When Michelle Trachtenberg entered the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Buffy’s younger sister, Dawn, in season 5, fans’ emotions ran high.
Filled with confusion, and potentially even anger, as to why the writers would alter Buffy’s whole background and identity as an only child, viewers definitely needed some convincing.
However, within episodes, Dawn’s character arc became clear.
She managed to transform the opinions of viewers, who went from perceiving her as a weird addition to the group to a loveable character who was a completely necessary aspect of the show.
Having a sister gave Buffy’s character a whole new depth, and altered the dynamics of the Scooby Gang in a way that was gripping to watch. Though, the experiences of Dawn herself were also particularly gripping.
Formed by mystical energy, the sister of the Slayer, and the victim of many tragedies, Dawn’s journey through her teenage years is an engaging one, to say the least.
To learn more about Dawn’s background, her beginnings as The Key, and her time fighting alongside her sister and the Scooby Gang, check out the information below.
The Order of Dagon
The Key was an ancient and mystical energy with the ability to break down the barriers between the dimensions. It was the role of The Order of Dagon, a monastic order, to protect The Key at all costs.
The Order had protected The Key since the XII century. However, in 2000, they were attacked by a hell goddess called Glorificus. In order to continue protecting The Key, they performed a Key embodiment ritual.
This ritual molded the key into a human form and sent it to Buffy. The Key was formed as Buffy Summers’ 14-year-old sister Dawn, to ensure that the Slayer would protect The Key at all costs.
Before Dawn’s arrival, Buffy had been an only child. However, the monks of The Order of Dagon distorted reality to make it appear as if Dawn had always been a part of Buffy’s life. Everyone within Buffy’s world would remember Dawn as always being Buffy’s younger sister.
In the years leading up to Dawn entering Buffy Summers’ life, Buffy had a number of dreams which seemed to foreshadow her arrival. Before the Sunnydale High graduation, Buffy had a dream wherein she and Faith discussed the arrival of ‘Little Miss Muffet’.
In the following year, Buffy went on to have another dream. In this one, Buffy and Faith were stood in what was to become Dawn’s bedroom, as they discussed ‘little sis’ arriving soon. Not long after, a spirit told Buffy to ‘be back by Dawn’, alluding to her sister-to-be’s name.
After Dawn’s eventual arrival, Buffy and The Scooby Gang were completely unaware of her true origin. Everyone in Buffy’s life believed in the distorted reality crafted by the monks, wherein Dawn had moved from Los Angeles to Sunnydale with Buffy and Joyce at the age of ten after Joyce and Hank’s divorce.
Buffy often recalled instances from the past which involved Dawn. For instance, she described how distraught Dawn was after their parents’ separation, and discussed Dawn’s first birthday in Sunnydale, wherein their mother hired a merry-go-round.
However, it soon became clear that individuals who were situated ‘outside reality’ could see Dawn’s true nature. Within her actual first few days within Sunnydale, a patient with a mental disorder told her that she ‘doesn’t belong here’.
When Joyce became ill, Buffy was convinced that something mystical was causing it. To discover what it may be, she did a spell called the Tirer la Couverture. This spell, also called ‘a spell to see’, would show her the truth.
However, after the spell, Buffy was surprised to see that there was nothing mystical causing her mother’s illness. Although, when she looked at Dawn, she realized that she wasn’t really there.
After this instance, Buffy met the last monk from The Order of Dagon, who told her what her sister really was, and that she required the Slayer’s protection.
Buffy kept this to herself for a while, just telling Giles at first. However, her mother and the rest of the Scooby Gang found out soon after. It wasn’t long before Dawn became suspicious of The Scooby Gang, as they continued to have secret conversations about Dawn.
Frustrated, Dawn decided to sneak into the Magic Box with Spike, where they read Giles’ Watcher diary. They both came to learn about Dawn’s true nature, which resulted in Dawn having a severe identity crisis.
Angry and confused, Dawn ran away from home and took to self-harming. Buffy, however, was able to assure Dawn that regardless of Dawn’s nature, they were real sisters, and would always be.
