Hey, did you know that Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned 18 last week? I know, I can’t believe it either! Let’s celebrate this spectacular anniversary the Joss Whedon way: with tears and heartbreak. Here are the 18 saddest moments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Please feel free to cry in the comments.
18. Buffy vs. her friends in “The Wish”
Nothing like an alternate dimension episode where no one knows each other and everyone is at each other’s throats. This episode’s final fight ends with alternate universe Buffy (and Oz) battling it out against vampire Xander and Willow, and watching these best friends duke it out with feeling nothing but hatred (especially with the dramatic background music)? Pretty damn upsetting.
17. Dawn finds out she’s The Key
Hey, remember when Joss Whedon introduced a brand new sister for Buffy with no explanation in season 5? And then we discovered that she was actually a mystical key turned human for the Slayer to protect? And then Dawn found out, cut herself and burnt up her old diaries because she wasn’t a thing? Yeah. I’m generally not the biggest Dawn fan—she has her good moments, but she also has a lot of annoying younger sister moments—but discovering you aren’t even who you thought you were and your whole life is basically a lie? That’s just…awful.
16. The cruel use of “Goodbye to You” by Michelle Branch
“Tabula Rasa” is a comedic episode with one of the most depressing endings ever. Tara breaks up with Willow. Giles goes back to England. Buffy is still using Spike. Everything is terrible, and Michelle Branch wants to make sure you know just how terrible everything is.
I love Willow and Xander’s friendship and how they’ve known each other since basically forever. Hell, in an alternate universe where Buffy never came to Sunnydale, they’re still together as vampires. So even when Xander is injured and short one eye, it was easy to play it off at first. He was even cracking jokes about it… that is, until Willow can’t hold back her tears anymore at seeing her oldest friend in such a terrible state.
14. Willow (as Warren) apologizing to Tara
Season 7 is everyone’s least favourite. Sure, season 6 gets put down, but it definitely has a lot of high points (“Once More With Feeling,” evil Willow, “Tabula Rasa”). Season 7, however, is a little bit of a mess. That being said, I always found the end of “The Killer In Me” to be particularly gut-wrenching. Willow is magically transformed into Warren after kissing Kennedy, and after spending the whole episode trying to change back while slowly becoming Warren, Willow breaks down, apologizing to Tara for forgetting her and begging her to come back. Of course, thanks to Kennedy’s help by way of a kiss, she changes back and finally starts to heal and move on… still, I don’t think anyone had an easy time getting over Tara. But don’t worry, we’ll get to that.
13. Dawn snuggling up to the Buffybot
The opening to season 6 revealed that the Scooby Gang was pretty much pretending all was well. They have robo-Buffy to sit in for actual Buffy until they can resurrect her. Buffybot patrols, she trains, she’s active in Dawn’s life…hell, she even powers down for the night in Buffy’s old bed, where Dawn sneaks in to cuddle up to the lifeless imitation of her dead sister, because all is most definitely not well.
12. Anya not understanding death
This one’s pretty much a classic sad Buffy moment, and maybe it’s because I’m not as huge an Anya fan as most of the fanbase, but while I found it moving, I never found it…the most moving part of that episode. Anya’s only been human for a few short years, and when she’s finally faced with human mortality, she has questions. Very, very upsetting questions that no one can answer for her. Joyce Summers is just gone, she’s not coming back, and Anya doesn’t understand why.
11. Willow finding the right clothes for Joyce’s funeral
I think Alyson Hannigan wins for best crier. Not that the others don’t have their moments, but whenever Willow was brought to tears, you knew things were bad. Watching her try to come up with the appropriate outfit for seeing Buffy at the morgue after the death of Joyce Summers is just heartbreaking in its confusion. The clothes, of course, don’t matter. The fact that she has to be supportive while not knowing what she’s doing is the real issue at hand.
