It has taken me four days to stop crying long enough to sit down and write something about the Supernatural series finale, which aired last Thursday, November 19 on The CW. After fifteen years of loving this show, writing about this show, publishing six books about this show and its fandom, and making forever friends through shared love of this show, to say that its ending was monumental for me is still an understatement. Supernatural changed my life, both personally and professionally. Its message to always keep fighting inspired me to fight to be myself and to be real when life had taught me the opposite for all the years before this little show came into my life. Its cast supported my writing when I first dipped my toe into the waters of a new venture, contributing to my books with courage and candor and humor – even writing their own very personal chapters – and being just as real as I was struggling to be. Its fandom became my community of like-minded people who validated every moment of my this-is-me journey, challenged me to open myself up to different perspectives, and joined me on adventures I never dreamt I’d go on.
And I’m not the only one. This little show has changed so many people’s lives. That’s exactly what the last two books I’ve published are about – in the actors and fans own words, why Supernatural has been special to them. How it has changed – and even saved – so many of us.
Supernatural was an unexpected, unanticipated blessing, and I wouldn’t trade this wild ride for anything. But when you love something that much, it’s hard to let go. I can’t really imagine the pressure on the writers, producers, cast and crew to try to wrap up fifteen years in a way that will satisfy the fans to whom they owe so much. There’s never going to be something that satisfies everyone, especially not with a fandom known for its wildly different takes on the show and its characters, who are all watching for their own personal reasons. Because Supernatural was personal. It fulfilled something for each of us that was important; something we don’t want to let go of. The last episode was going to hurt no matter what, but if it didn’t go the way you were hoping it would, then there’s the sadness and anger of the ending not being what you wanted, on top of the awareness that now it never will be. And that hurts even more. I have so much empathy for my friends who didn’t like the way the show ended and who are in alot of pain because of that. Those feelings are valid just as my friends who loved every minute of it have valid feelings too. I hope we can all have empathy for each other, because love it or hate it, we’re all trying to cope with the end of it and we’re all hurting.
As Rob Benedict (Chuck) reminded us yesterday, endings are hard, right?
I’m having my own very real emotional response to the last episode, but I’m also inevitably viewing both the episode and the fan reaction through the lens of what I do – I’m a clinical psychologist who studies fandom and has primarily researched this show and this fandom for almost fifteen years. I teach graduate courses in grief and loss, and I’m well aware of how indescribably difficult it is to lose something or someone that has been this important. It’s hard to figure out how to go on when what you counted on to get you through is no longer there. It’s terrifying to think of what will be like without what you lost, knowing all little ways that it was so present in your life, constant and continuous. Something to be counted on through the toughest of times and to share your joy in the best of times. Something so BIG that it defined all your moments, good and bad – that it felt like an integral part of who you are, a mirror that reflected back your own identity so you knew who you were in the world. A constant companion, a source of validation and comfort, and sometimes a challenge that changed your perspective whether you wanted it to or not. Supernatural and its unforgettable characters were all those things. Losing that is almost unbearable.
But not quite. And that, in a way, is what the finale was all about. I didn’t realize it while I was watching, curled up in a ball drowning in my own tears, but with time to process and put my soaking wet psychologist hat back on, the meta message alongside the equally important fictional story is clearer. This episode was like a master class in loss and grief, taught not only by the creator of the show and the writers, but by the fictional characters and the incredibly courageous and talented actors who played them. I understand some people wishing for a “happy ending” for the Winchesters and for Castiel before they died. It’s what they deserve after all they’ve been through. We’ve watched them battle monsters and angels and demons and God himself for fifteen years, enduring trauma after trauma, suffering horrifically, getting back up again and again and again to keep fighting. I too envisioned the last frame of the show being Sam and Dean driving toward the sunset in Baby, Cas with wings unfurled above watching over them. That’s literally the cover of my last book, aptly titled There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. I would have felt content with that, like I did at the end of the penultimate episode, which ended like that (except we feared Cas was still in the Empty). My guess is that was the ending that Jensen Ackles originally wanted too, because he loves Dean and doesn’t want to lose him any more than we do – and because we all desperately want this to be a story that can eventually be continued. I would have been fine with that ending, and while I would have sobbed a lot anyway just to be losing the show, it probably wouldn’t have been me crying so hard I nearly made myself sick. Or not being able to stop for too long for the past four days.
