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A binge guide to Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Willow

Contributed by
Jun 19, 2018

It’s been 15 years since the groundbreaking Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air, and since then, the shape of television has changed in countless ways. It’s hard, though, to see much of the supernatural media out there and not see the ways in which it has been influenced by Buffy — especially media that follows the lives of powerful young women.

While the series was far from perfect, it was still important. One of the most invaluable parts was Buffy’s best friend Willow Rosenberg, who transformed over the show’s seven seasons from a nerdy wallflower into one of the most powerful witches who ever lived — and one of TV’s earliest depictions of a lesbian character.

Her story, though, was not without its difficulties. If you’re eager to relive the life of Willow — from nearly getting murdered by a vampire to altering the destinies of countless young women — we have prepared this handy binge guide for you.

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“Welcome to the Hellmouth”/“The Harvest” (Season 1, Episodes 1 and 2)

The very first episode (okay, it’s a two-parter) and our very first introduction to Buffy Summers, Sunnydale, the myth of the Slayer, and Buffy’s new friends, Xander and Willow. In addition to setting up everything we need to know about Buffy and about the show, it also establishes what we need to know about Willow, at least at this point in the series — the starting point of her journey. She is small, unsure of herself, but interested in being something more. She and Buffy are fast friends, which will happen when you accidentally leave a strangely underage bar to hang out with a vampire and come shockingly close to being ritually sacrificed.

“The Pack” (Season 1, Episode 6)

Not strictly a Willow episode, but one that really gets to the way Willow feels about Xander, despite the fact that he is kind of the WORST. This relationship is important to her and to the show, and watching an entire episode where hyena!Xander goes out of his way to hurt Willow is sad, but necessary.

“I Robot, You Jane” (Season 1, Episode 8)

Willow has a boyfriend. She met him online. They’ve been emailing. Oh, and there’s a demon in the capital-I '90s Internet. Obviously, these two things are related, because (you guessed it) Willow is dating the demon in the internet. This episode is ridiculous and has not aged well. Come for the internet demon, stay for the very '90s internet jargon.

“Halloween” (Season 2, Episode 6)

A bit of a jump here, but Season 1 is short and largely skippable (sorry, diehards). Season 2 is where things start to pick up for everyone, including Willow. In this episode, Willow gets to be the hero (along with Angel and Giles) when everyone is magically turned into their Halloween costumes. In addition to a Rambo-style Xander and a completely useless Buffy, Willow ends up a ghost. That might be the big story, but Willow’s subplot is great—as she starts out extremely uncomfortable in her own skin and ends up much more willing to own her sexuality.

“What’s My Line Pt. 1&2” (Season 2, Episodes 9 and 10)

Another one that doesn’t have a ton to do with Willow, but it's important as it marks the moment she and Oz finally meet. You know the relationship is off to a good start when he takes a bullet for you and then you joke about animal crackers.

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“Phases” (Season 2, Episode 15)

Does anyone truly deserve to be with a girl like Willow? Well, maybe Tara, but we’re not there yet. In this episode, Oz discovers he is a werewolf and has been terrorizing teenagers at Lover’s Lane. Willow takes this surprisingly well, first helping to capture him safely and then making it perfectly clear that his lycanthropy wasn’t going to drive her away.

“Becoming Pt. 1&2” (Season 2, Episodes 21 and 22)

Willow will eventually become a badass witch and the biggest gun in the Slayer’s arsenal, but all that had to start somewhere. That happens here, when Willow tries, twice, to return Angel’s soul to his evil evil body, nearly losing her life in the process. It’s quite the indicator that she is able to perform such a difficult spell successfully on her first (OK, second) attempt.

“Homecoming” (Season 3, Episode 5)

Despite her surprisingly healthy relationship with Oz the werewolf, Willow still has deep, long-held feelings for her best friend, Xander. While Xander’s girlfriend is fighting for her life, Willow and Xander discover that those feelings have not gone away, as much as they would prefer they had.

“Lovers Walk” (Season 3, Episode 8)

You know all those feelings that were starting to boil up in “Homecoming"? This is where they boil over. Willow and Xander are kidnapped by a lovelorn Spike because he wants Willow to perform a love spell on Drusilla. The stress of the situation causes the two best friends to give into their feelings just as their respective partners show up to save them. Sorry, Cordelia (Oz too, but he doesn’t get impaled).

