The gang is back, well most of them anyway! There was a lot of speculation leading up to the premiere surrounding the absence of Elena, played by Nina Dobrev. Viewers were curious as to how the show could survive without their main player.

Let’s go back to the finale of season six and catch up. Here’s where we left off… Kai escaped his prison world and wreaked havoc on our favorite citizens of Mystic Falls during the wedding ceremony of Alaric and Jo. Kai also managed to tie Elena’s life to Bonnie’s before his wedding shenanigans left Elena in a coma. Caroline’s mom, Sheriff Forbes, died from a brain tumor. And Lily was determined to reunite with The Heretics. The season 6 finale of The Vampire Diaries left behind quite a body count, and season seven is already proving to be just as deadly.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Season seven opens with a time jump of three years from now. Stefan is frantically running in to a storage locker in Brooklyn, New York that is filled with caskets. He opens one where a desecrated Damon is resting. Stefan feeds him blood, pleading for him to wake up. Roll opening title sequence.

It’s a beautiful day and Caroline is sitting on a memorial bench that was created for her mother. We’re back in the present, and Caroline is writing in her diary. Last season, Elena asked everyone to write everything down. That way when she wakes up, it will be as if she hasn’t missed anything. She lays the scene for where everyone is in their lives at this point in time. Damon and Alaric are traveling abroad mourning the losses of Jo and Elena. Bonnie is their chaperone to make sure they don’t get into too much trouble. Matt graduates from police academy in a few weeks as a deputy. And then there’s Stefan.

Things are weird since their last confrontation where too many or too few feelings were shared with each other. They agree they should just be friends.

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Cut to a Redhead Sitting on a Different Bench

This mystery woman is writing in her own diary. We hear the voiceover, and find out that she is new to Mystic Falls. She hates it here. She says that it’s not the world she imagined. Her name is Valerie and she is one of Lily’s Heretics. Out of nowhere a truck comes into frame and mows her over. Two kids get out of the truck thinking she is dead. They are too afraid to do anything because the driver is high out of his mind. They leave Valerie on the side of the road.

Valerie’s diary voiceover takes us to an abandoned house where Lily has sequestered The Heretics. We’re introduced to the rest of the family: Bo (who is mute), Nora, Mary-Louise and Malcolm (Lily’s favorite). Lily has been working tirelessly trying to explain why the family needs to learn to co-exist with the rest of the world.

Valerie walks in and everyone is shocked at her appearance. (I think we would all be shocked too if our friend walked in looking like she has just been hit by a pickup.) She explains what happened and how she pretended to be roadkill. Valerie believes Lily would rather see her hurt then stand up for herself. Lily is proud that Valerie did not retaliate against the kids who hit her. Lily doesn’t understand that their passiveness is just an act.

In the next scene, Nora, Mary-Louise and Valerie attack and kill the culprits. These girls are definitely trouble: Regina George incarnate, if she were a witch, vampire and murderer all rolled into one then multiplied by three. They feast on the victims before stopping to take a selfie. They leave the scene with the two kids strung upside down.

Keep Holding On

We’re less than twenty minutes in and Stefan is already devising a plan to kill The Heretics. He is rifling through Alaric’s bag of vampire-hunting gadgets looking for materials to make a clock bomb, while Matt makes an international call. Matt fills Damon in on most of the details, then he puts Alaric on the phone. Alaric pretends to be too drunk to care. He hangs up the phone and leaves the table. Damon isn’t through drinking yet though. He is slowly crawling down the rabbit hole, waiting for the day Bonnie dies so he an be reunited with Elena again. He takes a sip of Alaric’s bourbon only to find out it’s actually tea. What is Ric up to?

Apparently, Ric has been visiting psychics trying to contact Jo. The psychic asks for a possession of Jo’s and he hands over her wedding ring. The psychic starts giving obvious messages about how much she loved him and misses him. Alaric is not buying it. The ring is a fake, a test to see if the psychic is real. He takes out his frustration by beating the crap out of the guy.

Welcome to New York

Lily has left Mystic Falls for a quick day trip to New York. She meets up with Enzo in a bar and lets him know how much she has missed him. She is on a mission and is trying to butter him up for his help. She claims to be looking for a family heirloom, an orb that is being kept in the maritime museum. Enzo has to make a choice. He can either follow Lily, his sire and lifesaver, or he can stick with the Salvatore brothers.

