Buffy The Vampire Slayer: An Episode Roadmap For Beginners

144 episodes of any show sounds daunting, but we've got your covered on Buffy with this guide to all the important episodes!

This article is imported from Den of Geek UK. 

Have you always wanted to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but know that you could never make the time for all 144 episodes? Have you seen all the episodes, but just want to rewatch the arc of a particular character? We’ve got the perfect guide for you right here that we dug back from the abyss that is our archive, put together way back in 2004 by one of our lovely contributors, Juliette. This episode roadmap is everything you’ll need for an abridged marathon of Joss Whedon’s (as far as this particular editor’s concerned anyway) magnum opus.

Since part of the aim of these articles is to encourage new viewers, spoilers will be kept to a minimum. However, due to the nature of the piece, certain elements of world-building, bad guy-revelation, late character arrivals, etc. will be spoiled, and looking at the details of one suggested “route” may spoil another.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Route 1: The Slayer’s Journey

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the show that put Joss Whedon on the map, is about a petite blonde former cheerleader who kicks all sorts of vampire ass.At the heart of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is Buffy Summers herself, who gets put through the wringer over seven years on the show. But ultimately, her coming-of-age story is one of optimism as well as, on occasion, utter and total despair. Here are the episodes to watch to get a sense of Buffy’s story.

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Season One:

“Prophecy Girl”

We promised we’d keep Season One to a minimum, but “Prophecy Girl” is essential viewing for those following Buffy’s struggles with her dual identity as high school student and Slayer. As the season one finale, it may seem a strange episode to open with, but the plot is fairly self-explanatory and this is where we really see both Buffy as a character and Sarah Michelle Gellar in the part come into their own. Add initial two-parter Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest as an optional extra, if you have time.

Season Two:

“When She Was Bad”

“What’s My Line” Parts 1 & 2

“Surprise/Innocence”

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“Becoming” Parts 1 & 2

Season Two’s opening episode “When She Was Bad” is not an all-time classic, but it is a good indication of where Buffy is following events at the climax of season one. “What’s My Line” introduces a second Slayer in Kendra (the eternally youthful Bianca Lawson) while “Surprise/Innocence” not only kicks off the arc plot that will culminate in season finale “Becoming,” but also covers some major coming-of-age ground. Finally, we end with season two’s spectacular finale and Buffy at her lowest, but also her strongest.

Season Three:

“Anne”

“Homecoming”

“Helpless”

“Bad Girls/Consequences”

“Graduation Day” Parts 1 & 2

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Like “When She Was Bad,” “Anne” is not one of the show’s finest offerings, but it’s important for developing Buffy’s character in the wake of the Season Two finale. “Homecoming” is a light, fun episode, but it also explores some of the oft-neglected aspects of Buffy’s character, while the much darker “Helpless” continues her journey into adulthood. The back half of Season Three is pretty arc-heavy (so is the season as a whole, actually) so highlighting only one or two episodes will inevitably require some fairly careful attention to be paid to the “Previously Ons,” but “Bad Girls/Consequences” and “Graduation Day” are the most important for Buffy’s personal development. Add in “Choices” and “The Prom” if you have time.

Season Four:

“The Harsh Light of Day”

“The I In Team”

“The Yoko Factor/Primeval”

It’s not that Season Four doesn’t explore Buffy’s character, but with so much going on, she doesn’t get as much of a chance to shine (Gellar is fantastic in “Who Are You?” – but she’s playing a different character). The main downside to watching only four episodes is, of course, that the arc plot will have to be gleaned chiefly from Previously Ons.

Season Five:

“Fool For Love”

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“Checkpoint”

“Blood Ties”

“The Body”

“The Weight of the World”

“The Gift”

Whedon had planned for a long time to do 100 episodes and then conclude Buffy’s story. Although the series was renewed for a sixth season, he left his conclusion to the fifth unchanged and dealt with the repercussions in Season Six, so this is one possible ending to Buffy’s journey. This selection of episodes should also cover the main beats of Season Five’s overall arc, though obviously a certain amount of filling in the gaps will be required.