This show has always made me feel so much more than any other show ever has, because I have truly loved it. I know this episode was hard to watch in a lot of ways, and some of my closest friends are really struggling with how their favorite show ended and I have so much empathy for that struggle. This is real to us; when we’re hurt and sad and angry about it, those emotions are as valid as our feelings about any other loss. We all need to feel what we feel, and deal with loss in our own way. The actors, writers and crew who created this show are also entitled to their genuine feelings about its ending, and I hope that we as a fandom can give them that space to feel their own emotions just as I think they’re trying hard to give us ours. The story, ultimately, is ours to take in and hold onto, however we need to. So I’ll try to share my own thoughts on the episode and what worked for me about it, in the hopes that it might validate your own feelings or help you figure out what your own thoughts are, whether similar or very different. As humans, we all need to make sense of our own experience in order to integrate it into our sense of self and our life story – so talking about it helps! As fandom used to say back in the day, your mileage may vary.
We all want to avoid loss and pain whenever we can; that’s just part of being human. It’s unfortunately also part of being human that we can’t avoid it, and one of the things that media does is to help us process that pain and loss when it comes. Supernatural from the very start has not been about happy endings. What has made the show so compelling to me is that it has always been based in reality – gritty, imperfect, unpredictable, sometimes tragic reality. Eric Kripke’s brilliance in creating this world and these characters is that they could tell us a story that would go right to our hearts (often breaking them) because the story was REAL. All the Winchesters were flawed, slogging their way through horrible circumstances that they didn’t deserve and then coping (often poorly) with the aftermath, hurting each other in the process. The show didn’t shy away from showing us the darkness of the life they had chosen, and the ways in which it shaped them – just as or own real life tragedies and challenges shape all of us. It’s not always pretty, I know that from being witness to the lives of so many of my clients and from living through my own challenges. We have all done that. Castiel may not have been human, but he followed the same path as the Winchesters on his own journey, having to endure failures and make mistakes and ultimately become who he really was despite (or because of) those.
The thing that made Supernatural so powerful is showing that journey in an unflinching way, not glossing over the harsh realities of the world the characters live in. The Winchesters’ lives were difficult – a million times more difficult than most of ours. Their lives were never perfect, and they were never perfect. Instead, their lives were real – and ultimately so were their deaths. They weren’t superheroes with super powers wearing super suits – they were real human beings who were vulnerable to being killed every single time they went out on a hunt. That’s what made them heroes, because they did it anyway. Maybe Chuck was manipulating their circumstances some of the time, but it doesn’t matter – they didn’t know that, and their courage came from their willingness to go out there, saving people, hunting things, even at great cost and risk to themselves. They were a lot more heroic than someone with super powers because they only had themselves and they did it anyway. (That was Kripke’s initial brilliance, and a theme he’s carried over to his new show The Boys, which is all about how the ordinary humans keep taking on the superheroes even when they’re ridiculously “outgunned”). What could possibly be more inspiring than that?
What kept Sam, Dean and Cas going – and what keeps all of us going – is the relationships we make along the way. That has always been the hopeful side, the light in Supernatural’s pervasive darkness. That love, ultimately, is what can save all of us. It can keep us going through the most horrendous failures, the most unbearable pain, the most overwhelming of tragedies and losses. It’s the way we find the strength to pick ourselves up and keep going even when we think we can’t. It’s the way we still TRY even when it feels like we’re going up against fate itself. These characters showed us that, week after week, month after month, year after year. They make sacrifices for each other that could never happen out of anything but love, as Castiel demonstrated so vividly in ‘Despair’. As the Winchesters have shown us time and time and time again.
It’s not always easy to watch. Sometimes it tears our hearts out. I still remember sitting on the floor sobbing when Sam was stabbed in the back and died in his brother’s arms way back in Season 2. I can’t even watch ‘Abandon All Hope’ because when Ellen and Jo died like that – so tragic and so REAL – I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. (Just like I’ve never been able to watch the Buffy episode ‘The Body’ ever again). But those episodes are, indisputably, brilliant television. I think this was too.
