Brenda Walsh, portrayed by Shannen Doherty, is a fictional character in the Beverly Hills, 90210 franchise. She was the original show's female lead through the first four seasons, until Doherty's departure prompted her character to be written out. In the 1000th issue of Entertainment Weekly, Brenda Walsh was selected as the Daughter for "The Perfect TV Family. Brenda returned in the franchise's third spin-off, 90210.
Brenda, along with fraternal twin Brandon Walsh, lived in Minnesota until their father, Jim Walsh, got a promotion and was forced to move to Beverly Hills in 1990. The show initially focused on their struggles with culture shock and their relationships with their new Beverly Hills friends, Donna Martin, Andrea Zuckerman, David Silver, Kelly Taylor, Dylan McKay, and Steve Sanders.
The key exploration of her character came during a series of episodes involving a forbidden romance with Brandon's loner friend Dylan McKay—who had long had the attention of Brenda's best friend Kelly as well. Brenda and Dylan dated for two years, and their relationship became serious very fast. Immediately following an argument with his father, Dylan was comforted by and shared a passionate kiss with Brenda. However, Brenda's father is initially against her relationship with her new boyfriend.
After Brenda and Dylan dated for two months, Dylan really wanted to have sex, but Brenda wasn't ready. On a trip to Palm Springs, Brenda went to meet Dylan in a hotel room, but sees him with someone else and jumped to the conclusion that they had sex. Brenda and Dylan fought, but made up when they sat outside and tease each other about other suitors. Dylan agreed to wait until Brenda is ready to take their relationship to the next stage. Brenda then loses her virginity to Dylan at the spring dance. Shortly afterwards, Brenda became worried that she may have become pregnant. It turned out to be a false alarm, but Brenda broke up with Dylan and told him she again wasn't ready for a regular sexual relationship.
Despite the break-up, Brenda was hurt by seeing Dylan going out with other girls. Brenda's continued feelings eventually led to the couple getting back together. Their relationship would continue to strengthen when Brenda met Dylan's mother, Iris, whom she would eventually bond with.
The couple faced another obstacle when Brenda wanted to publish an article about her pregnancy scare and Dylan objected due to it being personal. Typical of their relationship, Brenda and Dylan made up after a fight. After Brenda was held at gunpoint at the Peach Pit, Dylan comforted her when she began having recurring nightmares about the event. Things only become more serious when Brenda spent a lot of time with Dylan while forgetting her curfew. Dylan invited Brenda on a trip to Mexico, and her family agreed to let her go. However, when Brenda and Dylan fall asleep together, they forbid her from going, prompting Brenda to sneak out and meet Dylan for the trip. They eventually got into an argument about a fling Dylan had during their break-up, but reconciled and danced together. When it was discovered that Brenda had forgotten her passport, Brenda is forced to call her father, restarting the feud between Dylan and Jim, who had demanded that Brenda stopped seeing Dylan. She refused to end the relationship and moved in with Dylan, who was annoyed by the situation to the point where he nearly ended it himself.
During the special summer start of the third-season; Jim, who had recognized the futility of his feud with Dylan, offered another option: let Brenda go to Paris for a summer-long French immersion program instead of Kelly (who had dropped out of the program to help with her baby sister) giving Jim, Brenda, and Dylan much needed time and space apart.
While in Paris, Brenda pretends to be a French tour guide to the cute Wisconsin native, Rick. A summer fling soon occurred between a resistant Kelly and Dylan. Rick and Brenda date briefly after they reconnect at a video store. They break up after Brenda realizes that he has more in common with her father than her. This, and the triangle that followed upon Brenda's return, became a series milestone that helped to boost the show's popularity and that, intentionally or not, mirrored to an extent the reported real-life competitive relationship between Doherty and Garth. The final confrontation between Brenda, Dylan, and Kelly—in which he informs Brenda that he chose her friend—was listed by Entertainment Weekly magazine as one of their 100 Greatest Television Moments.
Brenda, still heartbroken over Dylan choosing Kelly, started the fourth season in Minnesota, where she had decided to go to college. However, upon hearing about Kelly and Dylan's break-up and also realizing that she and her old friends no longer shared anything in common, she decided to return home and attend California University.
When Brenda returns, she meets a wealthy young-man named Stuart (whom Dylan knew as a drug-dealer in times past), and quickly fell in love with him. The couple would get engaged within weeks of their meeting and elope to Las Vegas, causing Dylan and her friends to come and attempt to stop it. They succeed by using reverse psychology, pretending that they're in favor of a Brenda-Stuart marriage.