Season Six:

“Life Serial”

“Once More With Feeling”

“Normal Again”

Other characters are often the focal points of Season Six (Willow, Xander, Spike) but Buffy’s struggle to come to terms with what happened to her, as well as the challenges facing her in looking after her sister Dawn, ensure that she remains front and center. And of course, in the show’s fantastic musical episode, “Once More With Feeling,” everyone gets a chance to sing their hearts out and reveal their deepest emotions. Add “Bargaining” Parts 1 & 2 and “Older And Far Away” if you have time.

Season Seven:

“Lessons”

“Conversations With Dead People”

“Empty Places”

“Touched”

“End Of Days”

“Chosen”

“Lessons” is another Buffy-centric season opener, while “Conversations With Dead People” offers her a rare opportunity to be psychoanalyzed by a vampire. It’s no surprise that the final four episodes of the show are important ones for Buffy, and “Chosen” provides another satisfying conclusion to her story. There’s a big gap between “Conversations With Dead People” and “Empty Places”, so a certain amount of catching up on the plot may be required—partially fill it with “Bring On The Night” and “Showtime.”

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Route 2: High School

In its inception, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a show about high school, in which the horrors of the teen years took on metaphorical, monstrous forms. Like many high school-set shows, the characters eventually grew up and the series followed them to college—and also like many others, a decent proportion of the fanbase are convinced it was never the same after that. These episodes will give you a flavor of Buffy as a high school show, and cover the best of the high school years.

Season One:

“Witch”

“Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight”

These two episodes, besides being two of the better episodes from season one, are the two that most clearly follow that initial set-up, in which elements of high school life—pushy parents, feeling invisible—take on monstrous and frequently rather literal form. Add “The Pack” if you have time—it’s not terribly good, but it is another solid metaphorical teen story.

Season Two:

“School Hard”

“Reptile Boy”

“What’s My Line?” Parts 1 & 2

“Surprise/Innocence”

“Phases”

“Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”

Parents’ evenings, drinking with college boys (and the perils thereof—you never know when they may try to sacrifice you to their giant snake), job fairs, and high school romance… It’s all here. The “Surprise/Innocence” two-parter is in many ways the heart of the whole show, taking a horrible experience for a teenager (a lover whose behavior changes after you sleep with them), expanding it with a fantastical metaphor and making it the core of the overall arc plot for season two, as well as an incident that drives these characters and their reactions to the world around them for much of the rest of the series. Add “Ted” (new step-parents) and “Go Fish” (over-enthusiastic sports coach) if you have time, but they’re not such great episodes.

Season Three:

“Homecoming”

“Band Candy”

“Bad Girls/Consequences”

“Earshot”

“Choices”

“The Prom”

“Graduation Day” Parts 1 & 2

“Homecoming” and “Band Candy” are light entries inspired by school events, while “Bad Girls” and “Consequences” are arc-heavy episodes exploring some major character developments, but also relating to the ongoing teen metaphors the show was built on. “Earshot” is probably the best high-school-as-hell metaphor the series ever did, building on a story about how utterly miserable everyone is to a powerful climax in a bell tower. Finally, “Choices,” “The Prom,” and “Graduation Day” follow our heroes as they leave school and try to work out what they should do with their lives, now that they have some choice and control over them for the first time.

Season Seven:

“Lessons”

“Help”

“Him”

Buffy The Vampire Slayer left high school behind when Buffy and her friends graduated at the end of the season three, and although Buffy’s younger sister Dawn was introduced in Season Five, her life at school was rarely touched on. In Season Seven, however, the focus of the show shifted once again to explore Sunnydale High School and Dawn and her friends a little more—before the arc plot took over and it all went to hell in a handbasket.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Route 3: Buffy/Angel

Have you ever seen a poster or promotional image for Buffy The Vampire Slayer? You know that guy standing behind her and brooding aggressively at the camera? That’s Angel. Please remember, when watching Buffy and Angel, that teen girl/broody vampire romances were far less of a thing back in 1997. And he never sparkles.

Season One:

“Angel”

“Prophecy Girl”

Buffy meets Angel in the pilot, but unsurprisingly it’s in “Angel” that their story really begins. Thankfully, the Buffy/Angel/Xander love triangle threatened by “Prophecy Girl,” though brought up once or twice in Season Two, never really grows beyond this episode.

