'The Vampire Diaries' premiere recap: Plus, your burning Season 4 questions answered by Julie Plec

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tvd-401-stefan-cage.jpgWelcome to Season 4, "Vampire Diaries" fans! This year, we're doing recaps a little differently at Zap2it, and I hope you stick with us! Now that we've all seen the Season 4 premiere, "Growing Pains," it's time to check in on our favorite characters (okay, and our least favorite characters, too). The final moments of the episode left us with a lot of questions, but luckily, executive producer Julie Plec agreed to shed a little bit of insight into what we can expect moving forward.

vampire-diaries-elena-401.jpg Elena has officially vamped out! We all wondered who Elena's first kill would be... and we're still wondering. Personally, I thought Pastor Young was going to be her first taste of human blood, but instead it was a random guard, and it was Stefan who did the (rather brutal) killing. Elena pretty much just had to reach out and slurp.

"We either wanted do this, or to have her first feed be Matt, the way that it was in the books," Plec tells me. "It was a really great moment in the first book, where Stefan brings her to Matt, and that's how he finds out about the vampires -- it was actually one of my favorite scenes. Ultimately, we decided that her transition feed should be a stranger." That said, it isn't quite that simple for Elena. In next week's episode, we'll find that after that first smear of blood from the floor, Elena's appetite becomes a bit... temperamental.

The Founder's Council: After Dark Alaric spilled the vampires' secrets last season, we expected the Council members to be major antagonists this year. In this episode, the mysterious group of powerful Mystic Falls residents definitely proved that they know their stuff -- they've had generations of training, and it showed. They came very close to outsmarting our vampires, and Elena almost perished in captivity when she couldn't feed. What I hadn't quite bargained for, though, was the final scene of the episode, in which the town's beloved Pastor Young sent the the entire Council -- himself included -- up in flames, after saying, "Fear not, for I have been chosen to lead us in a movement... Friends, we are the beginning."

The beginning of what, exactly?

"That was really setting the stage for something that's going to be a slow reveal this season," says Plec. "We deliberately meant to leave a lot of questions unanswered. [Pastor Young] certainly seemed to be in his right mind when he blew everyone up, so we're left wondering, was he compelled? Did one of our heroes compel him? Did one of our enemies compel him? Was there another motive? I think people thought that the council was going to be one of the driving forces of our season, and we wanted to turn things around a bit and literally blow that up in our first episode out."

ian-somerhalder-tvd-season-4-gallery.jpg Damon is lashing out in all the wrong directions. It was clear in this episode that while he's devastated by Elena turning into a vampire -- and mad at Stefan, and (oddly) Matt for the way that went down -- Damon is also still pretty bitter about Elena choosing Stefan. Obviously, I can't blame him, since in Mystic Falls the rejection only happened yesterday, but it's still painful to watch him bring up Elena's choice time and again.

I loved the moment that Elena remembered Damon's first confession of love. Of course, she's heard him say it since then, but never in quite so touching a way -- and what a visually stunning way to return that memory not only to Elena, but to the audience. Now that Elena's a vampire, her reaction to that moment is very strong, though she tries to minimize it when she talks to him later.

"Someone asked me what the biggest hurdle would be for Stefan and Elena this year, and it's Damon," says Plec. "Plain and simple. Damon and Elena's feelings for Damon continue to be the biggest things that could keep Stefan and Elena from being together forever."

Stefan and Elena are as sweet as ever. The final scene between Stefan and Elena on the roof was admittedly pretty cheesy, but we enjoyed it for the Season 1 callback factor. And the symbolism of Stefan literally putting a ring on Elena's finger was great, though it gives us a sinking feeling that he won't ever be putting the ring on her finger.

The really great Stefan and Elena moments, though, were the slightly less "epic" feeling ones. Her laughing-crying meltdown in her kitchen somehow made vampirism relatable to those of us who remain mere humans. And, of course, her "dying" confession in the jail that she'd chosen him over Damon, and that she wanted to be with him, was very powerful. What fantastic performances from both Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev -- particularly given the fact that they couldn't even have any contact (physical or eye contact) during the scene. "No matter what happens, it's the best choice I ever made," she says. I don't know whether to feel heartbroken for Damon or elated for Stefan, but I'm guessing this whole inner-neutrality thing means the triangle is still alive and kicking.

Klyler? Tylaus? What are we calling the Klaus/Tyler hybrid-squared? First of all, Michael Trevino killed it in his brief time as the Original hybrid -- his restraint and the complete absence of Tyler's usual manic energy gave him a whole new swagger.

