Joss Whedon has gained a reputation for shocking and sometimes unnecessary kills. His films have iced characters beloved for years, including Wash in the Firefly spinoff Serenity and Agent Coulson in The Avengers.
His TV shows have been merciless when it comes to thinning the cast, but nothing in his impressive repertoire has shown his brutality more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In its seven year run, it killed off Tara Maclay (incomprehensible shooting), Anya Jenkins (throwaway finale death), and even its title character twice.
But perhaps no death was more shocking than Buffy’s mother, Joyce Summers. It wasn’t entirely unexpected – she first starts suffering from headaches and memory loss in the fourth episode of the fifth season – but when Buffy comes home to find her mother lying dead on the couch, it’s a truly affecting image.
The episode that deals with the aftermath of that death, “The Body,” is one of the most poignant explorations of grief in television history. Unlike almost every other character in the series, she wasn’t killed by a demon or vampire, but by natural causes, and that might be the most shocking thing of all.