As 2011 comes to a close, wanted to honor some of the hardworking names and faces from behind the scenes for their outstanding achievements. The Vampire Diaries is best known for its twisty, fast-paced storytelling that occasionally calls for its male stars to go shirtless. But ask fans for their favorite moments of 2011, and odds are they’ll mention the ones that moved them — and executive producers Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson — to tears. “We’re really proud of the emotional depth of the show, and the fact that Kevin and I will sit in this room at four in the morning and be pulling our hair out and miserable and have no lives working our asses off, and then have a conversation where a cry pitch comes up, and if it moves both of us, it makes the job feel good,” Plec says. Here, she tells us about eight moments that made those late nights worth it. For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.

As told by: Julie Plec

Anna is reunited with Pearl: What’s funny is we had talked all along about Pearl perhaps being in that ghost episode, and then when we finally got down to the nitty-gritty of breaking it and needed to tell a story and service a lot of characters, we realized that there was no room to tell the story of Pearl coming back. And so we put it away, and decided not to have her in the episode. Something that organically came out of the process of writing and rewriting the script was this idea of not knowing where anybody is on the other side — and also not knowing if they’re even there at all. Anna says that to Jeremy, and then later, she says, I just don’t want to be alone anymore. I thought maybe I could find my mother, or maybe she’s moved on and I don’t know, because I don’t even know if there’s anywhere to move on to. As we were writing that scene — in other words, I don’t know if there’s heaven, I don’t know if there’s peace — I got struck with such a sense of pain and loss. It just hit me so hard emotionally that I started to sob while I was writing, which doesn’t happen very often. And I thought Ohmygod, this girl needs to find her mother. She just needs to find her mother. The two of them being reunited is the thing that will bring them peace. Even though Jeremy thinks, Oh, we’ll still see each other, no. I think that when she found her mom and those two disappeared, they went off to a very happy place and we’ll never see them again. It just felt so right. That’s the thing that defined her character from the beginning: she came to Mystic Falls to rescue her mother from the tomb, and every bad thing she ever did was in the name of being reunited with her mother. Then in the end of her journey, she got that. Anybody who didn’t watch the series until this season wouldn’t necessarily have any emotional connection to that moment, but I felt as a fan of our own show, who had connected to this girl and that relationship, it just had to happen. And then you put up a bunch of beautiful lanterns and a nice long lens and a great song, and it’s the saddest moment you’ve ever seen. [Laughs] I’ve seen that moment 15 times, and I still cry like a baby every time I see it.

One of the things that’s really come out this season thematically about our show is that being a supernatural creature, and specifically being an immortal, is in its own way the loneliest thing that you can be. And all of our characters, in their own way, are being driven by the desire to not be alone. That’s why our vampires love so deeply and recklessly. That’s why Elena, who’s orphaned and doesn’t have her parents anymore, is seeking and finding love in the most unconventional and untraditional ways. That’s why Rebekah and Klaus have stuck together through thick and thin even though he’s daggered her multiple times. There’s such a terrible fear of eternal solitude that the idea of saying, “Hey, but one day, even for an immortal, if you can die, then you too can find peace” is beautiful and depressing at the same time.

NEXT: Stefan makes a call

Stefan phones Elena: I love that moment so much, because when Kevin and I got started at the beginning of the season, we were talking about the episode and what Stefan’s point of view was — was he completely lost to the ripper dark side or was there still hope? And we talked about: Oh, it would be so nice if we think he’s totally gone, but then we see him outside Elena’s birthday party or something. He’s come to Mystic Falls to just check in on her, and then she has no idea. And then Kevin, in his infinite brilliance, just said, “No, she should get home. It’s the end of the night. We think all hope is lost. And then the phone should ring. And she should almost miss the call. And then when she picks up, he’s there, but he doesn’t say anything because he just needs to hear her voice, because it’s the one thing keeping him from completely falling apart.” And I started to cry. I was like [in weeping voice], “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life.” And then he started to cry. Because that’s what we do, we get each other going, because we’re complete saps. And honestly, it didn’t even matter to us what the rest of the episode was about when all was said and done, because we knew we had that moment. And that Ron Pope song “A Drop in the Ocean,” which our director John Behring and our music supervisor Chris Mollere and the editor Sean Albertson all kind of picked and put in there — it’s like this perfect storm of emotional awesomeness. And then Paul Wesley… My favorite Paul Wesley moment of the show prior to this was last year, when he and Elena realized they had to break up because it was just too dangerous for the two of them to be together and he’s trying to hold back tears and trying not to cry. There’s something about seeing Paul Wesley trying not to cry that is so sad. So he just nailed it. That’s one of my all-time favorite moments emotionally.

