Credit: Annette Brown/The CW
Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't seen The Vampire Diaries' season 3 finale, stop reading now. Exec producer Julie Plec takes us inside the hour's twists and turns, and teases where we're headed when the show returns this fall.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long have you known Elena would end season 3 in transition to become a vampire?

JULIE PLEC: The ending had been in the works for about two years. In the first series of books, that's what happens to her. When Kevin [Williamson] and I first came on the show, we said, "Well, it can't happen to her the way it happens in the books," which is on, like, page 200 of the first book. [Laughs] That felt obviously too soon, and rushed, and we didn't want to make a show about a teenage girl who instantly becomes a vampire. But we always knew that her journey would take her there eventually, and we just kept riding the wave of when it felt right. You've got a girl who just sorta lost her last adult living family member when Aunt Jenna died last year, so when we started this season, what we really wanted to do was begin this relationship with Alaric as her guardian and mentor, and then tear that away from her at the end leaving her and her brother with nobody. It felt like now was the time — when you're left with no grownup, no adult supervision, no parent, no guardian — for Elena to experience the next evolution of her journey. All the stuff that we did with having her get stronger over the course of the year, training and getting in touch with her physical self, and all the grief and all the emotion that she went through, all the compassion that she has for everybody, it will all play into next year and what kind of person and vampire she will actually be — if she should choose to see the transition through.

Obviously, she will transition.

There will be a discussion to be had about it at the beginning, but the road we're going down is pretty balls out.

It wasn't until that moment when ghost Alaric appeared to Jeremy that I was like, wait a minute, they could conceivably kill Elena because Nina Dobrev would still be on the show as Katherine.

We're pretty notorious for being willing to go there and do radical things that other people wouldn't necessarily feel good about doing, so there was a sense of fun in that moment. People were gonna be thinking, poor Matt, he's such a goner, and mourning him in that moment and not even thinking ultimately that Elena was in any kind of jeopardy. So when that happened, it's just like, Oh s—!

The way Nina died in the water, just going lifeless and floating — so good.

That girl. If there were acting awards for underwater emoting, she would win everything.

Did Elena know that Meredith had given her vampire blood when she told Stefan to save Matt first?

That is a question that we will ask and answer when we come back next season.

And just checking: Matt did survive, right?

I think for Matt to not survive that after everything would be just too damn tragic.

Let's talk about Elena's goodbye speech to Damon when she told him if she had to choose, it would be Stefan.

What we've said all year is that this is the choice for who she is at this moment in her life, and what she wants out of her life, and who she wants to have in her life in a romantic way. Though she has obviously grown to love Damon, and probably be in love with Damon, over the course of three seasons, what she said was 100 percent true: Even at its worst, she never fell out of love with Stefan, and you just can't let somebody like that go. So letting Damon go was the right thing to do for her. Of course now, who knows what's gonna happen? Her life just got completely turned upside down and ripped inside out. God only knows how each brother is gonna handle it? If they have opposing viewpoints [read: Damon definitely would have saved Elena first, so she'd still be human], then how are they going to handle each other? They just miraculously survived this year tighter than ever as brothers, what will this new development due to that relationship? There's all kinds of great questions that are gonna come up as a result of all this.

One of the twists we didn't see coming — conveniently after Elena said maybe her choice would have been different if she'd met Damon first — was that Damon HAD actually met her first on the night of her parents' crash, but he compelled her to forget because he didn't want anyone else to know he was in town.

Damon now has a small collection of things that he's compelled her to forget. If there's one thing that everyone knows about our vampire rules it's that when you die and are in transition, your memories start to come back. So, there's some new information that will be introduced to Elena in the first episode of next season. I think it's just all part of the ongoing friendship and romantic entanglement that Elena has with Damon. She's never gonna be able to shake it completely, and new information is only gonna get under her skin and embed itself into her even more. And so, it will cause complications with Stefan, of course. But she's committed to Stefan. She loves Stefan. We'll get to actually see them be together for a little while.

So she made her choice, but you set up that it's not necessarily final — the sexual tension will still exist, even if it's just simmering. I feel like fans on both sides should be happy with this.

No. No. The most passionate of the opposing teams are never quite happy unless they get exactly what they want. But, I would say everybody else can understand that end game means end of series. We're in the middle of the journey, and our heroine just made a life decision and then EVERYTHING in her life is about to change. We're starting Part 2. We'll continue to ask the question "Why was it right for her?" and answer it as we move into next season. Elena as a character will continue to evolve and change, as will our boys, as will their feelings for each other and for her. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

Let's talk about Bonnie's deal with Klaus.

It's the same magic that was able to put Klaus into Alaric's body and Esther into Rebekah's. So you can extrapolate the future of Joseph Morgan on this show from that logic.

We saw Klaus' body burning like Mikael's and Finn's, so I'm thinking we'd only see Joseph Morgan himself again in a flashback or something.

You know, I myself did not see his entire body burned to bits. So I can't say 100 percent that we've seen the last of him.

And Klaus really is the start of Damon, Stefan, and Caroline's bloodline?

Yes, that is the truth.

Before we talk about Klaus as Tyler, we have to touch on the scene where Tyler and Caroline were planning to meet in two hours and run away together. I almost started crying, and I didn't even know why.

