Willow Rosenberg is a fictional character created by Joss Whedon for the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She was portrayed by Alyson Hannigan, who also played the character in three episodes of the show's spin-off, Angel.
Willow is the show's only major character known to be Jewish, and later was one of the most prominent lesbian characters in American television. In 2007, AOL named her the second greatest witch in television history, behind Samantha Stephens of Bewitched.
Willow Rosenberg was born to Sheila and Ira Rosenberg. Her middle name is given as "Danielle" in an early draft of the script for the episode "Bad Girls": "If my parents hadn't settled on 'Danielle,' Danger would be my middle name." This line was not included in the broadcast episode. Her supercilious and distant mother, a psychologist, appeared in the Season Three episode "Gingerbread." Under the influence of a demon, Sheila tries to burn her daughter at the stake for being a witch, and though she loses much of her memory of the incident, Willow does not. Willow may have inherited from her mother a strong sense of outrage against political injustice, especially that committed against Native Americans, q.v., "Pangs". In the episode "The Killer in Me," Kennedy and Willow talk about how their parents reacted to their being gay. Willow mentions to Kennedy that her mother initially thought it was a political statement, but that she later realized that Willow was serious about being lesbian and became less enthusiastic about it. Her father, never seen, is hinted to be equally uninvolved. In Season Two, Willow reveals that she has a fear of frogs, a fact she exploits to help Buffy escape in "Killed by Death".
In the first few seasons, Willow is a shy, naive nerd with a light, risqué sense of humor. A member of the Math, Science, and Computer clubs, she is the person to go to for tutoring help. Willow is ridiculed by her more popular classmates, including cheerleaders Cordelia Chase and Harmony Kendall. She has a hopeless crush on her lifelong friend Xander Harris, who ignores her to pursue his equally hopeless crush on Buffy Summers. Willow soon becomes Buffy's best friend, and upon learning that she is actually the Slayer, dedicates herself to aiding her friend in the battle against evil.
Although Willow is at first useful to the Scooby Gang mostly through her computing and hacking skills, in Season Two she begins to develop an interest in spells and witchcraft. She also becomes more assertive, leading the Scoobies in Buffy's absence in episodes such as "Halloween" and "The Dark Age." After discovering Xander kissing Cordelia, a heartbroken Willow decides to move on, starting a romantic relationship with Daniel 'Oz' Osborne, a guitarist in the local band Dingoes Ate My Baby. She continues to date him after the revelation that he is a werewolf.
“ "You're nice and you're funny and you don't smoke, and yeah, okay, werewolf, but that's not all the time. I mean, three days out of the month, I'm not much fun to be around either." — Willow (cf. "Phases"). ”
When Jenny Calendar, a computer science teacher and technopagan who Willow admired, is murdered by Buffy's vampire boyfriend Angelus in "Passion", Willow agrees to teach her classes for the rest of the year. During this time, she goes through her former favorite teacher's belongings and dabbles in magic, performing the Ritual of Restoration to re-ensoul Angel.
In Season Three, Willow continues to blossom through witchcraft and her relationship with Oz. Joining a coven with fellow magic-users Amy Madison and Michael Czajak, Willow becomes the victim of witch-hunt led by the parents of Sunnydale who form a group called Mothers Opposed to the Occult (MOO) (cf. "Gingerbread"). She and Xander discover a growing attraction for each other, despite the fact that both of them are in other relationships. While being held hostage by Spike, Willow and Xander share a kiss, believing that they will never escape Spike alive. To their dismay, they are caught in the act by Oz and Cordelia, who have come to rescue them. Although Cordelia breaks up with Xander for good, Oz and Willow eventually manage to work things out. Tired of being "old reliable", Willow aids former vengeance demon Anya Jenkins in a spell, unwittingly releasing her own vampire counterpart from an alternate universe (cf. "Doppelgangland"). She is shocked to discover that her vampire counterpart exhibits homosexual tendencies, a foreshadowing to her own lesbian relationships in the future. Despite being accepted by several prestigious colleges, including Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, Willow decides to attend UC Sunnydale so that she can continue fighting the "good fight" with Buffy.
