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ELENA AND DAMON (NINA DOBREV AND IAN SOMERHALDER)
Where we left off: They'd lured Klaus back to Mystic Falls by telling him Mikael had been staked. The plan was for Klaus to be distracted by the sight of Mikael stabbing and killing Elena — whose blood Klaus needs to make more hybrids — and Damon to stake Klaus. Damon was about to deliver the fatal blow when Stefan stopped him. At least Elena survived — Damon had gotten Katherine to play her. Believing Stefan betrayed them, Damon told Elena that Stefan's humanity really is gone. If that's the case, Elena said, they'd let him go.
Where they're headed: ''Damon is pissed off,'' Executive Producer Julie Plec says. ''When we come back, he's got a row of bottles lined up along the Mystic Grill bar and is having what he calls 'brunch in a bottle.' He doesn't understand why the plan went wrong. He's mad at Stefan, he's mad at the world, and the one person that can keep him focused and keep him from imploding is Elena. So they continue to find trust and support in each other.'' Tip: Delena fans won't want to miss tonight's episode. ''We're starting to see her willingness to let go of that stronghold she had on the belief that Stefan would come back to be the guy that he used to be. The consequences of her willingness to let that go will play out for the rest of the season,'' Plec says, ''because as we've seen as an audience, he's still there. They just don't know it yet.''
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STEFAN (PAUL WESLEY)
Where we left off: What Damon and Elena didn't know is that Klaus had told Katherine (when she was posing as Elena) that he'd given his hybrids the order to kill Damon if he died. Katherine had gone to Stefan and told him she was going through with Damon's plan regardless. She wanted to save Damon, but the only way that would happen is if Stefan cared enough to stop Damon from staking Klaus. Stefan stopped Damon, and Klaus gave him his freedom — as he said he would when Mikael was confirmed dead and his superstake had been destroyed. Katherine told Stefan to get mad at Klaus for all he'd stolen from him and convinced Stefan to make Klaus pay. Stefan phoned Klaus to tell him he'd kidnapped his siblings' coffins. Klaus threatened to kill Stefan and everyone who'd just plotted his death. "You do that, and you will never see your family again," Stefan said. ''I wonder, Klaus, as someone who's been one step ahead for a thousand years, were you prepared for this?''
Where he's headed: ''Stefan's tunnel vision when it comes to hitting Klaus where it hurts begins in the first episode,''Plec says. ''But it really escalates in the second, where we get the sense that this guy, who used to be much more concerned with protecting [against ] collateral damage, now has no concerns about who might get hurt as he tries to get Klaus to back off and get rid of his hybrids from Mystic Falls. Stefan goes to some really, really extreme lengths to try to get Klaus to blink in their standoff, and his methods are not very much appreciated by Elena.... He does something really hardcore to Elena and with Elena in the second episode, that emotionally and personally hits her so hard she's not so sure she wants to forgive him.''
3 of 10
KLAUS (JOSEPH MORGAN)
Where we left off: When Stefan pulled Damon off Klaus, Klaus seized the stake that was meant for him and put it in Mikael, setting him ablaze. With Mikael dead, Klaus was ready to awaken his siblings. One problem: Stefan now has them. And let us not forget, Klaus doesn't know that Rebekah has learned the truth about what he did to their mother.
Where he's headed: ''Klaus is also pissed, for sure,'' Plec says. ''He spent a long time trying to gather his family and dispose of his father so that his siblings could be reunited and he could seek their forgiveness, and then Stefan swooped in and stole them all. So he's angry, and he believes that if he reaches out and threatens the people that surround Elena that she will be highly motivated to get Stefan to do what he wants him to do. Elena's point over the course of the first episode is 'You created this monster. You created this person who no longer cares what I think or how I feel. This is your problem.' Klaus has to start rewriting the rules of his own game when he realizes that Stefan isn't gonna cave for the sake of Elena or for the sake of Damon, that Stefan is in the driver's seat and calling all the shots. For Klaus, that's an uncomfortable position, and their standoff has some fun twists and turns to it.''
