'The Vampire Diaries' Season 5 finale recap: Who returned 'Home,' and who died?

the-vampire-diaries-home-recap.jpg "The Vampire Diaries" Season 5 had its ups and downs. From Stefan's imprisonment/PTSD, to Silas/Tessa/Amara, to Katherine's aging and death, to the Augustine society, to Enzo, to Markos and the Travelers, a lot of ground was covered in one season. But as much as the writers packed into one season, that didn't hold a candle to how much was packed into the Season 5 finale, "Home."

Thursday's (May 15) epic finale had so much plot, so many twists and turns, so many heartbreaking reveals and heartwarming returns that you'd be hard-pressed to find a better episode of TV ... like, ever. How was this only one hour? And yet ... how could it have ended so soon? 

"Home" answered many questions, while raising a bunch of new ones, and forced us to say goodbye to some beloved characters (for good, which is a very new thing on this show, and it's something we'll have to get used to in Season 6) while giving us back some old ones we've been missing dearly. But let's back up to the beginning, where we were forced to immediately deal with the heartbreaking final scene of last week's episode, when Stefan's heart was ripped out right in front of Caroline.

"Home" started off with Caroline, Elena and Damon staring down at Stefan's dead body, too shocked to process what they were seeing. They all immediately placed their faith in Bonnie's ability to bring him back, but it needed to happen fast: Oblivion was coming for him. It almost got him right away too, but Lexi turns up and saves him yet again! He owes her way more than a beer, wouldn't you say? Once she makes sure Stefan's safely with her, she keeps on searching for Alaric to bring him back as well, because hey, why not? If there's going to be a free pass back to life, why not get as many of our favorites back as possible? While they search for the history teacher turned vampire hunter turned vampire, she nags Stefan about dating Caroline, proving once again that she's just the best. Of course, both Caroline and Stefan are still way in denial about this, but it's pretty clear to everyone else that they're going to end up together ... as long as Stefan's able to come back.

Which brings us to Bonnie's plan to get everyone back, which is simple: Find a Traveler on the Other Side willing to teach her the spell Markos used to come back, find a witch who's alive to perform it, and kill a bunch of Travelers so they overwhelm the anchor, allowing all their friends to come back through her. 

Step 1: Get a witch. Elena and Caroline corner Luke and Liv -- who are trying to drive out of town -- and try to convince them to do the spell. When Liv tells Caroline she can't risk doing a spell like that, Caroline -- still shaken up about Stefan's death -- gives her the proper motivation: Snapping Luke's neck! Whoa! Caroline means business, and now they have their witch. I almost felt bad for Liv here, but she's caused all our favorites a lot of grief this season. She does end up making up for it later by doing the spell, though. So, thanks Liv.  

Step 2: Get a Traveler on the Other Side. Enzo's got that one taken care of. Welcome back, Silas! Whoa. Did not see that one coming. But it makes sense: The original Traveler is still looking for a way to achieve peace to be with his love, and he can't do that on the Other Side or in oblivion. He tries to "apologize" to Bonnie for killing her father, asking to let bygones be bygones if he teaches her the spell, and she looks rightfully pissed off. But she needs to put aside her personal feelings, since the list of people to bring back -- Stefan, Enzo, Luke, Silas -- just grew again when Markos demonstrated to Sheriff Forbes that the Traveler spell is still in effect, it just stopped at the town line instead of spreading globally. He drags Tyler/Julian across the border, stripping away his hybrid and vampire magic, making him "just a boy with a werewolf gene who happened to break his neck," and Tyler dies. He shows up next to Bonnie, not as Julian but as himself. Meaning that if/when they all come back, he'll be back to normal, non-Passengered and everything.

Step 3: Kill a bunch of Travelers. Damon's the brains behind this part, and gets Sheriff Forbes to gather all the Travelers in the Mystic Grill for an "open bar welcome party," and while they're all in one place getting wasted, Jeremy and Matt -- the only ones who can go inside the town without dying -- will break the gas line pipe underneath the grill. The explosion from the gas leak will kill all the Travelers, overwhelming Bonnie, and allowing everyone to pass back through the anchor. Easy, right?

There are a few complications with this plan, though. Sheriff Forbes was unable to get out of the grill before the explosion, meaning that she's pretty badly hurt. We don't know if she's totally okay yet. Also, everyone needs to be with Bonnie when the spell starts, since they only have one chance to come back, and someone needs to trigger the explosion in the first place. Plus, Bonnie still can't come back, since she's the anchor. But hey, details, right?

After Silas teaches Bonnie the spell, and she in turn teaches it to Liv, oblivion makes another appearance and almost sucks away Enzo. Bonnie grabs his hand, and Silas reaches for her other hand, but she drops it, says, "Bygones," and lets Silas get sucked away. Goodbye, original Traveler, it was (not) nice knowing you. Bonnie FTW!