However, Dawn’s difficulties would only become worse from there. When Joyce died very unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm, Dawn felt particularly alone and rightfully devastated.
She went on to attempt to resurrect her mother using dark magic but quickly reversed the spell after realizing the potentially dangerous consequences of her actions.
In response to her mother’s death, Dawn began stealing. She began by thieving Anya’s earrings, but it quickly escalated to her stealing items from multiple stores within Sunnydale. In particular, she often stole items from the Magic Box.
Dawn would also go on to blame herself for the problems that the Scooby Gang faced. For instance, when Glorificus (Glory) tortured Spike and sucked Tara’s energy, which left her mentally unwell, Dawn described herself as a ‘lightning rod’ for pain.
Despite Buffy and The Scooby Gang’s best efforts to keep Dawn safe, Glory eventually managed to kidnap her. However, Dawn had developed somewhat of a friendship with Glory’s human alter-ego Ben.
Ben had helped Dawn escape Glory before, and as such, Dawn pleaded with Ben to help her once again.
Although, for self-preservation, Ben decided to work with Glory, and Glory’s plans began to fall into place once she had hold of Dawn. Glory took Dawn to a tower and aimed to use her blood to destroy the gates between dimensions. Shortly after, the ritual began working and the gates began to falter.
Dawn realized that once her blood stopped flowing, the gates would close and the chaos that would ensue from the dimensions falling into each other would end. However, Buffy realized that, because they were sisters, her body would also be capable of closing the gates.
Following this, Buffy sacrificed her life to save Dawn. She threw herself off the tower and into the dimensional tear, which brought the battle to an emotional end.
In the time that followed after her sister’s death, Dawn struggled with abandonment issues, and her coping mechanism of stealing from local stores only escalated.
After being completely devastated by Buffy dying, she was overjoyed to find out that Willow had cast a spell and resurrected her. However, Buffy’s reintegration into normal life was very rocky, and this had a huge effect on Dawn.
As Buffy continued to spiral into a deep depression, Dawn felt progressively more and more abandoned by her sister and The Scooby Gang.
She regularly tries seeking attention from the group, but often to no avail, as they dedicate their energy to demonic battles, their own relationships, and Buffy’s transition.
It is also around this time that Dawn experienced her first kiss and her first vampire kill. On Halloween, she spent some time with a boy called Justin, who she had a crush on. However, after kissing him, she realized that he was a vampire, and went on to reluctantly stake him through the heart.
Not long after, Xander accidentally summoned a demon called Sweet. This demon forced the residents of Sunnydale to perform musical numbers.
Whilst performing, Buffy admitted that, by resurrecting her, Willow had removed Buffy from heaven. This revelation served to further upset the gang, and Dawn continued to feel isolated as she felt Buffy didn’t want to be alive.
In fact, Dawn’s distress reached its apex after a series of events that made her react violently. First, Willow recklessly took Dawn to a magical drug dealer, which resulted in them getting attacked by a demon and subsequently getting into a car crash.
Dawn had to go to the hospital after the incident due to a broken arm and became angry with Willow.
Soon after, Buffy became convinced that she had accidentally killed a woman, Katrina Silber. Though this was actually a consequence of the Trio manipulating time, Buffy didn’t initially realize it and decided to turn herself in.
After telling Dawn of her plan, Dawn became violently angry, as her belief that Buffy didn’t want to be around her was strengthened. She went on to accuse Buffy of deserting her.
Dawn’s feelings of abandonment were so strong that the demon Halfrek was drawn to Sunnydale. Whilst Halfrek was under the guise of a staff member at Sunnydale High, Dawn inadvertently made a wish that resulted in everyone being trapped within the Summers’ house on Buffy’s birthday.
During this imprisonment, the group became aware of Dawn’s intense sense of abandonment, in addition to the extent of her thieving. While some members of the group, such as Anya, were visibly upset by Dawn’s actions, the group resolved to be better friends and guardians to Dawn.