4 of 10
ALARIC (MATT DAVIS)
Where we left off: Alaric missed the homecoming festivities to stay home and continue analyzing the cave drawings, which ultimately revealed the Original Witch was Esther, the matriarch of the Originals. After one of their sons had been killed by a werewolf, Mikael asked her to protect their family by helping him turn the other children into vampires. (Esther, however, couldn't become a vampire herself — she'd lose her witch powers.)
Where he's headed: His ring will get some use in the first episode back, and he'll end up in the hospital where he meets a pretty, smart doctor played by Torrey DeVitto, Paul Wesley's wife. ''Instead of quietly coming back to life and no one's the wiser, she catches wind of the fact that this man shouldn't be walking and wonders why he is. When we get to know her a little bit, we start to wonder, wait a second, she's got a secret too, what's going on with her?'' Plec says. ''But it's going to be fun to see Alaric, after all this time [RIP, Jenna], notice a beautiful woman in his vicinity and have a response to her. He's become more and more of a guardian figure to Elena and Jeremy, and so, of course, Elena is gonna be rootin' for him to have someone.''
5 of 10
TYLER (MICHAEL TREVINO)
Where we left off: At Klaus' request, Tyler had the homecoming festivities moved to his house, where Klaus could invite a few dozen personality-less hybrids to have his back if anyone tried to make a move on him. Tyler confronted Caroline, who didn't know anything about the plan to take Klaus out. Tyler vervained her and asked Matt to take her home because he didn't want her to get hurt — he knew he'd have to jump to his sire's defense, too. When Caroline later awoke, Tyler told her that in his mind, if Klaus can't be killed and he himself can't be fixed, he has to learn to live with being a hybrid. To do that, he focuses on the fact that he no longer has to go through the pain of turning into a werewolf because he only has to change if and when he wants to as a hybrid. He's willing to be sired to Klaus if it means he's no longer controlled by the full moon. Caroline broke up with him.
Where he's headed: ''Tyler's about to learn some pretty painful lessons about the consequences of his sire bond to Klaus in the first couple episodes, and it's gonna make him realize that he himself is a risk and a danger to Caroline,'' Plec says. ''If he's not careful, his sire bond could be the thing that hurts her more than just their breakup.''
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CAROLINE (CANDICE ACCOLA)
Where we left off: Tyler begged her not to abandon him after all they'd been through, but she had to let him go. It's too dangerous to be with someone who is that loyal to Klaus. He'd do his best not to hurt her, but he'd also end up keeping her from defending her friends.
Where she's headed: Apparently, she's still grieving the breakup because she's not in tonight's episode. By next week, she has something to celebrate (sort of): her 18th birthday. ''Caroline is kind of having a teenage life crisis,'' Plec says. ''She says 'I couldn't wait to be 18. Seventeen is a filler year. I'm stuck in a filler year for the rest of eternity,''' says Plec. ''She's just starting to question what her life is gonna be as a vampire and kinda mourning the loss of her relationship with Tyler and feeling kind of unsettled and a little sad. And for Caroline to be sad, especially when there's a party to be had, makes Elena and Matt and Bonnie realize they need to do something nice for her to kind of get her out of her funk, and they give her a very unconventional, untraditional birthday.'' Fun, right? You know better than that! ''As things tend to happen in our show, things go terribly, terribly wrong,'' Plec adds with a laugh.
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KATHERINE AND MATT (NINA DOBREV AND ZACH ROERIG)
Where we left off: Katherine posed as Elena — and Matt's date to the homecoming party. As previously mentioned, Matt ended up taking Caroline home; Katherine snuck away to revive Stefan, who'd been drained by Mikael at Salvatore mansion, and brought him to Tyler's so he could help her save Damon. Afterward, Katherine admitted to Stefan that she wanted to save Damon and him. She liked the old Stefan better. Humanity is a vamp's greatest weakness and no matter how easy it is to shut off, she said, it always tries to creep back in. Sometimes she lets it. For Stefan to channel his anger — and give her some getaway time — she gave him the idea to steal the coffins to make Klaus suffer.
