|Fandom:||Buffy the Vampire Slayer|
|Other:||Played by Amber Benson|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Tara Maclay is a recurring character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in seasons 4-6. She is introduced as a love interest for Willow Rosenberg and soon becomes one of the Scoobies as her relationship with Willow progresses.
For many young fans, Tara was one of the first openly queer characters they saw on TV, and her canon found family dynamic with the Scoobies is viewed positively by many. As a character who was almost universally loved by Buffy fandom, Tara is a popular character in fanworks. There are gen character studies as well as shipping fics, art and many other fan created works featuring Tara.
As well as being one of the first openly queer characters on primetime TV, Tara is also one of the earliest and most infamous examples of the Bury Your Gays trope. While her death on the show was a widely known spoiler in fandom at the time, fans were still shocked and angry at the manner of Tara's death. There were many fanworks created in the aftermath: meta essays, fix-it fics and fics focused on other characters' grief. Her death also inspired fan activism and gained media attention.
Tara is a shy young woman, but a powerful witch. She meets and begins a romantic relationship with Willow Rosenberg in season 4. Together, they help Buffy fight evil in Sunnydale. Tara and Willow live together for much of season 5 & 6, adopting a kitten together, Miss Kitty Fantastico.
On her 20th birthday, Tara's family arrive in Sunnydale to take her home. Tara believes she is a demon and is desperately trying to hide her demon heritage from Willow and their friends. With a little help from Spike, Tara and the scooby gang discover that Tara is fully human. The men of the Maclay family have been lying about their family heritage in order to keep the magical women of the family in line.
For a time, Tara leaves Willow in season six, due to Willow's continued abuse of magic. In the season six episode 'Seeing Red', the two reconcile briefly before Tara is murdered. Her death occurred immediately after their reconciliation and scenes where the two were talking in bed together after having sex. Thus Tara's death was much-criticized for falling into the Dead Lesbian Trope.
Amber Benson Comments About Tara's Death
Amber Benson is the actor who portrayed Tara.
In March 2022, Comicbook.com reported Amber Benson's reasoning for not returning to the show to play Tara, despite a number of opportunities to bring the character back (at least briefly) as well as a proposed resurrection in the season finale. In the interview, conducted for the book Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts Benson said that she "truly [didn't] think" showrunner Joss Whedon "meant to hurt the LGBTQ+ community" with Tara's death.
And then all the s–t hit the fan and Joss realized he had messed up. I mean, this is a time when people are, like, sending faxes to that production office, like this was a big, horrible thing, and it was devastating to a lot of people.And I think it hit Joss that he had made a mistake, that he had been short-sighted. I truly, for all of his faults and for all of the things about him that are frustrating, I don't think he ever meant to hurt the LGBTQ+ community. He just wasn't thinking.
However, Benson also said that one of her reasons for not wanting to return as Tara, in addition to scheduling conflicts and issues with an unnamed person involved with the show, was a lack of trust in what Whedon might do with the character of Tara:
I didn't really trust what was going to happen to the character. I think that's something if you've talked to some other cast, people are like 'Yeah, I came back… and then he just did what he wanted. Even though he told me that he wasn't going to kill me in this way, he killed me in that way.' I just didn't feel super trusting of the situation. And I felt like people had already been really hurt by this. And I'm not the writer. I can't decide what's going to happen to this character. I don't have the reins. And so between the schedule, and not really having a hundred percent trust in what was going to happen and some other things, it just didn't work out.
Tara was a popular and well-liked character, and there are a lot of fanworks featuring Tara. In shipping works, the canonical Willow/Tara is the major pairing. Due to the fragmented nature of Buffyverse fandom, it's impossible to calculate ship rankings, but W/T is probably the most popular pairing for Tara.
Tara is also a popular character in femslash works not pairing her with Willow. Other femslash pairings for Tara include Buffy/Tara, Faith/Tara and Anya/Tara. There are also het ships for Tara; including Tara/Spike and Xander/Tara.
In fanfiction, there are understandably many works dealing with Tara's death. This includes works where characters have an opportunity to grieve for Tara. There are also many works where Tara lives. In some fics, she is resurrected, or a character may use time travel or a spell to save Tara in a different way. Sometimes her prompt resurrection leads to Tara saving the world, as she is the one to stop Dark!Willow. There are also AU fics where events happen in a slightly different way, and Tara is not killed. This includes works where another character (sometimes Buffy) dies instead of Tara.[note 1]
Some Tara-centric fics examine the consequences or residual trauma of her abusive childhood. There are alternate first meeting stories or works set in season 4, where Tara is anxious or fearful about others discovering her supposed demon heritage. Alternate First Meeting fics are often stories where Tara arrives in Sunnydale earlier and meets Willow and the Scoobies before season 4. There are also stories where characters leave Sunnydale (or are travelling to Sunnydale) and meet Tara before she goes to college.
