Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show that transformed television for the better. Despite its paranormal premise, the show is built iconic heroine Buffy Summers and her loyal Scooby Gang. Fans often spend their time focusing on tortured vampire bad boys David Boreanz and James Marsters. Some, like a young Xander, simply enjoyed drooling over Charisma Carpenter. However, the show had a hidden and underrated weapon in the form of the witchy Alyson Hannigan.
As the character Willow Rosenberg, Hannigan successfully juggled a variety of acting responsibilities. She had to successfully convey the vulnerability and heart at the core of Willow’s character without alienating audiences. At the same time, she had to slowly exhibit hidden reserves of strength and passion to showcase how her character was growing. And it worked: by the end of the show, Willow had grown more than any other character.
Despite this growth, though, there are many things about the character of Willow that even diehard fans of the show don’t know. Fortunately, you don’t need an Orb of Thesulah to summon these secrets—just check out our guide to 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Willow Rosenberg!
15. She originally had a different actor
Obviously, Willow is one of the central characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Alyson Hannigan gives an iconic performance. That performance is so iconic, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. However, that is very nearly what happened, as Hannigan was nowhere to be seen in Buffy‘s unaired original pilot!
Instead, the character of Willow was played by an actor named Riff Regan. After the pilot episode was sent to the network, they had a simple request for Whedon: to find a new actor for Willow. It was challenging casting because they needed someone who could channel the vulnerable nerdiness of Willow and still be someone audiences could root for.
Seven auditions later, they landed Alyson Hannigan, who channeled her own depressing high school life into making the character simultaneously upbeat but not that confident. Eagle-eyed fans can still find that pilot episode online, but trust us: without Alyson Hannigan, Buffy is not worth watching!
14. She dated a snake woman
Considering that she started the show as a timid wallflower with very few romantic prospects, it’s amazing just how much of Willow’s love life that we get to see. We watched her wonderful romance with Oz, brief dalliance with Xander, epic love story with Tara, and her budding relationship with Slayer-in-Training Kennedy. The official comics that continued Buffy’s story after season seven continued this trend, and Willow’s romances got a little stranger. At one point, she was dating a magical snake woman!
The snake woman’s name was Aluwyn, and she was also known as Saga Vasuki. She was Willow’s teacher and mentor as she set out to learn even more about the mystical arts. Willow got hot for teacher, though, and they began a romance together. The two keep getting drawn back together after they split apart, with Willow eventually joining a special coven that is being led by Aluwyn. How tough was it to keep these two apart?
13. She’s scared of Woodstock
In the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow and her friends have taken on countless frightening monsters. These ranged from the run-of-the-mill vampires out to the horrific Gentlemen, who take away their victim’s voices before harvesting their organs. Given this information, you would expect that Willow would have some pretty strange fears. However, one of her biggest fears happens to hang out with Charlie Brown!
In the episode “Helpless”, Buffy confesses her love of attending a special ice show with her father every year. By way of bonding, Willow volunteers that she attended Snoopy On Ice as a small child. Instead of filling her with joy, though, the experience filled her with fear, and she ended up throwing up on the character of Woodstock!
12. She made TV history
For most fans, there is no doubt that the relationship between Willow and Tara was a highlight of the show. Most of the relationships in Buffy were doomed by the participants changing (Buffy and Angel), or by them being a terrible fit (Buffy and Spike), or being torn asunder by magical interference (Xander and Anya). Compared to these other relationships, Willow and Tara shared something that was adorable and pure. And, as it happens, they ended up making TV history!
The clear chemistry between the two actors led to Buffy‘s writers adding a romance plot to the show. The network was nervous about portraying homosexuality, though, so Whedon and crew hid their growing romance in the guise of the characters practicing spells together. Eventually, the network allowed them to start kissing in the episode ‘The Body”, and Whedon made sure the kiss was emotionally-affirming rather than a salacious ratings-grab.
This was a big part of what made their romance so historic: they were not “token” gay characters, but three-dimensional characters whose relationship was allowed to naturally grow. Is it any wonder so many LGBTQ people in real life look at Willow as a hero?
11. She started going dark way early
Speaking of Dark Willow, most fans tie her transition into the world of dark magic with the sixth season of the show. That is also the season that infamously introduced the terrible storyline equating magic with drugs, showing Willow seemingly becoming addicted to the powers she is gaining. And while that storyline is infamously bad, the surprising truth is that the show spent years laying the groundwork for Willow going to the dark side.