I know some people wanted Butch and Sundance, or a more big screen Marvel showdown, or something more “epic” or “dramatic”. Those endings are, as Rob Benedict said in his Stage It panel yesterday, what Chuck wanted. He wanted to be entertained, he wanted Sam and Dean’s endings to be grandiose, and he wanted to be a part of making that happen. But you know what? Sam and Dean and Cas and Jack defeated the last big bad when they took down Chuck. So instead, Dean died on a hunt like he’s gone on a thousand times – and every time he does, he knows it might kill him. He and Sam walked into that barn with machetes, human and mortal, and faced down more than twice as many vampires, knowing that they might not make it out of there this time. People saying Dean didn’t die a hero? What is more heroic than that? It was a vivid, stab-you-through-the-heart reminder that every single time Dean Winchester walked into a situation like that, it could have meant his death. It was a vivid reminder that Dean was utterly mortal, always vulnerable, completely HUMAN, and they still managed to save the world a time or two. Even at the very end, they killed the monsters. They saved the kids. And Dean gave his life to do that. That the monsters themselves didn’t directly kill him was a bit of poetic justice that I like to think Dean Winchester himself would have enjoyed just a little.
I’ve also seen some people say that Dean gave up, or that Sam gave up because he didn’t call 911. If you listen to the dialogue (that Jared and Jensen helped create for their characters) I don’t think that’s the case at all. Dean knows he’s dying, as people often do when they’re mortally wounded. He’s an experienced hunter; he knows what being impaled means. He just witnessed it himself earlier this season when his old friend was impaled on a pool cue, living long enough to share last words before Dean’s pulling it out ended him. He knows. He’s not giving up at all, and he doesn’t want to die and he desperately doesn’t want to leave Sam – but that’s the reality of life sometimes. It doesn’t go the way we want, and it’s messy and tragic and so fucking sad. Dean does the best he can with the time he has left, and is given the gift of being able to tell Sam what’s important to him for Sam to know. He accepts the reality because he can’t change it, not because he’s given up.
Sam is in shock, but he is also an experienced hunter who has seen more than his share of death. When he puts his hand behind Dean and feels what he’s impaled on, and his hand comes back covered in blood, he also knows. (Just as Dean did in the parallel scene in All Hell Breaks Loose, as his hand comes back equally bloody) Sam doesn’t want to believe it, of course, but when Dean calls him back and asks him to stay, Sam knows and eventually accepts this is what he can do for his brother. By the time emergency responders got there, they would have found Dean’s dead body and Sam standing among a bunch of beheaded people, and Sam wouldn’t have been able to carry on at all.
Sometimes life doesn’t go as you planned, and you have to always keep fighting anyway. Even when it hurts like hell. That’s been the theme of the show since the beginning.
The question of ‘where’s the character development’ is tossed around a lot in this fandom, and it was tossed around at the finale too in terms of Dean especially. But to me, there was tremendous character development here for Dean. He showed that he was able to be vulnerable, to let Sam know that he’d been scared and desperate when they were younger no matter how much bravado he’d put on, letting Sam now see his real feelings. He’s able to tell Sam right out that he loves him, just as Castiel did with Dean before he died, showing us some of his own character development. It’s what Dean wanted to be sure Sam knew — that for Dean, it’s always been them. In his last moments – and in the years before his death – Dean Winchester changed so much. He went from a lonely, repressed young man, full of self loathing and constantly afraid of being left alone, to someone who was in his words “okay with who I am” and able to enjoy a pie fest and love a dog and appreciate all the little mundane things in life that make it satisfying to all of us. Able to show his real self to his brother. He could see Sam for his real self too, in the nuanced way that we can when we mature and don’t see in black and white anymore. He could see Sam as the strong competent equal partner – and still, always, Sam his beloved baby brother. Dean could integrate all those feelings; his relationship with Sam had grown to a place where it enriched and sustained them both. He had come to an integrated view of hunting too, it seems. Sam and Dean weren’t only about hunting; they had joy and laughter and pie eating and friends and maybe even a part time job, as the application on Dean’s desk suggested. Dean had become his own person; he could own doing what he wanted to do, and he was courageous as hell in going out there and living his life the way that gave him purpose and satisfaction. (And later we see Sam’s success at integration too, perhaps with hunting and also being a good parent to his son or at the very least by not allowing a drive for revenge and an inability to set healthy priorities to keep him from raising his son in a healthy way). That’s real character development for both of them. It took a long time, but that’s how it works in real life too.
I’ve also seen the complaint that Dean died right after they finally defeated Chuck and didn’t get any time to enjoy living life free from Chuck’s machinations. I liked that the show left it up for interpretation just how long Sam and Dean lived in the bunker, hunting and taking care of Miracle and doing laundry (Robbie Thompson we finally got a glimpse of your day-in-the-life episode), but they were in such a well established routine, it seemed clearly meant to be a while. Someone apparently asked Jared at one of his weekend Q & A’s how long it was and he said about five years, which is about what I was thinking too. I don’t think they meant to imply at all that Dean died on the very next hunt they set out on – hence the montage. He had the opportunity to live free, as a big old fuck you to Chuck and in honor of Castiel’s sacrifice, doing what he loved and doing it with his brother.
There are also some who don’t like that Sam lived for a long time without Dean but was still clearly grieving. To me, that’s part of what made this a master class on loss and grief. We don’t ever forget the people we’ve loved and lost, and a part of us will always miss them and long for them. We see Sam’s pain vividly; we see his tears, we see him glance at the guns on Dean’s bedroom wall and then resolutely walk away. The ‘Always Keep Fighting’ message that’s explicitly called out in the barn scene is a real life reminder that this is what we all have to do. Sam was still able to keep his promise to his brother and make a life for himself. He felt joy raising his son, and he was clearly a good father, breaking the intergenerational transmission of trauma cycle that had held the Winchester family for so long. The episode foreshadowed all this in the pie scene, with Dean telling Sam, “that pain’s not gonna go away. But if we don’t keep living, then all that sacrifice is for nothing.” The montage of Sam’s life without Dean is purposely vague, left open ended and blurry (sometimes literally), with the invitation to fans to interpret it however works for you. Did Sam marry Eileen? Did Sam hunt for a while and then later settle down with someone else? Were there some other circumstances? We don’t know; fill in the blanks as you will. It was like the show acknowledged that its diverse fandom all wanted and needed different things from it, so it left plenty of openings as an invitation to make it what you need. (A fan asked Jared in one of the Q&A’s about who the blurry person was supposed to be and he said it was left open as to who Sam’s partner or co-parent was, and that Sam’s sexuality and gender is whatever speaks to us)
(In fact, there’s even an interpretation going around that the montage was really Dean’s fantasy of what Sam did while he was in Heaven waiting; that in reality, Sam died in that werewolf hunt in Austin and followed right after Dean. It’s not my interpretation, but even that one can work if you need it to!)
The point is, in my interpretation, Sam did carry on. He didn’t make a deal or beg Jack to intercede. He didn’t bring his brother back, just like none of us can bring back the people we‘ve loved and lost no matter how badly we want to. He lived with the loss and though he continued to grieve, he also went on with his life and lived it to its natural conclusion – that character development again. At the same time, the nuanced way Jared and the writers showed us Sam’s grief was so poignant, and again, so real. As Matt Cohen noted in his Stage It on Saturday, the way Sam looked around sometimes at the empty space beside him, hit hard. The way he sometimes had to go sit in the Impala and clasp his hands around the steering wheel that his brother always held, needing to feel close to Dean again. The way he wore Dean’s watch and his hoodie and carried his duffel when he left the bunker. Every second of the scenes in the bunker after Dean had died rang so true to me, it brought a fresh round of choking sobs. If you’ve ever experienced a crushing loss, so much was familiar to you. The way Sam wandered the halls, looking so lost, picturing Dean around every corner. The way he left Dean’s bedroom just as it was, beer bottles on the table and bed unmade. The way he sat on Dean’s bed and cuddled his brother’s dog, a tear trickling down his face. I understood when Sam made the beds and closed the doors and climbed the stairs of the Men of Letters bunker for the last time, turning off the lights as he left. Sometimes the reminders are just too painful; sometimes adapting to the loss means something new, even as you carry with you something that you’ll cherish forever.
I think Supernatural did that brilliantly. Like I said, a master class on grief and loss. And the final bit of brilliance, to me, was that the episode worked on a meta level too, as so many Supernatural episodes have over the years. Because in real life, we are all dealing with the momentous loss of the show itself. We are all feeling the pain that Sam Winchester did as he looked around and realized that his life was so much emptier now, without what he loved so much in it. In all its themes, the finale reflected what the cast/crew/writers/fans are actually going through in real life — as we feel the pain, grieve the loss, and ultimately Carry On.
The episode title was not just an homage to Kansas and the show’s unofficial theme song, though of course it was that too. It was also the theme of the episode – what Sam did, and what we all will do as well.