I think that our most successful emotional moments on the show — I go back and look at Rose’s death, when Damon has to put her out of her misery — they’re all very human, real moments. It’s a guy who just needs to hear the voice of his touchstone, of the love of his life, to let him have a better day. It’s about a girl wanting to be reunited with her mother who she was lost from. It’s about a woman admitting at first she’s afraid, but then that she’s okay to die, and a guy who has intimacy issues being willing to end it for her so she can have peace. It’s all rooted in very simple and very primal human emotional instincts, which I think is why it strikes people in their gut a little.

NEXT: Stefan is the best boyfriend ever

Stefan arranges a sleepover for Caroline: One of my greatest cries — which is not even a sad moment, I just loved it so much — was another Kevin Williamson pitch. When he pitched it, we both cried. It was after Caroline got tortured by the werewolves in season 2, and she came home and was all by herself, and had the fight with Tyler where she told him to get the hell off her porch and was feeling all alone. Stefan just had sensed that she needed her friends and brought Bonnie and Elena over for the sleepover. I was just like, That’s such a simple, sweet, honest, and pure moment of teenage friendship and general life friendship. That moment just slays me every time. I love it. We’ve all been there. You didn’t have to ask, in fact, if anything, you tried to keep everyone away, and then they came anyway to be there for you.

NEXT: Pillow talk with Elena and Damon

Elena says it’s Stefan’s love for Damon that will save him: I always love when Damon has his really pure, honest moments, and to me, the most pure moment that he’s had this year has been watching Elena fall asleep at the end of their scene when she says, “It won’t be because he loves me, it’ll be because he loves you.” I love the simplicity of their intimacy, the friendship had evolved to a place where she trusted him enough to let him be there in her bed in a friendship way, and then ultimately the look on his face as he watched her go to sleep… In episode 102 of the series, “Friday Night Bites,” he stood over her bed and watched her sleep and touched her face. That’s the first time we realized Damon had a sense of humanity. And that was right about the second or third day of school. And then in this episode in season 3, it’s almost exactly a year later in the timeline of the show. I would like to take credit for the timeline symmetry but I can’t. But as far as Damon and Elena in her bedroom, all of their important moments — their worst moments together and their best moments together — have happened either in her bedroom or on her front porch. Those are two important locations for us as far as telling the story of their evolving intimacy.

NEXT: The Original siblings unite

Rebekah, Elijah, and Klaus bond: One of my favorite moments of this season is when Rebekah is standing at the grave of her mother, and Klaus is standing next to her, and she’s trying to say to him you’ll never be alone — I’m sorry our mother rejected you, I’m sorry that our father hates you, I will never leave you, I will never do that to you. Then when Elijah comes in, and the three of them join hands and say they’ll be together always and forever… It’s like even the most dysfunctional family, and they are THE MOST, are kids who had a really screwed-up life who rely on each other emotionally and will always ultimately have each other — even in spite of the worst, worst things that each of them will do. I loved that moment of the Original family claiming their bond for all eternity, even though we were learning all the horrible things that Klaus had been doing.

NEXT: Stefan and Elena have a dangerous reunion, Stefan’s love for Elena can’t conquer all, and Aunt Jenna and Uncle John die

Elena’s trapped in the closet (watch it here): It was an unexpected crying moment. It was a special moment in the script, but I didn’t realize what it would do to me as a viewer. Elena’s hiding in the closet in Stefan’s old apartment in Chicago, and Stefan and Klaus walk in. Stefan opens the closet door and he sees her, and they come face-to-face. It’s the strangest moment because she’s in his, like, murder board closet, but the way they look at each other… and you realize, ohmygod, these two have not seen each other in so long, and they love each other so much, and the look on his face… We know how much he needs her, how she’s what keeps him from falling over the edge, and he’s in this predicament: oh god, is she about to get caught? Am I about to get caught? It’s just this powerful reunion that always makes me get a little teary.

Stefan fights the compulsion to drink from Elena (watch it here): When Stefan’s trying to not hurt Elena, and Klaus is yelling at him to turn off his emotions, and he’s fighting back, and fighting back, and fighting back, your heart is in your chest exploding because you think he’s gonna be able to do it. And then when he can’t, the look on his face as he just turns it off, and we realize ohmygod, it’s over, shattered me.

Aunt Jenna and Uncle John die (watch them here and here): Obviously for us, Aunt Jenna’s death was devastating because we love Sara Canning, and we were sorry to see her go because she’s such a wonderful actress, but Aunt Jenna’s death was so awful because it was so tragic and so violent and ultimately, in the greater scheme of the universe, I would say unnecessary. It was Klaus doing the vilest thing that he could do to make his point about how dangerous he was. To have Aunt Jenna’s death, which was so ugly in its action, bookended by Uncle John’s letter… You were sorta like, Yeah, take him. F— him, and yet, he redeems himself in death. I cry every time I hear that damn Birdy cover of that Bon Iver song “Skinny Love” that’s played over the cemetery scene.

For more on the Best and Worst of 2011, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new issue, on stands now.

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