In all 133 episodes and six seasons of The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” (2009 – present), the seventh season premiere was the first one that didn’t star Nina Dobrev in her leading role as Elena Gilbert. Elena was the on-again, off-again love interest of brother-vampires Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley) Salvatore in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, Va. The last season ended with an homage to the “Game of Thrones” (2011 – present) brutal and violent Red Wedding, resulting in the death and departure of many key characters. Last season’s villain, Kai Parker (Chris Wood), put a spell on Elena so that as long as her best friend Bonnie Bennet (Kat Graham) was alive, Elena would be in a coma.
At this point, Elena has been turned into a vampire. When she wakes up in 60-odd years, she will be able to reunite with her true love, Damon, but she will never see her non-vampire friends again, including Bonnie. The season finale was as emotional as teen supernatural shows can get, and it seemed that it would be impossible to fill the void that Dobrev created by leaving the show. She was such an influential and integral, albeit sometimes annoying character that the concept of attempting to continue “The Vampire Diaries” without her seemed futile.
In the seventh season premiere, Damon, Stefan, Bonnie and vampire Caroline Forbes (Candice Accola) are still dealing with the aftermath of last season. They are all trying to heal their wounds, some more successfully than others. They now have to deal with new threats to the town of Mystic Falls and keep their friendships from unraveling.
Dobrev’s departure may actually be a good challenge for the show’s writers. Now that they don’t have a cliché love triangle to rely on, they might have to delve deeper into the personalities of these remaining characters independent of their relationship with Elena. During a panel for “The Vampire Diaries” at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Somerhalder revealed that Damon’s character will revert to his “bad boy” aesthetic from the previous seasons now that his moral compass (i.e. Elena) is no longer with him. Damon is arguably the most complex and misunderstood character on the show, so this additional layer will hopefully lead to compelling developments in his relationships.
Another growing relationship, long overdue, that will delight fans across the board is the one between Stefan and Caroline. Caroline’s mother, Sheriff Liz Forbes (Marguerite MacIntyre), died last season of cancer, which sent Caroline off the rail. Stefan was able to comfort her better than anyone else, including Elena. In this season premiere, viewers finally see the spark of romance between Stefan and Caroline that they’ve been waiting for.
The most interesting emotional relationship this season, however, will likely involve Bonnie and Damon. Bonnie feels guilty that the only reason she is alive is because Elena is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Damon can’t help but blame her for this, though they are still best friends and care deeply for each other. There is an underlying tension between them that will likely spill over at some point during the season.
No one would call “The Vampire Diaries” a work of art, but, in its defense, many of its characters and relationships are compelling. The cast, now full of experienced actors, has improved tremendously since the first season. The writing is more concise, the story is more interesting and less predictable and the characters have developed long enough for viewers to have strong feelings for them. Each season, the writers seem to introduce more villains and lately, those villains have ended up victorious. Viewers can no longer assume that everyone will come out alive and unharmed in some convenient twist of fate. As Elena’s fate shows, no character is safe, no matter how major they may be.
“The Vampire Diaries” will continue to appeal to a specific group of viewers — namely teenage girls and college-aged women who got sucked into the show during high school — but these demographics have provided a strong cult following for the show. The show has generally improved with each new season. Hopefully the seventh season will follow suit.