Fifteen years ago a vaguely titled show about two brothers hunting monsters debuted on the WB. The actors playing Sam and Dean Winchester—Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki—weren’t household names. The show’s creator, Eric Kripke, had been unsuccessfully shopping his idea about paranormal crime fighters for a decade.
Still, encouraged by promising early ratings, WB executives stuck by the scrappy, relatively low-budget original show even as the network itself went through the upheaval of evolving into the CW.
Kripke set up his weekly horror flick pilot with a flashback to the fiery death of Sam and Dean’s mother, Mary (Samantha Smith), at the hands of the yellow-eyed demon Azazel (Frederick Lehne). Flashing forward 22 years later, and the widowed John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his older son, Dean, spend their time hunting, yes, demons.
Padalecki says he became interested in the role because he like horror series, but he was even more excited to become “the reluctant hero.” In his eyes, “Sam is something like The Matrix’s Neo or Luke Skywalker of Star Wars.” Tragic circumstances force Sam to make the big choices that shape his life.
Throughout the first several seasons, Supernatural delivered on its original premise of scares, gore and tears—and plenty of cliff-hangers—as research-minded Sam and his gruff, cheeseburger-loving older brother, Dean, battled every variety of monster and demon. Finding their father, who disappeared in the first episode (“Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home for a few days.”) was the boys’ goal in season 1, although that ended up being as difficult as getting John to stick around once he was finally discovered.
As a paranormal writer myself, I had great fun researching creatures and spells along with the Winchester brothers. I was impressed that the lore the writers referenced was accurate. In fact, writer Eric Kripke used to say, “Is it a Google-able monster?” In the first season, we learned how to kill demons, vampires and ghosts along with the brothers.
The show’s formula during that year was simple: Include at least on scene set in the brothers’ 1967 Impala, weave a plotline about a growing threat, and plant plenty of callbacks to the deep mythology developed in previous episodes.
“Having a car that was like the third lead of the show was important to me,” Kripke says. “When I told my neighbor in Venice (California), who was a mechanic, that I wanted a badass car and was thinking of a ’65 Mustang, he said, “Yeah, a Mustang is the perfect car if you’re p**sy.” And without missing a beat, he said, “You want a ’67 Impala because you can put a body in that trunk.”
Dean had an extremely limited musical library of 8-tracks in the car. He played those songs a LOT, much to Sam’s dismay. In one scene Sam described them as the “greatest hits of the mullet rock era.” But the music has become a huge part of the series’ appeal: Carry On My Wayward Son (1976 Kansas jam) is basically the show’s theme song.
of Dean lip syncing and playing air guitar on Baby to “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor) in Season 4 is a gem fans enjoy watching again and again.
The Winchester family reunion was short-lived: Season 1 closed with a car crash and the fates of all three men up in the air. When the story picks up, John Winchester makes a deal with the demon Azazel, trading his life for Dean’s.
“Everything up to that point was about finding Dad,” Jensen Ackles said.
“I think that was the first time we saw a major character die and come back. It was a total leap of faith,” Padalecki continued.
But they weren’t surprised. Right after the show moved to Vancouver to film, Kripke had pulled the two actors aside and said, “I could write monsters or days, but this show begins and ends with family, and the relationship these brothers have.”
“So, after our dad’s sacrifice,” Padalecki said, “we told the story of Reapers and the veil, and what happens to your soul. And we got into afterlife. The introduction of Hell and making deals with demons was a big shift in what Supernatural could do.”
Ackles added, “Which is funny, because when you think about it now, Eric (Kripke) must’ve always known because Mom made a deal with the yellow-eyed demon too.”
As the show evolved, so did the monsters, and in season 4, the introduction of angels changed everything once again. “I was concerned that would be a bridge too far,” Padalecki says of the angelic decision. “I wondered, ’Are we going to turn off a lot of the people that came here to watch a scary movie?”
“And now, amazingly, 11 years later,” Collins says, “so much of the show has been hung on biblical lore and mythology that is actually drawn from the Bible. Along the way, we’ve talked with priests and pastors and ministers, even nuns, who love the show.”
When fans were asked to vote for the “baddie you most love to hate,” who was surprised? After all, Crowley was the only villain who had a hellhound as a pet.
The Witch We Love
Rowena was initially antagonistic toward the Winchesters as she saw Crowley’s relationship with them as diminishing his power. Over time, she became an ally, particularly with Sam, although she was destined to die by his hand, when she chose to sacrifice herself and save the world by using her own body to imprison all the souls and demons and cast them back into Hell. Her soul then took up the empty position of Queen of Hell. To me, that was one area of mythology that the show should have mined more deeply, but didn’t.
Despite Supernatural’s deft ability to keep monster stories fresh while still delivering a record-breaking run as the longest running sci-fi genre series in the history of broadcast television, it wasn’t always a “sure thing” when it came to renewals. “I would honestly say every year up until season 6 or 7 (we were worried),” Ackles says.
What has saved the show is its fans. Supernatural has a very vocal fan base that attends ComiCon-like conventions all over the world. Because of the fans, the show has persevered through three network presidents, five showrunners, a writers’ strike, and six different time slots. Turns out the Winchesters really can survive anything, from the apocalypse to a Friday night time slot.
By its 12th season it had become the network’s longest-running series. It kept the same two leads, who basically grew up grew up on the show (Padalecki was 23 when he started on the show; Ackles was 27).
Trying to narrow down their 15-season run to one favorite moment on or off screen was not easy for either actor.
“That season was magical all around. I loved Sam’s storyline that season. The weather was better than normal. But that entire year is colored by my memory of falling in love.”
Then he adds, “But I will say, knowing what I know now, the series finale is my favorite single episode of all time.”
Ackles also pointed to the last episode, and one moment in particular that might take “the number one spot of all time.” For offscreen, he named their final appearance at ComicCon. “There’s something special about that room and that crowd, the grandeur of it all.”
Misha Collins pointed to the “bookends” scenes for angel Castiel. “His introduction on the show was epic,” he said, using similar words to describe his final “Goodbye, I love you,” scene with Dean, ending with a bloody handprint on Dean’s shoulder, just like the one Castiel left when he pulled Dean out of hell back in season four.
The original series creator, Eric Kripke weighed in with a message. “The good that has come out of Supernatural is the thing I am most proud of. I know that the Supernatural family will always be there, so I know this isn’t goodbye.”
But for the stars of Supernatural, any further reunions will have to wait a while.
The Boys will reunite Ackles with Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, who’s the showrunner on the Amazon series.
It looks like Ackles’ playlist will also change with this role. Since Soldier Boy was introduced in the World War II era, he’ll be listening to ‘40s big band and swing to get into the part.
Jensen already owns and runs a brewery, Family Business Beer Company, in Texas.
Jared Padalecki also has his next gig lined up.
The new series, simply titled Walker, will feature Padalecki as Cordell Walker, a widower and father who returns to his home in Austin, TX, after two years undercover, He must reconnect with his children, navigate clashes with his family, and find common ground with his new partner, while growing increasingly suspicious of his wife’s death.
Padelicki will be joined onscreen by fellow Supernatural alum Mitch Pileggi, who will be playing Padalecki’s father. The series is scheduled to premiere on January 21, 2021.
See you this Thursday for what I’m sure will be a sad, maybe even tearful, but most excellent farewell!