Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder

When The Vampire Diaries returns on Thursday, Jan. 5 at 8/7c on The CW,  Elena may finally be ready to say goodbye to Stefan and welcome in Damon's love. 

"[Elena and Damon] are trying very hard to understand that the Stefan that they know is gone forever and that he betrayed them," executive producer Julie Plec tells TVGuide.com. "Elena understands ... that ultimately it's time for her to move on with her life and not hold onto a ghost of her past."

Mega Buzz: Castle's tough choice, Housewives' health scare and a Diaries death?

When the CW series left off, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Elena (Nina Dobrev) believed their plan to defeat Klaus (Joseph Morgan) was foiled because Stefan (Paul Wesley) stepped in and saved him. What they didn't know was that Stefan did so to avoid Klaus' minions from then going after Damon. "One of the big things in the episode back, however, is when Stefan reappears in their lives," Plec says. "At what point do they start to understand the part he played in saving Damon's life and then what does that mean to each of them?"

Which Vampire Diaries Original is coming back with a vengeance?

Although Stefan may eventually explain himself to his former love, he has one person on his mind, and it's not Elena. "Stefan is definitely acting from a place of aggressive and not completely rational spite [towards Klaus]," Plec says. "That is going to be a big issue for Elena [and she'll say], 'You could've handled this differently, you can be different, you could feel differently and is winning this war more important than the people you have to hurt along the way?' Right now revenge is definitely his priority." Meanwhile, Klaus will be quite the opponent. "We're going to continue to explore his vulnerabilities while also making him madder and madder and more violent and more evil," Plec says.

With Stefan off focusing on Klaus, Damon and Elena will continue to lean on each other — although Damon, Plec adds, will be back to "acting out, day-drinking, pouting and being generally curmudgeonly." But the romantic tension will build and Elena will have a hard time denying it. "Now that Stefan is out of the picture, in her mind there's a way to free herself up and allow that tension to come out and play," Plec says. "The question of 'Does Elena love Damon [and] has she been fully falling for him all along?' is going to be very much a part of the season."

But life in Mystic Falls is never without complication and Elena will have quite a few things on her plate. First, there's the fact that she killed Rebekah, and when the Original sister gets undaggered she'll be pissed off, to say the least. Elena will also start to see how she's just as capable of destruction as her vampire peers. "Elena realizes that in order to survive and in order to protect the people she loves the most, sometimes she has to behave more like Katherine than Elena, and sometimes a dark choice needs to be made, a violent act needs to be enacted and it's troubling for her," Plec says. "So who is she really at her core? She's clearly not the girl-next-door do-gooder, she never has been."

Vampire Diaries returns Thursday, Jan. 5 at 8/7c on The CW.