Before the spell starts, Bonnie tries to get her Grams added to the list of people coming back, but Grams tells her she won't be coming. She's found her peace, because she found a way for Bonnie to get some for herself. What does that mean? Did Grams figure out a way to save Bonnie? Or did she mean that when the Other Side crumbles, Bonnie won't get sucked in oblivion, but she'll find peace of her own? Either way, Bonnie and Grams shared an extremely beautiful goodbye filled with love, one that both characters deserved.

In the interest of honesty, Damon tells Elena that he'll be the one to trigger the explosion in Operation: Kaboom, and she's not happy about it to say the least. It's obviously a suicide mission, since he'll have to drive through town, stripping away his vampirism and dying, not to mention that he'll explode right along with the Travelers, but he promises Elena he'll come back through Bonnie and to respect his choice. She understands and agrees, and they share one of the most beautiful and romantic kisses we've ever seen on the series. Everything about it was perfect. But later that night, when Damon's ready to drive to his death, Elena gets in the car with him, saying she's "all in" and to respect her choice. The smile he gives Elena before kicking the car into gear says it all. They're in this together. Beautiful.

The explosion goes off perfectly, and the Travelers find Bonnie and pass through her while Liv starts her spell. Everyone gathers around Bonnie, waiting for Elena and Damon to make it back. They get split up, though, and Alaric (!) finds Elena and tells her to go ahead; he'll find Damon for her. She goes to Bonnie, and Alaric finds Damon and they both make sure Sheriff Forbes is alive (but not conscious) before meeting up with Bonnie.

Luke is the first one to pass through Bonnie, and he goes to a struggling Liv to make sure she's surviving doing the spell. Enzo is next and he walks off with a smirk to Caroline. Then comes Tyler, who makes it through as himself ... but also as a human! Is everyone coming back as a human, or is Tyler the only one, since he died as a human when his magic was stripped? Elena wants to wait for Damon to show up, but Bonnie grabs her anyway, ensuring that she comes back before it's too late. Stefan wants to wait as well, but Bonnie stumbles and he catches her, accidentally coming through. Lexi pushes Markos into oblivion before he can come back, and then she finds peace knowing that she saved Stefan and gave Damon more time to come through. Alaric and Damon find Bonnie, and Alaric comes through. But before Damon can make it through, Luke ends Liv's spell since it was clearly killing her.

So, Alaric is officially back! But hold the celebrations, since Damon isn't. He and Bonnie both realize they're not coming back. Damon missed his chance, and Bonnie never even had one. They both get to say their goodbyes, and both scenes are so incredibly heart wrenching, gut-twising and tear-inducing for different reasons. Damon says his goodbye to Elena but she can't even hear a word he's saying, since he's on the Other Side! But it was just so perfect on our end that we copied it here, word-for-word:

Damon: Even if I wanted to apologize, you couldn't hear me. So I won't.
Elena, sobbing, unable to see or hear him but knowing he's there: Please don't leave me.
Damon: I don't have a choice, baby. You are by far the greatest thing to have ever happened to me in my 173 years on this earth. The fact that I get to die knowing that I was loved, not just by anyone, but by you? Elena Gilbert? That's the epitome of a fulfilled life. It's never going to get any better than this. I peaked. I love you, Elena.
Elena: Please, please come back to me.
Damon: Bye.

Ugh, tears. TEARS. He leaves her to be comforted by Alaric, and the next scene wasn't any easier even though we knew it was coming: Bonnie and Jeremy. She called up Jeremy, who was still in the town borders, to explain that she never had a plan to get out. She just wanted to spend her final days with him happy, and that's what she got. She told him she loves him and to take care of Elena, and hangs up on him. Jeremy, in complete shock, runs all the way to the woods to see her one last time, but gets there too late to say or do anything other than watch her disappear.

The Other Side crumbles, and the final scene was almost too unbearable to watch because it was so perfect. Bonnie and Damon, two characters who have never had a single nice thing to say about each other for five seasons, face the unknown together. Bonnie says there are about a million other people they'd both rather be with, and Damon counters with "a couple thousand at most," with a smile, and they hold hands. Bonnie asks if it will hurt, and Damon says, "I don't kno --" and his words are cut off. The screen goes white. And Season 5 ends.

Whoa. Whoa. So many, many questions, and so many, many feelings. Most of all: Gratitude, for a season that managed to surprise at every moment and change everything we ever thought to be true about this show. The Other Side is gone. Ghosts are no longer in existence. Dead will now truly mean dead. And Damon and Bonnie are ... gone. Are they?

Lingering questions that will make this summer pretty much the longest ever:

- Are Damon and Bonnie gone?

- If so, did Bonnie find peace? Did Damon find peace? Or were they sucked into oblivion?

- Did the Traveler's spell die with them? Or is Mystic Falls still a no-magic zone?

- Is Tyler the only new human, or are all the newly-returned souls human again?

- How long until Caroline and Stefan act on their feelings?

- Is Sheriff Forbes okay?

- Is the Mystic Grill salvageable? Where is Alaric going to drink now?

- Can it be fall already?

"The Vampire Diaries" returns this fall on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
Photo/Video credit: The CW