The 10 Most Heartbreaking Moments In Buffy The Vampire Slayer

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" isn't a show for the faint of heart. Throughout its seven seasons, the characters go through some of the most horrific experiences imaginable — coping with grief, loss, loneliness, and every existential problem under the sun. Despite its supernatural settings, the series wonderfully grounds these experiences in a recognizable reality.

The Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring series is a high school coming-of-age tale and a supernatural drama. Buffy (Gellar) and the rest of the Scooby Gang spend most episodes fighting off some non-human threat to their town while dealing with typical high school problems — homework, school dances, dating, and the like.

This same parity applies to the tragedies of "Buffy." Yes, the death of a loved one at the hands of supernatural forces is sad, but so is your boyfriend breaking up with you before prom. As Buffy once told Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) just before her most heroic act, "the hardest thing in this world is to live in it." The series is remembered as much for its humor as its tragedy, and the characters understand this mantra well. Here's our account of the most heartbreaking moments in "Buffy" history.

Buffy faces her mortality (Season 1, Episode 12)

Compared to other seasons of "Buffy," season 1 isn't as grim as future ones. For one, it's only twelve episodes long, meaning there's less time for the characters to find themselves in life-threatening situations. But season 1's propensity for sadness shouldn't be overlooked, as it gives us one of the most gut-wrenching moments in "Buffy" history. Season 1's "Big Bad" is an ancient vampire known as the Master (Mark Metcalf) who intends to open up a portal to hell beneath the surface of Sunnydale. Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) reads up on the Master, and what he finds is rather upsetting. He discovers a prophecy that says the Slayer will face the Master and die.

Giles tries to keep this information from Buffy, but she eventually finds out. Unsurprisingly, she doesn't take it well. Buffy yells about how unfair her duties are – throwing books at Giles all the while. Eventually, she gets to the crux of the matter, giving us one of Sarah Michelle Gellar's best (among many) monologues on the show. She lets out a heartbreaking confession. "Giles, I'm 16 years old. I don't wanna die," she sniffles while looking like the child she is. It's the first time we see Buffy face her mortality.

Jenny's unceremonious death (Season 2, Episode 17)

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" has had an abundance of character deaths over the years – including Buffy herself – but in the first couple of seasons, things looked pretty good for the Scooby Gang. But that changed in the episode "Passion," when "Buffy" fans first learned that nobody is safe. The latter part of season 2 saw the gang facing down an enemy that hit close to home: Angelus, also known as the soulless counterpart of Buffy's boyfriend, Angel (David Boreanaz).

Jenny Calendar (Robia Scott), Sunnydale's resident "technopagan," becomes embroiled in this fight. We learn her ancestors cursed Angel with a soul. Unfortunately, Angel also finds out about Jenny's involvement in his history and does everything he can to ensure he will never be re-ensouled again. What this means, of course, is that Angel snaps Jenny's neck like a popsicle stick, not even stopping to snack on some technopagan blood.

Initially, the most upsetting part of this development is the jarring manner of Jenny's death — and the fact that she had to die. Jenny is one of the most likable characters in the series, and her burgeoning romance with Giles was something many fans wanted to see develop. Giles finding Jenny's body on his bed is a gut punch: Their relationship was so promising, and Giles will never again have a chance at romance like this.

Buffy kills Angel (Season 2, Episode 22)

I don't think it's hyperbolic to say Buffy Summers experienced more hardship before graduating high school than almost any teenager in (fictional) history. From dying and being revived to saving her school from a mayor-snake-demon, Buffy has a lot on her plate. One of the hardest things she has to do involves her soulless boyfriend, Angelus.

Now that he's back in his evil form, Angelus decides he wants to open up (another) portal to hell. Buffy must stop this from happening, which means she has to kill him. Sadly, Buffy doesn't know – because perpetually jealous and petty Xander (Nicholas Brendon) doesn't tell her – that Willow (Alyson Hannigan) is working on a spell to re-ensoul Angel. However, Willow's spell comes a moment too late.

The portal has already opened up, and Buffy learns the only thing that can close it is Angel's blood. Simultaneously, Willow's spell works, and Angel becomes re-ensouled. When Angelus becomes Angel again, he doesn't know what's happening, and Buffy doesn't have the heart to tell him. She tells him it's alright, kisses him, and then stabs a sword into his stomach. No one knows if Willow's spell worked, so Buffy carries the weight of what she's done alone, which only intensifies the pain she (and we) feel.

