'Vampire Diaries' Boss Previews Elena's Dilemmas, Dueling Salvatores and a 'Lonely' Damon

Vampire Diaries Growing Pains Season 4 Premiere - H 2012
Bob Mahoney/The CW

Vampire Diaries Growing Pains Season 4 Premiere - H 2012

In one week, The Vampire Diaries returns for season four – and let’s just say, Elena’s (Nina Dobrev) in for a wild ride.

As the promos and clips have revealed, the newest Mystic Falls vampire has a bit of a learning curve, and her closest cohorts, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley), are set on making it their mission to see their opposing views on vampire living through.

Executive producer Julie Plec, who along with Kevin Williamson was named one of The Hollywood Reporter’s top 50 showrunning teams this year, alluded to a darker season for Elena and its townspeople, including several new additions – vampire hunter Connor (Todd Williams) and old Gilbert friend April (Grace Phipps) -- and returnees. And when viewers follow Elena’s transition from human to vampire in the first two episodes, the heightened stakes are clearer -- scratch that, bloodier -- than ever before.

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Said Plec of Elena's supernatural struggles: “She’s in limbo in that it’s going to take her some time to figure out how to live."

THR caught up with Plec to chat about Elena’s monumental changes and decisions ahead (including the never-ending Damon vs. Stefan debate), bidding farewell to her human life, the return of flashbacks and much more.

[Warning: Some spoilers ahead.]

The Hollywood Reporter: Elena is going through some changes – to put it bluntly.

Julie Plec: She is. She’s not having a lot of fun yet.

THR: Now that Elena’s exploring her new state of being as a vampire, will this force her to open her mind up?

Plec: Elena becoming a vampire, in a way, is an awakening of a person who is about to go through a lot of changes – some for the better and some for the worse, some for the darker and some for the lighter. In all that, she is going to evolve as a person and her relationships are going to evolve accordingly. I can’t say much beyond that other than that it’s a journey for her of an adolescent growing up to a really tragic adulthood. We change a lot in those years and we change what we want out of life; it’s a constant evolution.

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THR: Is it accurate to say that she’s found herself in a state of limbo, for lack of a better term, at least for the time being?

Plec: Definitely. She’s in limbo in that it’s going to take her some time to figure out how to live. The problem is the two people who are right there by her side, in the forms of Stefan and Damon have very different point of views on how she should adapt to it. Stefan, rightfully so, is terrified she will hurt someone and that she will not be able to deal with having hurt someone so he’s going to have to do everything in his power to keep her from getting herself into those situations. Damon, also rightfully so, is convinced that it’s inevitable that vampires hurt people; it’s what they do. He wants to “rip the band-aid off,” as he says in the second episode, and let it bleed. She’s, unfortunately, not getting the same advice from the two people she values most in the world. It’s going to make it more difficult for her.

THR: By the end of the second episode, there are hints that Elena is leaning toward either the “Stefan way” or the “Damon way” of being a vampire. Will a situation arise in the future that forces her to pick?

Plec: Every time she thinks she’s made her way past the most recent hurdle, something’s going to happen that sets her back or sets her on a new path. She may think, “I can do this the way Stefan said” and have a setback, then she may embrace Damon’s point of view and have a setback. It’s a constant back and forth about what kind of person she is now that she’s a vampire, how she’s going to survive this and if she’s going to survive it.

THR: The continued back and forth with Elena and the brothers is also representative of the triangle that has served as an undercurrent for the entire series. How will this affect the trio?

Plec: It’s a whole new Elena and it’s a whole new day. It’s a different dynamic between the three of them especially. Some people have to watch and wait.

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THR: Before Elena’s accident in the season finale, she picked Stefan, and early on in season four, she makes a decision about who she sticks by romantically. How does her choice affect future episodes and what does this mean for the other Salvatore?

Plec: If our fanbase has learned anything since watching the show from the beginning, things are constantly shifting, evolving, moving, coming back around and weaving through, and relationships are always growing. What is now may not be that way in two episodes or 10 episodes, or it may come back to be that way 10 episodes later. It’s all part of where these characters are, who they are, what they’re going through in their life and who they’re most bonded to at that moment.

THR: The second episode featured a tribute to characters who have come and gone, as well as a very revealing – and human – moment for Damon. Why were those pivotal to include?

Plec: It was our way of tipping our hat, not only to everyone that we’ve lost on the show but to the Alaric (Matt Davis) character, who we wanted to make sure we got to properly mourn and say goodbye to before we moved into our new season and our new story. Also, to give a moment for Elena to say goodbye to her human life, for her to mourn herself because that’s it. In remembering all the people that they’ve lost, they’re able to let their grief come out, deal with it and move forward.

THR: That specific Damon moment also reminded us that he doesn’t have many friends. How close does he get to having another friendship as rich as the one he had with Alaric?  

Plec: It’s very important for us to have Damon have somebody that he’s that connected to. The question this year is: Who will that be? Will he be able to grow stronger with his brother? Will he be able to find a new wingman, a new team bourbon replacement? Will that person become Elena or somebody that we wouldn’t expect? He’s trying to mask it but he’s feeling a little lonely.

THR: The first two episodes had their fair share of gut-wrenching moments. How many more should we expect?

Plec: Emotional moments? Oh god, always. There shouldn’t ever be an episode that goes by that doesn’t tug at your heart or put a knife through your heart. That’s the world we like to operate in: deep, deep pain; great, great love; and sad, sad tears. This season is very emotional and dark and light at the same time. Our characters are going to go through a lot. Elena, especially, will really be faced with very complicated and dark scenarios that she’s going to have to be really strong to get herself past.

THR: What is her greatest challenge moving forward?

Plec: Her greatest challenge is not to become the self-fulfilling prophecy of a vampire who takes a life.

THR: Matt’s (Zach Roerig) life was spared in the finale, and he pays it forward with Elena at an opportune time. What else can we expect for him?

Plec: Matt gets to be the human hero this season, definitely in the beginning. He’s tasked with earning the fact that he’s still alive. It’s a challenge he wants to rise to. On the romance level, he’s happily single right now given the fact that his most aggressive suitor is Rebekah (Claire Holt), who he can’t quite forgive for her running him off the road.

THR: Any more flashback episodes to come?

Plec: We’ve got a flashback in episode four, another one in episode eight and I’m sure another one before the season is over.

The Vampire Diaries returns for season four Oct. 11 on The CW.

E-mail: Philiana.Ng@thr.com