There might not be a definitive ranking of The Vampire Diaries’ eight seasons in the fandom, especially because your particular reading of this show can vary based on which characters you connect with most, which romantic pairings strike your fancy, and which villains make you most willing to start sharpening stakes. But, it’s a task worth taking on, if only to discuss all the plotlines and plot holes, heroes and villains along the way, highlighting what made the show the cultural juggernaut that it was, and how it stood on its own two feet in the midst of the consuming craziness of the late aughts vampire fad. And there’s at least one or two seasons we all agree belong near the bottom.
Read on for all kinds of crazy, biased thoughts about which seasons stand above the rest, as well as which one gets the coveted best season spot.
8. Season 8
The final season of The Vampire Diaries is a total disaster. No matter how much we want to like the grandiosity of including a legendary pair of sirens and the devil himself in the mythology of the show, it’s just a hell of a lot to try and reckon with. The mind control which leaves both Damon and Enzo acting like shells of their former, interesting selves takes half the season, and even when that is finally broken, things don’t get much better. It’s so hard to hate the final season of a show as beloved as The Vampire Diaries, but when the shark has been jumped, there’s not much left to love.
While everything in this season is a bit insane, especially the history of the Donovan family and their role in some supernatural Mystic Falls shenanigans involving summoning hellfire, it does provide one hell of a final episode. It’s a crazy one, but it’s honestly as fitting an ending as Season 8 of The Vampire Diaries was capable of. And if you were a fan from the beginning, you undoubtedly cried.
7. Season 5
Since Season 5 marks the beginning of the not-so-remarkable villains, it’s important that we identify the chaos that is the Silas storyline in Season 5. It begins with learning Elena is not the only doppelganger in their friend group. Stefan is the second member of that exclusive club, and his lookalike is far less entertaining and diabolical than Katherine Pierce. Silas is just another example of a man who can’t keep it in his pants, only he tried it in Ancient Greece back in 1st Century B.C. Sure, there’s more to it than that, but we were pretty firmly team Qetsiyah, even if she was a little bonkers herself.
We are also blessed, well, more like cursed, with the ongoing saga of the Travelers. Thank goodness their possession-loving, group-chanting selves disappear along with Silas, Amara, and Qetsiyah by the end of Season 5. They leave their mark behind though, casting a spell that not only keeps supernaturals out of Mystic Falls for a bit, but, later in the series, gives Kai Parker a magic powerup that changes a major situation for the worse.
We do have Season 5 to thank for the human Katherine Pierce storyline. Who knew we would get to see Katherine Pierce suffering through the coughing, sneezing, and congestion misery that is the common cold. And she puts up a pretty good fight at the end, too, but Season 5 is where we say an almost final goodbye to Katherine Pierce, before she’s literally whisked off to a fate worse than the Other Side.
6. Season 4
Okay, the bottom two seasons are behind us now. Season 4 brings the first of the rollercoaster seasons on this list, where you get some really high highs and really low lows. After the premiere, the season becomes all about watching Elena adjust to vampire life and learning to blend in, that is when the vampire hunter drama isn’t pushing for attention. For every moment you learn something new about Elena’s adapting to her transition, you get a moment about Connor and the Five, a storyline that never fully grasps its own potential.
But we also learned a lot about vampire sire bonds (as opposed to the hybrid variety we learned about in Season 3), as well as what Elena looks like with her humanity turned off. That particular plot point takes up much of the latter part of the season, and while it starts off downright intriguing, with Elena burning down her house and making snacks out of visiting cheer squads, eventually it just becomes a static chorus of different characters repeating things like: “How can we make her turn it back on?” and “We just have to make her feel something, anything.” But that’s mostly the same with any vampire’s humanity at this point. Almost anytime someone turns it off, Stefan, Caroline, Elena, it tends to feel a bit monotonous until the moment it snaps back into place and we get to see the character’s personality whole once again.
Season 4 is also the last recurring appearance of the Originals in The Vampire Diaries. In TVD Season 4, Episode 20, entitled “The Originals,” we see Klaus return to New Orleans and face his former protégé, Marcel Girard, prompting him to reopen the family homestead and settle in to reclaim his territory. The Original family’s absence is palpable, and leaves a gaping hole that never truly gets filled again, even if there are a few contestants that try.
5. Season 7
Season 7 marks the beginning of the show’s Elena-less tenure, which was met with mixed reviews at the time, but it does have a few other things working in its favor, which is why it slides a little higher on this list. This is the season of the heretic, where we learn all about what a siphoning witch is, why they can prove to be formidable opponents, and why them getting turned into vampires is a terrible idea for their enemies.
The heretics we meet in Season 7, led by Damon and Stefan’s mother, Lily Salvatore, are a trip all their own. They are resurrected from a prison world where all but Lily had withered into desiccated vampire corpses. Their re-entry into the modern world is cause for some hilarity, especially as characters like Mary Louise try to adjust their ancient ways to the modern ethical, fashion, and technological ways of being. If it hadn’t been for their tyrant of a ‘father,’ Julian, Season 7 may have fared better, but he was really the most insufferable villain this series ever brought to life. If you’ve seen the show, you know what a wishy-washy, stubborn, backstabber the man was, and what kinds of evil he was capable of.
