Willow and Anya: AKA Sleeping with the Enemy?
By CN Winters
Background and Character
There are many unconventional ‘ships’ out there but one of the most intriguing is the Willow/Anya coupling. Willow pretty much set the tone for her relationship with Anya in Graduation Day (3.21) – “How come evil girl’s in the mix?”
From that point on, there was an underlined tension and animosity between these two women over the years. The reasoning was never addressed until Triangle (5.11), a very funny yet informative episode. Xander and Tara get caught between their bickering lovers and leave them to their own devices, the results of which end up freeing Olaf, the Troll and Anya’s ex-lover.
Through the course of having to work together to stop Olaf, viewers finally get a glimpse into where the ‘love to hate’ relationship stemmed from – Boy Trouble in the name of Xander Harris.
Now keep in mind that it wasn’t the usual two girls/one guy syndrome. In fact the basic catalyst of their on-going conflict isn’t about desire but love. Anya feels Willow will someday try to steal her man, Xander. As Willow points out she’s ‘Gay Now!’ and she wouldn’t do that. For Willow ’s part, her animosity comes from the fact Anya’s vengeance past is a matter of concern. She doesn’t want to see her best friend hurt by his ex-demon lover who spent centuries torturing men.
By episodes end we see Willow and Anya come to an agreement. Willow is very happy with Tara and has no designs on making Xander hers. Anya, for her part, loves Xander and would never hurt him. They seem to have an understanding. And even Xander, when given the chance by Olaf to choose between the death of his best friend and his girlfriend, would rather face death himself than order either one of them executed. This is meaningful because both women finally see the other is part of the ‘Xander package’, like it or not. And the winds of change begin to blow.
Later, in season five, Tara ’s mind is manipulated by Glory and Willow must spend her first night alone while Tara remains in the hospital for observation (Tough Love 5.19). Willow tells the gang that she doesn’t think she can sleep without Tara . In a gesture of genuine friendship Anya offers, “You can sleep with me. (beat) Well, now that came out a lot more lesbian than it sounded in my head.”
This is an important quote because – 1) Anya understands the concept of lesbianism and the subtext of what she said. 2) She shows a concern for Willow that she never did before and 3) She does think before she speaks.
One of the failings in fan fiction writing of Anya is that she’s often portrayed as dumb; that she speaks without thinking. Actually, Anya considers everything she says but she’s lacking in tact and social graces so she comes off blunt and offensive at times. And she is quite intelligent as the fifth season ender proved as the gang planned their final battle with Glory. Another aspect of Anya to consider - she is constantly learning and trying to adapt to her environment. She’s not afraid to try new things. This opens up a wonderful door for Willow/Anya shippers.
Another of Anya’s characteristic that make for a good ship is she’s very sexual. She enjoys sex and she’s not ashamed to talk about it whenever and with whomever she likes. Add that with her blunt nature and it’s quite believable that she would look to ‘experiment’ with Willow and not be the least bit embarrassed to discuss it. Although she didn’t display the slightest bit of interest in the same sex until season seven (which we’ll get to) her love of the sex act has always been present. And since Willow ‘the lesbian’ keeps with the canon of the show it’s all the more incentive for the pairing – after all, opposites attract.
The growing friendship that Anya and Willow find is cemented even more in sixth season (Villains 6.20).
When Willow goes on her destructive, murderous rampage newly returned vengeance demon Anya has
to make a choice – help Buffy or allow Willow to exact her revenge on Warren Meers and his friends.
When asked, the choice for Anya is simple and she tells both Buffy and Xander point blank she’ll help, stating why. It’s not for them.
“I'll help,” she tells them. “But I'm helping Willow.”
It’s not until season seven and Willow ’s return to Sunnydale that the ship of Anya and Willow got a real boost. When Willow finds a
dead body she goes to Anya to try a locating spell that might find the demon the witch suspects. Anya asks with a bit of concern that
the spell ‘isn’t going to get all sexy’. But by the time it’s done she admits it did seem a little sexy and isn’t the least bit offended.
Willow ’s reaction is priceless – as if for a brief moment she considered the thought of Anya sexy. But just
as quick as the reaction came, it left and Willow nervously excused herself from Anya’s apartment filled
with burning candles. A bottle of Champagne and little romantic music was all that was missing. It’s
interesting to note too that many of Willow’s spells that she cast with Tara were sexual in nature. It would
seem obvious that she would attach that distinction anytime she works magic.
Comparing and Contrasting
So what makes this ship ‘believable’? It’s the comparisons and contrasts the two of them share with each other.
Anya and Willow have both felt their share of loss when it comes to love. Xander didn’t love Anya
enough to marry her and left her at the wedding alter. Willow lost her love to death at a time when
things couldn’t have seemed brighter. The sudden loss of both their mates were monumentally
upsetting. And both acted rashly afterward (Willow on a killing spree and Anya returning to
Another fact that pulls this ship together is their power. They both also share incredible power – a power so
great that they can kill with it if they so choose. And since both of them often react with the heart before their head, they can relate to
how scary that power can be as their conversation in Same Time, Same Place points out (7.3). This conversation also shows that
they are both genuinely good people, trying to do the right thing.
One of the differences, which can pull the characters together, is how direct they are. Willow is a babbler. It takes her
five sentences to say what Anya can say in one. But it works for the ship as Same Time, Same Place
points out in their ‘sexy/power’ conversation:
… And the vengeance itself, i-it's not as fulfilling as I remember.
Really? 'Cause I got the impression that you enjoyed—you know, inflicting.
Well, causing pain sounds really cool, I know, but turns out it's really upsetting. Didn't use to be, but now it is.
Is it like you're scared of losing that feeling again. And that having it be OK to hurt people. And then you're not in charge of the power anymore because it's in charge of you?
Wow, that was really over-dramatically stated, but, yeah, that's it.
I get it. Believe me.
(sincerely) I'm sorry, Willow. I wish it were better for you.
It did get a little sexy, didn't it?
(nods, then catches herself, walks away quickly) I have to find this monster.
And despite their differences, both past and present, the characters have a deep concern for each other that seems to go beyond the
‘Xander’ link. When Anya kills a frat house full of boys in Selfless (7.5) and Willow knows that Anya did the deed, she
tries to intervene:
Anya, listen to me. You're in trouble. You know it. I'm here to help you.
(chuckles) You're here to— Well, that's great, Willow. Flayed anybody lately, have you? How quickly they forget!
I haven't forgotten one second of it.
What do you want?
I want to help you.
When Willow fails to make headway with Anya, yet can sense her pain, she uses her magics to summon
Anya’s demon boss D’Hoffryn. This is important to the Anya/Willow dynamic because at this point
Willow was fearful of doing magic, afraid she’d give into the black arts and be lost again. But
Willow puts her fear aside to help Anya and even risks D’Hoffryn wooing her into his fold so she
can help Anya. Later D’Hoffryn refers to ‘Miss Rosenberg’ as Anya’s friend, which is a far cry from
her appraisal of Anya as the ‘evil girl’ four years earlier.
And to close on a totally superficial note another reason the ship works is obvious - they look
just so damn cute together regardless of Anya’s hair color of the week.
But seriously, considering where they’ve been it’s one of the more ‘conventional’ of the
unconventional relationships in the Buffyverse. At first glance it might seem impossible that
these two would ever hook up. But if writers look deeper into the character make up of
each woman they’ll find the pair is more kindred spirits than opposite ends of the spectrum.