Dawn also promised to return all of the stolen items.
When Warren shot Tara, Dawn found her dead body in one of the bedrooms in their house. She was incredibly distraught by the event and even encouraged Willow to murder Warren in revenge. However, she did change her mind when she realized that Willow was out of control.
After being placed under the care of Klem, whilst the others attempted to deal with Willow, Dawn was frustrated. She managed to convince Klem to help her find Willow so that Dawn could reason with her.
Dawn found Willow at Rack’s place, the magic drug dealer, and tried her best to reason with her. However, it soon became clear that Willow had been saturated with dark magic, and as a consequence, was particularly powerful and vengeful. Willow became irritated by Dawn’s attempts and threatened to transform Dawn back into a ball of energy to put an end to her whining.
The Scooby Gang
As Dawn fought with Buffy to beat demons released by Willow, her ability to fight became clear. It was at this moment that Dawn began to become a fully-fledged member of the Scooby Gang.
Dawn’s fears about Buffy not wanting to carry on living were also quashed at this moment, as when Xander stopped Willow from bringing on the apocalypse, Buffy was joyful. She promised to show Dawn the wonders of the world.
When Dawn started attending school at the recently rebuilt Sunnydale High School, she took on a similar role to that of her sister whilst attending school. When her school friends were faced with demonic activity, Dawn always tried to defeat the evil.
Within the Scooby Gang, Dawn also took on a role similar to Willow’s teenage position within the gang. She became a researcher who began to learn ancient languages to help the gang with their battles.
Dawn’s trials and tribulations at Sunnydale High often coincided with her tackling normal teenage problems. For instance, the gang noticed that Dawn had become infatuated with a boy, R.J. Brookes, and assumed it was general teenage behavior.
However, when Buffy also became infatuated with the same boy, it became apparent that they were under some kind of love spell. To prove her love, Dawn almost killed herself by laying on a train track. However, Buffy saved her before the train hit her.
The First Evil
When home alone one evening, Dawn believed that a demon was hurting the soul of her dead mother, due to some poltergeist activity. She attempted to perform an exorcism and was later confronted with an angel-like image of her mother, who warned her that Buffy may not have her best interests at heart.
Other members of the Scooby Gang had similar experiences themselves, and they concluded that their ghostly encounters were conducted by the First Evil. To defeat this evil, Giles returned to Sunnydale with a team of teenage girls, who were all potentially the next Slayer.
After the gang became aware of another potential Slayer within Sunnydale, Willow performed a locator spell in order to find her. The spell seemed to suggest that the next Slayer was Dawn, and she began to grapple with what that meant for her life.
However, after Dawn went to Sunnydale High with her friend Amanda, because Amanda had been attacked by a vampire, Dawn realized that it was in fact Amanda who was the potential Slayer. Dawn was gracious but obviously upset by the event.
Although, Xander went on to explain how being normal was the hardest role within the group. He comforted her by telling her that she wasn’t ‘special’, but rather, she was extraordinary.
The newly extended group, consisting of the Scooby Gang, Andrew, Faith, and the potential Slayers, had fears about Buffy’s ability to lead everyone in the fight against the First. Dawn agreed with them and was the one to force Buffy to leave their house.
When Buffy returned to the group, she made the decision to try and remove Xander, who had just become injured by an agent of the First, and Dawn, from Sunnydale, due to their vulnerability. Buffy convinced Xander to drive himself and Dawn out of town until the battle was over.
However, when Dawn realized what was happening, she tasered Xander and took control of the car. She returned to the house and was adamant that she would be a part of the fight.
The Final Battle
Throughout the final battle, all of the potential Slayers were transformed into Slayers, thanks to Willow using her magic for good. Dawn was in charge of blocking one of the exits within Sunnydale High with Xander, and went on to slay multiple ‘uber vamps’ completely by herself.
Dawn was one of the survivors of the group. With the others, she left Sunnydale as her home collapsed into a crater behind them. As the survivors stood looking over what used to be Sunnydale, Dawn asked her sister what they were going to do next.
