'The Vampire Diaries' Season 5, episode 21 'Promised Land' recap: What. Just. Happened?

the-vampire-diaries-promised-land-recap.jpg Um. Seriously.  What?

There are pretty much no words to describe what went down on "The Vampire Diaries" penultimate episode of Season 5 on Thursday (May 8), "Promised Land," other than a whole bunch of expletives. Gonna go ahead and leave this massive SPOILER ALERT right here, because this next photo is a game-changing, shock-inducing, holy-mother-of- what spoiler:

stefan-salvatore-dies.jpgSTEFAN SALVATORE IS DEAD.

Like, desiccated, heart-ripped-out-of-his-chest, passed through the anchor to the Other Side dead. One-third of the entire series. Dead. Seriously, what just happened?!?

Let's back up to the beginning of the hour, because shockingly enough, Stefan's death wasn't the only game-changing major event to go down in "Promised Land." And to think, the season finale is next week.

The episode started off with Damon putting on his hero hair to save the world, naturally. Stefan and Elena escape the Travelers after some brutal blood-draining, all with a little help from Julian's wife who wants to save her husband from Markos' spell. They begin their long walk back home feasting on squirrels to get their strength back, having some interesting conversations along the way about how Stefan thinks Elena and Damon should just get back together already. Stefan finds a pay phone and calls Damon, letting him know that they're okay and Damon should focus on how to kill Markos and they'll get home fine on their own. The wife picks them up (after some creative hitchhiking skills, care of one Miss Elena Gilbert) and drives them back because she wants Julian back. Of course, that means Tyler would be gone for good, but details, right?

Back at the Salvatore mansion, Enzo is pissed that Damon isn't focusing on his promise to bring him back from the Other Side, so he gets Bonnie to ghost translate for him. Enzo wants to come back ASAP, not tomorrow, and Damon "delegates" that problem to Bonnie. Since Bonnie lied and said she had Liv working on a spell to ensure her survival if the Other Side disappears, Damon says to incorporate Enzo into that. Problem solved, right? But Bonnie knows that won't work since there is no spell. Oops. This is why we don't lie about our supernatural fate, Bonnie.

In other, interesting news, there's clearly more to Luke and Liv's "family"/coven than we know. Even just talking bad about their coven caused Luke to get a migraine and mini earthquake to hit their diner. That's some powerful and creepy peers the twisted twins have. Luke and Liv agree that they have to kill Stefan or Elena to save their own magic, since the Travelers are relying on the doppelganger blood for their spell.

Damon has the bright idea to steal Markos' Passenger bodies from the cave, leaving him a hilarious note so he'll come to the Salvatore mansion. It works rather well. But the next step in Damon's plan is dousing all the bodies in gasoline and threatening to light them on fire, and it doesn't work, since Markos doesn't care about a few Travelers when he's thisclose to getting rid of all "perverse" magic. He reveals to Damon the spell won't just affect Mystic Falls, it will ripple out globally, only leaving behind "pure" magic. Uh oh. That means our favorite characters can't just move to avoid certain death. It will find them wherever they go.

While packing up their dorm room at Whitmore College (because somehow they finished their freshman year in the midst of all this doomsday prepping), Caroline tells Bonnie her idea to save Tyler. If she kills Tyler/Julian, they'll go to the Other Side and Tyler can come back with Bonnie and Enzo thanks to Liv's spell. Another problem solved, right? Wrong. That's when Bonnie finally reveals there is no spell, so Caroline won't kill Tyler based on a lie. Enzo overhears, and he looks pissed. He tells Bonnie he'll never accept his fate until he's gone.

Elena and Stefan almost make it home, but Liv and Luke ambush their car, killing the Traveler. But before the twisted twins can kill Stefan or Elena, their magic sputters out, since all the Travelers in the town started their spell. Stefan and Elena feel their daylight rings losing their power, and the sun starts to burn them. Yikes. The clock is ticking ... They run inside the Mystic Grill and meet up with Matt, who guides them into the tunnels and away from Luke and Liv.

Back in the mansion, Julian whispers to Damon that Markos doesn't know that he's chained up in the basement, and they can use the element of surprise. Damon sneaks a bottle opener to Julian, who uses it to escape his chains and he attacks Markos ... until his fangs disappear. The spell continues to spread, and everyone supernatural starts to feel the effects. Elena starts coughing up water (because she died drowning), Stefan and Damon feel their father's gunshots, Tyler starts gasping for air (his neck was snapped), and while it's incredibly terrifying, it's also so dang cool seeing all these flashbacks to how everyone died. Can you think back to five seasons ago, when most of these characters were just normal humans in high school? Man, things have changed.

Elena, Stefan and Matt meet up with Jeremy and Damon outside Whitmore College, and the vampires plan to outrun the spell and figure something out while the humans stay in Mystic Falls as their eyes and ears. As soon as Elena and Damon see each other, Elena grabs his face and kisses him. Why? "I had a crappy day. I needed it." Delena fans, are you freaking out yet?

But that's all the time we have for a happy Delena reunion, since the clock is seriously ticking. Damon and Elena take Jeremy's car and drive off, and Stefan decides to stay behind to wait for Caroline and Bonnie. Caroline gets to him first, and Julian happens upon them both. When Stefan tells him his wife is dead, he gets angry and tries to fight. Caroline tries to kill him to protect Stefan, but Julian ducks under her arms and rips out Stefan's heart. HE RIPPED OUT STEFAN'S HEART.

So that brings us right back to the beginning of this recap. Stefan. Dead. Are you sobbing yet? Because it gets even more heartbreaking. He appears in front of Bonnie and Enzo, who were having a conversation outside of Bonnie's dorm room, and Bonnie immediately knows what happened. Both of them have tears in their eyes as he passes through Bonnie while Enzo watches on in complete and utter shock. But he doesn't go without a plea for Bonnie: "Fix this. Find a way to bring us all back."

You see, Bonnie had a spur of the moment idea that the dead Traveler who wanted to save her husband would do the spell that brought Markos back. They figure they don't need the big sacrifice since the Other Side is already so weak, and she agrees to do it, but before she can do the spell with Enzo, she gets sucked into the darkness.

So even though Bonnie was thisclose to bringing them all back, they're back to square one. Nope, scratch that. They're even further back than that, since they just lost their number one hero, Stefan. He can't be gone for good, right? This is Stefan Salvatore we're talking about! He's one third of this show! And Caroline and him were just starting to explore their more-than-friendship feelings for each other! He can't be gone! Also, side note: How devastating was it watching Caroline freak out over Stefan's dead body? That just crushed any shredded piece of heart we still had left.

Let's all cross our fingers Bonnie can figure out some way to fix this in the finale next week, because we can't lose Stefan, Enzo and Bonnie all in one fell swoop, can we? At least the Travelers' spell has been stopped, thanks to one of the doppelgangers dying (sob), so we know Damon, Elena, Caroline and Tyler are safe (well, Tyler's fate is still up in the air, especially since some people like Damon are going to want revenge on Julian for Stefan's death).

If the penultimate episode was this shocking and heartbreaking, it's pretty much impossible to predict what the actual finale has in store for all of us. Julie Plec and co., please be gentle with our hearts. We can't take much more of this heartbreak!

"The Vampire Diaries" airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.

Photo/Video credit: The CW