For instance, in season three, she casually admits that she made contact with the mysterious spirit world before she was ready, causing her intense pain. She later showed no hesitation in helping Anya perform a dangerous spell that ended up rewriting the entire universe.
In the fourth season, she tried to conjure a location spell against her friends’ advice, and that spell ended up harming her. When she was emotionally down, she ended up casting a spell to make her will reality and nearly got Xander killed by calling him a “demon magnet.” So, while some of these instances are played for laughs, Willow was dabbling in the dark arts way earlier than most fans realized.
10. She’s a good physical fighter
When you think of Willow fighting alongside Buffy to defeat the forces of darkness, chances are that you’re thinking of her magical abilities. This is understandable, as Willow’s command of magic grew by leaps and bounds as the series went on. She went from barely being able to control a levitating pencil to being able to take on gods and raise the dead with her magical mojo. And while her magical skills are undeniable, many people overlook just how good a physical fighter Willow is.
Especially in earlier seasons, Willow joined Buffy in her nightly patrols, even leading them when Buffy was absent. And she survived some pretty heavy hitters, including the Drusilla-led vampire attack that killed Kendra. Willow has fought bizarre tentacle monsters with medieval weaponry and took up a spear gun against The Mayor.
Later comics helped flesh out how tough Willow could be by showing her fighting and surviving in a world without magic as she went on a dangerous quest to get her mojo back. Willow is dangerous to fight, even when she can’t rip skin off with a thought!
9. Her mom is very distant
When it comes to the people in Willow’s, her mom is the last person who comes to mind. There’s a reason for this: the character is typically absent from Willow’s life, and when she’s there, she is pretty emotionally distant. We can see some specific examples of this, such as the time she refers to Buffy as “Bunny,” despite the Slayer being Willow’s closest friend at the time.
On another occasion, we hear about how Willow’s mom was proud of Willow coming out as gay because she read it as a political statement. However, Willow recalls that once the “statement mojo” wore off, her mom lost interest and never made an effort to meet Tara, Willow’s partner.
It doesn’t help the character of Sheila that one of her most prominent onscreen appearances cast her in a terrible light. In the episode “Gingerbread,” she was one of many people who fell under a demonic spell, and she tried to burn Willow and Buffy alive before the spell was broken. Others who fell under the spell had later episodes to help rehabilitate them, but we never saw Sheila Rosenberg again.
8. She’s a terrible singer
Buffy is a show with dozens of showstopping moments. Despite this embarrassment of onscreen riches, though, the musical episode “Once More With Feeling” remains one of the all-time greats. The characters sing completely original songs created by Joss Whedon. However, Willow fans felt a bit cheated: she was the only main character without a song of her own, and her participation was limited to between-song dialogue and a few paltry lyrics.
There’s a reason for this: for the life of her, Alyson Hannigan cannot sing. She knows this about herself, and personally requested that writer Joss Whedon limit the number of singing lines that she was given. However, there is little that Whedon likes better than weird in-jokes, so he built Hannigan’s desire to only have a few lines into one of her only lyrics, in which she sings “I think this line’s mostly filler.”
7. She resurrected Kennedy
While the whole “sex with Kennedy to talk to another woman” thing is pretty bad, Willow has done some pretty amazing things for Kennedy. The young Slayer-in-Training was a controversial character when she was introduced in the seventh season, with many fans resenting someone they saw as a replacement for Tara. However, Kennedy proved her worth and managed to survive the series finale. She wasn’t so lucky in the comics, however, but Willow was able to bring her back to life!
How does that work, you ask? Part of the rules of the Buffyverse is that characters can be brought back to life only if they die some kind of mystical death. This is why Willow is able to resurrect Buffy (who dies sealing a dimensional rift) but not Tara (who was simply killed by a gun).
After bringing Kennedy back to life, the two continue their relationship for a time, but they eventually broke up because Willow feared that Kennedy loved her more for her powers and less for her personality. And, of course, Willow had that sexy snake lady to get back to.
6. She gave Spike his soul back
Resident vampire bad boy Spike ended up being a favorite among Buffy fans. He managed to come back from death even after his series was over due to fan demand. Previously, Spike had given his life by using a magical amulet that also killed countless super-vampires that were after his friends. However, Angel was still on the air, and he soon appeared in their final season, resurrected.
Spike was still popular after Angel was canceled, getting his own comic book in which he ends up owing Willow his soul!
The story of that comic is that Spike has set off to be his own man and fight a special Wolfram and Hart branch in Las Vegas. When he needed help, Spike called in Willow to help surprise his enemies. It’s a good thing he did, too, as the villainous John was able to remove Spike’s soul.
