Willow and Spike: A Shippers Interpretation
The Spike and Willow pairing is one of the more popular unconventional matchings in the BtVS Universe. There is a dynamic between the two characters that, at the very least, hints at a certain amount of Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST). That UST, however does take some time to develop. Their first ‘proper’ meeting in the season 2 episode Halloween portrays a purely antagonistic connection. Willow is a ‘goodie’ and Spike a ‘baddie’.
The characters are well matched within the structure of the show, with both perceiving themselves (and being perceived as) as the outsider. The square peg in the round hole as it were.
We’re given significant amounts of evidence for this self-perception. There is Spike’s essential humanity; with his capacity to care for others, including self-denial and even self-sacrifice, (when he is in genuinely in love with them) his capacity for self-control when things are important enough, (not something often seen in the show’s vampires) his origins, (which appear somewhat different to most vampires) and his deliberate re-invention of himself after his creation as a vampire. These character traits are all at a considerable variance from the presented vampire norm on the show.
Willow is equally well drawn as the perennial outsider. As a geek, as a tech-head, as a member of a marginalised religion (Wicca) and as lesbian or bisexual.
This definition does two things in terms of the show. Firstly it provides characters that the audience can immediately identify with; turning them into a form of ‘everyman’. Secondly, these characters provide the various kinds of foil for developing the narrative flow of the overall storyline. In short, it becomes acceptable for characters written as outsiders to be put through the wringer and marginalised in a way that the core character or characters cannot be.
It is this very aspect of the ‘outsider’ character that often makes such personalities popular in fan fiction; and when there are two ‘outsiders’ who are forced together by circumstance or the overall pattern of events surrounding them, the average viewer would often wonder how much further a friendship or an alliance may go. Such is the most likely point of origin for Spike/Willow fiction.
Other examples of the ‘outsider’ who becomes a central fan-fictional character include Spock from Star Trek and Krycek from the X-files. In fact, the X-files ensemble consists almost purely of outsiders.
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Within the structure of the show, the relationship between Willow and Spike is currently one of alliance and mutual assistance. Spike, as a ‘leashed’ or ‘neutered’ vampire, requires assistance both to feed and to obtain the money necessary to purchase food. In turn he provides extra muscle against demons and also lends his other skills to the Scooby Gang when needed.
There is, however, substantial evidence within the canon to argue a mutual attraction between Spike and Willow. There is the episode in season 3 Lover’s Walk where Spike’s attraction toward Willow is overtly carnal, as well as carnivorous, and Willow’s response that “There will be no having, of any kind!” carries a certain lack of conviction in terms of the sexual subtext.
In the season 4 episode The Initiative, Spike enters the room Buffy and Willow share, attempts to bite Willow and discovers he can’t. The discussion between the two afterwards is fascinating for both the ‘impotence’ analogy, where, throughout the scene, Willow is sympathetic and tries to be understanding and a ‘good listener’. In addition, there is also Spike’s being able to tell Willow precisely what she was wearing when he kidnapped her; and her obviously pleased reaction that he had remembered. In addition, during this scene, Spike is at pains to emphasise to Willow that he finds her attractive. “I’d bite you in a heartbeat!” To which Willow responds with a pleased “You would?” followed by a cautious “You’re not just saying that?” Thus implying that she respects his ‘taste’ in a strange way—that she feels complimented.
A little later in season 4, during the episode Doomed, Willow actively prevents Spike from suiciding, whereas Xander offers to help. This is less overtly about attraction and can be equally well interpreted as Willow, by this point a Wiccan with that religion’s reverence for life, simply being concerned about the well-being and preservation of all life.
During Something Blue (also from Season 4) it is Spike, rather than anyone else, who notices how close to the edge Willow is after Oz leaves. “What, are you people blind? She’s hanging on by a thread!” His opinion is discarded by Buffy and Giles and this leads, in part, to the ‘My Will be Done’ spell.
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There are multiple strings that could draw Willow and Spike together. First and foremost is their mutual status as ‘outsiders.’ However there are other, initially less apparent, potential causes for them developing a romantic or emotional relationship together.
One of the more powerful of these is a similarly high level of intelligence. Although his cheerful propensity towards violence sometimes conceals it, Spike has an exceptional level of both intelligence and, on rare occasions, subtlety. He has a very highly developed capacity for use of language (he knows Fyarl), and shows an ability to research or otherwise access knowledge when he needs to. Both of Willow’s canon relationships were with exceedingly intelligent partners. In the case of Oz, it was baldly stated that he was very clever. In the case of Tara, it was more implicit, but an examination of her courses at UCS suggests that she had varied academic interests, and implicit therein, high intelligence. As additional evidence, during season 3, while Willow and Buffy are discussing UCS, Willow emphasises that the school excels in some areas.
