Long before Joss Whedon became a former feminist icon, LGBTQ+ fans had reason to harbor very complicated feelings about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On the one hand, the show introduced audiences to one of the most beautifully crafted same-sex love stories ever with the relationship between teen witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson). On the other, it unceremoniously brought that same relationship to an abrupt end by killing Tara off in season six, when she was hit by a stray bullet fired by villain Warren Mears (Adam Busch). This decision is often cited as a prime example of the "bury your gays" trope, in which queer characters are more likely to be killed off than straight ones because they're seen as more expendable.
At the time, there was a major outcry from the show's queer audience demanding that Tara be brought back. She never made a reappearance, however, despite seemingly obvious opportunities to do so -- and even a scrapped proposal to resurrect the character in the show's final season.
Now we know why. In the new book Into Every Generation, a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts by Evan Ross Katz, Benson opened up about why it was her choice to never return to the role, Comicbook.com reported. "This is the first time I'm talking about this," she began, explaining that in the lead up to her exit from the show she "had some issues with somebody" involved with the production. While she doesn't name them, she does say that things had come to a head with said person and that she was ready to go. "Leaving the show was sad because there are some of the crew and the writers and some of the cast that I just adore, but I had made my peace with that person and the show, and I was done: 'I'm leaving everything in a good place. I don't need to come back.'"
While she had been ready to end her time as Tara, Benson recalled the massive backlash her exit caused. "All the s*** 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," she said.
Benson did, however, defend Whedon's intentions, saying they weren't malicious toward the audience. "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," she expressed. "I can truly, from the bottom of my heart, say [that] this was nothing intentional. This was a thoughtless error. But I didn't want to come back. He really wanted me to come back and we just couldn't come to an agreement on it. And most of that was my schedule. I was gonna miss going to England, not being able to direct The Ghosts of Albion if I had said yes."
It wasn't just a scheduling issue that kept Benson from signing on to a return -- but also a lack of trust around how Tara would be treated should she be resurrected. "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,'" recalls Benson, likely referring to the way Charisma Carpenter's character Cordelia Chase was killed off when she returned to Buffy's spin-off Angel despite promises to the contrary. "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," Benson concluded.
Into Every Generation a Slayer Is Born: How Buffy Staked Our Hearts is out now.