In Season Four, Willow and Buffy become college roommates at UC Sunnydale in Room 214 in Stevenson Hall and she continues her relationship with Oz. Oz becomes drawn to another girl, Veruca, who he discovers is a werewolf and this results in him cheating on Willow in the episode "Wild at Heart". He then leaves town so as not to endanger his friends further and clears his things from his house. Willow is so heartbroken and devastated that she is afraid she will never get past the pain. She casts a spell to have her will done, hoping to get past the heartbreak faster. She accidentally endangers her friends' lives in the process (cf. "Something Blue"). She joins the campus Wicca group, a disappointing experience but for the presence of serious witch Tara Maclay. After discovering each other's magic, they become friends, lovers, and later soulmates, sharing one of the few lesbian relationships portrayed on American network television. In "New Moon Rising", Oz returns after gaining control over his wolf-side, with hopes of continuing his relationship with Willow. Oz leads Willow outside during a full moon and Willow is shocked to see that he remains himself, not changing into a werewolf. He tells her he went to Tibet and with the help of herbs, charms, chanting, and meditation, he's learned to control the wolf inside. However, Oz begins to show extreme emotion when he learns Willow is involved with Tara and changes to a werewolf in the middle of the afternoon. Although Willow still seems to harbor feelings for Oz, she admits that she expects that "In a way, I feel like I'll always be waiting for you", and Oz decides to leave once again. Willow unintentionally brings out the wolf in him and he will never really be able to control his emotions when around her, which begins the start of her relationship with Tara.
Season Five sees Willow's power increase at a dramatic rate. Her relationship with Tara is strengthened when she discovers how Tara rose above her family's abusive lies. However, in the episode "Tough Love", they argue when Tara voices her concerns at how powerful Willow has become over the past few months. Shortly afterwards, Tara is "brain-sucked" by the hell-goddess Glory, left in an insane, babbling state. Ignoring Buffy's warnings, Willow arms herself for a fight and attacks Glory with knives and dark magic, managing to weaken her significantly before Buffy comes to the rescue. When Buffy later goes into a catatonic state, Willow magically enters her mind and frees her, assuring her that they will find a way to defeat Glory. In the final fight against Glory, Willow manages to slow her down by restoring Tara's mind, reuniting with her lover. However, Buffy is forced to sacrifice herself to save the life of her sister, Dawn.
Tara's murder sends Willow on a dark, murderous rampage that also alters her physical appearance.
In the sixth season, Willow suffers an unbearable loss and faces her own dark side. Her magical skills first peak in the Season Six premiere "Bargaining," when she leads Tara, Xander, and Anya in resurrecting Buffy. Afterwards, Willow becomes addicted to using magic, and her disregard for the consequences of her actions eventually drives Tara away and lands Dawn in the hospital (cf. "Wrecked"). With Tara's departure and Dawn's injury, Willow is forced to face her problem and stops using magic. When Tara is murdered by Warren Mears, however, a grief-stricken Willow unleashes the dark energies once more, and her vengeance reaches a climax when she uses magic to flay Warren alive in the episode "Villains". Willow absorbs volumes of magic as she pursues Jonathan Levinson and Andrew Wells, Warren's accomplices, turning against her friends in the process. She ultimately absorbs so much power that she is overcome by all the pain she senses in the world. She attempts to trigger the apocalypse to end it all, but is thwarted by Xander who, out of love, refuses to leave her alone, regardless of what she has done or is doing. This eventually causes Willow to break down over her actions (partially because she has absorbed power from Giles that put her back in touch with her true emotions and feelings).
Willow's dark turn is explicitly compared by a character in the show to the X-Men's "Dark Phoenix Saga," of which Joss Whedon is a huge fan.