I'll give Klaus a few points for attempting to tell Caroline that he wasn't Tyler before they got to the removal of clothing; after all, she barely stopped to take a breath. Still, as an uber-powerful hybrid, he didn't have to give in to her advances... so, it's official, Klaus is still in the villain category. (Who is hot, and has a fantastic accent, and tons of chemistry with Caroline, so. There's that.) Caroline seems like she'll be okay after a good brain-bleaching, but I'd love for someone to ask Tyler if he's okay at this point. It can't be much fun being ridden around by an Original vampire all day.

The Original family business. How absolutely stunning was the scene between Klaus and Rebekah, as he basically took a wrecking ball to whatever was left of her heart? I've said it before and I'll say it again: if this show lets Claire Holt go anywhere, they'd be making a huge mistake. Klaus's motives for being so brutal with Rebekah are suspect. We don't think she destroyed the last of his doppelganger blood supply -- after all, we know more hybrids are coming -- but it was an absolutely gut-wrenching fight. Now that she's truly on her own, is it too much to hope that Rebekah will make some amends and join the Mystic Falls High gang? I really want her in the gang.

Poor Matt. The kid just can't catch a break, can he? First he goes swimming with the fishies, then Damon slaps a target on his back. Elena and Stefan had to save him for the second time in two days, this time from Damon, and while we definitely got a kick out of seeing her "vamp out," that guilt is weighing on Matt pretty heavily. I'm just grateful that Matt's got a new lease on life this season, because he needed a little kick in the pants after spending last year being everybody's default shoulder to cry on.

tvd-401-bonnie-blood.jpg Bonnie's dark magic: In a fantastic surprise appearance, Jasmine Guy returned as Sheila Bennett, Bonnie's grandmother who passed away in Season 1. After two seasons of talking about the witches "on the other side" and the power of that sisterhood, it was exciting to see real consequences for Bonnie when she went too far with her dark magic. Kat Graham knocked the episode out of the park, really nailing Bonnie's devastation as a mysterious darkness overwhelmed her Grams -- a consequence of Bonnie's dalliances in "upsetting the balance of nature."

Of course, I have a lot of questions as to what, exactly, happened to Grams. After all, she's already dead. What I know for sure, though, is that the witches on the other side can no longer be called Bonnie's "sisters."

"That was our way of alienating Bonnie from her heritage on the other side," says Plec. "Now, she has no way of knowing if every time she does magic, the witches on the other side are torturing her grandmother in some unimaginable way." Though Bonnie will certainly grieve for her grandmother in next week's episode, this does open a door to a compelling storyline this season.

"It really sets us up for something new with Bonnie, in that she's got a lot of questions and she's now open to a new mentor. She'll meet someone who truly understands who she is and what she's capable of," Plec explains. "That's where this new professor comes in in Episode 4. David Alpay is a really great actor. Professor Shane is really interesting in that -- he's not a witch, but what he's able to do for Bonnie is really powerful and cool. He helps her rediscover her heritage and her powers in what we think is a really great way."

All in all, the first episode of Season 4 was packed with surprises, not to mention some really moving moments, particularly for Bonnie, Elena, and Stefan. I loved that every regular cast member was included in the action, and that as Elena's emotions were heightened, so were those of the rest of the group. It's also nice to see that the stage is set for Bonnie to truly be at the center of a storyline -- she's been sidelined for too long, and Kat proved in this episode that she can handle more than she's been given thus far.

I'm guessing that Klaus will have some apologizing to do with Caroline, and from what Joseph Morgan and Candice Accola told me, it sounds like amends will be made. I'm particularly interested, though, in his relationship with Rebekah. With a bond spanning centuries, and her ability to forgive him for some truly vile things, could Elena's blood really be the thing that breaks them?

As for the show's central triangle, I know this show pretty well, and that rooftop scene felt a bit too romantic to be true. Suffice to say, Stefan and Elena's plan for "forever" begins to come apart at the seams right away next week, when her biological imperative to feed starts to turn her against Stefan's entire vampire ideology -- and push her closer to Damon in a whole new way. While I'm at it -- 10 points to Slytherin for Ian Somerhalder's great work tonight. The anger simmering under Damon's surface was unmistakable, and after the rejection, his outbursts of rage felt truly dangerous in a way Damon hasn't been for a while.

connectv-watercooler-carina-mackenzie.jpegNow it's your turn, vamp fans! Join me for a special chat tomorrow at 12 p.m. PST (3 p.m. EST) over at ConnecTV. It's going to be a fun time to talk about all the "Vampire Diaries" relationships, villains, theories, and more -- and I'll give you a little bit of not-too-spoilery scoop on what's to come next week!

In the meantime, weigh in below in the comments section. I'm going to be replying to more comments this year -- so let's keep it respectful and have a good time together.
Photo/Video credit: The CW