Spoilers for Tara's death leaked long before the episode "Seeing Red"'s airdate.
The episode aired in May 2002 but on March 9th, AnGel X, a well known spoiler source at The Buffy Cross & Stake board had confirmed Tara's death would occur in episode 19 of season 6. AnGel X was not the only spoiler to confirm Tara's manner of death around this time but AnGel X chose to share the spoiler with the kittens (W/T fans) at The Kitten Board, a Willow/Tara-centric board, before posting at C&S.[note 2]
The backlash was almost immediate. Many fans immediately linked the spoiler to the dead/evil lesbian cliche. The Kitten Board's unofficial mantra had for years been "Remember the kitten board mantra: Joss is nuts about Willow/Tara". On the day the spoiler was posted a new mantra was proposed in the spoiler thread "Remember the kitten board mantra: Joss can go to hell." The board was soon updated to display this new mantra on the main page, meaning even casual readers of the board who avoided spoilers were aware that something very bad was about to happen. Spoilers for all the controversial plot points in "Seeing Red" were running rampant in Buffyverse fandom at this time and were very difficult to avoid.
Some fans dealt with the spoiler through fanworks. Once More With Bitterness - Soundtrack (link) is a collaborative work by many fans, rewriting the musical episode "Once More with Feeling" to express the reaction of Kitten Board members to news of Tara's upcoming death. It was posted three weeks before "Seeing Red" aired.
Fan Reaction to "Seeing Red"
The reaction to Tara's death was swift and almost universally negative. Joss Whedon was heavily criticized for writing Tara's death, causing, as it did, a formerly positive gay relationship to suddenly fulfill two negative stereotypes, that of the mentally unstable gay person (Willow), and the gay person who must die as 'punishment' for their sexuality (Tara). Other fans felt it was unfair to criticize Joss who had previously killed fan-favourite characters with no warning.
Some fans refused to believe the spoilers, and even after Tara's death, a small number of fans were hopeful that the character could still return. There were several petitions expressing dissatisfaction at Tara's loss and/or demanding the return of Tara in Season 7.
Years later, Shipperx referenced something called the kitten jihad in her tongue in cheek diagnostic tool, You Might Have Post-Traumatic Joss Syndrome. This may refer to some fans who allegedly threatened Joss Whedon and other Buffy writers in the aftermath of season six.
The loss of Tara was felt across the usually fragmented Buffyverse fandom. The Bloody Awful Poet Society, a board not associated with Tara or W/T fans, posted BAPS Remembers Tara in May 2002: a letter remembering the character, the actress who played her and expressing sympathy with all Tara fans.
The fan reaction to Tara's death included many fan activities that are now (unfortunately) commonly associated with the deaths of LGBT characters in media. The Kitten Board had a Charity Drive and raised over $8000 for the Trevor Project. Xita, founder of the Kitten Board explained that fans wanted "to make a statement by contributing to something that helps the kind of fans whom Tara was important to: gay and questioning youth."
Much meta was also written, with frequent discussion of the Bury Your Gays trope. The Kitten Board was again very active when it came to contributing meta related to Tara's death. The board's Lesbian Cliche FAQ posted in Sept 2002 was the product of discussions within that community and inspired even more discussion and meta on the topic.
- The Death of Tara, the Fall of Willow and The Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché FAQ aka The Kitten Board's Lesbian Cliche FAQ, 2002
- It's Not Homophobia, But That Doesn't Make It Right, 2002
- Girl on Girl Politics: Willow/Tara and New Approaches to Media Fandom, 2003
- The Dead Evil Lesbian Cliche by gabrielleabelle, 2008.
See also PsychoLesbian at TV Tropes.
Tara's death is one of the earliest and widely known examples of the Bury Your Gays trope, and consequently Tara has become the quintessential example of the "dead lesbian" cliché in media representations of queer characters. Many parallels have been drawn between the death of Tara and the deaths of other lesbian characters; with fannish reaction to the killing of canon queer characters often including comparisons to Tara's unnecessary death.
