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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

From there, we cut to Elena leaning against a grave outside the Salvatore crypt, where she visits Stefan as she writes in her green journal. She went to med school, after which she returned home to Mystic Falls. It’s where she wanted to grow old, and according to her, she did, though her age is kept a question mark.

Writing the end of her story, she says, “And that’s my life: weird, messy, complicated, sad, wonderful, amazing, and above all, epic. And I owe it all to Stefan. When I met him, I had lost my parents and I was dead inside. But he brought me back to life, and I’m going to live it as best I can for as long as I can.”

Just before Damon shows up, a crow lands on the roof of the crypt, another pilot callback sure to make you feel things.

Joining hands with Damon, we see that Elena’s wearing a wedding ring. Her voiceover tells us that Damon’s worried he won’t see Stefan again because he doesn’t think he deserves peace. “But he’s wrong, because I know peace exists,” she says. “It lives in everyone we hold dear. That is the promise of peace — that one day, after a long life, we find each other again.”

Jumping ahead to what I assume is Elena’s death, Damon disappears from the picture as she turns to realize she’s back home. And waiting for her on the front porch she once burned to the ground are Aunt Jenna, her mom and dad, and even Uncle John. (I guess Jeremy was busy at the school.) With that, the girl who lost her parents in the pilot gets them back in the series finale as she ends things with a Gilbert family hug.

Then we cut to Stefan, and this is when I absolutely lose it — the moment I realize how this show is about to end. Standing at the Salvatore house, Stefan opens the door, and there stands Damon. “Hello, brother,” Damon says, but this time, he’s not the ominous villain here to ruin Stefan’s life. This time, the Salvatore brothers have been reunited in peace, because after all, family first, right?

In their redemption, they’re reunited, and we end things on a Salvatore brother hug, otherwise known as the best possible way to end the show.

I have a lot of feelings about this finale. There are things that didn’t work perfectly: I would’ve loved for it to have been two hours to give some of the scenes more time to breathe. So much was happening in that final act that I think it would’ve benefited from giving viewers more time to really feel each moment. And on a smaller scale, I’m not entirely sure how invested I am in the “Caroline and Ric open a school” story, but there’s also a lot that worked.

As I mentioned earlier, I think the most impressive thing this finale did was find a way to honor every love story this show’s ever told. I can walk away feeling like I got closure on each and every one — and maybe a little hope on one in particular — all the while not one stands out as the “winner.” And that’s not a small feat.

If I’m being completely honest, I had always imagined an ending more along the lines of what co-creators Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson first dreamed up in season 2, but I also understand why the show had strayed too far from the love triangle for that to work. So in terms of where the show was today and what worked for that, I think they did the best they could’ve done.

If we’re talking about big themes, and the redemption of it all, I love the idea that a show about vampires ends with peace. And while I don’t fully understand how peace works — a potential flaw for some viewers — the point is that this show ultimately was about family and love. Who knew a show that was born out of loss and followed the lives of blood-sucking creatures would turn out to be so, what’s the right word, epic?

What did you think of the finale? Hit the comments with your thoughts or find me (still crying) on Twitter @samhighfill. And be sure to check out my chat with the showrunners and the cast’s reaction to the finale.

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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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