Angel breaks up with Buffy in a sewer (Season 3, Episode 19)

Many of the series' most heartbreaking moments involve supernatural creatures or apocalyptic events. But Buffy and her friends are still teenagers, and their human emotions are just as vital to the show as its existential drama. Case in point: "The Prom," in which Buffy tries to fight off some hellhounds so she can attend a high school dance with her boyfriend.

Since this is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," things don't exactly go to plan, leading to one of the most depressing television breakups we've ever seen. First, Angel and Buffy are walking in a sewer when Angel breaks the news. He tells Buffy they shouldn't be together because she deserves a normal relationship and what they have is nothing more than a "freakshow." She just wanted to go to prom with her boyfriend, and now he is telling her he doesn't want to be with her (which is a lie, but still.)

She behaves like anyone in this situation would — shock, despair, dejection — and it's agonizing to watch. This is one of those scenes where you're reminded that she's just a teenage girl trying to get through high school intact, though true happiness is much harder for her to come by than it is for her peers. "Is this really happening?" Buffy asks. Our thoughts exactly! A sewer Angel, really?

Buffy finds Joyce's body (Season 5, Episode 16)

The season 5 episode "The Body" is the saddest "Buffy" episode in its run and certainly one of the most tragic television episodes of all time. You know the premise: Buffy's mom, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland), dies of a brain aneurysm, and the whole gang has to face the devastating fallout of her death.

The first blow (arguably the biggest) is when Buffy discovers Joyce's body. She's on the couch, seemingly asleep — until Buffy realizes that's not the case. Buffy experiences the next few minutes in a daze, mirroring the real-life experiences of those who have lost loved ones. She calls out to her mom, performs CPR to no avail, and stumbles around the house while she waits for medics to arrive.

It's not until Giles arrives that she realizes what's happened: Joyce is dead, and she's never coming back. Though fans celebrate the show's soundtrack and score, there is no music in "The Body," only the horrifying silence when Joyce doesn't respond. What makes the experience even harder for Buffy is that there are no supernatural elements at play here, meaning there's no one she can fight or justice to serve. "The Body" is incredibly difficult to watch, and Gellar's performance in these first few minutes is nothing short of eviscerating.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Anya can't process Joyce's death (Season 5, Episode 16)

As we've already discussed, "The Body" is hands-down the saddest episode in "Buffy" history, so it's only fair we include two scenes from it. Though every minute of "The Body" is heartbreaking, there's another memorable scene to discuss. Out of everyone impacted by Joyce's death, you wouldn't expect ex-demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) to be at the top of the list. However, she struggles terribly to come to terms with the loss.

In an all-time great performance from Caulfield, Anya delivers a heart-wrenching monologue partway through the episode. Anya begins the scene in a typically graceless manner, asking insensitive questions about what's happening to Joyce's body. But after Willow chastises her for asking such questions, the origin of Anya's disorientation is revealed.

"But I don't understand," Anya begins, describing her discombobulated feelings about Joyce's death. She doesn't understand how Joyce could one day be alive, walking and talking, and the next day a body that can never be re-animated. "It's mortal and stupid," she exclaims, and her questions no longer feel insensitive. Instead, they come across as the logical response from a being experiencing an unexpected loss. There are so many other brilliant and tragic moments in the episode — like Buffy and Tara's (Amber Benson) conversation in the hospital. But no moments encapsulate the painful incomprehensibility of death like this one.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Buffy uses her gift (Season 5, Episode 22)

Following Joyce's death, Buffy feels understandably out of sorts. She doesn't see the point in slaying anymore, and she questions her ability to keep fighting in a world that has proven to be cold and unforgiving. In the season 5 episode "Intervention," she's sent on a vision quest where she encounters the first slayer, Sineya (Sharon Ferguson). Sineya tells Buffy that "death is your gift." At first, Buffy's not sure what to make of this cryptic statement.

She finds out in the season 5 finale, aptly titled "The Gift." Glory (Clare Kramer) attempts to use Dawn's blood to open a portal to a hell dimension. The only thing that can close it is more blood – the blood of a Summers. Here, Buffy finally understands the meaning of Sineya's maxim. Unlike the first time she faces her death in the season 1 finale, she's not scared. She knows what she has to do and has no regrets.

