‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’: Joss Whedon on the Toughest Character To Kill off the Show

Fighting evil on Buffy the Vampire Slayer means Buffy Summers and the gang dealt with death a lot. Losing a character disappointed fans of the TV show and its creator, Joss Whedon. However, saying goodbye to one particular character was especially hard for Whedon. 

Joyce on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ was the hardest character for Joss Whedon to kill off the show

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' cast
Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast | Getty Images / Stringer

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During a 2012 Reddit Ask Me Anything, Whedon revealed Buffy’s mom, Joyce Summers, was the hardest character for him to kill off the program. 

Played by Kristine Sutherland, Joyce died of natural causes in the show’s fifth season. The episode, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 5 Episode 16: “The Body,” is a fan favorite. 

It’s been praised by critics for its take on death and grief. Not only that but it’s a favorite of Gellar’s and one of the highest-rated Buffy episodes.

Joss Whedon wanted ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ viewers to experience the ‘moment of dumbfounded shock’ when a loved one dies

Per Mental Floss, Whedon opened up about “The Body” in the episode’s DVD commentary. He explained his motivation behind the episode. 

“I wanted to show not the meaning or catharsis or the beauty of life or any of the things that are often associated with loss, or even extreme grief, which we do get in the episode,” Whedon said. 

He continued, saying his goal had been to demonstrate the immediate aftermath of losing a loved one.  

“But what I did want to capture was the extreme physicality, the almost boredom of the very first few hours,” he said. “I wanted to be very specific about what it felt like the moment you discover you’ve lost someone.” 

Kristine Sutherland at the 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' wrap party
Kristine Sutherland at the Buffy the Vampire Slayer wrap party | Albert L. Ortega/WireImage

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Whedon added that “The Body” is all about the “airlessness of losing somebody.” 

“And so what appears to many people as a formal exercise—no music, scenes that take up almost the entire act, if not the entire act, without end—is all done for a very specific purpose,” he said. That is “to put you in that moment of dumbfounded shock, that airlessness of losing somebody.”

Kristine Sutherland ‘kept losing it’ during Joyce’s death scene on ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

In her own Reddit AMA, Sutherland reflected on filming Joyce’s death scene when Buffy came home to find her dead. Asked how difficult it was to stay still during the intense scene, the actor revealed she had more trouble with breaking character.

“The hardest part was not crying when Buffy came in the door looking for me,” Sutherland said. “When she called out ‘Mom…?’ I just kept losing it.”

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The moment she’s referring to is when Buffy walks through the door. She sees her mother on the couch and repeatedly calls out to her. Finally, Buffy whispers, “Mommy?” and gets no reply. 

Joyce was the toughest character for Whedon to kill off Buffy but her passing wasn’t the most controversial. Whedon got more heat for the death of Tara (Amber Benson) who got killed off during the show’s sixth season. Fans were so upset with losing her, Whedon almost brought the Buffy character back to life.

Watch every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Hulu.

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