Matt Davis as Alaric Saltzman on The Vampire Diaries

The Character Assassination of The Vampire Diaries’ Alaric Saltzman

Pour one out for Alaric Saltzman, and the death of the character he used to be.

When it comes to fan rankings of Legacies characters, Matt Davis’ Alaric Saltzman consistently tends to land near the bottom of everyone’s lists—and for good reason. He’s a frustratingly irresponsible father figure in the lives of his daughters Lizzie and Josie, and his single-minded hatred for the Mikaelsons bleeds into virtually every conversation he has with Hope regarding her late father.

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As difficult as it is to believe, though, there was a time that Alaric wasn’t one of the most hated characters in the Vampire Diaries universe—in fact, quite the opposite. Before he became the stick-in-the-mud borderline absentee father fans know him as today, Alaric Saltzman was one of the most well-loved characters in the early seasons of the Vampire Diaries, which would go on to run for 8 wildly successful seasons. So what happened to the rugged history teacher with a heart of gold from season one? How did we go from the entire cast of characters gathering to mourn his death in season two, to fans actively rooting for his death on Legacies?

When Alaric first joined the show in season one episode nine, “History Repeating,” he was a rugged, hard-drinking history teacher moonlighting as a wannabe Van Helsing, having arrived in Mystic Falls with the intent of killing Damon, who he believed murdered his wife. However, despite his murderous agenda towards TVD‘s resident dreamboat, it quickly became clear that Alaric was a compassionate, dry-humored, down to earth presence whose role on the series morphed into a pseudo father figure for Elena and Jeremy. Alaric’s out-of-towner perspective on all things Mystic Falls made him a breath of fresh air when he joined the series—not only was he a much-needed friendly face and a break from all the vampire chaos, but he also served as a welcome voice of reason in the Gilbert household, and quickly struck up an unlikely friendship with the then morally-dubious vampire Damon Salvatore. 

A stark contrast to Damon’s bad-boy persona, Alaric’s fierce loyalty and unwavering moral compass made the two of them the perfect odd couple. Once they got over their reservations about being on completely opposite sides of the vampire/hunter spectrum, their easy banter, similar senses of humor, propensity to drink, and shared interest in protecting Elena made Ric the no-brainer choice for one of the first true friendships Damon had—a major step in helping to ground and humanize him, especially considering at that point in the series, Damon was still very much a ‘bad guy’. Alaric also slotted comfortably into the series as a parental figure for Elena and Jeremy, especially after Jenna’s death at the end of season two. Ric, having taken up the new ‘responsible adult’ role, was constantly looking out for them, putting his life on the line, and going so far as to throw himself in front of a moving car to protect Jeremy. 

Matt Davis as Alaric Saltzman and Iam Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore drink at the bar in The Vampire Diaries

Alaric’s run on the show, though, seemed to come to a tragic end when he was caught up in Esther Mikaelson’s revenge plot. Through a complicated turn of events involving white oak stakes, magic rings, and Original witches, Alaric resigned to let himself die rather than be turned into an Original vampire that would kill Elena. The scene where the entire cast gathers to say goodbye to him one last time and his subsequent ‘death’ is one of the most heartbreaking and tragic sequences in TVD history—and though through a twist of fate and more magic he doesn’t end up actually dying until the end of season three, Alaric’s departure seemed like a heartbreaking but satisfying end for a character who devoted his life to looking out for others. 

As fans of The Vampire Diaries know, though, that was hardly the end of Alaric’s journey—except this time, when the character returned for good at the end of season five, Alaric’s personality began the slow and steady decline into the one fans know (and hate) on Legacies today. One of his first acts as a resurrected vampire was the decision to compel away all of Elena’s memories of Damon—a bizarre choice that not only felt like a severe betrayal of his best friend, but also the kind of irresponsible thing season one Alaric would’ve warned Elena against doing. 

The later seasons of TVD also make the incredibly frustrating decision to slowly but surely destroy the Damon/Alaric friendship that was so integral to both characters in the early seasons. By the time the series finale rolls around, Damon and Ric are barely even on speaking terms, and the dissolution of their friendship was as unnecessary as it was upsetting. Though his character in season six wasn’t all bad—Alaric’s romance with Jo was a short but sweet bright spot before he lost all semblance of the man fans knew and loved for good. Things took an even worse turn when the show cooked up the insane subplot of Caroline having Alaric’s baby. Granted, Caroline’s pregnancy was necessitated by actress Candice King’s real-life pregnancy, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable to watch Alaric slowly fall in love with one of his former students—his pseudo-daughter’s best friend, at that. TVD didn’t need to choose that plotline to explain Caroline being pregnant.

