Buffy the Vampire Slayer told the tale of a girl who was a vampire slayer. Fighting against the physical embodiment of her demons could be therapeutic, sure, but it was also so much more than that. Over its seven seasons, the series boasted horror, fantasy, action, comedy, and drama — as well as a number of truly heartbreaking moments.
Buffy’s mission to stop the forces of darkness was a struggle, but many of her self-titled show’s saddest moments were recognizably human. Fans saw themselves in Buffy’s challenges and mourned along with her and her friends when tragedy struck. Here, we’re remembering some of the most heartbreaking episodes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
10 LIE TO ME (SEASON 2, EPISODE 7)
As the slayer, Buffy often seemed wise beyond her years. However, just like the rest of us, she had to learn that the world could be a cold place full of moral grey areas. This episode highlighted the disappointment and confusion that came with her discovery of that reality,
In the episode, Buffy’s friend Ford from Los Angeles comes to Sunnydale to finish out his senior year. Yet, things aren’t as simple as they seem. Ford has only six months left before a brain tumor takes his life. He’s come to Sunnydale to become a vampire, and he plans to trade Buffy for the privilege. Ford ultimately gets his wish, leaving it to Buffy to slay him. Still, Buffy feels bad for Ford and sad that she lost a friend. Her final conversation with Giles about the realities of growing up and coming to terms with the world strikes a painfully accurate cord.
9 GRAVE (SEASON 6, EPISODE 22)
The final episodes of the sixth season of Buffy were a singularly upsetting experience for long-time fans. After the demise of her girlfriend Tara, Willow, the quirky nerd we met in the series’ first episode, went bleakly, depressingly dark. Willow had started practicing magic early in the series, but by season 6 she was abusing it. And when she lost the person she loved the most, she used all her power to lash out at everyone, including her friends. Seeing a beloved character fall so far was harrowing.
The season finale, “Grave,” was the culmination of that arc. The episode saw Willow fight and almost take out Giles, send a magical weapon after Xander and Dawn, and conjure monsters for Buffy to fight. Yet, the most heartbreaking part was the exchange between Willow, who’d decided to end the world, and her powerless best friend Xander. His love and acceptance stopped her and finally let her grieve her terrible loss.
8 THE PROM (SEASON 3, EPISODE 20)
The senior prom is coming up and Buffy and her pals are excitedly making plans. However, Buffy’s boyfriend is a bit older than the rest of the gang. As a 200+ year old vampire, he doesn’t really get the prom. So after Buffy’s mother, Joyce, points out that he could be a hindrance to her daughter’s future, a broody Angel breaks up with Buffy.
Despite the fact that both Joyce and Angel are ultimately right about the relationship, it’s a devastating break-up. After all, the relationship between the slayer and vampire with a soul had a poetic quality to it. And despite their obvious difficulties, they were clearly head over heels for one another. So when Buffy attends the dance solo and Angel surprises her there, their final dance is a touching and bittersweet farewell.
7 PASSION (SEASON 2, EPISODE 17)
This season 2 episode happens after Angel has become the evil Angelus. One of Angelus' favorite pastimes is taunting the Slayer and her friends. It’s a hobby that leads to horrible consequences when Angelus ends up snapping Jenny Calendar’s neck. Yet, the thing that makes the situation heartbreaking is what he does with her body. He sets up an elaborate romantic scene at Giles’ place, that ultimately leads him to the remains of his girlfriend.
A grief-stricken Giles decides to attack Angelus for revenge. With no real powers of his own though, Giles is no match for the vampire. Fortunately, Buffy shows up and saves him. The raw emotion throughout the episode is palpable, especially at the end when Buffy apologizes to Giles for not being ready to take Angel out before he lost Jenny.
6 HELL’S BELLS (SEASON 6, EPISODE 16)
This episode has some interesting moments. Putting Anya’s demon friends together with Xander’s drunk and belligerent family provided the clearest view yet of the different worlds the pair came from. Then came the tear-jerker of an ending. Watching Anya’s dreams of marrying Xander go up in smoke as he jilts her at the altar is unbelievably sad. And her tearful walk down the aisle so she can tell her guests the wedding is off is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the series.
Xander and Anya had their share of issues, but their abrupt break-up came out of left field ‑ particularly since Xander seemed to come to his decision so easily. Sure, happiness was hard to come by in Sunnydale, but this wedding day break-up was especially cruel.
