Spoilers from the season finale of The Vampire Diaries are below.
The CW’s fall schedule, as Jen Trolio noted, isn’t changing much: as has worked for the network in the past, the lineup is full of superheroes and supernatural beings, all played by preternaturally pretty young people. One major change, though: the veteran drama The Vampire Diaries, now in it sixth season, is losing one of its three leads as Nina Dobrev departs to "live life like a twentysomething," as she told People magazine.
Dobrev announced her exit from the show in an Instagram post on April 6, which included a picture of her with showrunner Julie Plec and a note addressed to fans. She wrote, "I always knew I wanted Elena’s story to be a six season adventure, and within those six years I got the journey of a lifetime."
Dearest TVD Family,
I've just spent the most beautiful weekend on Lake Lanier in Georgia with my own TVD Family, the cast and crew of The Vampire Diaries. I want to be the first to tell you that it wasn't just a holiday celebration, it was a goodbye party. I always knew I wanted Elena's story to be a six season adventure, and within those six years I got the journey of a lifetime. I was a human, a vampire, a doppelganger, a crazy immortal, a doppelganger pretending to be human, a human pretending to be a doppelganger. I got kidnapped, killed, resurrected, tortured, cursed, body-snatched, was dead and undead, and there's still so much more to come before the season finale in May. Elena fell in love not once, but twice, with two epic soulmates, and I myself made some of the best friends I'll ever know and built an extended family I will love forever.
There's more to come before we wrap this up, and I promise you'll get to hear all about my experiences over the next month as we approach the season finale (I have given an exclusive interview for the June issue of SELF Magazine that I am excited for you to see!), but until then I invite you to hop on the roller coaster ride that is Elena Gilbert's life and join me as I celebrate her and prepare to say goodbye to her -- and to my work family -- as I move on to the next chapter of my life. I want to share this goodbye with all of you (this weekend's pictures were just the beginning). You, the wonderful fandom who gave more love, support and passion than anyone could have ever imagined seven years ago, when a young Degrassi girl from Canada showed up in LA to audition for 'that Twilight TV show.' ;-) I love you all. Fasten your seatbelts. If you think you know what's coming, you don't.
Dobrev has always had a central role in the show: she's played three separate characters, all doppelgängers of one another, as well as playing her original character, Elena Gilbert, in varying states (human, vampire, humanity-free vampire, or one version pretending to be another). She also served as one point of the central love triangle that gave the earlier seasons much of their shape, falling in love first with 150-something-year-old vampire Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) and then with his older brother, Damon (Ian Somerhalder, whom she famously dated in real life).
Dobrev's announcement could be seen as a bit oddly timed, coming before the end of the season and putting the audience's focus on how exactly the writers would wrap up her character's arc and the current Elena-Damon romance. As Carrie Raisler wrote at the AV Club: "Knowing Nina Dobrev is leaving the show and Ian Somerhalder is staying adds a strange tinge to every Elena and Damon scene leading up to Dobrev’s inevitable departure. The fact that real-life television news is interfering with the story the show is trying to tell is an unfortunate effect of what is now essentially a 24-hour television news cycle in social media."
Last night's season finale answered the question of how Elena would be written off the show (bear with me): this season's big bad, witch Kai (Chris Wood), cast a spell linking Elena's life to that of her best friend, Bonnie Bennett, making Elena fated to stay in a state of suspended animation until Bonnie dies. Much of the episode then centered on each character saying goodbye to her via entering her subconscious, which gave some closure to the relationships while still leaving open the possibility that Elena might return at some point (given that, you know, she's not actually dead).
Dobrev is not the only cast member leaving TVD; Michael Trevino, who plays former werewolf hybrid turned werewolf again Tyler Lockwood, is departing to join the ABC pilot The Kingmakers. Chris Wood is reportedly also leaving, for a role in Plec’s new CW show, Cordon.
The Vampire Diaries has been renewed for a seventh season, which, judging from the final scene of last night's episode, employs the time-honored trope of jumping forward into a post-apocalyptic future. It remains to be seen how the show will work without its most famous leading lady — and whether fans will stick around to find out.