Upon finishing a Buffy rewatch last month, I find it appropriate to have some sort of roundup. I’ve decided to go the sad route for now and talk about all of the show’s heartbreaking moments. And if you know Joss Whedon, you’ll know there are a ton.
1. Jenny Calendar’s death
Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief. – Angelus
Yeah, yeah, we’ve been over this. Over the course of the first two seasons, Jenny became a well-liked character. The woman was smart, sassy, and tech-savvy. And she was taking a romantic interest in the old-fashioned Giles. When we saw the two awkwardly make plans together, we would have never guessed that she would be dead several episodes later. Jenny was the first real death of a main character on Buffy. I’m not sure what’s worse. How quickly Angelus snaps Jenny’s neck, or how he strategically places Jenny in Giles’ apartment and fools him into thinking she’s come to him for a romantic evening. Either way, this was pretty heartbreaking.
2. Xander and Cordelia’s breakup
Episode: “Lover’s Walk”
Xander, stay away from me. – Cordelia
In this episode, Cordelia and Oz finally found out about Xander and Willow’s fling. Oz tells Willow that he needs some time to think, but the two eventually reconcile and he forgives her. On the other hand, Cordelia can’t forgive Xander. I think this is pretty heartbreaking, as we finally see Cordelia break down and cry. This is one of the few moments we get to see underneath the wall Cordelia has built up. I will admit that out of all the couples on Buffy, this has to be the saddest breakup for me. While it was first just entertaining to see the two together, it got to a point where they really cared about each other. And then things get screwed up. Xander comes to visit Cordelia in the hospital and she yells at him to leave before breaking down and crying.
3. Buffy’s death
Episode: “Prophecy Girl”
Then that means you… When did you die? You never told me you died. – Joyce
This takes us all the way back to the season one finale. While no one probably expected Buffy to die, no one expected her to stay dead, as this was only the end of season one, and well, Buffy the Vampire Slayer probably wouldn’t be Buffy without the main character. Although Buffy seemed to overcome dying for a few minutes, it had some more longterm effects on her, seen in the season two opener.
4. When Oz leaves
Episode: “Wild at Heart”
The wolf is inside me all the time, and I don’t know where that line is anymore between me and it. And until I figure out what that means, I shouldn’t be around you, or anybody. – Oz
Seasons three and four mark the end of high school relationships. In Oz’s case, Seth Green wanted to leave the show. Doesn’t make it any less sad. Oz appeared in the very beginning of season four and left in “Wild at Heart” after succumbing to his wolf-like temptation to sleep with fellow werewolf Veruca. Oz decides that he needs time alone in order to take control of his wolf. Oz leaves Willow heartbroken, but during the very last scene, we realize this isn’t any easier on Oz. The guy is usually pretty quiet and not very willing to share his feelings. We see him break down a little before he drives away.
5. When Giles drugs Buffy and takes away her powers
You bastard. All this time, you saw what it was doing to me. All this time, and you didn’t say a word! – Buffy
Buffy starts to lose her slayer powers and struggles to get by. Puns aside, she feels helpless with nothing to defend her from the vampires she needs to fight off. It’s later revealed that Giles has been drugging her with something that takes away her powers. The council has set up a test for her. When a slayer turns 18, they must pass a test proving that she can get by without her super strength and reflexes. When she finds out, she’s outraged. This puts a severe strain on their relationship. “I don’t know you,” she says to him before storming off.
6. When Glory attacks Tara
Episode: “Tough Love”
Hey! Do you want to make it all better? If you tell me who the key really is I’ll let you go. Think about
it. You think your hand hurts? Imagine what you’ll feel with my fingers wiggling in your brain. – Glory
If there’s anyone that’s innocent throughout the series, it’s gotta be Tara. It makes it so much worse watching Glory stick her fingers into Tara’s brain. To make matters even worse, Tara and Willow had their first fight right before that. When Tara’s alone, Glory tracks her down because she thinks Tara is the Key. After learning that she’s not, she tries to get Tara to reveal the Key. After Tara stays silent, Glory “consumes” her, leaving her mentally ill. She eventually gets better, but suffers a worse fate. More on that later.
7. When Buffy sacrifices Angel
Angel’s the key. His blood will open the door to hell. Acathla opens his big mouth, creates a vortex, then only Angel’s blood will close it. One blow will send ’em both back to hell. But I strongly suggest that you get there before that happens. – Whistler
Angelus, Angel’s evil counterpart, opens a portal to a hellish dimension, and the only way to stop it is to kill him. Buffy finally comes to terms with what she has to do. But right before she’s about to kill Angelus, Willow is able to restore his soul. Angel is confused and has no recollection of what has happened. Buffy kisses Angel one last time before shoving a sword through him in order to save the world.