Brenda's non-romantic life also took some hits over the season. When Donna Martin took in a puppy she and Brenda found, they learned it had escaped from an animal-testing lab and were both distraught when the puppy died. Brenda fell in with a group of animal-rights activists and ended up going along with them when they trashed a number of labs, and she got arrested (Donna decided at the last minute not to join the group). After her arrest, the only person in the group to show support for her was Dylan: David Silver questioned her judgment, Andrea angrily accused her of causing damage to labs that didn't test on animals, and Kelly told her that Dylan wasn't her boyfriend anymore and Brenda couldn't go running to him every time she had a problem. It turned out one of the activists was an undercover FBI agent who offered Brenda a deal for no prison time, because she had not known about nor supported the vandalism. All of Brenda's friends were apologetic for their shoddy treatment of her afterwards.
Brenda would also explore acting during the fourth-season, but this also led to problems: She bungled her first audition and then went over to the director's house to try again. She then got the part, but an unstable student implied she'd slept her way to the role. Unfortunately, this student was also dating Steve Sanders and he believed her claims, with everyone else more or less refusing to believe Brenda's denials. Steve realized his mistake when the student asked him to attack Brenda so she'd have to miss rehearsals. The student later tried to kill herself, but Brenda and Steve teamed up to save her, and Steve finally made amends by attending Brenda's well-received acting debut. The director's praise ended up leading to her accepting a position at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London for a year. Following Kelly and Dylan's latest break-up, Brenda eventually learned of a possible romance between Kelly and Brandon, and expressed her blessing. She later spent her last night with Dylan, telling him that she wouldn't be gone forever. The couple would briefly reconcile in the final scene of the fourth season, although (because of Doherty's departure), the Brenda character was written out and Brenda would never again appear on-screen.
Despite the Brenda character never reappearing on-screen, the character would live on through occasional discussions and conversations of the cast during the show's next six seasons. Most significant among them is—upon Luke Perry's departure from the show—her reconciliation with Dylan, who had moved into her London apartment. It is assumed that they are together for most of the show's seventh and eighth seasons, as a Season 8 storyline had Dylan's half-sister being rescued from a life of prostitution and going to live with Dylan and Brenda in London, and Kelly and Brandon mention going to visit them as part of their honeymoon. In a continuity error, when Dylan returned to the show in Season 9, he tells his friends that he and Brenda broke up two years earlier. However, this frees Dylan to renew his relationship with Kelly.
Following reports of Shannen Doherty's generally difficult relationships with many of the other regulars, mostly with Jennie Garth, Doherty left the show under unspecified circumstances, as a press release was never issued. Her character's future was briefly addressed in the fifth season premiere when Brandon told David that she had been accepted at her London school full-time. Archived images of Brenda were blacked out of a pre-series finale retrospective because Doherty and the show's producers couldn't agree on terms for use of them. She did, however, appear in the 10-year reunion show alongside her castmates.
In episode 4, she and Kelly talk about Donna's new baby and about Kelly's relationship with Ryan. She also agrees to become the director for the school play, taking over for Tabitha Wilson. Later, she enlists the help of Ryan with the music for the play. She declines to answer any questions about Kelly and Sammy's father, just saying there was a lot of history there. Kelly confronts her that night and after an argument, Brenda tells Kelly that Kelly is still in love with Dylan (Sammy's father) and that's why her relationships never work out.
In episode 5, Brenda is still directing the play, with opening night approaching. She works with Adriana but notices something is off. Realizing Adriana has a drug problem, she goes to Kelly and Ryan for help. When Adriana gets too high to do the show, Brenda has Annie take the lead role in the musical. The show goes on to be a great success.
In episode 6, Brenda is directing the last few shows of the play. During a conversation with Ryan and Kelly, Dylan calls her phone. Hearing that Dylan wants to talk to Kelly, she hands the phone over. Brenda then informs Ryan that Dylan is Sammy's father. Later, Kelly (after breaking up with Ryan) confronts Brenda about why Dylan called her phone. She accuses Brenda of having a relationship with Dylan and getting Kelly's "seconds" (although Kelly is mistaken, as Brenda dated Dylan first before he dated Kelly.) Brenda convinces Kelly that she has stayed in touch with Dylan but she has only told him not to screw up things with Kelly. Kelly and Brenda then make up. When Brenda exits the house, she gets into her car intent on going to the fashion show. Before she leaves, she deletes Dylan's phone number off her phone, shedding a tear in the process. This may indicate that there may have been more to the story of Brenda and Dylan's relationship that she didn't share with Kelly. At the show, she flirts with Ryan while they watch Adriana. Later, she and Ryan try to break up a fight between Annie and Adriana (Annie had just found out that Adriana lied about Ty). After that,Ryan and Brenda talk as they leave. She informs Ryan that she is going to take a break from Beverly Hills and acting for a bit to rejuvenate and probably go visit Brandon and his family. Ryan then offers to give Brenda a ride, which she accepts.