“Gingerbread” (Season 3, Episode 11)

A terrifying giant demon disguised as two small children preys on growing paranoia in Sunnydale, resulting in Amy, Buffy, and Willow tied to stakes about to be burned by their own mothers. This is also the episode where Amy turns herself into a rat and gets stuck like that for the next three years.

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“Doppelgangland” (Season 3, Episode 16)

Two words: Vampire Willow.

“Choices” (Season 3, Episode 19)

It’s been nearly three years and finally, FINALLY, Willow gets to be amazing all on her own. She has to get kidnapped by the Mayor first, but while she’s held prisoner she not only holds her own but ends up staking a vampire with a pencil and some well-placed telekinesis.

“Wild at Heart” (Season 4, Episode 6)

College means big changes in real life and at the Hellmouth. While Buffy is going through her own relationship drama, Willow and Oz encounter a college version of their lycanthropic troubles. Oz encounters a sexy female werewolf and gives in to some of his more primal urges. When Willow finds out, she’s appropriately devastated, especially since it confirms her worst fears about their relationship, and Oz decides to pack up and go on a bit of a walkabout.

“Something Blue” (Season 4, Episode 9)

Heartbreak really brings out the worst in Willow (this will become a pattern), and this time she’s imposing her will on everyone around her. In an attempt to make herself feel better, Willow casts a spell that will make what she says reality, and as an indicator of the power she will someday wield, the spell is a bit too successful. Willow ends up making Buffy and Spike fall in love, turns Giles blind, and turns Xander into a demon magnet. It gets so bad that eventually Willow is offered Anya’s old job as a vengeance demon (though she turns it down).

“Hush” (Season 4, Episode 10)

Luckily, Willow’s heartbreak doesn’t last forever. A few weeks later, while sitting in her less-than-stellar meeting of her on-campus Wicca group, Willow catches the eye of a shy young witch named Tara. The next day, Sunnydale is beset by a strange phenomenon where everyone loses the ability to speak and terrifying monsters called The Gentlemen tear hearts out of their victims. In the middle of the chaos, Willow and Tara discover that two witches are better than one and start out on a beautiful journey together.

“New Moon Rising” (Season 4, Episode 19)

Speaking of a beautiful journey, Oz suddenly returns from his werewolf walkabout to find out that Willow has moved on, and it makes him flip out. I’m talking lose-control-of-his-wolf flip out. He nearly murders Tara before getting captured by the Initiative, but things turn out all right in the end. Willow finally gets to make her own decisions, telling Oz that she was hurt when he left but that she’s found someone else, and making her relationship with Tara officially official.

“Primeval” (Season 4, Episode 21)

After all the insanity that was the fourth season, with its changes and its college and whatnot, the whole thing ends by reaffirming the relationship among the four core cast members. Willow, especially, gets to show off her witchy powers as they all perform a spell to become a single super Buffy and take down the season’s Big Bad along with a whole bunch of mutant hybrids.

“Family” (Season 5, Episode 6)

This episode focuses on Tara, and, as a result, it also focuses a lot on Willow and their relationship. It’s Tara’s birthday, and Willow is throwing a party for her girlfriend. Little does she know that Tara’s family is in town and they’ve got a secret: The women in her family, upon turning 20 years old, also apparently turn into demons. In order to keep Willow in the dark about her demonic nature, Tara casts a spell that makes everyone vulnerable to demons. In a shocking turn of events, turns out the “You’re gonna turn into a demon” thing was a family legend created to keep the women in line. Tara is fine, and both Willow and Buffy (because of Willow) stand up to her family and prove that she is welcome in theirs.

“Triangle” (Season 5, Episode 11)

This show never had enough episodes exactly like this one. "Triangle" is all about the tension between Willow and Anya, and it is hilarious in its complete insanity. Willow doesn’t trust Anya because of her demonic past and her relationship with Xander. Meanwhile, Anya doesn’t trust Willow because Willow and Xander are very close and her lips are what broke up him and Cordelia. Oh, and they accidentally release Anya’s old boyfriend, the troll, from his troll prison and have to chase him all over town while bickering.

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“The Body” (Season 5, Episode 16)

Also not specifically about Willow, but in this seminal episode where Buffy returns home to find her mother dead on the couch, Willow’s reaction gets an entire segment all to itself. It’s a great piece of writing and acting, and it includes one of the first same-sex kisses on television.