Blown Away

Caroline has been staking out the house of The Heretics. She offers up herself to be the one who executes the plan. The Heretics know what Stefan looks like, so the plan would immediately fail if he were the one to carry it out.

Caroline knocks on door of the abandoned house. She claims to be a neighbor from down the road. She’s brought a bouquet as a housewarming present. She distracts The Heretics while Matt sneaks in the back and sets the bomb. She is getting ready to leave when the girls trap her. Nora comments that she likes the denim jacket that Caroline is wearing. She then “compels” her to hand over the jacket. Meanwhile, the timer on the bomb is ticking away. Caroline gives her the jacket and makes another attempt to leave. This time she’s stopped by Mary-Louise who wants her to give Nora a compliment. The timer is on two seconds when Valerie asks if anyone smells something. Caroline vamp speeds her way out of the house, taking Matt with her, as the timer hits zero and the house is blown to smithereens.

Fire and Rain

It’s not long before Lily hears what happened to the house. Stefan seems to have forgotten that The Heretics are a centuries family that has lived through worse. Her motherly advice for her son is to run.

Nora and Mary-Louise are at the police academy graduation plotting their revenge. Valerie joins them and the trio begins chanting a spell. Soon the sprinkler system goes off causing everyone toy flee their seats. The girls up the ante and ignite the water sending flames everywhere. Half of the graduation attendees are burned alive while the other half are basically eaten.

They start to do that witchy-vampire-headache spell when Lily steps in to stop them. She explains how she’s fought so hard and sacrificed so much to make them all a family again. She declares the bloodshed ends now.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The gang makes a pact with The Heretics. It’s explained in a nicely edited, layered, voiceover diary entry of Caroline, Matt and Stefan. They made up a story that there was a mine explosion in the tunnels that run under Mystic Falls. Caroline and Stefan compel the residents to close up shop and leave town. Anyone who trespasses back into town will become fair game for The Heretics. They all have to give up a lot to get Lily to agree to the deal, but Stefan has to give up his house.

No one thought to clue Damon in on this story. He returns home only to find he has no home. Damon blames Caroline for the stupid plan. Stefan reminds him that Elena wanted him to be happy, to date, to live his life – but if she wakes up and everyone was dead then what was the point. Stefan says he didn’t do it for Caroline, he did it for Damon. Aw, brotherly love!

Bonnie runs into Matt in the middle of town. She wants to stop The Heretics. Matt says they were stopped in 1903, but then Kai got out. He basically inadvertently blames Bonnie for what has happened. He gets in the truck and drives off. There’s a really great shot of Damon standing guard on top of the clocktower, a throwback to season one.

Damon overheard the conversation between Bonnie and Matt. He goes to the dorm room where Bonnie is staying. He may have spent the whole episode making jokes about Bonnie dying so he can have Elena back, but he knows that it’s not her fault. He tells her that she is his best friend and she is stuck with him. They agree to take back the town.

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Back in Black

Bonnie makes her way back to Mystic Falls where she finds Malcolm feasting on a homeless man. Malcolm steps forward and tries to drain her magic. Damon steps behind Malcolm and rips out his heart.

If Lily didn’t like the house being blown up, she’s definitely not going to like her favorite “son” being murdered by the other not-so-favorite son.

Enzo finds Caroline. She and Lily have both told him that he needs to choose a side. He lets her know that’s why he’s there. He has chosen a side. He leads her to believe he is choosing her and her friends before sticking a vervain filled syringe in her neck. He declares he will stand by Lily.

Three Years from Now

We’re back in the storage locker. Stefan wakes up Damon. Someone is shooting arrows and bullets at them. Damon says, “She’s back!” They take cover. Stefan has an “x” on his chest that is gaping. We saw one of The Heretics earlier with the same mark. Stefan says it opened up that morning and that’s how he knew she was back. The two stand up and attempt an escape. Cut to black.

So much happened in this episode! I forgot to mention that Stefan and Caroline also share a pretty hot kiss. It’s going to be interesting to see how all of the pieces are moved around to fill the hole left behind by Elena’s character, but with everything being so action-packed I don’t think it will be a problem.

Tune in next week when things get even crazier! And don’t forget to sound off in the comments!

The Vampire Diaries airs Thursdays at 8pm on The CW.

(Image courtesy of the CW)

Casey Cummings

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV