TV URBAN LEGEND: Dawn was originally going to die in the Buffy Season 5 finale, "The Gift," instead of Buffy.
In Season 5 of Buffy, the "big bad" was Glory, a god from a hell dimension who was banished to Earth, trapped in the body of an unsuspecting human named Ben. Glory discovers that there is an inter-dimensional "key" that she could use to return to her home dimension, but using the key would essentially merge all of the various dimensions, which would mean unleashing literal hell on Earth. In an attempt to protect the key from Glory, its protectors turned the key into a human girl, Dawn, and made her the sister of Buffy (using magic to make everyone believe that Dawn has always been around), with the theory being that the Slayer would naturally do whatever she could to protect her own sister.
Throughout the lead up to the finale, the option seemed to exist that Dawn could sacrifice herself to stop the whole dimension problem. However, Buffy could not let her sister do that and so, instead, Buffy used her own body to stop the ritual and save Earth from the merger of the dimensions (meanwhile, Buffy's watcher, Giles, murdered the innocent human that was the host of Glory, so that he could assure that Glory would die, as well).
This was the last episode of Buffy to air on the WB, with the show moving over to the rival UPN for Seasons 6-7.
There was a different version of the ending that has made the rounds of the internet, purporting to be the original way that the episode would end. Here it is:
ANGLE IN THE SKY
va rift opens and a huge dragon flies out, screamingas it sails past Dawn and Buffy
Buffy: I don't care! Dawn I wont lose you
Dawn You have to! You have to let me go! Blood starts it and until the blood stops flowing, it will never stop. You know you have to let me.....
as she takes in Dawn's words, knowing its true
as, slowly at first she takes a few steps away from her sister toward the end of the platform
who does nothing to stop her
a few more steps faster this time gaining speed until she is running toward the edge of the platform
ANGLE:ABOVE THE END as Dawn reaches it and Swan dives right out and down toward the ball of energy
CLOSE ON DAWN
as she starts down
CLOSE ON BUFFY
as she watches crying
ANGLE:THE BALL OF ENERGY
as Dawns body sails down into and disappears in a white light causing the energy to go even wilder
CLOSE ON THE GROUP as they look in vein to see what has happened
CLOSE ON DAWN'S FACEas she floats in the center if the maelstrom, being hit with the equivalent of a million jolts of electricity
BUFFY- unable to leave the platform
Dawn-her eyes slowly close.....
THE ENERGY BALL- exploding and suddenly contracting out of existence
Dawn disappearing with it
CLOSE ON BUFFY'S FACE
END OF SHOW
So, was that the original ending? Wad Dawn really going to die?
No, that was not the original ending and it wasn't even really technically an alternate ending. It was a fake ending designed to help disguise the fact that Buffy was going to die. Shows often do things like to try to hide big twists, even though the Buffy dying twist was not particularly hidden well, as many folks seemed to know about it beforehand, but hey, they tried! This isn't the only time that Buffy the Vampire Slayer used fake scripts to try to hide twists.
The legend is...
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.