Where they're headed: As for Matt, ''We call him the Last Human Standing in a lot of ways,'' Plec says. ''He's the grounding force in this group of friends. We're gonna keep seeing that and understanding that Matt's the guy who's like 'Hey, wait a second. Everybody take a beat. Have you acknowledged just how messed up your lives are?' And yet, Matt is constantly going to be dealing with his friends, who are immersed in vampire, witch, and hybrid business, so he can't really escape it somehow.'' Katherine is, of course, on the run. Are we foolish to believe she really does care about both Salvatore brothers? ''I don't think you're a fool at all. I think that is true. The more clear thing she said is, ?Humanity is a vampire's greatest weakness. But every now and then, I let mine back in.' I think that is what defines Katherine: Every now and then, she will allow herself a taste of true emotion, and those will always be the things that will do her in. One day, her interest in both those Salvatore boys might be the end of her. Until then, she's just gonna try to stay smart and stay savvy and stay hidden.''
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JEREMY (STEVEN R. MCQUEEN)
Where we left off: A gentleman who cheats on his living witch girlfriend (Bonnie) with the ghost of his walking undead ex (Anna) does not attend the homecoming dance. So Jeremy was missing from the midseason finale.
Where he's headed: ''The first episode back, Jeremy gets caught in the crossfire of Klaus' war with Stefan, and it really makes Elena think about what she's putting her brother through and what kind of life he's living in this town and how destructive it is for him,'' Plec teases. ''She and Alaric have to make some decisions about how to keep him safe.''
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BONNIE (KAT GRAHAM)
Where we left off: Heartbroken over Jeremy, she still made it to Klaus' homecoming party at Tyler's house — and stopped Damon from staking Tyler, who she incapacitated.
Where she's headed: Like everyone, Bonnie will have a role in the Great Stefan-Klaus War of 2012. But she'll have more than witch business to deal with. ''Bonnie and Jeremy have not spoken with each other in many, many, many days/episodes,'' Plec laughs. ''A decision that Elena will make about Jeremy's future actually makes Bonnie feel the need to step in and finally hash out her relationship issues with Jeremy so that she can feel like she's not avoiding it anymore. And then he can understand how much he hurt her, but also how much that she still, in fact, cares about him as a person.'' We'll also finally meet her mother, Abby (Persia White) (Click here for an EW exclusive First Look. ''The funny thing about Bonnie's mom is that we mentioned her once in three seasons, and the line was, 'I live with my dad. No mom.' So clearly there's a story there, and Bonnie doesn't feel like talking about this woman. When she realizes that it's time for her to find her mother and meet her, there's gonna be a lot of information that comes out about why she's been gone, where she was, how it all ties into our big world and the Bennett witch world especially. And there's gonna be a lot of really uncomfortable but ultimately rich mother-daughter stuff,'' Plec says. ''With our witches, we're always telling the story of how being a witch comes with its on set of life complications. You're always getting yourself caught in the middle of the other supernaturals' business. Bonnie's mom Abby is a walking example of that.''
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REBEKAH (CLAIRE HOLT)
Where we left off: Rebekah shared Klaus' origin story with Elena. His first kill as a vampire triggered his werewolf gene and revealed to Mikael that Klaus' father was a werewolf. Esther tried to shut Klaus out and put him under the hybrid curse to suppress his werewolf side. Klaus had told Rebekah that wasn't enough to appease Mikael and Mikael tore Esther's heart out while Klaus watched ? which is why Rebekah and Elijah vowed to stay with Klaus for eternity. But Elena knew from the cave drawings that Klaus was the one who'd killed their mother. She told Rebekah the truth, and Rebekah agreed to help lure Klaus back to Mystic Falls by saying Elena had staked Mikael. Not willing to gamble on Rebekah's loyalty to Klaus resurfacing, Elena literally stabbed Rebekah in the back as she dressed for the homecoming festivities — which she'd been going to attend with Matt. Klaus knows she's MIA, but not where or why.
Where she's headed: She's still staked — and the one card Elena holds.