“ "Are you kidding? She's like Dark Phoenix up there! And you expect us just to outrun her?" — Andrew (cf. "Two to Go"). ”
In Season Seven, Willow is forced to deal with her magical nature and her place in the universe after some time in England with Giles. She slowly regains control of her powers and begins a relationship with Potential Slayer Kennedy. After their first kiss, Willow finds herself transforming into Warren, the result of a hex placed on her by a vengeful Amy. Kennedy saves her by helping her come to terms with Tara's death and move on (cf. "The Killer in Me"). In "Orpheus", an important crossover with the Buffy spin-off series Angel, Willow battles the being later known as Jasmine, a divine entity and manages to hold her own defense against the attacks, and restores Angel's soul for the second time. In the Buffy series finale, "Chosen", Willow is able to overcome her dark side and use her powers for good again, changing the rules for the entire Slayer line.
“ "In every generation, one Slayer is born... because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman (points to Willow) is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power... should be our power." — Buffy (cf. "Chosen") ”
Despite being able to overcome her dark side, Willow's inner evil would occasionally manifest itself.
Willow on a cover for the comic book continuation Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight. Art by Jo Chen.
Following "Chosen", the fifth season of Angel continues the Buffyverse, mentioning Willow spending some time with Kennedy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as visiting the Himalayas and astrally projecting to another plane (cf. "Shells").
When Amy Madison unleashes an army of zombies on Buffy and her Slayers in Scotland, Willow rushes to her friends' aid (cf. "The Long Way Home"). During the battle, Amy tries to infect Willow with dark magic, but Willow manages to overcome it. Reunited with her best friends, Buffy and Xander, after a long period of time, Willow tells them that she and Kennedy are taking things slowly after Kennedy suffered a month-long mystical death. Amy suddenly kidnaps Willow and presents her to a skinless Warren. Willow takes mental refuge in a plane of elemental beings while Warren lobotomizes her. When Buffy releases her, Willow has already fully healed.
Willow revisits Kennedy and the two dispute about why Willow distances her from Buffy. Willow admits that she fears that by being around Buffy, Kennedy's life will be jeopardized like Tara's. A demon presents Buffy a glimpse of this dispute, complicating her relationship with Willow (cf. "Anywhere but Here").
In "Wolves at the Gate", Willow travels to Tokyo with the rest of the Scoobies to fight the Japanese vampire gang and recover the Scythe. While in Tokyo, Willow uses a spell to bring giant Dawn to the city and distract the vampires. In the last issue of the arc, Willow fights Kumiko, the witch from the vampire gang; Kumiko reveals to her that she is also a student of Saga Vasuki, a mysterious snake goddess. In a hallucination, induced by Kumiko, Saga Vasuki is able to communicate with Willow, and tells her that she can’t hide from her or from what she is. Later, Willow follows Dracula’s instructions to cast a spell and strip all the vampires from their powers. At the end of the last issue of the arc, Willow is seen invoking Saga Vasuki.
Willow reunites with Kennedy when she and Buffy go to New York in "Time of Your Life". After Buffy accidentally travels forward to 300 years in the future and meets its current slayer Melaka Fray, a future Willow, driven insane and practicing dark magicks once again, is allied with Fray's nemesis and brother Harth. Encountering Fray on her own, she convinces her of the necessity to destroy Buffy. In her attempts to rescue Buffy, present-day Willow is forced to commune with Saga Vasuki once more; the tone of their relationship is a sexual one, and Willow is visibly racked with guilt in the presence of Kennedy. Saga Vasuki warns Willow not to look forward into the future when she rescues Buffy from it.
