Katherine Pierce, born Katerina Petrova, is a 500-year-old Bulgarian vampire.
See how cool that sentence sounds? Well, “cool” is a great word to sum up Katherine Pierce. “Badass” is another one. But the word Katherine chooses for herself? “Survivor.”
What I admire most about Katherine is how resilient she is. In 1490, Katherine, then still Katerina, gave birth to an illegitimate daughter. Katerina’s father snatches the baby away the moment she is born, forcing her into adoption, then disowns and exiles his daughter to England. Katerina quickly adapts to her new surroundings and meets two vampire noblemen, Klaus and Elijah. Always clever, she soon realizes she is a supernatural entity known as a Doppelganger, and that Klaus plans to sacrifice her to break a curse. Without missing a beat, Katerina runs, tricks another vampire into feeding her blood, and then hangs herself, thereby turning herself into a vampire and making her blood useless for the sacrificial ritual. The consequences of Katerina’s stubborn bravery will haunt her for the rest of her life: Klaus slaughters her entire family and forces her to live on the run for 500 years. Needless to say, she’s been through hell, but she continues to bounce back.
Were she a superhero, this would totally be Katherine’s origin story, but she’s not, and this backstory is not revealed until the audience is familiar with Katherine. Without this context to humanize her, at first Katherine appears to be a selfish, ruthless, and manipulative vampire ready to sacrifice anyone to save her own skin simply because she’s a terrible person. Once we learn her history, her personality makes perfect sense – 500 years running from a vicious killer would mess with anyone’s head. Just look at some of the things Katherine says:
“I will always look out for myself.”
“Better you die than I.”
Katherine has been forced to lead a very lonely existence, and it shows in everything she says and does. Cruelty and selfishness are traits she’s been forced to adopt in the name of self-preservation. Despite this, Katherine still retains hints of the optimistic, romantic – and even forgiving – young girl she once was. One of her many motivations includes getting back together with Stefan, whom she fell in love with and turned into a vampire in the 1860s. At one point she enters into a relationship with Elijah, one of the vampires who was complicit in hunting her down. After he unceremoniously dumps her, she resumes chasing Stefan again. It’s a fascinating and endearing trait in a woman who is otherwise cynical and jaded.
I would actually argue that Katherine’s faith in love borders on the delusional, but it makes sense, when you remember that, before she went through hell, she had this to say:
“If we cease to believe in love, why would we want to live?”