While Alaric seemed destined to become a father since season one, the manner in which the show goes about creating his children is awkward at best and borderline predatory at worst—especially with the entirely unnecessary added element of Alaric developing romantic feelings for Caroline. Thankfully, he never acts on them, but Alaric being even remotely interested in Caroline feels like an utter betrayal of the warm comforting father figure the series initially positioned him as. Still, all wasn’t lost *quite* yet – even if the circumstances surrounding their birth were less-than-ideal, TVD finally giving Alaric children of his own in the form of twins Lizzie and Josie felt like the natural progression for a character who had been a guiding presence in Elena’s life since day one.

So, with Alaric finally having kids of his own, we’d assume that once they’re all grown up on The Vampire Diaries spinoff Legacies, the franchise would finally explore how good he is as a dad, right? Wrong. In what’s perhaps the most infuriating writing decision out of all the ways The Vampire Diaries betrays his character, Legacies transforms Alaric into a neglectful father who’s hardly ever there for his daughters when it counts. Turning the man who was willing to jump in front of a car for a boy who wasn’t even his own kid into the type of dad who pays more attention to Hope Mikaelson than his own daughters is such an egregious assassination of his character, it feels like Alaric isn’t even the same man we met back in season one of The Vampire Diaries.

Granted, the Alaric we knew and loved from the early seasons of The Vampire Diaries isn’t gone for good. In between Tribid/Heretic drama and Buffy the Vampire Slayer plot rip-offs, Legacies has recently seemed to recognize its own failures with Alaric and taken (tiny) steps to correct itself, allowing glimmers of the old Alaric to shine through every now and again. His deathbed apology/heart-to-heart with Lizzie in early season four was a much-needed moment of self-awareness that reminded us Alaric wasn’t always neglectful parent – but those glimpses of the old Ric are far and few between, and seem to only exist to appease fan backlash as opposed to restoring the character for good.

The gradual destruction of Alaric’s character also isn’t helped by actor Matt Davis’ antics outside of the show—Davis clashed several times very loudly and very publicly with Paul Wesley (Stefan) on Twitter over the 2020 Presidential debate and ensuing election, and took to blocking fans and engaging in bickering left and right whenever his political leanings were brought up online. He then followed that up with a number of xenophobic (now deleted) tweets and Twitter headers blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic—a series of increasingly bigoted altercations which further soured fans to his character, who at that point had already begun his descent into the Alaric we barely recognize today on Legacies.

In the wake of The Vampire Diaries’ horrible mistreatment of Bonnie Bennett and its ignoring of her book-canon relationship with Damon, it was clear that this show’s writing struggled to do justice to characters whose last names aren’t “Salvatore” or “Gilbert”. As Legacies’ lone holdover character from The Vampire Diaries, Alaric’s ongoing character assassination is one of the more disheartening and dismaying developments since TVD ended – it almost feels like a desecration (no pun intended) of the show’s memory, and the character Ric used to be. Transforming Elena and Jeremy’s charming, easy-to-love father figure and Damon’s drinking buddy into a neglectful father and stick-in-the-mud headmaster on Legacies didn’t have to happen like this.

Between the infuriating combination of poor writing and Matt Davis’ behind-the-scenes clownery, The Vampire Diaries and Legacies accomplished the astonishing feat of turning one of the franchise’s most early beloved characters into the most unequivocally despised ones. Pour a bourbon on the rocks in loving memory of Alaric Saltzman, and the death of the wonderful character he used to be.

(featured image: The CW)

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Lauren Coates
Lauren Coates (she/her)is a freelance film/tv critic and entertainment journalist, who has been working in digital media since 2019. Besides writing at The Mary Sue, her other bylines include Nerdist, Paste, RogerEbert, and The Playlist. In addition to all things sci-fi and horror, she has particular interest in queer and female-led stories. When she's not writing, she's exploring Chicago, binge-watching Star Trek, or planning her next trip to the Disney parks. You can follow her on twitter @laurenjcoates