Inflammation crucially drives atherosclerosis from disease initiation to the emergence of clinical complications. Targeting pivotal inflammatory pathways without compromising the host defense could compliment therapy with lipid-lowering agents, anti-hypertensive treatment, and lifestyle interventions to address the substantial residual cardiovascular risk that remains beyond classical risk factor control. Detailed understanding of the intricate immune mechanisms that propel plaque instability and disruption is indispensable for the development of novel therapeutic concepts. In this review, we provide an overview on the role of key immune cells in plaque inception and progression, and discuss recently identified maladaptive immune phenomena that contribute to plaque destabilization, including epigenetically programmed trained immunity in myeloid cells, pathogenic conversion of autoreactive regulatory T-cells and expansion of altered leukocytes due to clonal hematopoiesis. From a more global perspective, the article discusses how systemic crises such as acute mental stress or infection abruptly raise plaque vulnerability and summarizes recent advances in understanding the increased cardiovascular risk associated with COVID-19 disease. Stepping outside the box, we highlight the role of gut dysbiosis in atherosclerosis progression and plaque vulnerability. The emerging differential role of the immune system in plaque rupture and plaque erosion as well as the limitations of animal models in studying plaque disruption are reviewed.