With Willow’s help, though, Spike was able to get his soul back, but not before nobly attempting to give it to Drusilla. Willow was not only cool enough to save Spike’s soul, but she even agreed to his request to keep this weird side mission a secret from Buffy.
5. Buffy Kills Her
When Willow went dark, she became the most unexpected Big Bad in Buffy history. While fans had learned to keep an eye out for the assorted vampires, cyborgs, and gods that the Scooby Gang fought over the years, it seemed impossible that one of their own could turn against them. However, the emotional ending to the sixth season made it clear that evil was already in Willow’s rearview mirror, and her dark days would stay in her past.
According to the Buffy comic, however, Willow may very well be destined to be evil. In a particularly strange adventure, Buffy was kidnapped and taken to the future. The Willow of our present time was able to rescue her, but her friend-with-snake-benefits, Aluwyn, warned her not to look too deeply into the future.
The reason for that was that in this future time, Willow had once again become “dark,” and the only way that Buffy could stop her was to kill her. When she confesses this to Willow, our favorite redhead thinks it doesn’t matter because that future is not written in stone. Nonetheless, it raises the question of whether Willow has an inescapable and dark destiny.
4. She becomes one with the planet
While Buffy the Vampire Slayer provided one of the best and most satisfying television finales of all time, it still left us with some questions about Willlow and her magical abilities. For instance, she had gone from seeing magic as a dangerous addiction to seeing it as a vital part of herself. As the Scooby Gang might sing, if they were forced into another musical, where does she go from here?
In the comics, her magical abilities continued to grow. This reached a high point when, with the help of Aluwyn, she was able to use a magical item known as the Seed of Wonder. While using it, she experienced both transcendent joy (she became one with the world) and unrivaled power (we see her mowing down hundreds of demons easier than she ever has before). This came crashing down when Buffy had to destroy the Seed, forcing Willow to live in a world without magic.
3. She becomes friends with Faith
As a general character rule, Willow is friendly to just about everyone. However, she has historically had a special hate in her heart for Faith, the rogue slayer. When confronting Faith in the show’s third season, Willow called her “a big, selfish, worthless waste.” This is understandable, as Faith had gone evil after taking a human life.
Later, in Buffy’s body, Faith insults Tara, which angers Willow even more. What is surprising, then, is that they become good friends in later comics!
Those comics flesh out a rather epic journey of redemption for Faith, showing how she works closely with Giles and Angel to atone for her past sins. In one of her crazier adventures, she traveled with Willow to a hell dimension called Quor’toth on a quest to restore magic to the world. They eventually succeed, and before Willow parts ways with the others, she tells Faith how proud she is that the former renegade slayer had matured into a real hero.
2. She wasn’t meant to be a redhead
It’s fair to say that Willow’s red hair is her signature feature. It helped shape her character’s increasingly-colorful wardrobe, led to nicknames (such as Spike calling her “Red”), and even influenced other shows, with Hannigan’s character on How I Met Your Mother also being a redhead. Here’s the thing, though: she is not a natural redhead, and the character was not originally meant to be one!
So, what happened? As it turns out, the story behind this is fairly prosaic. As Hannigan recalls in a 2011 interview, Joss Whedon became concerned that all of his female Scoobies had the same brown hair color. He wanted to change things up and asked the three of them if anyone wanted to be a redhead, so Hannigan volunteered. S
1. Hannigan’s allure changed Willow
From drooling fans to tweedy academics, countless words have been written about Willow’s transformation over the course of the show. She started out as a conservatively-dressed and shy geek, which is exactly how Whedon envisioned the character. By the end of the show, she was a bona fide sex icon, stunning fans with her appearance on Buffy as well as some heartstopping photo shoots with magazines such as FHM. So, what happened? Was this all Whedon’s plan from the beginning? Nope: as it turns out, Hannigan ended up being too sexy for her character.
In an old New York Times interview, Whedon recalls how his actors ended up fundamentally changing the characters as he had originally written them. For instance, he deliberately wrote Giles to be a stuffy teacher type, but the character loosened up over the years and “became hipper because Tony was not a stuffy guy.” With Willow, he recalls that she “very quickly” changed and became “sexier… because that’s the way Alyson was.” Thus, Alyson Hannigan’s innate sexiness slowly melted mousy Willow away and left a powerful and confident woman in her place!
Know some more secrets about everyone’s favorite witch from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Share them in the comments!
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