The Vampire Diaries had a lot to prove this year. The loss of star Nina Dobrev combined with the fact that seven seasons is basically geriatric for a TV show these days put increased pressure on the CW staple to remain relevant. Yet The Vampire Diaries beat the odds and has delivered one of its best seasons in years, all by completely upending the status quo.

Rather than attempt to fill the void Dobrev left with another kind-hearted, All-American girl, Julie Plec & Co. tossed out the formula altogether. Sure, there are still a few burgeoning love triangles, but the things that defined the show since its inception - Elena's Salvatore romances and the struggle for normalcy within a supernatural world - are nowhere to be found.

Instead, The Vampire Diaries introduced the Heretics, a family of vampire-witch hybrids led by the Salvatore matriarch Lily (Annie Wersching). The group includes the stoic Beau (Jaiden Kaine), the shrewd Valerie (Elizabeth Blackmore), the manipulative Mary Louise (Teressa Liane) and the bratty Nora (Scarlett Byrne). But since Beau basically stands around silently until Lily tells him to kill someone, let's just be real here: When we talk about the Heretics, we're talking about the women. And what makes these women so intriguing is how they represent a perspective previously unexplored within the world of TVD.

Having grown up in the restrictive 19th century and then being trapped in a prison world for over a century, the Heretics' arrival in Mystic Falls coincides with the first time Valerie, Mary Louise and Nora have ever had autonomy over their own lives. So while their arrival in Mystic Falls kicks off a turf war with Damon (Ian Somerhalder), Bonnie (Kat Graham) and the gang, it also begins a coming of age story for the Heretics, who maintain extremely childlike approaches to navigating their places in the modern world.

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For years, we watched Elena pine for a normal family, a normal romance and a normal life. She wanted it so badly that she even gave up eternity with Damon to be human again. But the Heretics don't want to blend in with normal society. They want to stand out. They will literally steal the clothes off your back and then take a selfie with your corpse. In short, they make for utterly fabulous TV.

While the Heretics are brash and petty, each of them also carries a century's worth of pain and personal history. Nora and Mary Louise, The Vampire Diaries's first gay couple, are faced with discovering what their relationship looks like when they're living out in the open, a task they're adjusting to at varying rates. The fact that they're both nearly omnipotent supernatural creatures doesn't make these struggles any less relatable. It merely heightens everyday conflicts to an otherworldly level. While most of us would be horrified to find our girlfriend hooking up with a hot bartender, Mary Louise is horrified to find Nora drinking blood from a hot bartender. Same ish, different species.

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Then there's Valerie, the so-called cruelest of the bunch and maybe the most ill-fated of them all. Upon discovering she was pregnant with Stefan's (Paul Wesley) child, Valerie wanted to run away with him. But Lily's boyfriend Julian (Todd Lasance) destroyed that hope when he purposefully beat her so badly she miscarried. Refusing to live around Julian any longer, Valerie attempted suicide only to be unintentionally resurrected as a vampire. Now, having lost her child and ability to ever conceive again, Valerie clings to the idea of Caroline's (Candice King) pregnancy as though it is her own. The idea of vengeance against Julian and helping another vampire bring life into the world are seemingly the only things left that Valerie truly cares about. (And maybe Stefan, but we'll have to wait to see how that relationship blossoms.)

These three women have all lived tragic lives and it wouldn't take much for them to become heroes. That doesn't mean they would have to completely forgo their scheming, bad girl ways. One of the things that has always made The Vampire Diariesso much fun is seeing how people with widely varying moral codes attempt to work together, understand each other and sometimes even fall in love. That's what made the introduction of the Mikaelsons rewarding enough for the family to get its own spin-off, and that's why I can't wait to see what the Heretics do next.

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