The saga of Buffy the Vampire Slayer lasted seven seasons, and in that time we got to know a great many characters, many of whom ended up dead. And while some of them managed to go out in a blaze of glory, others went out with a fizzle. For better or worse, many long-time players and fan-favorites didn’t get the proper send-off they deserved. What follows is my list for the top five worst deaths in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
5. Jonathan Levinson: “Conversations with Dead People”
Poor Jonathan. Poor sad, pathetic Jonathan. First appearing in season two, this very minor recurring character mostly hung out in the background, didn’t contribute much, and was largely ridiculed by his peers. Longing for acceptance, he eventually turned to the dark arts and managed to become a halfway decent sorcerer. Even still, the only time this kid got any respect was in season four when he cast a spell creating a reality in which he was a world famous demon hunter, essentially turning this small wonder into the greatest American hero. Needless to say it didn’t last and Jonathan was back to his nerdy, non-heroic self by the end of the episode. He would not be seen again until season six, where after several years of wallowing in self-pity, Jonathan finally got a substantial role, albeit this time as a villain. He joined up with robotics-expert Warren and pop-culture aficionado Andrew to form the Trio, and through sheer boredom and sadness decided to take down the Slayer. In the end, things went horribly wrong for the Trio and after the death of Warren at the hands of a rage-induced Willow, Jonathan escaped to Mexico with Andrew to make a new life for themselves.
But their journey didn’t end there as the nerdy duo would return to Sunnydale early in season seven in an attempt to locate an opening to the Hellmouth. Seeking redemption, Jonathan wanted to locate the Seal of Danzalthar and notify Buffy of its whereabouts. Andrew, however, had been seduced back to the dark side by the First Evil, taking the form of his late pal Warren, and murdered Jonathan in cold blood, attempting to use said blood to open the seal. Andrew’s story would continue as he reluctantly joined the heroes for one last stand against the First, but sadly, Jonathan’s story ended right then and there. While he did find a kind of redemption for himself, his attempt at one, last heroic act was thwarted, resulting in the first in a long line of deaths that would accrue quickly during the final season as the writers seemed rushed to tie up as many loose ends and character arcs as they could.
4. Pretty much every other Slayer: Various Episodes
After Buffy’s first death, a new Slayer was “activated” or called to take up the mantel. This girl was Kendra, and while she was pretty great, her time as a Slayer was all-too brief and she was killed by bad-girl vamp Drusilla after only a handful of appearances. She would soon be replaced by Faith, who was great and all, but it would’ve been nice to see Kendra get a little more development before getting cast out.
Several years after Kendra’s death, season seven introduced us to a number of new characters, much to the chagrin of long-time viewers who saw their favorites relegated to the background much of the time. Many of these new characters were “Potential Slayers”, girls who were in training to take up the mantle in the event that the current Slayer was to die. While we don’t spend significant time with a lot of them, a select few had substantial roles at one point or another. Early in the season, we meet the first group comprised of Kennedy, Molly, and Annabelle, the latter of whom is killed by the end of their first episode. The delightfully British Molly, arguably the most likable of the three, makes it almost to the end of the series, only to be senselessly murdered by psycho villain Caleb, along with another Potential named Diane, who received a name, a death, and little else. The last Potential to die was Amanda, an awkward girl introduced as a schoolmate of Buffy’s sister Dawn, much to Dawn’s chagrin (as she secretly hoped to be chosen). Amanda’s role decreased with subsequent appearances but she remained a fun and amusing character, until her shocking, blink-and-you-miss-it death in the finale.
3. Anya Jenkins/Anyanka: “Chosen”
Anya was a polarizing character. To some, her blatant indifference and lack of a filter made her seem irritating, while others found her behavior endearing, none more so than her on-again, off-again beau, and almost-husband, Xander Harris. What started as a two-time guest-spot turned into an ongoing role when the former vengeance demon joined the cast full-time in season four. Anya’s story arc, like many others in the final years, went a little darker when she went from happily engaged to spurned bride, and finally back to her vengeance-demony self. She eventually made amends with her former fiancée and joined up with the Scoobies for what would be her last hurrah. In the closing moments of the final battle, Anya was struck down from behind by a sword-wielding acolyte, dying immediately. We last see her among the dead as our heroes escape.
