The Vampire Diaries universe establishes a lot of lore about supernatural creatures and the states between life and death, but the concept of a concrete afterlife is certainly in need of more explanation. As nearly every character in The Vampire Diaries died at some point, death became more of a fluid state than something with finality (particularly when Bonnie and her friends managed to destroy several pre-existing afterlives). This only became more confusing with The Originals and Legacies, where even more death planes were established and destroyed, with the only constant being that dead characters could always come back if they were needed for the story.
On a broader scale, death was always going to be flexible in the TVDU, where a variety of different types of vampires existed, ghosts could interact with the mortal plane, and there were entire branches of magic that drew on the strength of dead witches. The Vampire Diaries universe had to create a series of afterlives otherwise the series would have to suggest that dead characters had completely ceased to exist (a concept that was far too dark for a teen drama). Since it's possible to have a presence in the world after death, a more permanent resting place was needed to distinguish between dying as a human and truly dying.
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1 The Other Side
From the beginning of The Vampire Diaries to season 5, all supernatural creatures who died would be transported to the Other Side (a parallel dimension where they could watch their loved ones and occasionally interact with them). Mediums and some Vampire Diaries witches could see those on the Other Side, which allowed them to communicate with the dead and borrow their strength. This afterlife was the most consistent one in the series, and while it allowed dead characters to return more easily, it also prevented most supernatural creatures from reconnecting with their human friends and family after their deaths.
Because the Other Side had been created using magic, witches had more abilities after their deaths than other supernatural creatures. Living witches could draw on dead witches' powers, and dead witches established connections with their living descendants that allowed for communication, possession, and resurrection. Vampires, on the other hand, were trapped in isolation as a form of purgatory, only ever leaving if the Veil between worlds was lifted. The Other Side had been created by Qetsiyah in the first century B.C. as a way to permanently separate lovers, Silas and Amara, by keeping supernaturals and humans apart, even in death, and it was extremely effective.
The dimension was able to exist for thousands of years because it was connected to Amara, an immortal who fueled its existence. When Bonnie took over as the Anchor, she learned that some could escape the Other Side if too many supernatural creatures died at one time, but that kind of resurrection fragmented the realm as a whole, leading to its eventual collapse in season 5. Although the Other Side had been the most stable afterlife, its ultimate destruction showed that the line between life and death could only be played with so often before it broke.
2 The Ancestral Plane
Created by Ysabelle Dalliencourt in the 1700s, the Ancestral Plane was tied to the iconic city, New Orleans, and the cemetries. In order to move on to the Ancestral Plane, a witch's body had to be formally consecrated, with the Earth itself being the anchor to life. While there may have been similar afterlives tied to other supernatural hotspots, they would presumably follow the same rules.
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The souls in the Ancestral Plane have a limited amount of power in the living world, though their influence is stronger after the completion of the Harvest Ritual every three hundred years. This involved four young witches being sacrificed by the coven to the ancestors, who would then regain their connection to the living world, resurrecting the girls and granting additional power and guidance to the community. Compared to what was established with The Vampire Diaries' witches, this was a confusingelement and took a while to come to understand.
Eventually, Vincent Griffith dissolved the Ancestral Plane in The Originals, season 5, episode 10, "There in the Disappearing Light," releasing all the dead New Orleans witches to the next level of the afterlife.
While The Vampire Diaries tended to avoid Biblical constructions of the world—despite the fact that angels existed in the books—there was a version of Hell that existed to punish those who had caused harm to others during their lives. Hell was created by a powerful psychic named Arcadius who had been burned at the stake by his village. The dimension was meant to be a final destination for those who committed the worst atrocities, where souls were punished and fed on by Cade, who considered himself to be the Devil.
