Mandi Bierly
December 16, 2011 AT 09:01 AM EST

As 2011 comes to a close, wanted to honor some of the hardworking names and faces from behind the scenes for their outstanding achievements. The Vampire Diaries is best known for its twisty, fast-paced storytelling that occasionally calls for its male stars to go shirtless. But ask fans for their favorite moments of 2011, and odds are they’ll mention the ones that moved them — and executive producers Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson — to tears. “We’re really proud of the emotional depth of the show, and the fact that Kevin and I will sit in this room at four in the morning and be pulling our hair out and miserable and have no lives working our asses off, and then have a conversation where a cry pitch comes up, and if it moves both of us, it makes the job feel good,” Plec says. Here, she tells us about eight moments that made those late nights worth it. For more behind the scenes access to the year’s best TV and movie scenes, click here for‘s Best of 2011: Behind the Scenes coverage.

As told by: Julie Plec

Anna is reunited with Pearl: What’s funny is we had talked all along about Pearl perhaps being in that ghost episode, and then when we finally got down to the nitty-gritty of breaking it and needed to tell a story and service a lot of  characters, we realized that there was no room to tell the story of Pearl coming back. And so we put it away, and decided not to have her in the episode. Something that organically came out of the process of writing and rewriting the script was this idea of not knowing where anybody is on the other side — and also not knowing if they’re even there at all. Anna says that to Jeremy, and then later, she says, I just don’t want to be alone anymore. I thought maybe I could find my mother, or maybe she’s moved on and I don’t know, because I don’t even know if there’s anywhere to move on to. As we were writing that scene —  in other words, I don’t know if there’s heaven, I don’t know if there’s peace —  I got struck with such a sense of pain and loss. It just hit me so hard emotionally that I started to sob while I was writing, which doesn’t happen very often. And I thought Ohmygod, this girl needs to find her mother. She just needs to find her mother. The two of them being reunited is the thing that will bring them peace. Even though Jeremy thinks, Oh, we’ll still see each other, no. I think that when she found her mom and those two disappeared, they went off to a very happy place and we’ll never see them again. It just felt so right. That’s the thing that defined her character from the beginning: she came to Mystic Falls to rescue her mother from the tomb, and every bad thing she ever did was in the name of being reunited with her mother. Then in the end of her journey, she got that. Anybody who didn’t watch the series until this season wouldn’t necessarily have any emotional connection to that moment, but I felt as a fan of our own show, who had connected to this girl and that relationship, it just had to happen. And then you put up a bunch of beautiful lanterns and a nice long lens and a great song, and it’s the saddest moment you’ve ever seen. [Laughs] I’ve seen that moment 15 times, and I still cry like a baby every time I see it.

One of the things that’s really come out this season thematically about our show is that being a supernatural creature, and specifically being an immortal, is in its own way the loneliest thing that you can be. And all of our characters, in their own way, are being driven by the desire to not be alone. That’s why our vampires love so deeply and recklessly. That’s why Elena, who’s orphaned and doesn’t have her parents anymore, is seeking and finding love in the most unconventional and untraditional ways. That’s why Rebekah and Klaus have stuck together through thick and thin even though he’s daggered her multiple times. There’s such a terrible fear of eternal solitude that the idea of saying, “Hey, but one day, even for an immortal, if you can die, then you too can find peace” is beautiful and depressing at the same time.

NEXT: Stefan makes a call

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