Season Two:

“Halloween”

“Lie To Me”

“What’s My Line?” Parts 1 & 2

“Surprise/Innocence”

“Passion”

“Becoming” Parts 1 & 2

Buffy and Angel’s relationship is at the center of the major story arc for season two, so there’s an argument to be made that the whole season is worth watching. But if you absolutely must boil it down to a few key episodes, these are the ones. Add “When She Was Bad” and “I Only Have Eyes For You” if you have time.

Season Three:

“Faith, Hope, and Trick”

“Beauty And The Beasts”

“Revelations”

“Lovers’ Walk”

“Amends”

“Enemies”

“The Prom”

“Graduation Day” Parts 1 & 2

While not quite as central to the ongoing plot as it had been in Season Two, Buffy and Angel’s relationship remains a major focus in Season Three, where it undergoes several twists and turns. These episodes should cover most of them (though “Beauty And The Beasts,” included for its one major plot development, is skippable if you’re in a hurry—just watch the Previously Ons carefully).

Season Four:

“Pangs”

“The Yoko Factor”

Angel left to star in his own spin-off show at the end of Season Three, so these are the only episodes in which he appears in Season Four. To enjoy all the crossovers between Buffy and Angel: The Series fully, you need to watch “Pangs” (BtVS)/”I Will Remember You” (AtS) and “This Year’s Girl”/”Who Are You?” (BtVS)/”Five By Five”/”Sanctuary” (AtS)/”The Yoko Factor” (BtVS). The first crossover, “In The Harsh Light of Day” (BtVS)/”In The Dark” (AtS) doesn’t feature Buffy and Angel interacting themselves, but is well worth watching anyway. If you want to fill in the gaps in Buffy’s love life after Angel left, add “The Initiative,” “Hush,” “The I In Team,” and “Goodbye Iowa.”

Season Five:

“Forever”

During Buffy Season Five/Angel Season Two, the two shows started to splinter off a bit more, with an early crossover occurring only through over-lapping flashbacks. However, for Buffy/Angel fans, his brief reappearance in “Forever” is well worth a look.

Season Seven:

“End Of Days”

“Chosen”

When Buffy moved networks and Angel stayed put after Season Five, crossovers between the two shows were banned altogether for a while. The networks eventually relented, with Willow appearing in Angel Season Four, and Angel finally returning to Buffy for one last visit at the very end of Season Seven. Filling in developments in Buffy’s love life between their previous substantial encounter in “The Yoko Factor” and “End Of Days” would be a fairly long and complicated task, but watching “Fool For Love” (Season Five), “Once More With Feeling,” “Smashed,” “Seeing Red (Season Six),” “Beneath You”, and “Touched” should cover the basics for the curious.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Route 4: Spike

Spike is Buffy’s big breakout character, the evil blond vampire who is slowly brought over to our heroes’ cause through a combination of luck, selfishness, and raging hormones. He is Damon Salvatore, Eric Northman, and Lestat all wrapped up in a Billy Idol costume and an iconic black coat. Is bleached-blond, British-accented James Marsters the reason you’re interested in watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer? Then these are the episodes you need to watch.

Season Two:

“School Hard”

“Lie To Me”

“What’s My Line?” Parts 1 & 2

“Surprise/Innocence”

“I Only Have Eyes For You”

“Becoming” Parts 1 & 2

From his barn-storming introduction in “School Hard”, Spike makes his mark as the new bad guy in town. For many fans, this is his only truly awesome season, the year in which he was, as originally intended, a thoroughly bad guy through and through and powerful with it. If you can’t get enough of purely evil Spike, add “Halloween,” “Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered,” and “Passion” to get the complete set of Season Two episodes featuring Spike.