Most notably, in 2016, several prominent queer female characters in Western TV shows died tragically. Comparison between Tara's death and the death of Commander Lexa in The 100 were almost immediate. Lexa was killed accidentally, by a stray bullet, after sharing a sex scene with Clarke Griffin. The fan backlash was swift and prolonged. Another lesbian character, Denise Cloyd (TWD), died a few weeks later. Criticism of the Dead Lesbian trope arose again in fandom, with many fans tagging Tara Maclay, or referencing her death in posts on the subject.
How to know if a girl is a lesbian1. Shoot a bullet in a random direction and see if she gets hit by it
Stop killing the lesbians 2k16#clexa #lexa #dennis #the walking dead #cosima niehaus #orphan black #tara #buffy the vampire slayer
On a more positive note, fans also draw parallels between Tara and lesbian characters who have not fallen victim to the dead lesbian cliche. Parallels between Tara and 2016's only bulletproof lesbian, Nicole Haught are common.
What do Nicole Haught and Tara Maclay have in common?! They both own a cat, they both feel like outsiders, even when their girlfriend is possessed or diving deep into the dark magicks they stick by their side through thick and thin because they love and care for them, they both got shot 😢😭 but the other didn’t survive, they both have to deal with mysognistic assholes. Am I missing something??? Oh, yeah. They are both precious cinnamon rolls who deserve to be protected at all costs. 💕
nicole haught and tara maclay: both nicole and tara are fiercely loyal and are initially brought into the group the girlfriend of the smart one in the group. they also both prove themselves to be fantastic friends to the rest of the group, especially the protagonist. they are both kind of seen as outsiders by their groups until there is an event where it is proven what they mean to the group.
Fannish Opinions and Comments
The character of Tara helped me with my internalized homophobia, I watched buffy for the first time ever on dvd about ten years ago in high school and I had been told willow turned gay and I was dreading it because hollywood has this habit of making gay characters uninteresting stereotypes whose sexuality is the only thing interesting thing about them (also gay men always had to be hyper effeminate and lesbians had to be hyper butch) Tara was this sweet funny character, she wasnt a stereotype, she wasn't excluded or relegated to a gays only friend crowd (teen me was like : what people can be openly gay and have straight friends 🤯) she wasn't a drug addict or a nympho, she was exactly the kind of lgbt representation that we still lack a person who just happens to be gay. Willow and Tara's relationship for the most part is the most stable and normal of the show, I really really digged that she I cry so much whenever I rewatch.
My only issue is that I wish they gave her more to do and more storylines because the actress is so good.
Tara is a character who constantly was given a bad hand in life. She was a victim of emotional abuse by her family. She got mind raped by a hell God. She had her trust betrayed by the person she loved most. And ultimately she was murdered. She is one of the most tragic characters in the entire series.But in spite of her tragic life, Tara was also the most kind hearted character in the entire series. She was never mean to anyone. She was loyal and friendly. She was always there for the others if they needed a shoulder to cry on or a friend to rely on. She was sweet and compassionate towards all. When Buffy felt completely alone and hopeless in Season 6, Tara was the one person who was really there for her. She was nurturing towards Buffy in the same wsy a mother would be. And the fact that she was like that despite all the horrible things that happened to her just speaks volumes about who she was as a person.
- Here here! I agree on everything. She really was the group nurturer. Remember when Buffy thought she came back wrong, who did she confide in? Tara. It was so natural to trust Tara. She was like soft white light, so gentle you sometimes forgot she was there, but always keeping watch over everybody.
As a kid, I really latched onto her, I was the excessively shy and introverted one as well. She was the closest to my personality in the Scooby gang.
Over the course of two seasons, Tara became a strong, confident woman, and therein lies the travesty of her becoming another statistic. It should not matter what Tara's sexual orientation was. It should not matter what Tara did for the day leading up to her tragic death. What should matter was that this woman, with so much potential to do good in the world, had her life tragically cut short by a man with a history of violence against women. Don't let that fact get lost in the controversy surrounding her death, because once we do, all she was ceases to matter. And she has fully become another faceless statistic that people can use to prove a point about television shows.
Practically everyone loved Tara Maclay. I was one of the fans that did, even if it took a bit to warm up to her. Sure it took a bit of time, but the candle scene at the end of New Moon Rising made me realize just how much I adored this character. Her death was sad and shocking to all.Long may she live in fanfic. A place where she surely thrives, if you look around to all the ficathons and archives.