5 BECOMING, PART 2 (SEASON 2, EPISODE 22)
It’s hard to top "Becoming, Part 1," the first part of season 2’s two-episode season finale, for upsetting moments. That episode saw Buffy’s friends being attacked, Giles taken by vampires, and Drusilla taking Kendra’s life. Yet, things only got worse in Part 2.
Angelus tortured Giles for information and Willow was in a coma. Buffy was expelled, and when her mother learned she was the Slayer, she was kicked out of the house. If all that weren’t enough, Buffy’s final showdown with Angelus was harrowing and ends in the most depressing way possible. As Buffy is about to take him out, Willow’s spell returns Angel’s soul to him. Confused, he asks Buffy what’s going on. However, Angelus had already succeeded in opening a vortex that would suck the world into Hell. The only way to stop it is to take out Angel. So Buffy kisses him, tells him to close his eyes, and rams a sword into him. She then despondently leaves town as fans everywhere sobbed uncontrollably.
4 INNOCENCE (SEASON 2, EPISODE 14)
This is the episode where Angel loses his soul after experiencing a moment of pure happiness with Buffy. Before Buffy realizes that Angel has gone bad, they have a devastating exchange. He emotionally destroys her by dismissing their night together, poisoning her memories of what, for her, was an important rite of passage. If that weren’t enough, throughout the episode, Buffy slowly comes to the realization that her boyfriend is no longer a good guy and that she’s going to be the one responsible for taking him down.
Even with that revelation, when Buffy finally confronts Angel, she can’t bring herself to end his life. Despite what he’s become, there’s still a part of her that hopes her Angel is still in there and will come back. Buffy’s sorrow is quietly driven home by the episode’s final scene. Joyce lights a candle on a cupcake for Buffy’s seventeenth birthday, but Buffy decides to let it burn instead of blowing it out and making a wish.
3 THE GIFT (SEASON 5, EPISODE 22)
Most of this season 5 finale episode is spent attempting to stop Glory and save Buffy’s sister, Dawn, the mystical key that will send Glory back to her Hell dimension. Throughout the episode, Buffy is unwilling to sacrifice her little sister, and she fights passionately to protect her. Yet, it’s her final act that makes her truly heroic. Realizing she can take Dawn’s place, she jumps into the portal to seal the door between dimensions — once again saving the world, and her sister.
Buffy’s end was tragic in and of itself, but it’s her final speech to Dawn that made the moment that much more poignant. Buffy’s request that Dawn be strong and live her life doubled as a request to the fans who wanted to live up to the example set by this iconic character.
2 SEEING RED (SEASON 6, EPISODE 19)
"Seeing Red" is a difficult episode, but the scene that caused it to make this list happens in its last few moments. As Buffy and Xander talk in her backyard, Warren approaches them with a gun. He shoots wildly, hitting Buffy. In the process, a stray bullet breaks through Willow’s bedroom window and hits Tara, who Willow had just reconciled with. Tara doesn’t realize what happened. She only has long enough to comment on the blood splattered on Willow’s shirt before she collapses.
The scene is one of the saddest and most shocking in the whole show. Not only were Willow and Tara a beloved couple who fans were rooting for, Tara was a wonderful character who no one wanted to see go. And the senseless nature of her ending made it all the more heartrending. To this day, Tara’s last words, “Your shirt” will bring tears to Buffy fans’ eyes.
1 THE BODY (SEASON 5, EPISODE16)
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Buffy won’t be surprised to learn that “The Body” is at the top of a list of the series’ most heartbreaking episodes. From its beginning to its end, the episode is a gut-wrenching meditation on death. The episode picks up from the previous one, when Buffy finds her mother’s body on the couch. It takes us through the mundane aspects of a loss: calling an ambulance, informing loved ones, waiting at the hospital. As well as the different ways people process and cope with grief.
Perhaps its most emotionally shattering moments come when Anya, newly human and unsure what to do, gives a monologue that voices the questions we all have about what happens when someone passes away. It’s a question that’s reflected when Dawn later asks Buffy where her mother went as she looks at her lifeless body. The episode is one of the series’ crowning achievements and rings true for anyone who’s ever experienced the loss of a loved one.