Another vehicle for bringing Willow and Spike together would be mutual loneliness, either after Oz’s departure and Spike’s estrangement from Harmony, or alternatively after the death of Tara and Spike’s return from Africa. This tool has, I believe, less to recommend it than the others, but is very useful when used in conjunction with one of the two above. A variation of the above theme could be Spike and Willow helping one another through their transitions. Willow after losing Oz, and Spike as a newly neutered vampire.
An alternative option, should you want to depict a more manipulative and fundamentally evil Spike, would be to have him coldly and deliberately develop a relationship with Willow as part of a plan to force the Scoobies apart, or at least remove a potential danger to himself. An alternative may be a plan by Spike to use Willow’s magical ability as a way of getting his chip removed. In some ways this would mirror Spike’s behaviour in “The Yoko Factor” with an interesting, albeit callous, twist.
Spike would see a lot in Willow that, in the show, he has made clear he desires. Willow is portrayed as innately faithful, loving and giving (her small episode with Xander notwithstanding). These are aspects that are mirrored in Spike, as his relationship with firstly Drusilla and later Buffy clearly shows.
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A potential hurdle to be overcome in developing a relationship between the characters would be Willow’s sexuality. I would, however, point out that in both Tabula Rasa and Doppelgangland that Willow uses the phrase “… and I think I’m kinda gay.” The reiteration of the line is, to me, significant. It seems to imply that she isn’t lesbian, but bisexual; with the use of the word ‘kinda’ emphasising the fundamental bisexuality of the character. (Although there are admittedly other lines in different episodes that imply the reverse.)
There is also other evidence for this assertion, some explicit and some implicit. Again, in Doppelgangland, Angel begins to say that a vampire’s personality is a reflection of the individual as a human. The behaviour of Vamp Willow in both The Wish and Doppelgangland certainly suggests a bisexual nature, rather than an exclusively gay or straight one. In The Wish she is clearly paired with Xander as her primary partner, and in Doppelgangland, her behaviour is, to be quite frank, totally indiscriminate.
A second not inconsiderable hurdle is Spike’s vampiric nature. Willow is fully aware of the demon within him, and its lack of conscience. Would Willow be able to develop feelings for a creature without a conscience? Counter-balancing this is Spike’s ongoing internal struggle with the demon within.
It seems clears from the various flashbacks in the show that this struggle is one that he has dealt with almost from day one as a vampire, and his determination to retain at least some vestige of his humanity is underlined as early as season 2 in Innocence where the Judge says of Spike “This one stinks of humanity.” Another excellent example of this is his discussion with Buffy about the world in Becoming, part 2, where he says, “The truth is, I like this world. You've got ... dog racing, Manchester United. And you've got people. Billions of people walking around like Happy Meals with legs.” Even though his values are twisted by the demon, they are still essentially pragmatic and human. This is Spike’s saving grace for most fic writers. He retains more of himself than other vampires and his pragmatism allows him to be placed in a wider variety of believable situations than other characters.
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Finally, there are the social reasons for Spike and Willow to be together. We, as writers and/or readers of fanfic, are the product of our environments. And one of the staples of story-telling in our culture is the Good Girl/Bad Boy pairing, or its reverse (hence Xander/Faith fandom). Obviously such stories have infinite sub-plots. One of the most popular in Willow/Spike fandom is the ‘redemptive’ story where Spike eventually eschews killing for Willow. Again this is mirrored culturally, in fables and fairy tales; not the least of which is the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. In more recent times, Spike could be referred, in these stories, as ‘A Whore with a Heart of Gold’, one of the stock characters from modern drama, popularised most memorably by Mae West.
Equally popular is the ‘corruption’ story, where Spike leads Willow astray and encourages her to embrace her ‘dark side’. Again, this generic structure comes to us from both the pre-history of literature in tales like that of Samson and Delilah and as recently as Star Wars. In more modern terms, Spike could be defined simply as ‘The villain’, or with more subtlety, as an ‘anti-hero’. Recent examples of anti-heroes include both Callan from the British TV series of that name and Londo Mollari of Babylon 5.
In conclusion, there are many good reasons for imagining a relationship between Willow and Spike; and those reasons are supported by some interpretive readings of the text within the show itself. To make such a story truly believable, one shouldn’t deny the reality of issues such as Willow’s sexuality and Spike’s vampirity; but rather, embrace and develop cogent reasons for them electing to become involved. And, of course … they’re REALLY cute together.
Steven King: Danse Macabre Futura Press, London 1981/1984
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”: Series 2 – 6 inclusive. Warner Brothers/UPN/20th Century Fox
C. Golden & N. Holder: The Watchers Guide Vol 1 Pocket Books New York 1998
Holder, Marriotte & Hart: The Watchers Guide Vol 2 Pocket Books, New York 2000
Golden, Bissette & Sniegoski: The Monster Book (BtVS) Pocket Books, New York 2000
Nikki Stafford: Bite Me ECW Press, Toronto, 1998.