Fans of both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff show Angel are well-versed in the concept of tragic character death. Folks watching one or both shows live didn’t have Tumblr to vent their pain, either. Both series are based in a horror/fantasy universe where almost anything is possible, including vampires, demons, and other creatures roaming around California. Therefore, the ways in which people meet their doom tend to be more tragic in nature. If you happen to be a horror fan, then death isn’t something you’re unfamiliar with, either.
Whether it’s a character you love, despise, or something in between, tragedy still registers. Naturally, death is part of life and the moment we’re born, we’re already dying. It’s morbid, but nobody said truthful statements can’t be morbid in nature. Right? And while it may seem silly to some to cry and or scream (maybe a combination of the two) over a fictional character, it’s certainly not silly to me.
All the deaths I’m about to list are what I believe to be the most tragic through the Buffyverse. I’m exploring both Buffy and Angel to tally this list up because I’m dedicated like that. Each of these deaths had an impact on at least one character in some capacity—and potentially affected their respective shows moving forward. So without further ado, the most tragic deaths in the Buffyverse await you.
Jenny Calendar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Despite Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) brief death in season 1, the series hadn’t experienced much in the way of deaths that rattled the cage. At least not until Jenny Calendar (Robia LaMorte) was savagely killed in “Passion” (season 2, episode 17) by Angelus (David Boreanaz). She may not have been a major character to most, but she was close to Buffy and co. Her death served as a shocking (as well as sad) moment for live watchers of the series at the time. Jenny’s chase scene makes it seem like she’ll survive and be a final girl. When she’s murdered by having her neck snapped, it’s intense and disturbing because of the suddenness.
Angel season 1 is rarely anyone’s favorite of the series, but there are some crucial moments that do have a ripple effect. Doyle’s (Glenn Quinn) character served as a buffer between Angel (David Boreanaz) and the human world. After venturing out on his own to LA, Angel found himself without many allies until Doyle appeared in his life. And from there they formed an investigation service with Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter). Therefore, his sacrifice in “Hero” (season 1, episode 9) is heartbreaking for both Angel and Cordelia. He dies what is considered a “hero’s death” and the unnecessary nature of it is even more tragic.
Joyce Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
It’s not just the tragedy of Buffy and her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) losing their mother that makes Joyce’s (Christine Sutherland) death so tragic. Her death changes the remainder of the series for all the characters. Joyce served as an anchor for many of the people in Buffy’s life, so the loss is felt by everybody. “The Body” (season 5, episode 16) is one of the best episodes in genre television as well as television period. Her death is the focus of an entire episode, and the nature of grief is explored so perfectly. Tragedy in terms of death is about what we can’t get back and what is lost now.
Buffy’s 2nd death (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
The fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is without a doubt one of its best. It’s also remembered as the season that Buffy sacrificed herself and almost stayed dead because the episode was written as a series finale. “The Gift” (season 5, episode 22) is a tremendous episode with emotional stakes as Buffy’s sister is on the cusp of being sacrificed by season 5 Big Bad, Glory (Clare Kramer). Glory’s desire to go home has consequences for everyone because a portal between horrifying dimensions will open as well. So when Buffy realizes that she can sacrifice herself in place of her sister to close the portal, she does. Buffy does come back (obviously), but the tragedy is in her, how slayers are never meant to live long. Her temporary death can bring anyone to tears.
Sign-up for Letters From The Psychopomp
a weekly letter from The Psychopomp about Death, and the latest from Psychopomp.com:
Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Tara’s (Amber Benson) death in “Seeing Red” (season 6, episode 19) is so incredibly heartbreaking and has been labeled as part of the “bury your gays” trope. There’s no wondering why that is—she’s one of the few canonically queer characters in the show. It’s also tragic that she was accidentally shot by a misogynistic loser. Her death primarily affects Dawn as well as Willow, who becomes “Dark Willow” as a result of Tara’s death during the last few episodes of season 6. It’s a death queer folks still talk about, and rightfully so.
Anya Jenkins (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
The series finale of Buffy is a triumphant episode, and, of course, during a major battle there is almost always loss. Anya (Emma Caulfield) is a fan favorite character who endured so much bullshit in the last two seasons of the show. For her to die by being bisected is fucking rough to say the least. However, it’s not solely the way she died that’s tragic, it’s that her death is a reminder of what it means to be human. She was a vengeance demon for a long time before reverting back to human. It’s beautifully tragic for her arc to end in death.
Cordelia Chase (Angel)
There is a lot to unpack regarding Cordelia’s death and why she was written off the series in the first place. It’s a lot to do with Joss Whedon and the toxic behavior he displayed toward Charisma Carpenter. That in itself is tragic. Regarding Cordelia’s demise, she dies offscreen, and it’s confirmed over a phone call that Angel gets in “You’re Welcome” (season 5, episode 12). Cordelia Chase experienced some profound character growth after she moved from Buffy to Angel. She becomes a brave character and then in season 4 falls into a coma after a powerful being hijacks her body. It’s an undeserving death for an incredible character.
Winifred “Fred” Burkle (Angel)
“Why can’t I stay?” has to be one of the most heart-wrenching lines to hear from a character before they die. Fred’s (Amy Acker) death is a death that most fans cringe thinking about. Her death comes to pass because she’s meant to serve as a vessel for an Old One named Illyria (Amy Acker). Of course, Illyria’s character is top-notch, and she’s played so well by Amy Acker. But the way she invades Fred’s entire body and callously takes over after she takes her last breath is a gut punch. The tragic nature of Fred’s death is in how she’s so loved by the characters. She does come back in the canonical Angel comics, though.
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Angel)
The Angel series finale is certainly one of the best series finales in general. Just like the Buffy series finale, the group experiences chaos and loss. Wesley (Alexis Denisof) takes on the task of trying to take on a powerful demon and in turn is murdered ruthlessly. Just like Cordelia, Wesley experiences major character growth after being moved to Angel. His arc is a fan favorite, and it ends just as it was likely meant to. His final moments aren’t horrible though, as Illyria briefly appears as Fred to comfort him.