Powers and abilities
For the first two seasons of the show, Willow was an average human, and thus, had no powers of her own; however, her intelligence, computer skills, and snarkiness made her a major asset to the team. She aids Giles as he researches information to aid Buffy in overcoming various challenges. In Seasons Five and Six, she displays enough knowledge of robotics to repair and reprogram the Buffybot on several occasions. Willow aids in the preparation of magical materials, making her first potion to detect a witch in the episode "Witch" and performing the ritual to revoke Angelus' invitation to Buffy's house in "Passion", but does not seriously begin practicing magic until the death of Jenny Calendar, one of her teachers. She is asked to take over teaching the class because of her high aptitude, and one day comes across a floppy disk containing a spell that Jenny Calendar had successfully translated to English, which can restore a vampire's soul. Willow's initial interest in Wicca lies more in the spell-casting portion rather than the faith itself; she sees magic as a way of hacking the universe, and an extension of her computer hacking skills. This mentality may have been influenced by her relationship with Jenny, who identified herself as a "technopagan," and was connected to an online pagan network.
Willow's first major spell involves re-cursing Angel with a soul in the Season Two finale, a feat she repeats in the Angel episode "Orpheus". She learns to levitate a pencil early in the show's third season, and her powers continue to develop until, at the end of Season Four, she is casting powerful spells independently and with the help of Tara Maclay. Season Five finds her surpassing Tara, a more experienced witch, in skill and being able to draw enough power to fend off the hell-god Glory, learning how to cast elemental magicks such as fire and lightning.
In Season Six, Willow demonstrates the ability to bring Buffy back to life, leaving her drained but regaining her magic in a few hours. Her friend Amy Madison introduces her to a warlock, Rack, who gives her the ability to go longer and do more spells, which leads Willow further down the path to the dark side of magic. Eventually, after Tara dies, magic consumes Willow and she nearly destroys the world. It is at this time that Anya assumes Willow is now the most powerful Wicca in the Western Hemisphere. Willow is capable of imbuing herself with superhuman strength rivaling Buffy's, flying, absorbing life from others, teleportation, being impervious to physical damage, emitting high-pitched shrieks in frequencies harmful to human ears, healing herself and others instantly at will, unleashing powerful energy blasts, locating people and objects at a distance (even when theoretically protected from such spells), and exerting powerful levels of telekinesis and telepathic mind control. This mind control even extends to Anya, despite Anya's statement that vengeance demons are immune to mind controlling magicks.
Season Seven sees her willingness to use magic greatly diminished after the events of the Season Six finale. Willow spends time at a coven in England with Giles where she develops a better understanding of magic, balance, etc. At this point, she is so powerful her very feelings and thoughts can affect the world. Amy comments that other practitioners "work twice as hard to be half as good" as Willow. Despite this, Willow is largely prevented from accessing more than slight magic by the First Evil, who attempts to corrupt her at each spell. Examples of the controlled usage of her power are her use of telekinesis to practice self-restraint, conjuring force fields, extensive telepathic conversations, opening a portal, and exerting hypnotic control. In the Season Seven premiere, Willow receives an apparent precognitive vision of the Hellmouth, although this has only been shown once. Willow also comments that she now absorbs power from the things around her, one time unwillingly draining some of Anya's and Kennedy's life-force. At the end of Season Seven, Willow casts a spell that imbues all Potential Slayers on Earth with Slayer powers (formerly reserved for only one girl in every generation), temporarily turning Willow's eyes and hair crystal white in the process. Kennedy remarks on it by calling her "a goddess".
Season Eight shows that Willow's powers have greatly expanded since the television series. She can now fly by force of will and has regained control of her powers, and although her roots continue to go dark whenever she taps into more power, this doesn't faze her. She is able to project vast amounts of energy from her fingertips and cast aside powerful spells. Willow is able to teleport giant Dawn, apparently from Scotland to Tokyo, without visible strain. She is able to heal herself rapidly from extreme injuries, at least including partial lobotomy. She is also able to heal injuries in others. Amy characterizes her as a "big all-powerful earth-mother witch goddess". The Season Eight time travel storyline "Time of Your Life" depicts Dark Willow as alive and youthful hundreds of years into the future, although unable to create magic of much power.
