The Vampire Diaries is well-known for its drama as well as shocking plot twists and turns. I suppose it’s not accurate to say these are my 5 favorite moments from the show, since several (most) of them are quite sad occasions, so how about this: Here are the top five moments that stood out for me as being especially poignant, meaningful, or outrageous.

Spoilers ahead!

5. The dead come back to life in “Ghost World.”

I’ve mentioned before that I love a holiday-themed episode, and this touching Halloween show did not disappoint. The Vampire Diaries excels at portraying sad, wistful moments, and there were plenty to go around. The ghosts that return to Mystic Falls all have unfinished business: Lexi returns to help Stefan detox from human blood. Mason gives Damon the first inkling of how to kill an Original (though Damon doesn’t understand the message before Mason disappears). Anna says goodbye to Jeremy, and Grams lends Bonnie her strength and confidence. Though the ghosts have a very real and corporeal presence, it’s clear that each main character is being haunted by their own demons instead. This is driven home when Elena refuses to love the ghost of the old Stefan she knew, forcing present-day Stefan to pull himself out of the funk he’s in. We’re witnessing the beginning of many new arcs –  Stefan proving himself to Elena again, Elena toughening herself both mentally and physically, the search for a weapon against Klaus – and yet it’s done subtly and naturally.

4. Tyler becomes a new breed.

Things aren’t looking good for the gang in “The Reckoning” episode. Klaus is determined to start his own crew of vampire/werewolf hybrids, but he can’t seem to keep any of them alive. He feeds his blood to Tyler and kills him to push Bonnie to figure out the problem with the hybrids, but it’s actually Klaus himself who realizes that Elena’s blood is the key to transitioning them. Tyler is the first successfully created hybrid, sired to Klaus and compelled to do whatever he asks. Tyler is a new creature, which brings about all sorts of new problems, including his new love for the diabolical Original.

3. Mr. Forbes chooses death.

When Insane Alaric goes on a secret killing spree in “Bringing Out the Dead,” Caroline’s father Bill becomes a target. He already has vampire blood in his system thanks to the healing touch of Dr. Fell, so when Alaric kills him, he wakes up as a vampire. Bill refuses to feed, choosing instead to waste away and die a human death. He had previously made it clear to Caroline that he hated all vampires, but before he dies he tells her how proud he is of her and what she’s become. It’s a touching moment, especially since Caroline has struggled so much with vampire life. Mr. Forbes’ death stands out too because he dies as a human, by his own choice. That doesn’t happen much in Mystic Falls, and it’s a poignant reminder that not everyone gets caught up in supernatural drama.

2. Ripper turns heads – and then drops them on the floor.

Prior to the season opener “The Birthday,” we had seen just glimpses of Stefan as his cold-blooded vampire alter ego The Ripper. So when he corners two young ladies with orders to kill, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Would he kill them quickly? Or would he play with his food? The Ripper turned out to be a lusty binge drinker, making a general mess of the girls and then propping them back up as if nothing had happened, as if they were merely asleep. It’s Damon and Alaric who discover the girls posed primly on a couch – until one girl’s head lands at their feet. It’s gross, it’s silly, and I loved it. Ripper Stefan was a stark contrast to romantic, broody Stefan, and this moment set the tone nicely for the challenge Elena would face in winning him back.

1. Elena sacrifices herself.

Of course the first spot must be reserved for the very end of the season finale “The Departed.” In a move reminiscent of her father a few years before, Elena forces Stefan to save a drowning Matt before she will allow herself to be rescued. By the time Stefan returns for her, it’s too late. At the hospital, though, the sneaky Dr. Fell reveals that she had healed Elena with vampire blood earlier that day. Vamp blood in the system + death = vampire Elena, a fate she has been fighting since season one.  What will this mean for her? Can she resist sinking her fangs into a human? And how is she going to watch Jeremy age and die while she stays eighteen forever? This moment is definitely going to shake things up for the next season.

What were your top five moments in season three?