10. Buffy didn’t come back wrong
A lot has been said about Buffy’s exile from heaven and her response to it as a metaphor for depression, including her relationship with Spike as a way to cope with it. When she discovers that Spike can hurt her, it’s a shock…but also in some ways a relief. It shows that she came back wrong and that’s why she can’t just be the way she was. So when Tara reveals that Buffy didn’t come back wrong—that her resurrection was just enough to confuse the chip in Spike’s head, but that’s pretty much it—Buffy finally cracks.
9. “Who’s going to take care of us?”
Buffy taking up the mantle of adult of the house while ignoring her younger sister pretty much comes to a head in this episode. Dawn accuses Buffy of not missing their mother. Buffy—tearfully—points out that Joyce isn’t around to take care of things and now that responsibility falls on her. And then everyone, including the viewers at home, just start bawling.
8. Sacrificing Angel
Full confession: While I do think that Spike is a more interesting character over all, you’ll have to pry Bangel from my cold, undead hands. That’s right, in spite of all the drama, I love Buffy with Angel so much more. So watching Buffy sacrifice him to save the world? Especially when he’s actually Angel again and has no memory of the past year? My heart broke.
7. Buffy does the dishes
This is one of the first moments where Buffy starts being the grown up of the house. Joyce is still alive, but the brain tumor is making her have strange and occasionally mean outbursts. She puts both her little sister and her mother to bed, and then goes downstairs to a pile of dishes in the sink…at which point she cranks up the radio and sobs.
6. Xander leaving Anya at the altar
They were so happy! They still loved each other! Why?
The short answer is Joss Whedon. The long answer is that Xander’s alcoholic and abusive family is at the root of so many of his issues, so him worrying about being the same kind of husband that his father is…is kind of understandable.
5. The death of Jenny Calendar
Giles is my favourite fictional adult. And maybe now that I’m technically an adult I shouldn’t be thinking about people in terms of “favourite adults,” but hey, that’s just how it is. He wasn’t always perfect, but as a Watcher he had the best interest of the world at heart, and as Buffy’s mentor and later father figure, he always cared about Buffy above all else. So having him come home to find that Angelus had killed his girlfriend and left her in his bed….ouch. Buffy dissuading him from the revenge plot that was going to get him very dead? Double ouch.
4. The Yellow Crayon
The power of friendship saves the day, and not in that kind of metaphorical, super-Buffy at the end of season 4 kind of way! Willow, still very homicidal after Tara’s death, is talked down by her oldest friend. After all, Willow’s probably the closest thing to a real family he’s ever had—where else would he go if the world was going to end? And Willow, finally seeing the ending the world won’t make her pain go away, breaks down sobbing.
I feel like Willow sobbing is a trend on this list.
3. Buffy jumping
At the end of “The Gift,” Buffy sacrifices herself so Dawn can live, oddly enough giving her little sister advice that Buffy herself is desperately going to need in the year to come:
Oh yeah, she saved the world a lot.
2. “Your shirt…”
Everything about this death was heartbreaking. The fact that Tara and Willow had just gotten back together. The fact that Tara was probably the nicest person in the entire gang. The fact that it was so sudden and unlike Buffy’s death, completely permanent. The fact that she wasn’t even the intended target. Everything about this death was horrible, and while I love Dark Willow immensely, I think I miss Tara more.
1. The Body
I’m sorry, Tara fans. But nothing on this show will ever be more gut wrenching than Buffy coming home to find her mother dead on the couch.
This episode regularly makes it to the top of everyone’s lists, and there’s a good reason for it…it’s pretty much perfectly done. It’s not happy, of course, but the pieces all fit together so well: The lack of music, Buffy imagining that she saved Joyce after all, not hearing Dawn’s reaction but seeing it, the fact that there’s really no monster of the week (no, using a vampire to get the two Summers children alone with their mother’s body doesn’t count). It’s a well-concocted blend of absolute sadness that’s guaranteed to make us cry for years to come.
Obviously, I’ve missed a lot. You don’t know how hard it was to get this list down to 18. I missed a lot: Giles poisoning Buffy, Buffy telling Giles she’s too young to die in season one, Faith literally beating herself up in that body swap episode… so come yell at me in the comments. What super sad moment did I forget?