“Tough Love”/“Spiral”/“The Weight of the World”/“The Gift” (Season 5, Episodes 19, 20, 21 and 22)

The first of two very big season finale chunks for Willow, Season 5 wraps up with the burgeoning witch turning into the tether, both between Buffy and Tara and reality itself. In “Tough Love,” an argument between Willow and Tara makes the latter a target for the current Big Bad, Glory, who hunts her down and sucks out the parts of her brain that keep her, you know, sane, sending Willow on a vengeful tear. Then, in the three-part finale, Willow starts off on her quest to get Tara’s mind back and finally get her revenge, both of which she accomplishes, all while trying to save Buffy from the catatonic state she falls into when Dawn is kidnapped. It’s a big arc for Willow.

“Bargaining Pt. 1&2” (Season 6, Episodes 1 and 2)

In the Season 6 opener, Willow and Tara have taken over raising Dawn, keeping up appearances since Buffy’s death. Meanwhile, Willow’s witchy powers reach a whole new level as she and the rest of the Scoobies conspire to bring their fallen leader back from the dead. It works, too, starting Willow down a very dangerous path.

“Tabula Rasa” (Season 6, Episode 8)

That dangerous path begins a few episodes later, when Tara discovers that Willow is using magic to solve problems in their relationship by altering her memory. Upset over this latest turn of events, Tara issues an ultimatum: Willow must go a month without using magic or Tara is out. Willow goes only a few hours before casting another spell to erase Tara and Buffy’s unpleasant memories, but she ends up erasing everyone’s memories and nearly getting them all killed. When Tara realizes what happened, she breaks up with Willow and moves out.

“Smashed”/“Wrecked” (Season 6, Episodes 8 and 9)

Willow does not take this latest breakup well at all, going to even further extremes than when she and Oz broke up two seasons before. This time she goes on a bit of a magical bender spanning two episodes, putting Dawn’s life in danger, finally releasing Amy from her rodent existence, and eventually resulting in a situation familiar to addicts: rock bottom. Finally, she decides to quit magic cold turkey, which goes well until …

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“Seeing Red”/“Villains”/“Two to Go”/“Grave” (Season 6, Episodes 19, 20, 21 and 22)

Another four-part season finale arc that has huge implications for Willow. After more than 10 episodes apart, Willow and Tara finally reconcile for one episode of bliss before evil nerd Warren, enraged that Buffy has thwarted his plans, shows up at the house with a gun, shoots Buffy, and accidentally fires a wild round that kills Tara right in front of Willow. With her girlfriend dead in her arms, Willow slips right back into the magic she has avoided and becomes a rage-fueled, black-haired, murder witch. She spends the next three episodes hunting down Warren and his friends, flaying Warren alive for Tara’s murder and nearly destroying the world to end her pain.

“Same Time, Same Place” (Season 7, Episode 3)

After the events of the Season 6 finale, Willow has gotten herself together and her magic under control by spending a few months in magical rehab at Giles’ place in England. Unsure whether she can face her friends again, Willow accidentally casts a spell that makes it impossible for her to see her friends or for her friends to see her until she gets over her fear. None of that happens, though, until after she is nearly skinned alive and eaten by a demon. It’s the first step on a long road to healing.

“Conversations With Dead People” (Season 7, Episode 7)

This episode is all about hurting people in the worst ways possible, by cutting to the very core of their persons, targeting them with the things (and people) who will screw with their heads the most. For Willow, that manifests as a teenage girl they couldn’t save earlier in the season who arrives with a message from Tara, telling Willow to take her own life so they can be together. This episode is devastating enough on its own, but there is apparently a version of it out there where Tara herself shows up to talk to Willow and it sounds SO MUCH WORSE.

“The Killer in Me” (Season 7, Episode 13)

The long road to healing finally reaches its apex in this episode as Willow faces her role in Tara’s death and its aftermath head-on. After meeting a potential slayer named Kennedy and sharing a kiss, Willow is transformed into Warren, the man she killed after he killed Tara. At first, the assumption is that Willow feels guilty for murdering him, but as she discovers, it's actually guilt over moving on and allowing Tara to be dead.

“Chosen” (Season 7, Episode 22)

It’s the series finale, and everything officially comes full circle. Buffy has decided to take the fight to the First Evil, and she’s doing that by sharing her power with all the potential Slayers. Of course, she needs Willow to accomplish that goal. It takes a huge burst of magic to change the nature of the Slayer’s powers, and Willow is the only one more powerful than the men who created her in the first place. Meanwhile, Willow is forced to give in to the magic in her completely, releasing her fears that she will become the evil murder witch from the year before. It’s a beautiful capper on a great series and a wonderful arc for an important character.

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