‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: Why Tara’s Death Was Especially ‘Disappointing’ and Tragic

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of those iconic TV shows that has managed to stick around long after its teen counterparts have faded into pop culture history. That ability to stick around in fans’ hearts and minds is largely because of the characters, who were meaningfully developed and complex people pushing the boundaries of their own time. Of course, plenty of those beloved characters met untimely ends — and occasionally resurrections — on the horror-themed show. The death of Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer still stings all these years later, and some critics find it particularly troubling that she was written out of the show. 

‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ defined a generation 

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered as a television series in 1997, it had some prior material to work from. Joss Whedon had previously served as a writer for a 1992 film of the same name. Starring Kristy Swanson, the tongue-in-cheek story of an airhead cheerleader tapped to step into the legacy of vampire slayer was funny and campy. Whedon was disappointed in the treatment of his script and wanted a chance to bring the character to life in a darker, more nuanced way. 

Over time, the series continued to shock and delight with its edgy ability to keep viewers guessing. Not only did it completely annihilate the love story that seemed to be central to the plot, but it also killed off the main character! (She did eventually come back from the grave.) 

Another major shock for viewers occurred with the introduction of Tara, a love interest for Willow (played by Alyson Hannigan). 

Tara and Willow’s love story is a fan favorite arc

When Willow and Tara fell in love, it was a shocking departure that fans found endearing and very sweet. The portrayal of a lesbian couple on the small screen was then a relatively rare occurrence, and the fact that their relationship got careful consideration and development is upheld as a foundational example of the kind of representation needed to make LGBTQ+ stories part of the mainstream. 

Reflecting on the importance of the story, Amber Benson (who portrayed Tara) explained what it meant to her: “I don’t think we realized the impact that that would have. That we were like the first real long-term lesbian relationship on network television and that it would change things.”

Of course, all that appreciation for Tara and Willow made Tara’s death all the more tragic. When Tara is shot and killed, Willow’s rage and grief turns her into a villain that almost destroys her friends. The grief wasn’t contained to the set. Plenty of real-life fans were devastated to see Tara’s character meet her end. 

Tara’s death on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ was ‘disappointing’ for many fans

Amber Benson as Tara in 20th Century Fox's 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer.'
Amber Benson as Tara in 20th Century Fox’s ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer.’ | Online USA/Getty Images

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No fan wants to see their favorite character die on the screen, but with a horror-based show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, gut-wrenching scenes come with the territory. Why, then, were some fans so especially disappointed in Tara’s death? 

While Tara and Willow’s long-term relationship was new for primetime television, killing off a gay character was not. As BuzzFeed reports, “Her death was especially disappointing because it fell into the trope of gay characters being killed off.” 

The backlash was so furious that Whedon almost brought Tara back to life. Whedon explained, “What I was interested in was Willow’s guilt, that her life could go on, that her love life could go on after Tara, because that’s a part of living. Quite frankly, that was not Plan A. Plan A was to bring Tara back.” When the writers approached actor Benson about returning, she had moved on to other projects. The result was a scramble to craft a new plan for how to handle the hole Tara had left in the cast.