Happy 41st Birthday Tara! Whether you’re a LGBTQ counselor, a B&B owner, an ice-cream store entrepreneur or in any of the thousands of worlds that have been created out of love for you, I hope you’re having a great day with lots of love from Willow!
[Tara] was an anchor for everyone else in the scooby gang, she loved them and cared for them and she listened to buffy sobbing about having feelings for spike of all people and she literally refused to judge her even when she was BEGGING for judgment, and she was, in all the ways that mattered, the heart of the scooby gang.
fuck off xander
something was missing, with tara gone, and i think that’s a big part of why season 7 gets such a bad rap, even though i don’t think a lot of people realize it.
she died because she finally got one happy night of bliss with her girlfriend, and then there was no more use for her. and it took me years to realize just how angry i was about that, and why, and where that bitterness comes from.tara maclay deserved better. and i will die on this hill.
Other Fan Comments
Looking back on Tara's time on Buffy, fans have expressed frustration that her character was under-utilized and lacked purpose, both emotionally and narratively, beyond her relationship with Willow.
You know, one thing I can say I really hate about Season 6, if anything, is how wasted Tara is before her even more wasted death.
They showed that she had some use in Season 6 outside of whatever significance she has to Willow. But they do nothing with it really… All the qualities and traits she has of being there to comfort characters in their time of need and the manual labour she performs for them: and they give her nothing in return. Not. A. Thing. There’s no Tara-centric episodes to make up for the narrative loss in her being partnered with Willow. Like who was this woman away from Willow and the Scoobies? She is so underused and wasted.
[...]It’s like she was absolutely meaningless and all that mattered was that she was Willow’s girlfriend.
Possibly controversial opinion: Tara deserved better than Willow all along, not just after Willow started mistreating her.
Tara's self-esteem did improve with their relationship, but it was dependent on Willow's approval. Even in their love song, Tara talks about how her sense of worth comes from the fact that Willow loves her, and Willow doesn't seem to notice that that's not the same as Tara developing her own independently positive self-concept.
It's not that they never should have dated; finding the gang was a hugely positive part of Tara's story - I mean, without them she'd be pulled out of college and forced to return to her bigoted and controlling family, right? But Willow needed to give a lot more, and she didn't.In conclusion, Tara Maclay was done wrong long before she was reduced to a plot device and thrown away for the convenience of the narrative.
Another source of fannish frustration has been the fact that actress Amber Benson was never credited in the title credits akin to a "main" cast member - until the episode that Tara was killed.
remember how amber benson wasn’t included in the buffy opening credits until the episode she died in? cuz I do
And the fact Amber Benson is not even credited as a main character until her final appearance is infuriating. In Season 6 she was clearly a main character along with the rest of the Scoobies. There was room since Anthony Stewart Head was back to being a supportive role and special guest star, but no, they only allowed her to be credited in the titles just so Tara’s death scene would shock us more.
- Terra Firma by Tulipp, When Tara returns three months after Grave, Willow and the Scoobies must learn how she came back...and why. (2003, Willow/Tara)
- Impossibly Delightful Flesh by Sadbhyl, In which the Scoobies have a small accident that leads to some major changes in their lives and has them questioning the deeper issues of sexuality, gender, and the heart. (2004, Willow/Tara and other pairings) Notable for its focus on Tara's reaction to a genderswap scenario.