Season Three:

“Lovers’ Walk”

Spike only made one appearance in Season Three, but it was a memorable one; a few threats, a few snarks and some well-timed observations on love, and he blew out of town leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

Season Four:

“The Harsh Light Of Day”

“The Initiative”

“Pangs”

“Something Blue”

“Doomed”

“A New Man”

“The Yoko Factor”

Season Four saw Spike added as a regular character, which of course required him not to be trying to kill all the other protagonists all the time. “The Harsh Light Of Day” lets us see badass Spike one last time (add Angel’s “In The Dark” for just a little more of him) and for the rest of Season Four, Spike remains evil but de-fanged, making him rather pathetic at times. Add “Wild At Heart” to see Spike’s initial re-appearance in which he introduces us all to horribly grammatically incorrect phrase “Big Bad” (earlier used rather more correctly in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”) to describe the major enemy faced in each season. Add “Who Are You?” to see the chemistry between Marsters and Gellar, already pretty evident in “School Hard” and “Becoming,” really take off.

Season Five:

“Out Of My Mind”

“Fool For Love”

“Crush”

“Forever”

“Intervention”

“The Gift”

While still evil and largely powerless, Season Five saw Spike given new motivation, and with it, some new life was brought to the character. He also finally gets his own vampire flashbacks in “Fool For Love,” and they are worth waiting for.

Season Six:

“After Life”

“Once More, With Feeling”

“Smashed/Wrecked”

“Dead Things”

“As You Were”

“Entropy”

“Seeing Red”

Season Six of Buffy is divisive, and never more so than in its treatment of Spike as a character and Buffy and Spike’s relationship. However, on one thing all fans are agreed: The musical episode “Once More, With Feeling”—a major turning point for both—is completely awesome. Add “Grave” for a Spike-centric season-ending mini-cliffhanger.

Season Seven:

“Beneath You”

“Sleeper”

“Never Leave Me”

“Bring On The Night”

“Showtime”

“Lies My Parents Told Me”

“Touched”

“Chosen”

Season Seven saw major developments in Spike’s character, many of them aimed at progressing his story while avoiding repeating earlier storylines. There’s also a lot of arc plot in Season Seven, and much of it revolves around Spike and what’s happening to him. Add “First Date” and “End Of Days” to fill in some gaps.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Route 5: Willow

Willow is one of Buffy’s most popular characters. Part of this is due to Alyson Hannigan’s performance, but much of it also stems from the sheer amount of growth her character underwent across seven years on the show.

Season One:

“Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest”

This opening two-parter firmly establishes Willow’s character. If you have time, “I Robot… You Jane” is the first Willow-centric episode (though not a particularly good one).

Season Two:

“Halloween”

“Phases”

“Passion”

“Becoming” Parts 1 & 2

Willow really starts to come into her own when she is forced into a leadership role by being the only person still in possession of her faculties in “Halloween,” and after that she slowly starts to come out of her shell and gain more and more confidence. Add “Inca Mummy Girl” for the first sparks of interest Oz shows in Willow, and “What’s My Line?” Parts 1 & 2 and “Surprise/Innocence” for the early stages of their relationship.

Season Three:

“Dead Man’s Party”

“Homecoming”

“Lovers’ Walk”

“The Wish”

“Amends”

“Doppelgangland”

“Choices”

“Graduation Day” Parts 1 & 2

Much of Willow’s story in Season Three centered on her relationships with Oz, Xander, and her antagonistic relationship with Faith (memorably brought to a head in “Choices”). However, watch “The Wish” to see Hannigan really let go with a spectacularly charismatic performance as an alternate-universe version of Willow, and to ensure you’re adequately prepared for its follow-up and probably the best Willow episode of the series, “Doppelgangland.” Add “Gingerbread” if you just can’t get enough witchy Willow.

Season Four:

“Wild At Heart”

“Hush”

“This Year’s Girl/Who Are You?”

“New Moon Rising”

“Restless”

Season Four saw Willow really start to come out of her shell and become increasingly confident post-high school, and introduced Amber Benson as her new love interest, the fan favorite Tara Maclay. Add “The Initiative” to see how broken Willow was early in the season, and “Something Blue” for an episode in which her actions are really just an excuse for the hilarious consequences that ensue, but which is well worth a look for the aforementioned hilarious consequences.

Season Five:

“Family”

“Triangle”

“The Body”

“Tough Love”

“The Gift”

By Season Five, Willow is a relaxed, fairly outgoing student in a stable and loving relationship, though towards the end of the season her magical powers start to take on a darker edge.

