Buffy Retrospective: Willow and Xander

Mike Delaney
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When Buffy Summers arrives at Sunnydale High, she is the new girl at school. Although she wants to put her previous vampire slaying activities behind her, destiny comes calling once again. She quickly makes two unlikely friends – Willow and Xander.

The shy and bookish Willow Rosenberg, and the geekish everyman Xander Harris become Buffy’s secret keepers and true, constant companions. They fight beside her, and when needed, they tell her the truths she does not want to hear. Below, we look at the individual paths of Willow and Xander, the strength of their bond and how their friendship saved the world.

Shy, bookish, and with a love of learning and computers, Willow’s journey throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s seven seasons is one of the most expansive. It is also one of the most tragic. Intelligent and studious, Willow began helping Buffy and her Watcher, Rupert Giles, with research.

When Angel lost his soul after a moment of true happiness, Willow found that she had a talent for magic after performing the spell that re-ensouled him. From that moment, she began practising and growing her emerging magical powers, becoming a powerful witch in her own right. Over the course of the series, Willow’s powers resulted in the resurrection of Buffy after she sacrificed herself to defeat Glory, and the spell that activated all of the Slayers across the world.

But Willow’s path to power was not smooth sailing. She soon became dependent on using magic, developing a dangerous addiction. It got so bad that she even used magic to erase memories of arguments with her girlfriend, Tara. Tara was worried about the debilitating effect that magic addition was having on Willow, and after an incident that caused Willow to inadvertently wipe the memories of the entire Scooby Gang for a while, the two broke up.

Without Tara’s stabilising influence, Willow’s addiction spun out of control until she accidentally injures Buffy’s sister, Dawn, in a car crash. Coming to terms with her addiction, she renounces magic, which eventually leads to her reconciliation with Tara. But Willow’s happiness is short lived when Tara is killed by Warren Mears. Unable to save her, Willow descends into blackness and becomes Dark Willow. She tries to end the world, but is talked down by Xander and rehabilitated by Giles.

Xander

Xander is the everyman of the Scooby Gang. He has no inherent powers of his own, and no innate supernatural abilities. Xander is the heart of the Scooby Gang, but he is also the Zeppo – the member of the group considered to be the least exceptional.

It is something that weighs constantly on Xander as he wonders exactly what skills he brings to the group (apart from his exceptional construction and repair skills).

Xander’s upbringing was not a happy one – his parents were both alcoholics, and they neglected and abused him physically and emotionally. This left Xander with many insecurities that he carried through his life. Despite this, he was eternally optimistic in his pursuit of love and happiness, and provided much needed comic relief to counter the darkness his friends battled on a weekly basis.

Along the way, Xander eventually found love in a former vengeance demon, Anya. Their relationship was initially founded on physical intimacy, but soon developed into deeper feelings. Xander proposed to Anya, and they came close to getting married. However, a demon posing as Xander’s future self showed him a bleak future for himself and Anya, trapped in a marriage so like his parents.

Despite the visions being fake, it brought to mind all of Xander’s fears about marriage and relationships, and he called off the wedding. Their relationship officially ended, the pair would continue to have casual sex on occasion and admitted they still loved each other. During the battle with the First Evil, Xander would lose his eye to Caleb, and Anya herself to the Harbingers of Death.

The Power of Friendship

Willow and Xander are the best of friends, ever since they met as children. Throughout their friendship, Willow harboured a strong crush on Xander, but resigned herself to the fact that it would never be reciprocated. Xander did love Willow as a friend, but there was also an undercurrent of romantic tension between the two. The unresolved feelings eventually resulted in Willow and Xander having a brief affair, with both cheating on their respective partners at the time (Oz for Willow, and Cordelia for Xander).

After being consumed with guilt over the affair, they ended it permanently but their friendship was reaffirmed and became stronger. So strong in fact, that their friendship saved the world.

Heartbroken and grieving over the death of her girlfriend, Tara, Willow went on a rampage as she drained dark magic from any source that she could find. Consumed by vengeance, she sought revenge on those responsible for Tara’s death.

Eventually, Giles arrived to battle her with borrowed magical power that she also absorbed – which was his plan. The magic opened Willow up to the pain of the world, and she attempted to start the apocalypse in an effort to end the suffering.

But it also left her open to Xander’s pleas to stop which reached her humanity. Reminding Willow of their friendship, Xander told her he loved her. If she was going to end the world then he would be by Willow’s side when she did it. Breaking down in Xander’s arms, Willow finally ends her destructive quest for vengeance.

Essential Episodes

Willow

Becoming, Part 2

Doppelgangland

Bargaining, Part 1

Tough Love

Seeing Red to Grave

Xander

The Pack

Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

The Zeppo

The Replacement

Hell’s Bells

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back on Syfy in the UK. Catch Willow & Xander, this weekend from 11am. The Best of Buffy weekend starts April 1.

Mike Delaney
Star Wars fan and general pop culture addict. Only two beverages worth drinking are tea and whisky.
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