- Quiet as a Mouse by Miranda (Fic author), Events have driven Tara from Sunnydale and five years down the line they start to draw her back in, along with a reluctant Spike. (2006, Tara/Spike)
- The Lamb by Tara the Phoenix, Tara is a hospice nurse in Los Osos, California about to get a new patient: Willow Rosenberg, the sole survivor of the Sunnydale implosion. (2007 or earlier)
- The Wish of Three Hearts by 9kodama, AU Post season 7/end season 6. Tara's been dead for three years. On Tara's birthday, Willow drives out to the remains of crater that was once Sunnydale California to talk to her lost love. She makes a wish, and everything changes. (2010, Willow/Tara)
- The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove by Kristina, an essay on how one fan chooses to remember Tara (2002)
- Her Insect Reflection: A Tara Maclay Idol Reflection essay by calliopes_pen (2006)
- The Needless Murder of Tara Maclay by AmbersSecretAdmirer, posted at The Essence of Amber Forum (2009)
- A Meta on Willow, Tara, and Magic as Crack or why Tara's death was necessary by shadowkat67, written in reponse to AmbersSecretAdmirer's post at the Essence of Amber (2009)
- Tara Maclay || Buffy the Vampire Slayer by foomatic21, Made for Amber Benson's panel at ClexaCon 2019. (2019)
- Once More With Bitterness - Soundtrack (link) is a collaborative project by members of the Kitten Board, rewriting the musical episode Once More with Feeling to express the reaction of Kitten Board members to news of Tara's upcoming death. This work is very meta and includes appearances from Joss, Buffy characters and Kitten Board mods and members. Posted April 14 2002 (3 weeks before Seeing Red aired)
Links and Resources
- Tara Maclay at Wikipedia - canon resource
- The Essence of Amber, an Amber Benson fansite with an associated forum. (Archived site link, Archived forum link)
- Tara fanfiction at Mystic Muse
- www.tarafic.com (archived link) a Tara/Unconventional archive
- Through the Looking Glass an archive of Willow/Tara Uber fiction
- Extra Flamey (archived link) the Willow/Tara zone of the BtVS Writer's Guild
- A Girls Love (archived link) a Willow/Tara site
- Pouty Lips (archived link), a Spike/Tara site
- Tara Maclay works on Ao3
- Beautiful Tragedy: The Approved Tara Maclay Fanlisting (archived link)
- My Always: The Approved Willow and Tara Relationship Fanlisting (archived link)
- bt.fancy-that.net (archived link), a Buffy/Tara fanlisting
- Yes Please (archived link) a Buffy/Tara relationshipper site and fanlisting, which also archived fanfiction.
Notes & References
- Fanworks where another character dies so that Tara lives are possibly inspired by comments from the writers. Joss and other writers implied that Tara's death was "necessary" as it was the consequence of a spell Willow performed to bring Buffy back to life.
- Spoilers were a regular feature of Buffyverse fandom. AnGel X posted spoilers for Tara's death in the spoilers thread, and mods and users of the Kitten appreciated that she had delayed posting at C&S to inform them first.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Star Reveals the Real Reason They Refused to Return to the Show, Jamie Lovett, Comicbook.com. Published March 20, 2022 (Accessed March 22, 2022).
- Discussion of Spoiler on The Kitten Board, March 09 2002.
- The whole sad, sordid storya LiveJournal post by kdickson, March 21, 2002.
- Final Thoughts (archived link) posted at ink19.com
- We Love Tara Maclay Petition to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy with 2327 Total Signatures as of April 2005
- We want Tara back on Buffy The Vampire Slayer!! Petition to Joss Whedon and Marti Noxon with 1649 Total Signatures as of December 2006.
- Comment referencing so called 'kitten jihad' and alleged threats to harm/kill Joss Whedon and others. (8 July 2002)
- Kitten Charity Drive - The Trevor Project raised $8,326.27.
- Xita's interview on Page 18 of the The Advocate, Nov 26 2002.
- Tumblr post by karnsattien, posted March 3 2016.
- Tumblr post by long-live-heda-lexa, posted March 21 2016
- What do Nicole Haught and Tara Maclay have in common?!, thedoctorscommander-blog via Tumblr. Posted July 31, 2017 (Accessed February 27, 2022).
- wynnona earp characters and their buffy counterparts + which character i prefer, lesbian-fabray, Tumblr. Published September 26, 2020 (Accessed February 27, 2022).
- This is a Tara Maclay appreciation post. Contribute your Tara love below a thread at /r/buffy, comment by u/gta5atg4, Jan 13 2021
- This is a Tara Maclay appreciation post. Contribute your Tara love below a thread at /r/buffy, comment by u/moviephil4315, Jan 13 2021
- This is a Tara Maclay appreciation post. Contribute your Tara love below a thread at /r/buffy, comment by deleted user, Jan 13 2021
- The Iron Fist in the Velvet Glove by Kristina (July 30, 2002).
- Her Insect Reflection by calliopes_pen, 2006
- Happy 41st Birthday Tara! a tumblr post by laragh, Oct 16 2021
- Ask response to rorykillmore by firelxdykatara, Tumblr. Posted February 4, 2020 (Accessed February 27, 2022).
- You know, one thing I can say I really hate about Season 6... by girl4music, Tumblr. Published November 18, 2021 (Accessed February 27, 2022).
- Possibly controversial opinion... by thesuperfeyneednoshoes] via Tumblr. March 5, 2021 (Accessed February 27, 2022).
- Tumblr post by caritaskaraokebar, posted November 29, 2018 (Accessed February 27, 2022).