8. Kendra’s death
In case the curse does not succeed, this is my lucky stake. I have killed many vampires with it. I call it Mr. Pointy. – Kendra
In season three, Faith acted as a foil to Buffy’s character by being a slayer with absolutely no regard for rules. Kendra is the complete opposite. I think the saddest thing about Kendra’s death is that the character was very short-lived. Buffy, while not exactly on great terms with her, is happy to share slayer responsibilities with Kendra. In the season two finale, Kendra dies at the hands of Drusilla.
9. When Riley leaves
Episode: “Into the Woods”
If he’s not the guy, if what he needs from you just isn’t there, let him go. Break his heart, and make it a clean break. But if you really think you can love this guy … I’m talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred need … if you’re ready for that … then think about what you’re about to lose. – Xander
Okay, so maybe a lot of fans weren’t so upset to see Riley go. He was never exactly able to live up to Angel standards. Plus, the whole Initiative storyline wasn’t so great. But when it comes down to it, the guy never really did anything wrong in their relationship. It ended because Buffy wasn’t putting in enough effort. Riley was a good guy that was always there for Buffy. I think we can all see that in the end, she never really loved him like he loved her.
10. When Dawn finds out who she is
Episode: “Blood Ties”
What am I? Am I real? Am I anything? – Dawn
Speaking of disliked characters, we have Dawn. I like to argue that it’s not really Dawn’s fault that she’s so messed up. I mean, look at what she’s had to deal with. The girl finds out that her life and all her memories have been fabricated and that she’s really the Key, a mass of energy, wrapped up in human form. She becomes upset and angry after finding out that she’s only existed for six months. Imagine how you would feel.
11. Joyce’s death
Episode: “The Body”
But I don’t understand! I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s, there’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore! It’s stupid! It’s mortal and stupid! And, and Xander’s crying and not talking, and, and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why. – Anya
This is definitely the most explored death on Buffy. It was probably the most real and heartbreaking character death since Jenny in season two. After going through surgery to remove her tumor, Joyce is told that she will be fine. When Buffy comes home one day, she finds Joyce’s corpse on the couch. “The Body” is absolutely chilling and will have you crying with its stark realism and how accurately it portrays reactions to death. We see a distressed Buffy not knowing what to do when she finds her mother not breathing. She calls 911 and then calls Giles for help. She’s slow to accept the fact that her mother is dead and remains in shock. The whole thing is very unreal, but portrays perfectly how things like that play out in real life. By the end of the episode, we realize that even though Joyce appeared to be a minor character throughout the show, she really had a special place in Buffy’s life. And nothing will be the same after she’s gone. Kudos to Joss Whedon for choosing to film this episode without any music. It made the whole thing all the more grounding.
12. Buffy and Angel’s breakup
Episode: “The Prom”
Don’t what? Don’t love you? I’m sorry, nobody told me I had a choice! I can’t just change – I’ll never change. I want my life to be with you. – Buffy
Yeah, yeah, Spike and Buffy end up together towards the end of the series and there’s this whole Angel versus Spike mentality. A lot of fans feel that Spike was the better guy for Buffy, but it’s pretty obvious that in the first three seasons that Angel is the perfect guy – aside from the whole turning evil thing. The two are genuinely in love with each other and – sorry Spike fans, but – we never see Buffy experience this kind of love again. She even admits it herself years later in season seven by explaining to Xander that she had to kill Angel in “Becoming” even though she loved him more than anyone she will ever love in this world. She was taken aback when he wanted to break up with her, but she, and the rest of us, eventually see that it’s for the best, as the two don’t necessarily have a future together. And getting back to the fact that Buffy is still in high school, the fact that Angel chose to break up with her right before prom is pretty devastating too.
13. Buffy’s death… the second time around
Episode: “The Gift”
You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other. You have to be strong. Dawn, the hardest thing in this world… is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me. – Buffy
Talk about sad. The protagonist of the show has now died twice. So the first time she was dead for about a minute before coming back to life. No big deal. This time though… she sacrifices herself to not only save the world, but to protect her new little sister. You might hate Dawn, but this is pretty touching. The fact that this was supposed to be the end of the series makes it all the more sad. As the episode closes, we see Buffy’s friends gather around her body before cutting to a shot of Buffy’s grave, which reads “Buffy Anne Summers: She saved the world a lot.” How fitting.
