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EW's Best of 2015: How Vampire Diaries crafted Elena's goodbye

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The CW

After The Vampire Diaries announced that Nina Dobrev would be leaving the show following its sixth season, fans couldn’t wait to find out exactly how the show would send off its central heroine. And in May 2015, they got their answer in one of the show’s strongest hours. EW spoke with executive producer Caroline Dries and choreographer Mimi Karsh about how exactly they created Elena’s farewell.

Click here for more Best of 2015 coverage.

How do you craft a proper goodbye for your main character in only 44 minutes? That was the question the Vampire Diaries writers room had to ask themselves when they sat down to write the season 6 finale, otherwise known as Nina Dobrev’s final episode. They had the plot: Kai would send Elena into a magical coma and link her life to Bonnie’s, meaning that as long as Bonnie was alive, Elena couldn’t be. So they knew why she was leaving, but they still needed the how. 

In the end, the writers decided that each of Elena’s major relationships would get its own separate goodbye, which of course, was a challenge in terms of timing. This was not a 2-hour episode, but they had to make sure they do every relationship justice. Particularly, for executive producer Caroline Dries, the biggest struggle came in crafting Elena and Stefan’s goodbye. “Elena and Stefan were the love story on the show for so long and to not give that goodbye the screentime and emotional weight that it deserved was very concerning to [showrunner] Julie [Plec] and me,” Dries told EW. “We wanted to make sure that felt very powerful, and at the same time, we knew that it could not come after the Damon-Elena goodbye. So it was like, how do we give this the weight without taking away from Caroline and Bonnie’s goodbye or Matt’s goodbye? It’s sort of like a puzzle.”

It’s a puzzle the team eventually pieced together, having characters enter Elena’s mind — she’s in a coma, remember — and take her to a meaningful location to say goodbye. For Caroline and Bonnie, it was a sleepover in Elena’s bedroom, which Dries said she thought was the “most beautiful one.” For Tyler, Elena freed him from his literal chains to go be a werewolf once again. Elsewhere, Alaric took her training, which was symbolic of him always being a mentor and father-figure, according to Dries. And then there was Matt, who took her to Wickery Bridge. “Their relationship to Wickery Bridge and her relationship to humanity is very symbolic of their relationship and how she saved his life,” Dries said.

As for Jeremy, his goodbye was originally longer than what aired. “Jeremy and Elena’s goodbye at the pot smokers’ den at the high school was just how their relationship started in terms of how the audience met them. That scene was actually longer but we had to cut here and there,” Dries said. “It’s really about where he’s grown as a character and how she’s completed her job as a big sister from busting him in the bathroom and yelling at him for having pot in his pocket to her being like, ‘Wow, you are a man, you are a vampire hunter, you have a drive.’ It was her success story.”

And then there was the location of Stefan and Elena’s goodbye, for which the writers chose the waterfall that Stefan and Elena first visited in season 2. “They had one of their most beautiful relationship moments while they were walking up that waterfall,” Dries said. “That’s where she admitted she never wanted to lose her humanity, she didn’t want to be a vampire, and so he found it fitting for them to revisit that environment,” Dries said.

Last, but certainly not least, the writers then had to craft the big goodbye between Damon and Elena in the road where they first met, which Dries said was the “obvious choice” in terms of location. “We knew it was going to be the biggest scene of the season, maybe one of the biggest scenes of the series, so we knew we wanted it to be epic,” Dries said. “Julie and I were talking with the writers, and I think a bolt of lightning hit Julie. It’s one of those moments where Julie does like a full body spasm and throws her pen in the air and it’s like, of course they have to dance!

“Dancing on our show, among all the different character couplings, is sort of a motif,” Dries continued. “It’s our way of the characters having sex in like a beautiful way, so it made perfect sense on the road, which is symbolic of Damon’s journey as a vampire. Once Julie came up with the dance, it all fell into place because then we could intercut it with Stefan and Caroline.”

But then the show actually had to craft the dance, for which they turned to choreographer Mimi Karsh. “They had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted,” Karsh said. “They wanted it to be like a dream sequence, romantic and beautiful.” As Caroline worded it, they wanted it to be like Beauty and the Beast. And Karsh, a long-time fan of the show — her husband is former TVD writer/producer and current Originals executive producer Michael Narducci — made sure to work in an homage to Damon and Elena’s first dance in season 1. 

“They have that dance where Stefan was supposed to be there and he’s not and Damon fills in for him and they had that first moment where they touched hands, and I wanted to bring back that moment and try to incorporate that subtly but enough so that the fans would see it,” Karsh said. “It’s a little ode to that first meeting.”

With the music, Ross Copperman’s “Hunger,” chosen by the show — for what Dries called its “soft romantic intrigue” and “good chorus for the dancing climax” — Karsh focused the choreography on connection. Knowing that this was Damon and Elena’s goodbye, Karsh knew it needed to be about their relationship first and foremost. “Partner dancing is the most beautiful form of dance, in my opinion, because of that connection,” she said. “Because of this trust that you have with your partner, [you] completely let go. When he lifts her up and she comes back down and her head goes back, she completely lets go. It had to be a lot about connection and trust.”

However, when the writers first came to Karsh, they didn’t want any lifts in the dance. “They wanted it to be kind of subtle,” Karsh said. “I tried to give them that with a little bit extra hoping that they would like it. I threw in a few lifts just to see if they would keep it.”

And keep it they did, something that Dries attributes to the fact that she couldn’t tell the difference between Dobrev and the professional dancer they had showing her the moves. “[Nina] was such a natural that it excused it for being choreographed,” Dries said.

It’s a good thing Dobrev was such as natural, because her shooting schedule only allowed her to rehearse the dance in between takes, which means she’d learn the choreography five minutes at a time. Karsh estimated that she had 15 minutes total to learn the dance. But thanks to Dobrev’s dancer background and her love of the dance — she teared up the first time she saw it — Dobrev was willing to work hard, along with Somerhalder, who had a few hours to practice his part.

Thankfully, due to rain during shooting, they also had time between takes to perfect things. “The first take that we did, everybody behind the camera was in tears,” Karsh said. “It was such a beautiful moment.” 

It also didn’t hurt that the dance was the last thing Dobrev filmed on the show. “Rarely does it happen where the last line of dialogue you say is the last line of the episode, so for the last thing for us to shoot in season 6 to be Elena’s last scene was very strange how it came together perfectly,” Dries said. “The last thing we ended up shooting was her saying ‘goodbye’ and ‘I love you’ and then when the cameras went off, that was when the whole crew charged her with pies and just slaughtered her,” Dries added with a laugh.

And then it was over. Elena’s send-off was complete in a way that Vampire Diaries fans will never forget. As Dries put it, “the point was that Elena was saying goodbye to everyone and also leaving them with a sense of peace.” As for the episode, it too left fans with a sense of peace. 

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