Now, the individual characters of Valerie, Mary Louise, and Nora are actually quite likable and may have proven interesting characters to get to know, it’s just unfortunate that their fates ended up tied to the other heretics and that awful plot device, the phoenix stone. We’re not going to go into what horrors that thing generated besides saying that Season 7’s truest downfall is the jumping timeline. Trying to keep straight what is happening and when is an exercise in futility. Watching along and waiting for everything to even back out is really the only way to survive. Even if you are only surviving to get to Season 8.
4. Season 6
If anyone’s wondering why Season 6 gets a pass to rank higher than the season that killed Katherine or the final appearance of the Originals in TVD, there are only two storylines that need be mentioned: the introduction of the Gemini Coven and a solemn goodbye to Sheriff Forbes.
While there’s a lot of other craziness in this season, including the Sarah Salvatore stuff, the introduction of prison worlds, and Caroline and Stefan going humanity-less at the same time, the introduction of the Gemini Coven changes this series, as well as the spinoff Legacies, forever. Say what you will about the general kookiness of the Geminis, but their introduction includes all kinds of incredibly great supernatural lore including the heretics, the Merge, and the man, the myth, the legendary psychotic, Kai Parker. And we have Season 6 to thank for it.
And while it’s no fun to talk about, saying goodbye to a character as epic as Sheriff Forbes, who moved from vampire-hating town council member to one of her daughter’s most valuable allies, is a huge deal. There is no way to show how grateful we are to TVD for giving her a human, heartfelt goodbye. Few characters escape this show with their shiny hearts intact, but Sheriff Forbes was one of the absolute best.
Season 6 changes the shape of The Vampire Diaries forever, forcing it to look past the villains of seasons past, and focus on a new breed of baddie. We already said a semi-permanent goodbye to the Originals, as well as a pretty permanent sayonara to Katherine Pierce, so it was time for TVD to fully embrace its witchy history and give a spotlight to all things Gemini. Oh, and Bonnie and Damon mostly put their animosity behind them, so that was a nice change, too.
3. Season 1
And now we’re down to the big 3. The Vampire Diaries series started out strong. Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are seamless serial television. One plot point to another to another to another, the vampires invade this small town in Virginia and wreak all kinds of havoc. Okay, maybe it’s not fair to say “invades” like that, but from the moment the Salvatore brothers return to Mystic Falls nothing is the same again. Their presence draws first one vampire back to the historically supernatural hamlet, but it soon snowballs, bringing more and more supernatural creatures as time goes on.
Season 1 did an excellent job of setting the scene incrementally. First, bringing Damon onto the scene to complicate Stefan’s life, then letting the legend of Katherine Pierce grow, only to finally introduce the undead wench herself in the modern timeline in the finale. The premiere season did exactly what it needed to. It got audiences hooked on the drama of this human/vampire relationship, and endeared us all enough to the town of Mystic Falls that we were anxious to return. We also learned the supernatural rules that would govern our faves for the next eight seasons. Things like vervain’s use to protect humans against vampires, wood having to fully pierce a vampire’s heart to kill them, and that a vampire can use compulsion against humans to get them to do almost anything they want. Season 1 is solid from beginning to end, and is still a ton of fun to watch unfold from start to finish.
2. Season 3
By the time we got to season 3, it really was time for a little shakeup. We had just finished our second season of Elena and Stefan’s relationship, and it was clear that the events of the Season 2 finale changed something between Damon and Elena. Entering Season 3, it was clearly going to be a very different dynamic. Even while Elena was holding true to Stefan despite his absence in her life, you could see the interpersonal balance shift on its axis. While her whole world used to revolve around loving Stefan and protecting Jeremy, now it had wobbled a little to include Damon in her central circle, and not even necessarily on a romantic level.
Whether you are a shipper or not, you know how the shipping wars between the Stelena and Delena fans rocked the fandom. While there was a bit of it before Season 3, the major chasm of geographical distance Klaus put between Elena and Stefan sealed the deal and put all romantic options on the table for Elena. And, even though the shipper wars soon became the thing The Vampire Diaries was notorious for, it wasn’t necessarily a bad angle for the show to take altogether. Damon changed thanks to Elena, and he became a better person. So, while the beginning of the love triangle was dramatic, it wasn’t altogether a bad idea.
1. Season 2
Season 2 stands out as The Vampire Diaries’ finest because it has both of the show’s most epic villains, the greatest complications to the overall story, and it sets up season 3 for a major shake up in some of the central characters’ relationships. Katherine is front and center in the Season 2 premiere and causes all kinds of drama all by herself. Then we meet Elijah, and, eventually, Klaus, and are quickly introduced to what kinds of powers these two have that make them different from normal vampires. Their effect on the lives of the supernaturals of Mystic Falls is unprecedented, changing not just how they deal with other supernaturals, but how they relate to each other.
The Originals changed the show forever, and for the better. They raised the stakes and brought a hierarchy of power that created insane amounts of hero vs. villain tension that was the only thing sorely missing from the first season. Season 2 brought a constant external threat that couldn’t be eliminated (or so we thought at the time), so all our favorites had to find a way to settle into this new normal.
This is also the season we learn about werewolves and where Caroline and Sheriff Forbes’ relationship changes forever; where Bonnie meets other witch brethren and tons more about how powerful her magic can be. We learn all kinds of things about the Alaric and Isobel connection and how that factors into everything else. Season 2 is expertly designed to weave perfectly from one plot point to another, and it’s simply never topped through the rest of The Vampire Diaries run, even if the rest of the series did it’s best to try.