Warning: spoilers ahead for 13 Reasons Why season two!
When it comes to the tapes on 13 Reasons Why, there are certain characters who tend to fade into the background, behind bigger offenders like Bryce or Justin. Now, backstories are being revealed in the sophomore season of the series, including this heartbreaking one about Zach Dempsey.
Originally, Zach doesn't have a lot to do with Hannah Baker. He's included on the tapes because he started stealing the compliment notes from her paper bag during a class they shared as an act of revenge for rejecting him. This made it look like no one liked her, which, of course, contributed to her feeling worthless, depressed, and ultimately, suicidal. She also included him for throwing away a heartfelt note that she wrote him — although we ultimately find out from Zach that he didn't actually toss the note and still held it in his wallet. That is the extent of their relationship — or so we thought.
As the new season shines a stronger spotlight on each of the characters during their testimonies in court, we learn that there is a lot more to their story.
During the Summer before their junior year, Zach started going to the movies more than usual, admitting that he would see movies that he had no interest in as an excuse to see Hannah. Finally, he asked her to watch a movie together at her house, and from that moment on, the two formed a close friendship.
While hanging out one afternoon, their friendship escalates into something more. Despite being slut-shamed at school, Hannah reveals to Zach that she is, in fact, a virgin and learns that he is too. She confides in him, telling him that she wants to share her first time with someone special: "I want to lose my virginity and I want it to be great. Like I wanna do it on my terms and with someone that I like."
Of course, as we all anticipated at that point, following a quick discussion and a few timid kisses, that person ends up being Zach. The two spend the entire Summer together and start developing feelings for one another, sharing smiles and laughs and intimate moments before going back to school in the Fall. Up until that point, though, he never told anyone about their relationship. Once their classmates were back in town from Summer vacation, Zach insisted that the two of them continue to keep their relationship a secret.
Zach comes to the Crestmont and watches as his teammates tease and poke fun at Hannah, saying nothing. He tries to defend himself, but she points out that he doesn't do anything, and she decides to break up their secret romance so it doesn't get complicated. Both of them pretended to be fine with this, and neither one of them told the other how they were actually feeling.
Hannah was hurt because what the two of them had meant something to her, but as demonstrated through his actions, it didn't to Zach. He refused to let anyone else know about their relationship, which made Hannah feel ashamed and embarrassed. In present day, Zach admits that he didn't want to tell anyone about their relationship in order to keep Hannah safe, but finally confesses that he actually kept it a secret to protect himself from bullying and teasing from his peers.
Zach didn't realize the impact of his actions and couldn't understand how she was feeling about the end of their Summer love until it was much too late.
"And I'll be ashamed for the rest of my life" he said. Zach stealing the notes was still a significant part of the story, but now, we have a bigger glimpse into the pain that Zach caused Hannah — not to mention the guilt that he must be feeling.