[Warning: The following contains spoilers from The Vampire Diaries series finale.]
I knew The Vampire Diaries finale was going to be bittersweet. I even guessed Stefan would be the one to die. But that doesn't mean I could have predicted how they would leave things off with my all-time favorite TVD character, Caroline Forbes (Candice King).
Caroline was always a ray of light in a show that could get incredibly dark. She was funny, driven, clever and bold, and she proved to be more resilient than anyone would have imagined when she was first introduced as Elena Gilbert's (Nina Dobrev) pseudo-rival in the pilot. And in a show filled with supernatural creatures, one of the things that made Caroline's journey so powerful was how real it felt. Because whether you're a vampire or a human, everyone can relate to the way Caroline dealt with, and eventually overcame, her insecurities -- particularly her fear of never finding that one person who would make her a priority.
This fear of being a back-up or never being enough for someone haunted Caroline a lot in the early seasons of The Vampire Diaries, and it returned in full-force once Tyler (Michael Trevino) chose getting vengeance on Klaus (Joseph Morgan) over staying with Care. But once she fell for Stefan (Paul Wesley), it seemed as though her fear of abandonment could finally be put to rest. That's why it was especially hard to watch Caroline, who had just gotten married hours prior, learn her newlywed husband Stefan had decided to sacrifice himself to save Damon (Ian Somerhalder), Elena and the town of Mystic Falls.
In her final voicemail to Stefan, Caroline told him that she understood why he did it and that she would love him forever. I know Caroline meant it. And I mean it when I say that, while I understand why Stefan made that choice and while I love Caroline for the strength it took to respect his decision, she still deserved better.
Caroline deserved to end the series having finally found that one person who will always put her, and her children, first. She deserved to enjoy at least a moment of married bliss before all hellfire literally broke loose. She deserved to spend her engagement happily planning her June wedding with the man of her dreams, not having him torment her and try to murder her best friend.
Following up a moment of great bliss with terrible tragedy is one of the oldest TV tricks in the book. When done right, it raises the emotional stakes in a way that feels earned. When done wrong, it risks making fans feel manipulated and betrayed. The widowing of Caroline Forbes resides somewhere in between the two, since it was a mix of blatant fan service (the June wedding) and inevitable tragedy (Stefan's death).
The Vampire Diaries always prioritized Elena's happy ending and the Salvatores' redemption above all else. And it wouldn't have taken a genius to deduce that one or both Salvatores would have to die in their quest to find salvation. But while we don't fault the TVD writers for deciding Stefan was the one to die in the end, we can still wish better for poor Caroline, who is now the only vampire left in her group of friends and family. Meaning: Unless she finds another dose of the Cure, she's going to have to watch everyone else she loves grow old and die, while she remains the same.
But that doesn't necessarily mean she'll be alone.
In yet another obvious moment of fan service, the Vampire Diaries finale didn't want to leave Caroline completely bereft. After Stefan's death, she and Alaric (Matt Davis) decide to open up a school in his honor, prompting none other than Klaus to send Care a hefty donation and tease his continuing feelings for her.
Depending on where you stand on Klaroline, this was either the greatest moment of the finale or the absolute worst. Many anti-Klaroline fans, including King and Wesley themselves, don't understand how people can root for Caroline to end up with someone as twisted and murderous as Klaus. To which I respond, do you remember who Damon Salvatore is?
While I previously wrote about how -- if Stefan had to die -- I would be open to the possibility of Caroline and Klaus exploring a romantic relationship together, I meant far, far in the future. Long after Stefan had been dead and buried. Long after Caroline had finished her grieving. But the speed with which the finale went from Stefan dying to Caroline smiling at Klaus' letter was dizzying. There was no chance for us to truly mourn both the death of Stefan and Steroline before the show was already teasing that Klaroline might be the real endgame. It was just too much.
What was so troubling about Caroline's ending wasn't that she wound up alone, necessarily. It's that it felt as though her ending was an afterthought. Caroline became such a beacon of strength and compassion in this series, and when Nina Dobrev left after Season 6, she was the one who stepped up and became the glue that held the series together. That's why it's a shame that the way her journey came to an end felt like it was less about bringing Caroline's arc to a conclusion as it was about making sure Stefan found redemption and trying to keep both the Steroline and Klaroline fans happy.
Don't get me wrong, fan service isn't always a bad thing. And I thought Stefan finally finding peace was a beautiful way to end the series. But for the hint of Caroline's eventual happy ending to be a letter from Klaus didn't feel earned after what we just went through. More importantly, it didn't bring Caroline's journey full-circle in the way that Bonnie deciding to live for herself, Damon finding peace with Stefan or even Matt getting that bench did.
Caroline deserved better, and so did we.
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