Willow's appearance changes drastically over the course of the show to reflect her growing level of confidence and power. In her initial appearances, she dressed like a little girl and her mother still picked out her clothes for her. Cordelia comments on this in "Welcome to the Hellmouth", cruelly stating, "Good to know you've seen the softer side of Sears!" After Buffy encourages Willow to "seize the day", her fashion sense begins to reflect the growing confidence that her friendship with the Slayer grants her. In reality, this is due to the WB requesting that Willow dress more "hip" like Buffy. In his DVD commentary for "Welcome to the Hellmouth", Joss Whedon explained, "The incredibly nerdy clothes that she's wearing, you'll see her wearing for exactly one episode, because [the network] kept sending us memos 'You must make her more hip. You must make her more cool. You must make her more... like Buffy' which confused me because, you know, I wanted to do an ensemble show and ensemble means that people are different. Besides, I think that outfit's really cute."
By Season Three, Willow has blossomed through her relationship with Oz, and her appearance reflects this. She cuts her hair shoulder-length (although it takes her mother several months to notice this - "Gingerbread") and develops a penchant for fluffy sweaters and peculiar hats. One of her memorable outfits in Season Three is her pink sweater from "Doppelgangland". Feeling undervalued by her friends, Willow threatens to change her look, shortly before the arrival of the alternate universe Vamp Willow, dressed in her iconic leather outfit. Upon seeing Vamp Willow, Percy asks her if she is "trick-or-treating", while Buffy describes her as a dominatrix. Upon seeing her human alter-ego's pink sweater, Vamp Willow teases her by saying, "Well, look at me. I'm all fuzzy." When she later wakes up dressed in said sweater, Vamp Willow says "Oh, this is like a nightmare." In Season Four's "The Initiative", Spike admits that he finds Willow's "fuzzy pink number with the lilac underneath" to be arousing.
By college, Willow cuts her hair even shorter, and begins to wear long skirts and high shoes, which make her appear significantly taller and more confident than in her shy, wallflower years in high school. However, in "Restless", it is revealed through a dream that Willow feels she is only hiding her true geeky nature, with Buffy and Riley describing her normal clothes as a "costume." She finds herself back in a high school classroom, where Buffy rips off her "costume", leaving her dressed in her "softer side of Sears" outfit from "Welcome to the Hellmouth", shortly before being attacked by the Primitive. In "The Body", Willow focuses her grief over the death of Buffy's mother Joyce Summers on what clothes to wear while visiting Buffy at the hospital. She describes her clothes as having "stupid things on them" and asks why she can't dress "like a grown-up." Joss Whedon stated that this was based on his own irrational obsession over what tie to wear to a funeral.
When Willow is consumed by dark magic in the closing episodes of Season Six, she inadvertently takes on a goth look. Dark Willow, as Andrew Wells refers to her in "Storyteller", can be identified by her black hair, black eyes, and numerous veins over her face, the latter of which gained after killing Rack and absorbing his power. Xander described Dark Willow's appearance as the "makeover of the damned", but later assured her that he loved "scary, veiny Willow" just as much as "crayon breaky Willow." Willow's hair and eyes revert to their natural color following Xander's heroic speech in "Grave", but she sometimes resumes this appearance when her powers are pushed to their limits, such as battling the Crimslaw demon in "Selfless", or Amy in "The Long Way Home".
In Season Seven, Willow's hair has grown slightly longer and she dresses more maturely. While performing the spell to activate the potential Slayers in "Chosen", her hair briefly turns white, contrasting the benevolent intent behind this spell against the dark magic performed by Dark Willow.
In the Season Eight comics, Willow is dressed in clothing reminiscent of Tara and her hair is shoulder length again. In the time travel Time of Your Life storyline, her future counterpart is dressed in clothing resembled elements of her alternate vampiric counterpart from the "Doppelgangland" and Drusilla. Her future self has red/black hair, black eyes, and veins over her face.