As Buffy prepares to fling herself off the ledge and into the portal, she leaves Dawn with her most famous advice: "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it," she says. "Be brave. Live." Only as she's preparing to die does Buffy finally find peace. They never said being a martyr was all sunshine and roses.

Willow and Tara break up because of Willow's magic addiction (Season 6, Episode 8)

Willow and Tara had one of the sweetest, purest relationships in "Buffy," which is why the dissolution of their relationship was so upsetting. When Willow and Tara first met, they bonded over their shared interest in magic, getting a taste of what two witches could do when they joined forces in "Hush." But beginning in Season 6, Willow's use of magic starts getting out of hand. Her storyline becomes a tragic metaphor for drug and alcohol addiction.

Willow and Tara's breakup occurs at the end of one of the funniest "Buffy" episodes. Tara has become exasperated with Willow's magic use and threatens to leave, so Willow promises to go a week without using magic. Willow immediately breaks her promise, casting a forgetting spell so Buffy will forget her time in heaven and Tara will forget their fight. However, the spell goes wrong: The entire Scooby Gang wakes up without any memories of who they are.

Hilarity ensues, but the end of the episode is devastating. Tara realizes Willow has broken her promise and packs up her things to leave the house. Giles resumes his preparations to leave for England, and Buffy and Spike (James Marsters) reach an impasse in their complicated relationship. This crushing montage plays to the tune of Michelle Branch's "Goodbye To You," who (of course) is playing at the Bronze. "Tabula Rasa" is a relatively demon-free episode, but the emotional revelations are no less distressing.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Tara catches a stray bullet (Season 6, Episode 19)

I'm just going to say it: Tara's death is the most painful death in "Buffy" history. For one, Tara is one of the kindest characters on the show. Moreover, Willow and Tara's loving relationship is a breath of fresh air among a sea of, shall we say, troubling dynamics — not to mention how important they were (and are) to the show's LGBTQ+ fanbase. Plus, Willow and Tara had just gotten back together right before Tara's death.

Like Joyce before her, the nature of Tara's death is part of what makes it so upsetting. Warren (Adam Busch) has come to Buffy's house with a gun to kill her. He shoots at Buffy, hitting her once in the shoulder, but another bullet ricochets and sails through the second-story window, right into Tara's chest. At first, Tara thinks Willow is hurt because there's blood on her shirt ("your shirt" are Tara's last words). But Tara collapses shortly afterward, and Willow has to watch the love of her life die in her arms.

Willow does everything she can to save Tara, summoning dark forces to bring her back. But she's told there's nothing to be done because Tara's death wasn't supernatural. While the following episodes have harrowing moments, Tara's death breaks our hearts and incites the destruction to come. Tara's death is so devastating that some of us still haven't gotten over it all these years later.

Buffy's kicked out of her own home (Season 7, Episode 19)

Season 7 is a pretty dark season of "Buffy." Buffy is depressed, and it looks like the end is nigh again. There are some mildly interesting (or mildly annoying) additions to the cast — the potential slayers, mainly — but things are far from hunky-dory. No one is functioning as their best selves, made abundantly clear when the Scooby Gang and the potential slayers kick Buffy out of her own home.

In a previous episode, Buffy sent the Scooby Gang and the slayer potentials to fight Caleb (Nathan Fillion), the flesh-and-blood representative of the First Evil. Two potential slayers died, and Xander lost an eye. Now the gang doesn't trust Buffy or her decision-making abilities. To make matters worse, Buffy isn't getting along well with anyone either, and the only person she feels has her back is Spike, further isolating her from the group.

Things come to a head at the end of "Empty Places." Buffy tries to convince the gang to attack Caleb at the vineyard, but no one agrees. The potentials and the rest of the Scooby Gang begin questioning Buffy's judgment as a leader until Dawn puts a decisive end to the pile-on by asking Buffy to leave the house. This moment is crushing because it further emphasizes Buffy's isolation. But it's also a frustratingly out-of-character moment from Buffy's closest friends and family. Buffy's far from perfect, but being banished from her home? That's just cruel.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.