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The Salvatores battle Katherine Pierce one final time, and not everyone makes it out alive

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March 10, 2017 at 10:15 PM EST

“I Was Feeling Epic”: Eight seasons ago, Elena Gilbert met Stefan Salvatore. They talked all night. It was epic. And in season 2, when Stefan’s best friend Lexi played relationship whisperer and told Elena that “when it’s real,  you can’t walk away,” she explained to Stefan that she decided to be his wingman because, well, she was feeling epic. And now, in the series finale, it was Stefan’s turn to do something — or more accurately — something else that was epic … and it cost him his life.

Let’s get into it for one final recap, and no I didn’t cry as I wrote that. (Yes I did.)

The action starts with Bonnie’s collapse. Stefan’s trying CPR to resuscitate her, but it’s not working. And when Caroline’s vampire blood doesn’t work either, we flash to the woods, where Bonnie’s wandering when she sees Elena lying in what looks like a very comfortable bed. Elena, excited to see her best friend, hugs Bonnie before realizing what this means: If Bonnie’s here, that means Bonnie is dead, and that’s not okay with Elena. Bonnie was supposed to live a full life and grow old, but as Bonnie tells Elena, “I can be with Enzo now… I’m ready.”

But Enzo’s not. Appearing to Bonnie, Enzo tells her that it’s not her time before he pulls her back into the light, which causes her to wake up. After hugging Caroline, Bonnie turns to Stefan and tells him, “I saw her. I saw Elena.”

Back at the bell tower, Damon and Matt show up to stop Vicki from ringing the bell, but as she tells them, there’s nothing they can do. Damon, desperate to disprove that, throws Vicki off of the bell tower. (He’s always had a thing for killing her.) It doesn’t take long for her to return, and after he “tests his theory” by breaking her neck, it’s official: Vicki is just going to keep coming back to life. So, Damon leaves Matt to try to get through to his sister while he plans for Matty Blue’s inevitable failure.

Vicki explains to her brother that Katherine has instructed her to ring the bell every five minutes until Mystic Falls burns. All Vicki knows is that she can’t go back to hell. She’d rather be dead and gone, which she will be once she rings that bell for the twelfth time. So Matt, realizing he can’t stop his sister, activates the evacuation protocol citing a “gas leak.” The best part? Him saying, “Yes … again.” Poor Mystic Falls and its gas leaks.

Back at the Salvatore mansion, Stefan and Damon are trying to figure out their next move. As Damon puts it, Katherine “played the long game and finally beat us.” At least that’s what he thinks before he rounds the corner and sees that Elena’s coffin is empty. And when Elena rounds the corner, Damon gets his reunion…

… sort of. Damon rushes to Elena and picks her up in a hug before realizing something. In an instant, he drops Elena, mostly because she’s Katherine. Her response? “Rude.” Ugh, I have missed her so much.

After a “hello, brothers,” Katherine explains that Elena is still in her spiritual coma. As for where Elena’s body is, Katherine borrows a line from season 1 Damon and tells them, “That’s for me to know and for you to dot dot dot.” And here’s where we get the full explanation for what’s been going on this season: Since the moment Katherine Pierce first arrived in hell, she did what she’s always done best — manipulate men in places of power. She’s had Cade wrapped around her finger, which is why he showed such an interest in the Salvatores. “He wanted you because I wanted you,” Katherine says.

And now, she gets her perfect revenge. At 10 p.m., all of Mystic Falls, including Elena’s body, will burn. “And I’m guessing one of your two Salvatores is going down with her,” Katherine says. But the question is: Which one?

Stefan stabs her with the bone dagger they had made in the last episode, which buys them a little time before she inevitably wakes up. With that, they set out to find Elena. Damon and Stefan split up to cover more ground and Caroline promises to meet Stefan at the school, but Ric is not a fan of that plan. He’s getting the girls out of town, and he wants Caroline to come along. Caroline tries using the classic, “It’s Elena” excuse that has worked so many times before, but now, Caroline has daughters who need her. As Ric tells Caroline, “I don’t need to remind you what it’s like to lose your mother.” Yeah, Ric’s not pulling any punches at this point, guys.

NEXT: Caroline and Stefan say goodbye

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