After eight seasons, The Vampire Diaries concluded with Elena Gilbert cementing her relationship with Damon Salvatore — here’s why he, rather than Stefan, was her ultimate choice. Developed by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, the supernatural drama was based on L.J. Smith’s popular book series of the same name. The Vampire Diaries starred Nina Dobrev as the initially human Elena Gilbert. The early seasons of the show served very much as Elena’s coming-of-age tale, with the character not only being introduced to the world’s myriad mythical elements but a passionate love triangle with ageless vampires Stefan and Damon Salvatore.
Played by Paul Wesley, Stefan burst into Elena’s life after saving her from a car accident. The pair quickly bonded and, despite a few bumps in the road, Elena and Stefan formed a romantic relationship. Throughout The Vampire Diaries seasons 1 and 2, Elena and Stefan served as the show’s central couple. Though Damon increasingly developed feelings for Elena across those same episodes, he either kept the extent of them buried. Equally, at first, Elena alternated between dismissing or tolerating Damon and his crush. Things began to change, however, when Stefan turned his humanity off and left town with Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan). Despite continuously searching for him, Elena and Damon began spending more time together and growing closer. Despite this, however, both of them remained intent on staying loyal to Stefan. Damon continued helping to reunite them, even at the expense of his own happiness. And, by the end of The Vampire Diaries season 3, Elena accepted that she had feelings for Damon… but still ultimately chose to be with Stefan.
Things changed further still when, in The Vampire Diaries season 4, episode 1, “Growing Pains,” Elena completed her transition into a vampire. It was previously established that a side effect of that particular transformation is heightened emotions. Elena would especially fall prone to those during her time as a vampire. That was most notably prevalent during her grief following the death of her brother, Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen). However, it also played a component of her eventually choosing Damon in The Vampire Diaries season 4, episode 23, “Graduation”. As a human, Elena was more effectively able to compartmentalize her feelings for Damon and prioritize her loyalty to Stefan. Once she was a vampire, however, her love was magnified. As such, it was revealed to eclipse her feelings for Stefan and could no longer be easily ignored.
Another fortunate side effect of transition is that previous compulsions are undone. As a result of becoming a vampire, Elena became once again privy to all the times that Damon had wiped her memory. These moments tended to be occasions where Damon had revealed his true feelings — getting it off his chest before removing any trace of it from her mind. Equally, it allowed Elena to witness Damon Salvatore’s oft-unseen selfless side. Furthermore, in The Vampire Diaries season 3, Elena stated that things might have been different between them had she met Damon first. The return of all Elena’s missing memories also enlightened her to the fact that she’d met and been charmed by Damon before encountering Stefan. As such, The Vampire Diaries season 4 conveyed that she didn’t have all the information when she previously chose Stefan.
This idea would be explored again in The Vampire Diaries season 6. After Damon seemed to have died, Elena had all memories of ever loving him erased. As a result, she fiercely disliked him. Upon turning human, though, Elena’s memories were once again restored. The moment served as a microcosm of their entire arc across the seasons. Armed with full knowledge of everything that had taken place over the years, coupled with her heightened emotions, it allowed her to make a more informed choice. It became clear that Damon was the one for her after all — not once but twice — with Elena realizing that “even in death, Damon was the one that made her feel most alive.” Though their romance would hit a few more obstacles along the way, that fact remained true — right up until the end of The Vampire Diaries and beyond.