It's unclear what anchored Hell, as it continued to function after Cade was killed, even when he should have been the obvious power source. Without a way to disconnect it from the living world, Bonnie and her ancestors destroyed the dimension altogether with Hellfire. Although the souls that had been there were theoretically released in Hell's destruction, it's unknown whether they found Peace, became trapped in Limbo, or were destroyed along with it.
While Hell was very similar in function to the religious version, its actual functioning was extremely unclear, as it was never actually depicted on screen and seemed to be flexible with morality. While evil TVD villains like Katherine Pierce and Kai Parker were sent there, they both found ways to thrive by making deals with Cade, suggesting that those who were truly evil were not actually being punished. On the other hand, morally ambiguous characters, like Vicki and Kelly Donovan were also sent there, which makes it seem like Hell was just what happened to anybody who didn't find Peace.
4 Bonnie's Pocket Afterlife
Cade was able to will an afterlife into existence with a powerful blast of psychic energy, and Bonnie managed to do the same to protect Enzo from whatever fate the afterlife would have otherwise held for him. Bonnie's afterlife was stronger than Cade's, managing to keep Enzo out of Hell despite the fact that he had been working for Cade before he died. Bonnie’s new afterlife was connected to her, rather than having an external anchor, and it had been created entirely subconsciously after Stefan killed Enzo in season 8.
According to Cade, no other psychic had ever been able to make their own afterlife, which makes it unlikely that there were other unknown pocket dimensions. As Bonnie explains, "psychic dimensions are tied to emotional trauma," with the trauma itself drawing on the psychic's magic to keep the dimension functioning. In The Vampire Diaries, season 8, episode 15, "We're Planning a June Wedding," Bonnie allowed Lizzie and Josie to siphon her, which absorbed the magic that had been sustaining her personal afterlife and released Enzo to find Peace.
For those who are not trapped in a constructed afterlife but have been unable to find Peace, Limbo exists as a world to languish for eternity or work on atoning for past sins. While several movies stage the afterlife as a comedy, TVD’s version of Limbo was more complicated. Unlike most other afterlives, there is no clear beginning for Limbo, as it has existed between Earth and Peace for at least 10,000 years. While sometimes viewed as a negative location, Limbo is not a punishment as much as a waiting room, where souls exist until they can fully move on.
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The average soul needs one coin to move on, which they can gain by letting go of whatever was holding them back. Those who committed many wrongs will be required to collect many coins, which can be acquired by apologizing for their actions and helping others to find Peace, as a way of physically representing repentance. The God, Lynn, facilitated this system for most of human history before Landon Kirby took over ruling Limbo in Legacies, season 4, episode 18, "By the End of This, You'll Know Who You Were Meant to Be."
Peace is the best-case scenario for the souls of the dead to find themselves in within The Vampire Diaries universe. Originally the home of the Gods, Peace is also known as Valhalla, a realm of perfect contentment, as opposed to all the other afterlives in the franchise. Despite the name, Peace has nothing to do with Norse conceptions of Valhalla, as it is open to all the dead. Except through the intervention of the Necromancer, a soul that has found Peace cannot return to Earth, though Bonnie's ancestors were able to assist her, suggesting that witches who find Peace have similar abilities to those in the Other Side.
While several characters from The Vampire Diaries and The Originals were directly taken to Peace after their deaths or after their previous afterlife ended, Legacies introduced the idea that Peace had to be actively attained. However, morality is not the deciding factor. Seemingly, any soul that dies with love in their heart or that completes their unfinished business can move forward, though many darker souls may be trapped in Limbo by their own guilt.
What Peace actually is seems to depend on the character. After being resurrected, Jo shared that, "I used to watch all of you. Like in a dream where everything is warm and happy." However, other characters like The Originals' Josh and Aiden found Peace together, as did The Vampire Diaries' Stefan and Lexi, suggesting that Peace is more like Supernatural's final version of Heaven. Although there have been a series of convoluted afterlives depicted across The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Legacies, all roads eventually lead to Peace, with even the cruelest souls having the potential to one day truly rest.