Ranking Joss Whedon’s Most Heartbreaking Character Deaths

Joyce Summers, Buffy The Vampire SlayerWarner Bros. Entertainment

Fitz/Simmons recent brush with death in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale got me thinking of some of Joss Whedon’s tear-inducing deaths (there are so many!). And after some careful consideration, here are the top 10:

Disclaimer: This whole post is basically one big spoiler.

10. Spike

Talk about character development: this guy made a full 180 from villain to self-sacrificing hero. And while he and Buffy had their ups and downs, he had the audience in his complete thrall from the moment he crooned, “If my heart could beat, it would break my chest!” in the infamous musical episode, “Once More With Feeling.” Watching him run mad in the rocky seventh season made him even more sympathetic, and by the time he killed himself in order to close the Hellmouth? So done.

9. Buffy

When Whedon thought Buffy was done for good, he decided to kill off his main girl. And how else would Buffy die? By tragically sacrificing herself in order to save her sister, Dawn (and all of Sunnydale), of course. The tragedy is upped significantly in light of the fact that no one really liked Dawn in the first place.

Even after her resurrection, there’s a bittersweetness: Willow ripped Buffy out of a heaven dimension, making her transition back into the real world… well, hell.

8. The Entire Human Race

In The Cabin in the Woods, the victory of Marty and Dana’s against-all-odds survival is somewhat tamped down by the fact that their continued existence means angry gods are going to obliterate humankind.

7. Agent Coulson

Coulson died like he lived: standing up to baddies with Captain America memorabilia in his suit pocket. His death rather famously served to unite the quarrelling Avengers against a common enemy: his murderer, Loki.

Though, like Spike and Buffy before him, the blow his death dealt was considerably softened by his resurrection, and ensuing TV series.

6. Wash

Okay, now this was just plain cruel: apparently the Serenity’s resident jokester/Hawaiian shirt wearer was killed (impaled, no less) because actor Alan Tudyk was unable to commit to a second Firefly movie that is still yet to come. Talk about adding insult to injury!

5. Shepherd Book

See: Wash.

4. Angel

Angel rather tragically regaining his soul mere seconds before Buffy is forced to stab him in the chest (to save the world, of course) was a twist of the knife that was pure Whedon. Luckily, Angel’s among the veritable army of resurrected Whedonverse characters!

3. Topher Brink

Like Spike, Topher did some serious character-developing: he went from possibly-sociopathic and morally ambiguous to (yet another) self-sacrificing martyr. Yes, he went mad from guilt over being the mind behind the technology that all but brought on Armageddon, but he was able to scrape together enough lucidity to save the day. Let’s hope he was reunited beyond the grave with his true love, Bennett Halverson!

2. Joyce Summers

After five seasons of brutal vampire slayings and other violent deaths, Whedon found a way to kill off Buffy’s mother Joyce in the most shocking way possible: natural causes. Sarah Michelle Gellar played the scene where she finds her mother’s corpse to heartbreaking perfection, and ‘The Body’ will forever be known as one of Buffy’s most chilling episodes.

1. Penny

Penny’s shocking demise at the end of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog is all the more awful for the fact that it was Dr. Horrible’s death ray that ultimately killed her. Sure, it wasn’t him wielding it at the time (no, that honor goes to Captain Hammer), but there’s no denying his role in her death. There’s also some major poetic injustice in the fact that her death becomes the murder that clinches Dr. Horrible’s acceptance into the Evil League of Villains.