’re still reeling from the Bonnie and Enzo piece of it all. All we can say to Stefan is: Enjoy Enzo’s heart, I hope it makes you very happy. Dear lord, what a sad little life, Stefan.
6th. Season Four (2012)
We emerge from the land of the afterlife into the brave new world of Elena’s vampire era, which threw a welcome spanner into the show’s arc.
Our somewhat holier-than-thou leading lady even got a taste of the dark side when Jeremy’s death prompted her to switch her humanity off. With her moral compass lost to the vampiric ether, Elena let rip and did it all, from setting her family home alight to chomping down on some cheerleaders.
However, the issue with the show’s humanity switch plotlines was that the whole thing rapidly devolved into characters monotonously shouting, “How can we make them turn it back on?!” or “We need to make them feel something!” down the phone to a bourbon-swilling Ric.
The travesty of the season was the loss of the Originals to make way for their own New Orleans spin-off the following season. The straight-faced and often psychotic family provided a welcome counterpoint to the Salvatore brothers, so their absence was felt.
The season wrapped up with an decent zinger though. A school field trip-style sojourn to an island in Nova Scotia, where the long-teased villain Silas finally made his very familiar debut and our beloved witch Bonnie died. Temporarily.
5th. Season Seven (2015)
This season was a tough bar to clear. The centrifugal force of the whole show had been removed when Nina Dobrev bowed an exit. She had evidently reached her limit for saying phrases like “Vervain is making it hard to find something to eat in this town” with menace.
The Vampire Diaries also had to come back from the masterpiece of season six – more on that later.
Yet despite the literal loss of Elena, the show was forced to change its DNA in an interesting way, opening up space for the Salvatore brothers and their relationship to step to the fore. As their mother Lily was introduced and Stefan took a trip south for a The Originals cross-over, we saw the leading men without the Elena tussle for the first time in the show’s run.
caroline forbes in the vampire diaries season 8
Through some magical fudging, Caroline became pregnant with Jo and Ric’s twins, completely altering her own storyline.
The thing that largely held this season back was the constant hop, skip and jumping around of the timelines – perhaps in an attempt to distract us from the fact that Elena was gone, the show lost its own grasp on the plot.
That and the fact that we were lumbered with Matt Donovan and the robust chip on his shoulder.
4th. Season One (2009)
We’ve reached the halfway point, entering a raft of seasons that are legitimately good and well worth a rewatch now the show is on Netflix.
First up, the one that started it all. The first season of The Vampire Diaries started strong, with complex characters quickly captured and a scene-stealing villain in Damon, who was so good in that black-clad role you end up wondering whether they should have spiritually de-fanged him at all.
While the first half of the season was fairly slow, the CW show found its footing, getting a tentative grasp on what the vampires could and could not do – remember when Damon could control some fog? – and they introduced us to characters we were prepared to stick it out with for years.
3rd. Season Three (2011)
This season was peak love triangle. Damon had been introduced as a romantic option in the season two finale and with ripper Stefan’s humanity switched off to become a servant of ultimate British baddie Klaus, he and Elena had space to get on the same page.
Yes, they neutered our season one bad boy – something they later did with Klaus, thanks to some fiddling with the vampire siring lore – but it made way for the romantic duel that made the show what it was.
The Originals set up shop in Mystic Falls – going some way to explain why Klaus was the way he was – and Rebekah became a fan favourite among the dysfunctional family ranks.
Meanwhile, the death of Vicki early in the show’s run proved The Vampire Diaries had the teeth it was supposed to, even if it did lose that knack in later seasons of the show.
2nd. Season Six (2014)
Possibly a controversial choice, but we’re here to fight season six’s corner because it gave us one of, if not the, best villain of the entire show. The truly unhinged nut job that was Kai.
He proved frightening in a murderous way completely divorced from the supernatural and showed they could still find evil in someone that wasn’t Katherine or one of the Originals. For fans of The Vampire Diaries, Alaric and Jo’s nuptials was our Red Wedding.
Then we had the Groundhog Day 1993 loop where Bonnie and Damon were trapped, giving them the opportunity to nurture a friendship which was just as unexpected as it was lovely.
There was genuine heartbreak not only at the altar, but when we lost Sheriff Forbes, who had gone on the best arc of the human Mystic Falls residents – because the less said about Matt the better – from vampire-hating councillor to Caroline and Damon’s most trusted ally.
This season may have felt all the sweeter because it came on the heels of the season five doldrums, but it really did have it all. And then it ended with the almighty twist that was Elena’s own pseudo death to Kai’s sleeping curse. No notes.
1st. Season Two (2010)
We’re here: god tier. This was The Vampire Diaries at the height of its powers, with storylines that came thick, fast and well done.
In its sophomore outing, the CW show avoided the slump and instead just built on the brilliance of the first season.
We met Klaus and Elijah, who cultivated a constant sense of lurking danger in Mystic Falls and introduced a hierarchy to the whole rotten game of the undead.
We had werewolves! Werewolf-vampire hybrids! Witch brethren! We weren’t yet tired of hearing the word ‘doppelgänger’ every other scene! It was an embarrassment of riches.
Then the death of Aunt Jenna was among the most heart-wrenching moment of the show’s entire run, forcing Elena and Jeremy to go it completely alone from here on out.
We could always just ask one of the Originals to compel us to forget season two, so we can watch it all over again afresh.
The Vampire Diaries is available to stream on Netflix.