Thursday night’s episode of The Vampire Diaries left fans humbled, heart wrenched and numb when the littlest Gilbert officially left this Earth. The devastation that all of the characters felt was very evident in every scene and with every interaction, especially Elena. Our heroine said good-bye to the last shreds of her humanity as we watched her whole life literally disappear, and a new Elena emerged. EP and Showrunner Julie Plec has some spoilery insight into “Stand By Me”, most moving episode ever, as well as some fabulous teases about what’s next for group.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, did you cry as much as I did last night?
JULIE PLEC: I’ve now seen it 47 times and then writing it, [I] shed buckets of tears, so probably not as much. But I still have my emotional attachment to it.
How long did you know this was coming?
We knew when we made the decision to make Elena a vampire that we needed to get her to the place of utter and complete loss and tragedy and darkness so that we could take her down the road of being a vampire without humanity. And so we knew that we were going to be sacrificing somebody we loved when we started the season, and very early on in the season, we made the decision about who that was going to be. Then we asked ourselves a lot of questions and debated but ultimately stuck to it.
That’s what we wanted to do, truthfully. We wanted to end the previous episode with Jeremy’s death, but I said as I was writing the script that [I knew] the ride I wanted the audience to be on in this episode. The instant that episode 14 was over, the very first thing somebody was going to say is, “No, wait! Was he wearing his ring?” Then somebody else was going to say, “Wait, the ring doesn’t work anymore.” Then somebody else was going to say, “But what if it does? You never know.” And we wanted to dramatize all those questions because on this show, death is not always final. And we do have this sort of reputation for turning a story on its head and surprising people. So we wanted to play those questions so that as Elena came to terms with reality and what had happened, so too, would the audience.
Now, Jeremy’s body has been burned, but some people still don’t believe he’s dead. Are they in denial or do we have reason to hold out hope?
I think the storytelling truth of this show is that just because somebody is dead doesn’t mean you’ll never see them again, which, I think helps temper some of the grief when all is said and done. But his body is burnt so he is no longer on this Earth.
Tell me what we can expect from Vampire Elena minus her humanity. Is it Katherine 2.0?
Yeah, but it’s Katherine minus all the machinations and the sexual manipulations and the Katherine survival tools. When [Nina Dobrev] first started playing Katherine in season 1, we talked about how to differentiate Katherine from Elena, and we said, “Everything that Katherine says is a lie and everything Elena says is true.” And that’s the simple act of how to give you the difference between these two girls. And the beauty of Elena with no humanity is that she’s speaking the truth all the time, and it’s brutal and not fun for the people who have to listen to it. And the fact that Nina Dobrev — I’ve seen one episode of the next few already — can so brilliantly differentiate from Elena and Katherine, even though they’re operating from a similar place, is great. It’s almost like she’s playing an entirely new character.
Was it a challenge writing that?
It is a challenge writing it because you want your villain to have the sauciest attitude and the best one-liners and the greatest zingers and really that’s more Katherine’s expertise than it would be Elena’s. So we found ourselves de-Katherinizing our scripts before sending them out to make sure we were being true to what Elena’s character would be.
Well, at the beginning of the season, after Elena became a vampire, the boys were arguing about how to handle it. Each of them had very clear points of view that were in opposition to the other, and when all is said and done, they were both right. Now, we find ourselves again with the brothers trying to figure out what the hell they’re going to do with her. “Do we help her turn it back on?” “Do we leave it off?” “Do we lock her up?” Do we hold her hand?” “Do we make her have fun?” “Do we send her back to school?” [They have] all these questions and frankly have no idea how to manage. That’s the first episode when we come back; it’s them figuring out, “What do we do with her?”
I heard something about cheerleading.
Oh, yeah-oh, yeah! The first thing Elena does — hilariously — is take her spot back on the cheerleading squad. As she says, she’s like, “It’s not like the moves are that hard, and it’s not like I’m going to sit at home and do nothing all day.” But it turns out that she’s got a little bit of an ulterior motive, which involves the fact that there is no vervain-free locals to feed on in Mystic falls anymore.
Now, I have to say, I loved the scene with the brothers last night. How will them being in “figure it out” mode affect them?
If anything, the next chapter of this brings Stefan and Damon weirdly closer together because as they struggle to try to figure out what to do with this girl that they don’t recognize any more, they start to realize how much their relationship has been impacted by their shared love for her. And having kind of watched her lose her brother and them have that feeling of, “Oh my gosh. As much as I fight with my brother that I have, if I lost him, I’d have nothing,” it has a nice healing effect on these two over the next chapter.
Absolutely. Caroline is the fixer she’s the planner. She’s the best, most successful vampire in town, and she’s going to be right there in the mix wanting to help Elena. Unfortunately, Elena does not want her help, and it triggers some conflict between these two girls that’s both fun and sad at the same time.
Any more major deaths this season?
[Laughs] I can’t promise that the answer is no. But I definitely will try not to shatter everyone’s souls as deeply as what they went through last night.
The shattering is due in part to the fact that everyone acted their asses off last night.
It was really, really special. They all connected to it so deeply. In fact, the director who directed it is one of our editors, and he’s been with us since the beginning of the series. And he said, “Even if I hadn’t directed it, I would have asked to edit it because having been here from the beginning, the episode where we say goodbye to Jeremy and burn down that house, I feel compelled to be a part of it.” And that feeling was there on set every day. Somehow, everybody felt like what we were doing was different and somewhat special.
Speaking of the house, are we going to see a new home base for everyone? The house is — at least to me — such an important meeting point for everyone.
They’re going to definitely take up residence in the Salvatore mansion. Although, we go on the road a little bit in the next two episodes after that. We head to New York and we head to small down Pennsylvania. So the adventures of new vampire Elena and how we try to keep her reigned in is what’s driving the next few episodes.
You head to New York!?
Yes, we do! Well, not literally. It’s a very well dressed corner of downtown Atlanta.
When’s the next time we’re really going to dig into the Silas aspect of this mythology?
We very, very quietly slow-play it in the next episode, but in the one after that, we start to see what his plan is with Bonnie and if he’s going to be successful in getting her to do what he wants to do. And Stefan and Caroline — and Klaus, of all people — figure out what going on and and try to put a stop to it.
And the next flashback?
That’s the same episode. While our hometown heroes are dealing with what Silas is up to, Damon, Elena and Rebekah take off to New York as Damon relives a time in his life in the ’70s when he was not so well behaved, either.