14. Buffy’s resurrection
I don’t understand theology or dimensions, any of it really… but I think I was in heaven. And now I’m not. I was torn out of there. Pulled out, by my friends. Everything here is hard and bright and violent. Everything I feel, everything I touch. This is Hell. – Buffy
Talk about unsettling. You’d think that Buffy’s resurrection (both the character and the TV show) would be a happy thing. But that might prove otherwise, as even after the show was moved to UPN for its two final seasons, the sixth season was a bit lackluster. Oh, and we find out that Buffy went to heaven after she died, not some hellish dimension like her friends thought. So naturally she tries to spare their feelings by not telling them, but word eventually gets out. It would be nice if Buffy would be happy to be alive, but nothing comes that easy on Buffy. Despite the fact that her friends are happy to have her back, Buffy doesn’t like it one bit.
15. Giles and Robin attempt to kill Spike
Episode: “Lies My Parents Told Me”
No, I think you’ve taught me everything I need to know. – Buffy (to Giles)
So this one is a tad complicated. It turns out Principal Robin Wood’s mother was a slayer. And the First Evil appears in her form to tell him that Spike was the one to kill her. That’s pretty sad. But then you have Giles and Robin plotting against Buffy’s wishes to kill Spike. Add in a little bit of drama between Spike and his own mother (in flashback form of course) and you’ve got “Lies My Parents Told Me.” Spike, of course, is able to fight off Robin and escape his home before Buffy can get there. We see that Buffy has grown so attached to Spike that she issues Robin a warning: If he tries to hurt Spike again, Spike will kill him… and she’ll let him. To top it all off, Buffy shuts out Giles after learning that the two were in on it together.
16. Anya’s death
That’s my girl. Always doing the stupid thing. – Xander
Anya is abruptly killed during the final battle above the hellmouth. Emma Caulfield had stated that season seven would be her last season on Buffy before it was even announced that the season would be the show’s last. So it was natural for her to volunteer to be abruptly killed this season when Joss Whedon said it was something he wanted to do. Andrew lied to Xander by telling him Anya died protecting him. Sure, some might say his reaction was unrealistic considering his relationship with her, but how rocky and complicated things got between them toward the end might justify it.
17. Spike’s sacrifice
I love you. – Buffy
No you don’t. But thanks for saying it anyway. – Spike
So in the same episode, we’ve got Spike sacrificing himself to save the world. The guy’s come a long way from his bad guy roots. He’s given an amulet from Angel that’s supposed to help them with the final fight. In pure Spike fashion, he jokes that he feels like Elizabeth Taylor wearing it before he’s sacrificed. Buffy attempts to save him, but Spike convinces her to go. Now for the past few years, all Spike has wanted is to hear Buffy admit that she has feelings for him. When she finally tells him that she loves him, he acknowledges that she doesn’t, but thanks her for trying to make him feel better. Now this death might have been a little sadder had it not been announced that James Marsters would be joining the cast of Angel in the fall after Buffy left TV.
18. Xander leaves Anya at the altar
Episode: “Hell’s Bells”
This is the happiest day of my life. – Anya
So these two were never my favorite, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. I mean, Xander had no legitimate reason for leaving Anya on their wedding day. Maybe he was freaked out by the thought that he and Anya might end up like his parents, sure. But he should know better than that. Anya, a former revenge demon who didn’t believe in love, had finally fallen in love herself. Only to be left heartbroken on her wedding day.
19. The rise of Angelus
Dream on schoolgirl. Your boyfriend is dead and you’re all gonna join him. – Angelus
Girl likes boy. Girl loses her virginity to boy. Boy turns out to not be the same guy the girl knew. In this case, the boy turns into an evil vampire hellbent on killing the girl and all her friends. Buffy had just celebrated her seventeenth birthday and she spent the night with Angel. Because they slept together and Angel had a true moment of happiness, his soul was taken away. Buffy gives up everything for the guy she loves and this is what he gives her in return. After fighting him off, she spends the evening watching a movie with her mother. The episode is aptly titled “Innocence,” as Buffy has given up her innocence by sleeping with Angel, and Angel has lost his innocence along with his soul. But we see some shred of innocence left in Buffy as she takes comfort in her mother that night.
20. Tara’s death
Episode: “Seeing Red”
Your shirt… – Tara
Killing Tara is like killing Bambi’s mom. Or leaving Simba to live without Mufasa. You just can’t do that. But someone does. Warren accidentally kills Tara when he tries to kill Buffy. Maybe Willow’s psychotic magic-induced mental breakdown took a bit away from the emotional trauma caused by Tara’s death, but let’s not forget what happened before she did that. Willow and Tara were finally making up after their breakup earlier in the season. Things were going great and then she was shot. For me, this has to be the saddest death on the show. Tara had finally been accepted into the Scooby Gang. She and Willow were practically meant for each other. The girl was totally innocent. She was the moral compass of the show, especially standing next to someone like morally bankrupt season six Willow. Having Amber Benson appear in the opening credits for her first (and last) time for this episode adds pressure to the burn. I think we can all agree that over ten years later, we’re still mourning this loss.