Season Six:

“Bargaining” Parts 1 & 2

“All The Way”

“Once More, With Feeling”

“Tabula Rasa”

“Smashed/Wrecked”

“Older And Far Away”

“Entropy”

“Seeing Red”

“Villains”

“Two To Go/Grave”

Much of Season Six’s arc plot focuses on Willow and her character developments as a whole. In theory, “Once More, With Feeling” could be skipped as its major plot development would be clear from Tabula Rasa, but since it’s one of the series’ best episodes, skipping it is not advised.

Season Seven:

“Same Time, Same Place”

“Conversations With Dead People”

“The Killer In Me”

“Touched”

“Chosen”

While much of the final season focuses on Buffy and what it means to be a Slayer, Willow continues to develop as a character in the aftermath of Season Six, and her story comes full circle with her central role in the finale. Add “Lessons” for a sense of how she went about reconciling herself with her earlier actions, plus Giles on a horse.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Route 6: The Plural of Apocalypse

“I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse,” says Riley Finn on discovering

that the cute girl from Psych 101 is also a Vampire Slayer. Buffy The Vampire Slayer followed a fairly steady pattern of introducing minor bad guys early on in each season, and revealing that year’s Big Bad Guy or Gal about halfway through. These are the episodes to watch if you want to avoid all Monsters of the Week and focus on the arc plot episodes.

Season One:

“Welcome To The Hellmouth/The Harvest”

“Never Kill A Boy On The First Date”

“Angel”

“Prophecy Girl”

Season Two:

“School Hard”

“Lie To Me”

“What’s My Line?” Parts 1 & 2

“Surprise/Innocence”

“Passion”

“Becoming” Parts 1 & 2

Add “The Dark Age” for some major character development on Giles.

Season Three:

“Faith, Hope and Trick”

“Revelations”

“Amends”

“Bad Girls/Consequences”

“Enemies”

“Choices”

“Graduation Day” Parts 1 & 2

Add “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland” for a bit of foreshadowing, and to ensure you don’t miss out on a fan favorite character.

Season Four:

“The Initiative”

“Hush”

“The I In Team”

“Goodbye Iowa”

“The Yoko Factor/Primeval”

For the complete set of Buffyverse apocalypses (we’re going with that for the plural) you’ll also need to watch Season Three’s “The Zeppo” and this season’s “Doomed.” That’s right, sometimes the apocalypse isn’t even part of the main plot. Add “This Year’s Girl/Who Are You?” for ongoing developments in the Buffyverse and its characters, and “Restless” for a format-bending dream episode and truly innovate season finale.

Season Five:

“No Place Like Home”

“Checkpoint”

“Blood Ties”

“Intervention”

“Tough Love”

“Spiral”

“The Gift”

Add “Real Me” for a fuller introduction to Dawn, and “Shadow”, “Listening To Fear”, “Into The Woods”, and “The Body” for developments in Buffy’s personal life.

Season Six:

“Bargaining Parts” 1 & 2

“Flooded”

“Smashed/Wrecked”

“Dead Things”

“Entropy”

“Seeing Red”

“Villains”

“Two To Go/Grave”

Season Six is more heavily serialized than earlier seasons, making it harder to differentiate between an “arc” episode and a “Monster of the Week” episode, and we’ve excluded some big emotional and relationship-centric episodes, most notably “Hell’s Bells.” Either way, we’d recommend watching the musical episode “Once More, With Feeling” as well as these arc-heavy installments. Because it’s brilliant.

Season Seven:

“Lessons”

“Conversations With Dead People”

“Sleeper”

“Never Leave Me”

“Bring On The Night”

“Showtime”

“Get It Done”

“Dirty Girls”

“Empty Places”

“Touched”

“End Of Days”

“Chosen”

Season Seven is even more serialized than Season Six, and just about every episode from the seventh onwards (“Conversations With Dead People”) could be considered an arc plot episode in some respect. Add “Storyteller” because it not only adds to the arc plot, but is a well put together episode and joyously hilarious to boot.