'The Vampire Diaries' EP Julie Plec on Nina Dobrev's Exit: "We Leaned Into the Grief" (Q&A)

Plec talks with THR about the chaos-filled finale, Michael Trevino's future with the series, and how long the show might last beyond season six.
Annette Brown/The CW

The Vampire Diaries left fans hanging after the last episode ended with Kai (Chris Wood) stabbing Jo (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) on her and Alaric's (Matthew Daviswedding day and causing mayhem in the church.

In the rubble of the disaster was Elena (Nina Dobrev), knocked out from the destruction around her (which provided the basis for a few alarming promos).

Whether Elena survives or not, the show will be without Dobrev next season — a fundamental change for the long-running CW drama.

The Vampire Diaries executive producer Julie Plec spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the finale ("We are in triage mode"),  which character's life will be "forever changed" in the hour and how many seasons they see the show running.

What comes in the aftermath of the bloody wedding? Will the show pick up immediately from where it last left off, or will there be any time jumps in the episode?

We pick up right where we left off. It is bad. We are in triage mode. There is chaos everywhere. You immediately get the idea of what the casualties of Kai's actions are. Then we take a breath and re-ramp up as we learn what the fate of Elena is. Then at the very end of the episode, there is a little tease that flashes forward, an indeterminate amount of time that gives you a hint of what life might be like without Elena Gilbert in it. It's just a little tiny "tune in next year" kind of tease.

What can you share about Elena's exit arc, and how it impacts Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and the people in her life?

When you're in a situation where you have to say goodbye to a lead character of a show, there's obviously a lot of grief attached to that. We leaned into the grief. We wanted to experience not just the celebration of her life, but a sense of memory and nostalgia, and allow ourselves to mourn it a little bit as well. Our characters have to have that same experience, and ultimately our audience will have that same experience, too. When all is said and done, in spite of the sadness attached to it, there is a feeling of beauty [that] hopefully people will carry with them as they leave the episode behind.

Read more 'The Vampire Diaries': Is Elena Being Killed Off? EP Julie Plec Weighs In

We've been told on the show that once you take the cure for vampirism, you can't become a vampire again. But this is a genre show, and often there are loopholes to rules such as that. Is there wiggle room in Elena's case?

(Laughs.) You have to watch and wait and see.

As you look towards next year, do you see it as the final season?

Not necessarily, no. We already have a pitch for season eight that we came up with while we were pitching season seven. We've always said as long as we feel like we can keep the show fresh and moving forward, we can keep making it. We have a lot of actors that love remaining with the show, and we have writers who are thrilled to remain with the show, and crew who would love to keep going. As long as people keep watching, we'll try to keep making it until we run out of ideas. We run out of ideas or we run out of viewers; whatever comes first. (Laughs.) But we're really committed to the show. When it is time to end, we all agreed we'll decide that together, and we want to go out sailing.

How has the ending for the show changed now with the loss of Nina as a full-time player? And were you able to give Elena the ending you had envisioned for her, even though it didn't come at the end of the series?

We'll still be able to give Elena the ending we intended to give her. I'm not worried about that.

Read more Nina Dobrev on Her 'Vampire Diaries' Departure and Finally Getting to "Graduate"

Michael Trevino (Tyler) was also supposed to leave the series this season, but his pilot didn't move forward. How does that impact his future on the show?

The situation hasn't changed. We always said when he went off to do the pilot that we'd make sure we protected opportunities for him to always return to The Vampire Diaries in ways when we felt like visiting his character. I think that still stands.

Caroline (Candice Accola) opted to pause her relationship with Stefan (Paul Wesley) in the last episode. What is their journey like in the face of the finale's drama?

Their journey in the finale is actually really nice in spite of Caroline's resistance — and very rational resistance — to that relationship at this moment, because they're sharing an experience of having to say goodbye to someone they care about [who] ultimately is Stefan's true love. Caroline is able to be there very deeply as a friend in this episode, and they're able to talk more about where they stand with each other. Stefan is able to answer her declaration of what she wants from the relationship, and he's able to answer that with what he wants. There are a couple nice scenes between them I really love.

How is Bonnie (Kat Graham) reacting to Kai's return?

Kai gets his ultimate revenge on Bonnie in such terrible and cruel emotional ways that her life is going to be forever changed.

Elsewhere, Lily (Annie Wersching) is determined to get her "family" back. How far is she going to go?

She's going to go very far in this final hour. She definitely had a hand in how Kai got out of the prison world, and she made what was in her mind  a very good deal to get her friends back. We'll just see if Kai is a man of his word or not.

The Vampire Diaries season finale airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on The CW. Check back with the Live Feed after the episode for more on Dobrev's exit.