Much like Anya herself, her demise was quick and to the point but I still feel, many years later, that such an important character to the series deserved a little more fanfare. Like Jonathan’s demise, Anya’s death seemed like a very abrupt way to end her arc.
2. Tara Maclay: “Seeing Red”
A staple of the series since the fourth season, Tara’s role in the series grew from quiet, shy college student to powerful witch and lover to Willow. Even as the latter’s reliance on magic got out of hand, Tara was ever the loyal and loving girlfriend. As season six began to draw to a close, there was definitely a sense that something very bad was brewing beneath the surface. The lighthearted nature of our villainous Trio had turned deadly and after defeating Warren at his most recent evil ploy, Buffy shares a tender moment with Xander, while closeby our favorite Wiccan couple enjoy some innocent time alone. Just as the episode seems over, Warren appears, not happy about his recent defeat. He pulls out a gun and fires. In a shocking display of violence, the first bullet strikes its intended target (Buffy) while another stray bullet flies through the window. We see blood splattered on Willow, a look of shock as she sees the bullet hole in Tara’s chest. “Your…shirt,” Tara whispers, before falling to the floor. In the closing moments we see Willow cradling her lover’s lifeless body just before she snaps and goes into dark magic-overload. By the next episode, Buffy’s all healed up, but Tara isn’t so lucky.
While her death may have been the catalyst for one of the series’ strongest story arcs and most emotional finales, killing off Tara just seemed… wrong. Was her death really necessary? Tara getting hurt, maybe even rendered comatose by the bullet would have been enough to justify the wrath of Darth Rosenberg. As is often the case in the Whedonverse, the best couples never stay together long (death almost always comes to claim one of them). But Tara deserved better. Actress Amber Benson appeared in nearly every episode since early season four and had only been billed as a guest-star before finally getting her name in the opening credits. Fitting how her only episode as a regular would be her last. Tara’s death could have been so much stronger, perhaps taking a bullet for Willow or even Buffy, an act that could have had even greater emotional weight. Her death ultimately had meaning, but it still seemed like a cruel way to dispatch a fan-favorite character.
1. Cordelia Chase: “You’re Welcome” (Angel Season 5)
Okay, this one’s cheating a little since Cordi’s death didn’t actually happen on Buffy, but as one of the original Scooby gang, as well as Team Angel’s first recruit, Cordelia’s swan song is too important (and just too plain stupid) to ignore. Cordi started out as a stuck-up princess and rival to new girl Buffy Summers, before becoming a reluctant member of the Scooby gang, girlfriend to Xander, and occasional hero in her own right. When she made the move to LA after graduation, she went on to become Angel’s closest friend and confidant, and one of the few characters to rival Buffy for his affection. She went from investigative partner to otherworldly being and back again before succumbing to the tragedy of rushed script-writing and behind-the-scenes drama.
Despite her importance to the series, actress Charisma Carpenter had gotten pregnant, effectively altering plans for how the fourth season of Angel would play out. Rather than write her out completely, the writers incorporated her pregnancy into the show, making Cordelia “give birth” to a supernatural deity named Jasmine, thus making her the villain for the remainder of the season and rendering Cordelia comatose. When season five aired, Ms. Carpenter was no longer a part of the show and Cordi wouldn’t be seen again until her unexpected arrival in the show’s 100th episode, which would also turn out to be her last. After waking from her coma, Cordelia returns to Angel, who is suffering a crisis of faith and needs to be placed back “on the right path.” After restoring Angel’s resolve and helping him defeat an enemy from their past, the two friends share a long-awaited kiss and Cordelia disappears. Moments later, he receives a call stating that Cordelia never work up from her coma and that she had died that morning.
While her death was ultimately well-received, everything leading up it just seemed forced and borderline offensive to fans who had grown to care for Cordelia Chase after eight years. The girl went from a one-dimensional would-be socialite to a full-fledged Scoobie, before becoming a genuine hero. Dying off-screen after being in a coma was essentially a slap in the face to longtime viewers and even casual fans can all agree, Cordelia deserved better.