Yeah. I loved that moment. One of the things that we do every now and then on the show is we get to play in a little wish-fulfillment teen fantasy land. The idea of running away with the boy you love and escaping danger — it had this awesome Escape From Witch Mountain vibe that I remember so much with being a kid. So I love that scene for the enthusiasm they have for their adventure in spite of all the darkness that surrounds it. They're two teenagers in love who are going off to be in love on the road.

So what happens with them next season? What will Caroline be thinking?

The first thing she'll be is fairly shocked, and stunned, and probably borderline ecstatic, but also very confused when she realizes that presumably Tyler will live to see the other end of the story. And then she's going to be, excuse my language, f—ing pissed at Klaus, who is doing some and will continue to do some subterfuge as far as who he's pretending to be inside of Tyler's body. [Laughs] We'll see how much play he gets out of that.

That'll be fun. But the Council still knows what Caroline and Tyler really are.

[Laughs] Oh yes, they do. That's definitely gonna be the focus of our first episode back. The Council knows too much and needs to take action against not just those on the inside who have been deceiving them [Mayor Lockwood, Sheriff Forbes, and Dr. Fell], but also the vampires that have taken up residence in the town.

Are you thinking of introducing any new badass Council members?

We'll definitely meet new characters in that context who have a very strong point of view about what this town should be doing.

Focusing now on Bonnie, when I talked to Kat Graham earlier this week, she said there were two ways she could see it going for Bonnie after she seemed to enjoy the rush of dark magic when she stopped Jeremy and Alaric's hearts: Bonnie could get scared of dark magic and think it's something she should stay clear of, or she could become addicted to it. What can you say about where Bonnie's headed?

What's next for Bonnie really is a deeper, more emotional exploration of her witchcraft, of her legacy as a witch. Next year is really gonna be about having her understand not just that there are consequences for her actions, but that ultimately she needs to get in touch with who she really is as a witch and what kind of witch she wants to be. So there's gonna be a lot of soul-searching and a lot of ups and downs for her. Hopefully it will be a really beautiful and thoughtful journey for her.

As Tyler, Klaus told Bonnie her witch sisters would not be happy with her for what she'd done to save her friends. Will them getting pissy with her be something we see next season?

I think definitely. What I love about what Bonnie did was she basically said to both her ancestors and sisters of witchhood and the vampires, "Stop pushing me around. I'm gonna do what I need to do to protect the people I love, and I don't really care who likes it or doesn't." So it's a big moment for Bonnie taking back her own strength, and we'll definitely see the repercussions of that next year.

A lot of people had talked about leaving town: The Originals, Tyler and Caroline, whichever Salvatore that Elena didn't choose.

Now that what happened to Elena happened to Elena, I think anybody that was planning on leaving town or had agreed to leave town will have a change of plans.

So Damon sticks around. What can you say about Rebekah?

Rebekah is going to be persona non grata amongst the heroes of the show, if not everyone, for what was a very, very, very aggressive and [Laughs] murderous move. So even Matt, her sweet little football captain, is gonna probably have a hard time getting past that. He's not necessarily gonna be talking to her anytime soon. So we'll get to see how she responds to being ostracized even more so than she's already been. And for a girl who doesn't like to be lonely, that's not gonna be the easiest thing for her. Also, she just ended Klaus' opportunity to make hybrids, so he ain't gonna be so happy about it either.

Did Elijah sanction Rebekah trying to kill Elena, or did she go rogue?

You know, actually, I don't have the answer for that yet. I'd like to think Rebekah made a really bold and brash choice there and will pay some pretty tough consequences both from her brothers and for herself socially. I'll have to discuss that with the other writers and make sure they're onboard. [Laughs]

That's what I would like to think, too, since Elijah's still my favorite Original. Does he stick around town then?

Your favorite Elijah is our favorite Elijah, as you know. Daniel Gillies has a doctor show on NBC, Saving Hope [premiering June 7], and so his future with the vampire show is completely linked to his future with the doctor show. But we do get to use him sporadically with their permission, and they've been lovely about it, so we'll see what else we can do moving forward.

With Alaric gone, and Elena no longer being able to help Klaus make his hybrid army, who is the Big Bad next season?

That is a question that remains. Where is the Big Bad gonna come from? That's gonna be part of the fun of laying that out and understanding who our villain is gonna be and why.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about the episode?

Just don't send hate mail or death threats via Twitter.

I saw your tweet earlier this week about being blindsided.

If I go back to Twitter right now and read my mentions, I'm going in fully warned and fully aware that a large majority of people will probably be hurling angry and hostile insults at me amidst all the beautiful love and wonderful support that the fans are so good at giving. But it's on a normal Tuesday, when I'm just reading the news and chatting with some friends, and I get hit with a "You're stupid, you suck, you have no talent, and you're ugly." [Laughs] It's like, wait a second. I was just having a nice moment, and you completely just gut-punched me with rudeness. Those are the ones that are hard to get over. It's like getting smacked out of nowhere when you're not expecting it. But continued love and appreciation for what is without a doubt the most passionate fanbase I have ever encountered in my entire life — including as a fan, I've never seen anything like it. Kudos to them for caring so much. We appreciate it.

For more season 4 spoilers on Jeremy and Matt, check out Friday's Spoiler Room column. Our full recap of the finale is now live. 

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