Personality / Traits
Dawn was similar to both her mother and her sister, in the sense that she had great inner strength and a quick-witted, cynical sense of humor. Much like Buffy, Dawn was also incredibly independent and stubborn.
However, she often tried to quash her abandonment issues using maladaptive coping mechanisms.
In spite of her insecurities, Dawn managed to become an incredibly mature young woman who displayed great courage and comfort in her own skin. She also showed great enthusiasm for fighting evil and would help the gang in any way that she could.
- Height: 5’5”
- Weight: 107lbs
- Hair color: dirty blonde/dark brown.
- Eyes: blue.
Powers / Abilities
Dawn had no superhuman abilities. However, she grew to be a very competent fighter, showed an interest in spell-casting, was an excellent researcher, and showed an ability to read multiple languages including Turkish and Latin.
Dawn remained very steady in the face of danger and always battled it head-on. She was also incredibly loyal to Buffy and all of her friends.
Buffy and Dawn had a typical sibling relationship. Dawn often felt overshadowed by Buffy, as their friends gave Buffy the most attention. As a consequence, Dawn developed some abandonment and self-esteem issues.
Buffy, however, felt very jealous of how much attention Dawn got from their mother. Though these tensions often lead to constant bickering, Buffy was still protective of Dawn, and Dawn still looked up to Buffy.
When Dawn discovered that she was The Key, her and Buffy’s bond became much stronger. Likewise, although the two struggled to see eye to eye in the initial days after their mother’s death, this devastating event ended up bringing the two closer together.
In fact, their bond had become so strong, that Buffy sacrificed her life so that Dawn could live.
After Buffy’s resurrection, Dawn initially felt abandoned as Buffy reintegrated herself into the world. However, after some time, Buffy became a more maternal figure in Dawn’s life.
Despite the difficulties that arose when the potential Slayers got to Sunnydale, and the tension caused by the revolt against Buffy, this maternal relationship remained fairly strong. Buffy even tried to remove Dawn from the battle against the First to ensure her safety.
Dawn and her mother were very close. Even though Joyce realized that Dawn was not actually her daughter quite quickly, she still loved Dawn like a daughter and asked Buffy to love and protect her all the same. Dawn was completely grief-stricken after Joyce’s passing.
Dawn didn’t have a very good relationship with her father. Though she was devastated when her parents divorced, she grew angry with her neglectful father. When Hank refused to attend Joyce’s funeral, Dawn was livid.
Though they didn’t have much of a relationship in the beginning, Giles would end up becoming a protective, fatherly figure to Dawn, just as he was to Buffy. When Buffy was absent, Giles became the sole parental figure in Dawn’s life.
Dawn always admired Willow, and she looked up to her role within the Scooby Gang. When Buffy died, Willow and Tara acted as guardians to dawn. Though their relationship became rocky when Willow got involved with dark magic, they managed to make up quickly. Dawn actually said to Buffy that Willow was like a mother to her.
Dawn and Spike struck up a friendship when Dawn was feeling abandoned by the others. He treated her like an adult, and as such, she enjoyed hanging out in his crypt. However, their relationship took a turn when Spike tried to rape Buffy. From then on, their relationship was rocky.
Dawn had a crush on Xander when she was younger, although this dissipated and the two became good friends. In fact, Xander was one of the few people that would treat Dawn like an adult.
However, in the comic book continuation of the series, they struck up a romantic relationship. Though it wasn’t smooth sailing, the two did end up together.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Dawn is featured in every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from the beginning of season 3 to the end of season 7.
She was also a dominant character in the comic book continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Though Dawn isn’t present in the spin-off Angel, she is mentioned multiple times.
Again, Dawn isn’t present herself in Spike’s spin-off, but she is mentioned.
Angel & Faith
She was present in one issue of the Angel & Faith comic book in Angel & Faith: Season 10. Specifically, she featured in Where the River Meets the Sea, Part 1.
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