I disagree with some of the pain in Joss' stories. But for the most part they have become integral to character development and the plot.
While I am sad that Fred is gone, I think her death is a prime example of a great tragedy of the verse. A life and soul lost forever for the greater good. It was dismal, painful and heartbreaking at it's best. The death I most dislike is Anya. To kill off a beloved character just for the sake of showing that deaths are quick and brutal in war is pretty weak. And I didn't "need it", to quote Joss. I know very well that people die in war, and Anya was an amazing character and so well loved. I think she was simply tossed aside like a piece of trash, and that sucks. Take out Robin Wood, Andrew or Kennedy in that way. Not a series regular who has a strong following.
I'm glad they had the guts to kill Anya off. It showed BTVS was not a sappy/easy show where only secondary characters can die.
Just for your information, Tara's death is probably my all-time favorite death in the buffyverse. It was so powerful and tragic, so dramatic... I would never want her death to be taken back, it was just meant to be. I love how Joss Whedon likes to takes characters away from us at the very moment when they have become the happiest. Just like Fred and Wesley. I loved how Fred was wiped off the show in a heartbeat. It's one of the VERY few episodes of Angel that made me cry.
As for issue 23: I said good. I liked the humor and the nice dynamic.
So far "Predators and Prey" has been the weakness arc of the series. I think all the issues have great content and definitely deserve to exist, but having all these character-based standalones grouped together does make the series feel rather fractured and slow-paced at the moment. Like most people, I'm looking forward to "Retreat" so that the series can heat up again. I'd say that Season Eight is going through a bit of a bad patch right now, but fortunately a "bad patch" of Buffy is still much better than most other series ever achieve, which is why the past three issues have still been enjoyable in their own right.
[center][br]"Fictional characters might be imaginary, but, but they're more important than most of us here. And they're all gonna be around long after we're dead. So in a way, those things are more realer than any of us."[br]—Kyle Broflovski, "Imaginationland Episode III"[br][/center]