Willow is described on the show as a "Wicca" (sic). For example, in the Season Three episode "Doppelgangland," Anya tells her: "I heard you were a pretty powerful Wicca, so..." Willow replies: "You heard right, mister!" and in the sixth season episode, Two to Go, Anya describes Willow as "the most powerful wicca in the western hemisphere". However, some critics[who?] have pointed out that the depiction of Wicca on the show is inaccurate. In the book "Seven Seasons of Buffy", author Christie Golden describes Willow as a "Hollywood witch" and points out that even the phrase "a Wicca" makes no sense, stating: "One who follows the faith of Wicca is a Wiccan." The term is, however, closer to the root word (wicce).
Willow also seems to identify -- at least ethnically and culturally -- as Jewish. She refers to herself on a number of occasions as Jewish and appears to come from a religious family, noting in the Season Two episode "Passion" that she has to go to Xander's house to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas every year. Xander mentions this fact again in the Season Five episode, "The Replacement". Willow says her egg is Jewish in the Season Two episode "Bad Eggs". In the Season Six episode, "Hell's Bells," Willow mentions that she had a Bat Mitzvah several years ago. In the Season Seven episode "Help", Willow places stones on Tara's headstone, a Jewish tradition to honor the dead.
Although Willow had previously been established as a "straight girl," pining after Xander and enjoying a long-term relationship with Oz, there are hints of her being at least bisexual in the episode "Doppelgangland" when she meets her vampire alter ego.
“Willow: "That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and... skanky. [aside to Buffy, worried] And I think I'm kinda gay."
Buffy: [reassuringly] "Willow, just remember that a vampire's personality has nothing to do with the person that it was."
Angel: [without thinking] "Well, actually... [off Buffy's look] That's a good point."”
However, Jane Espenson said in an interview with the BBC that creator Joss Whedon said at the time of writing that episode, he had no idea that he was going to make the character of Willow a lesbian.
Willow and Tara's first on-screen kiss in the episode "The Body".
In Season Four, following Oz's departure, Willow secretly performs spells with fellow Wiccan Tara, but there are hints that they are more than just friends. The first confirmation that their relationship is romantic in nature comes in the episode "Who Are You". Since coming out in Season Four, the Willow character became one of the most prominent lesbian characters in pop culture, having enjoyed the longest-running lesbian relationship on network television, lasting approximately two and a half seasons. Willow and Tara earned a dedicated fan base of gay and bisexual viewers who were inspired by the characters, with Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson becoming gay icons.
However, broadcasting constraints from the WB meant that, unlike the heterosexual characters, Willow and Tara were not allowed to be shown in any sexual scenes. The couple did not have their first on-screen kiss until the Season Five episode, "The Body", almost a year after their relationship began (the context of the scene involved Tara comforting Willow after the death of Joyce Summers). This changed significantly when Buffy switched networks to the more lenient UPN, with Willow and Tara shown kissing, sharing a bed, and even having implied oral sex (cf. "Once More, with Feeling"). The character of Willow continued to break new ground when, in the Season Seven episode "Touched", she was seen having sex with her new girlfriend Kennedy, in the first lesbian sex scene on network television. It is worth noting that this relationship is the only one involving one of the "core four" (Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles), to survive the series, all previous relationships having come to a tragic end one way or the other.
Willow's alter ego in "Doppelgangland" displays overt bisexuality, with Willow forming strong heterosexual relationships across the first three seasons of Buffy. She also comments upon Dracula's sexiness, which is likely caused by Dracula's thrall over people, in "Buffy vs. Dracula", and even reveals a former crush on Giles after seeing him sing with his guitar at the coffee shop. Later in the series, Willow's relationship with dealer Rack takes on sexual overtones, although it is mostly because of the magic he gives her. However, Willow does make her preferences clear. In "Him", as one of the many women under RJ Brooks' love spell, she seeks to transform him into a woman. Discussing the conquests of best friend Xander in "The Long Way Home, Part Three", Willow teasingly says that even she "went in for smoochies" before reiterating "and I don't truck with the stubbly crowd."
A new species of sea slug found on the West Coast, Alderia willowi, was named after this character in a tongue-in-cheek tribute due to Alderia willowi's rare reproductive dimorphism and Willow's own unique sexuality shifts during various seasons and episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.