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How 'The Vampire Diaries' Empowered Its Domestic Violence Survivor

Now in its seventh season, "The Vampire Diaries" has finally grown up.

"The Vampire Diaries" ventured into uncharted territory this season. The loss of its star Nina Dobrev put pressure on the series to remain relevant -- and the writers duly delivered.

In its seventh season, "The Vampire Diaries" has managed to get its groove back. Not only did they put an emphasis on what made the show can't-miss TV during Seasons 1 and 2 -- AKA "the sexy, weird stuff" we love so much -- but they introduced the Heretics, a family of vampire-witch hybrids led by mama Salvatore herself, Lily (Annie Wersching). And here's the kicker: they gave each of them time to develop into fully-formed, compelling characters.

In order to do that, the show finally grew up and took on some heavier subject matter. First, "TVD" introduced a new love story -- one between two women; the first gay couple to ever be featured on the show. Then, it touched upon something genuinely upsetting and unfortunately all too-real: Lily's history of domestic violence. Damon and Stefan's father Giuseppe was abusive to his wife and his sons, and the CW staple didn't hold back from depicting the kind of mental and physical abuse Lily and Damon suffered.

"I was devastated when I first read exactly what happened," Wersching told MTV News. "I knew her life wasn’t great with Giuseppe, but when you get to set and you start shooting a scene where he's hitting her and threatening her, it was very intense."

"It’s completely shaped the relationship that Lily and her children have," she added. "If it weren’t for that, things could have been completely different."

Lily ultimately faked her death (and became a vampire) to get out of an abusive situation, but the cycle didn't stop there. She eventually met a madcap vampire named Julian and fell in love with his charm and wit. Julian never hit Lily, but he was just as manipulative. In the most recent episode of "The Vampire Diaries," Julian knowingly put her life in danger when he agreed to duel with Enzo. He didn't value her life enough to say "no."

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Todd Lasance plays Julian on "The Vampire Diaries."

When Julian apologized to Lily for nearly getting her killed for no reason, it reminded her of the time Giuseppe slapped her and then made the same apology.

"People have been telling her, here and there, for a while that Julian was bad news, and she just never saw it," Wersching said. "For her to be sitting there and remembering that exact conversation that she had with Guisseppe... and she’s having the same conversation with Julian. I think she was just so completely in shock, like 'How is this my life again? How did I end up here?' She needed a little bit of time to process all of that and come up with a plan."

And come up with a plan she did. At the end of the episode, Lily made the brave choice to leave Julian. She didn't waver in her decision, either. Instead, she immediately teamed up with her sons Damon and Stefan to take down Julian once and for all. But first, they need to find a way to unlink Julian and Lily's lives.

"In order to do that, we need one of the Heretics to help us with the spell," she said. "That’s their plan, but of course, Lily has to keep up the appearance that she’s on their side, Julian and the Heretics’ side. Eventually, it leads her to do things that she would probably not do if she wasn’t pretending, even breaking some of her rules on feeding -- and we haven’t seen her feed once this season."

"Leading up to this, she’s been having trouble reigning in the Heretics, and it doesn’t help that Julian's being as charming as he possibly could be. He's trying to bond with them, especially Nora and Mary Louise, so it's definitely not easy. It’s much harder to unlink than they thought it would be."

While Lily plays it cool at Julian's surprise party for Nora and Mary Louise's 133rd anniversary, Damon and Stefan turn to Valerie, who might be the key to unlinking Lily and Julian. However, the last time Valerie and Lily were in the same room together, Val ended up with a chest-full of wooden stakes. But now that Lily knows what kind of monster Julian really is -- he savagely beat Valerie in 1863, killing her and Stefan's unborn child -- she's determined to help.

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The Heretics: Scarlett Byrne as Nora, Teressa Liane as Mary Louise, Annie Wersching as Lily and Elizabeth Blackmore as Valerie.

"It’s something that you can’t even fathom, especially knowing and truly believing what a wonderful father Stefan would have been," Wersching said. "It’s a great pain for her. There’s a lot of painful things happening, and she’s realizing that Julian is such a huge part of the reason that there are so many bad things happening."

"Valerie has truly been like a daughter to her," she added. "She was the first one that Lily took under her wing. They’ve had this really special bond, so both of them have felt so betrayed by each other in the last few episodes. Now that Lily starts to come to believe all of her story, she wants to make things right. She really sees Valerie as such a strong girl, and she wants to be there for her and make the right choices for her as well."

Lily also plans to rectify her relationship with Damon, whose deeply rooted mommy issues are finally bubbling to the surface this season. Of course, it doesn't help that she's the reason his one true love Elena is under The Deep Sleep for the next 75 years.

"He loves to hear her say that she was wrong," she said. "Damon is having a very hard time showing any signs of forgiveness to her, whereas the relationship between Stefan and Lily is very different. There’s a beautiful scene -- one of my favorites in the whole season -- between Stefan and Lily where he goes to her for advice, and they have this wonderful, sweet little talk. She gets to actually consider the choices, good or bad, that she’s made for them in their lives. I want desperately for her to have that with Damon, as well, and she tries."

"There is a scene between Damon and Lily, and it does not go the way she would like it to. She is genuinely trying to apologize to him in this episode, and it’s just not working. I think for Damon, it’s so much of an abandonment issue, and so any fault he finds in her is just magnified."

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