By Julie Plec
Updated January 29, 2016 at 11:18 PM EST
Credit: Annette Brown/The CW

Welcome to Julie’s Diary! Every week during the season, Vampire Diaries showrunner Julie Plec will add an entry to her diary. From answering burning questions to giving behind-the-scenes stories and more, this is a place for fans to hear directly from Plec about the episode they just watched.

Hello, Friday people. It’s a big night for us. Our first Friday airdate, for one. But also because “Hell is Other People,” written by Neil Reynolds and Holly Brix and directed by Deb Chow, was a real labor of cinematic love for us. It’s our first “concept episode” in 143 episodes, taking place almost entirely inside Damon Salvatore’s tortured mind as he faces the emotional demons that are plaguing him about his mother’s death.

A concept episode, in a serialized show, is something that strays from the usual formula of the way the show is written. Who can forget the Gentlemen as they floated silently through the streets of Sunnydale in Buffy’s brilliant “Hush”? We’ve never done one on The Vampire Diaries. We have always wanted to, and the construct of the Phoenix Stone’s Hellscape gave us the opportunity.

We got an overwhelmingly positive reception on this episode from our team in Atlanta. Everyone from hair/makeup to PAs to actors who weren’t even in the episode told the writers how excited they were about it. It felt like shooting a movie. We had Civil War reenactors who came with their own wardrobe and gear. We built an entire army camp in the woods outside our office. We had cannons, grenades, amputees, burning bodies, horses. It was a spectacle. Every single department did Gone With the Wind level work — and they did it in 10 days.

Spearheading this operation was a director who, hilariously, none of us had ever met. Deb Chow won the episodic lottery on this one. This was her very first episode of TVD. The whole team was very excited to meet her because she had recently done an episode of Mr. Robot. We are all obsessed with Mr. Robot. Neil and Holly said she was calm, cool, organized, creative, inspiring and got it all done without ever raising her voice. To quote Holly, “I want to be Deb Chow when I grow up.”

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Most of all, this episode could not have been made without Ian’s unwavering enthusiasm. He was a leader and a trooper. And he was in every single scene. According to Holly, one night when the crew broke for dinner, Ian — in full Civil War costume — was doing a live online “get out the vote” chat about an important election day in his native state of Louisiana. Ian is a class act.

Neil just told me yesterday of a story gaffe that made me laugh, then almost cry, then laugh again. When we came up with the story of this episode, we had the idea to make Damon’s soldier sidekick a callback to a character from season 1. We first met “Henry” (Evan Gamble) in “Blood Brothers” as one of the tomb vampires: a Civil War soldier who knew Damon Salvatore. We never answered how Henry knew Damon, and this was our opportunity. We built the entire story between Damon and Henry around a moment in “Blood Brothers” where Henry referred to serving with Damon during the Civil War. He called Damon a “hero.” Every single detail in this episode was born out of our desire to explain why Henry thought Damon Salvatore was a Civil War hero. Come to learn that the line in question got CUT from “Blood Brothers” due to length. I had completely forgotten.

Episode Recaps

The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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