There is only one actor in the whole Buffyverse to have appeared in more episodes than Amber Benson, in the role of Tara, without ever appearing in the title credits. And in the case of Tara, Amber Benson did appear once – rather cruelly when her character died, in the credits for “Seeing Red”, having been accidentally shot by Warren. Yet until that point, she was certainly a major part of the 'Scoobies' and of the show as a whole, whatever the title credits said, with a total of 46 episodes to her name (six more than Oz): 12 episodes in season four, 18 in season five and 16 in season six.
As Willow's second major romantic partner after Oz, Tara was in a sense a groundbreaking character – Tara and Willow set many firsts for the depiction of same-sex couples on television, but the overwhelming impression the couple leaves is how little that matters. Making the transition from 'a gay couple' to 'a couple who is gay' very quickly, Tara and Willow were a great example on TV of 'how gay couples behave' – in that they behaved just like any other couple. The most unfortunate thing about Tara (apart from her shocking and premature death, the major catalyst for the events that end Season Six) is that her character is too rarely given the opportunity to be anything other than 'Willow's girlfriend'; much like Oz before her, Tara tends to exist only in relation to Willow, with little in the way of storylines of her own.
Stumbling, stuttering and painfully shy, Tara is nonetheless perhaps the best communicator in Joss Whedon's groundbreaking “Hush”, her début in which she speaks a mere 82 words. Underutilised throughout, Tara appears in the top five only three times in season 4: a number four in “Who are You”, and a number five in each of “New Moon Rising” (where Willow 'comes out' to Buffy, and where the love triangle with Willow at its centre comes to a head) and “Restless” (the highly experimental season-concluding 'dream episode', in which Tara has a particular 'narrator' role). So underutilised is she, in fact, that she doesn't even appear on the top ten of characters for that season, even though Oz does.
Season five features the closest we get to a 'Tara episode' in “Family”. While this episode revolves around the character of Tara and gives her 552 words, the most she speaks in a single episode (italics intentional), it still doesn't give her a #1 finish, as she says fewer words than Buffy. This #2 finish is as high as Tara gets, and in fact is the only time she ranks higher than #4. Despite appearing in 18 of 22 episodes in season five, Tara has a 'minor' role in fully 16 of them, appearing otherwise in the top five only in “Tough Love”, where she loses her sanity to Glory. She is the tenth highest-ranking character in terms of words spoken throughout the season.
Tara ranks seventh in season six, a big improvement, but season six remains the season where she breaks up with Willow and ultimately dies. She shows up in the top five on both “Bargaining, Part One” and “Bargaining, Part Two” (though I have my suspicions about the transcripts for those two episodes) at numbers four and five, respectively. She shows up at number five on “Dead Things”, and at number four on the musical episode “Once More, With Feeling” - at 669 words her highest overall word count, though only 212 of those words are spoken, the other 457 sung. After that, though, it's all minor roles for Tara, sinking as low as “Normal Again”, where despite actually having a role in the plot manages to say precisely eight words. Even “Seeing Red” itself, with 226 words, is a minor role.
And one thing that makes Tara quite rare in the Buffyverse: when she's dead, she's really dead. The finality of Tara's death is what drives Willow to a grief-driven rampage, and so far the writers have stuck to it, despite several apparent story ideas in season seven. One of the deaths in the Buffyverse hardest for fans to accept, Tara's is grossly unfair and random – just like real life. And after she says her final words, 'Your shirt', and tumbles lifelessly to the ground, there is no coming back at all – just like real life.
- Overall ranking: #19
- Ranking on Buffy: #13
- Total words spoken on Buffy: 8370
- Season 4: 1533
- Season 5: 2855 (#10)
- Season 6: 3982 (#7)
- Total speaking appearances on Buffy: 46
- Ranking #2: 1
- Ranking #4: 4
- Ranking #5: 4
- Minor: 37