The story itself, as a story, also works for me, and worked for the people telling the story according to Jared, Jensen and Misha. There was a strong need, for the people who made this show, to bring it to an ending that felt right. To come full circle in some ways, to find the end of the heroes’ journey at the same place, but changed forever. There were lots of callbacks and Easter eggs to this end. The final hunt takes place in Ohio, in Eric Kripke’s old stomping grounds. The words the brothers say to each other as Dean is dying are a call back to what they’ve said to each other before. The first words they said in the pilot when they’re reunited, other than ‘easy tiger’, were Dean’s “heya Sammy” and Sam’s “Dean?” and also what they said to each other when Dean came back from hell; these are also the last words they say at the end of the finale. The clothes they’re wearing are a mirror of those they wore in the pilot. Many of those call backs were Jared’s idea, or Jared and Jensen together. They may not have been credited as creative producers, but there’s no question that’s what they became over the course of fifteen years. And this show – this ending – was so important to them that they had incredible input. That’s how much they care.
That was a four page explanation of why the episode worked for me, with the explicit acknowledgement that it might not have worked for you. It seems to have worked for the cast, who have all talked about their own emotional reactions and love of story that they see reflected in it. (Misha watched it as an audience member and I think cried almost as much as I did). I know there are plenty of people for whom the episode didn’t work, though, for multiple reasons. Life is hard right now and some people just wanted a happy ending for their favorite fictional characters, because in the midst of a pandemic there aren’t many of those. For some, it was a little too real when they just wanted an escape. For some, their favorite characters not being in the last episode was painful, for whatever reason they weren’t there. (Apparently there was supposed to be a brief scene at the end where all the people Sam and Dean had cared about over the years were there in Heaven with them, but Covid restrictions interfered). That would have been a lovely scene, and it was what I expected honestly. I would have loved to see beloved characters – and actors – have a chance to hang out with Sam and Dean one more time. That said, Covid made the finale episode a much more quiet and intimate story, and I think that ultimately worked to make it even more emotional. For some, an ending that was more traditionally ‘romantic’ was hoped for, but that has never been the show’s main story. It’s a shockingly subversive thing even in 2020 to tell a fifteen year story that’s all about platonic love and celebrate that bond so joyously in the final episode. Supernatural has never, ever, been like all the others.
So, five pages later, let me go through the episode as I usually do. Because hey, this is the FINAL Supernatural episode, so if this is long, so be it. Maybe I just don’t want to finish this review, knowing it’s the last one I’ll write… Sometimes grief is temporarily about some denial and avoidance, after all.
Carry On was written by Andrew Dabb and directed by Bob Singer, co-showrunners for the final season, with music by Jay Gruska, all of whom have been with the show for a very long time. I went into the episode a little bit spoiled, which for once, I’m not regretting. I wasn’t sure I could get through this without a little bit of preparation, and I think that’s probably true. Still, I’m not sure how much more overwhelmed I could have been, so maybe it didn’t help all that much after all!
I was holding my breath waiting for the familiar strains of “Carry On” to play as the episode began, but it didn’t – which let us know that we’d inevitably be hearing it later, and that it would probably be under even more emotional circumstances. (It always makes me cry anyway). The episode starts out lighthearted, which I’m indescribably grateful for. It’s a montage of all the things we never got enough of – the Winchesters living their life, like all the best domestic Winchesters in the bunker fic. Dean wakes up at 8, Miracle leaps onto the bed with him and Dean envelops him in a hug, happy. Clearly, unabashedly happy.
Sam goes for a run, stopping to look out over a beautiful lake. Unhurried, content. Sam cooks eggs, Dean grabs the toast as it pops. Another morning, Sam fresh out of the shower shirtless toweling off his hair, and it’s the best kind of fan service, and not gonna lie, I had to stop and catch my breath for a second. I didn’t expect that in the finale – it’s so clear they were all trying to give us what we want, and that touches me.
Sam makes his bed, Dean doesn’t, as a song about living an “ordinary life” plays. Dean washes dishes and lets Miracle lick them, hoping Sam doesn’t see since he’s obviously quibbled with that many times in the past. Sam does the laundry ala Robbie Thompson’s heartbreakingly never written everyday Winchesters episode, kicking the washer as he’s clearly done many times to keep it going while he reads a book.
Dean cleans his guns. The boys do research at the library table.
Sam: Nothing on the wire, social media’s clean. Got anything?
You get the feeling that life is pretty quiet now that Chuck’s no longer the big bad pulling the strings. A hunt here, a hunt there, but not constant. Time enough to be mundane and ordinary. Happy.
Sam to Dean: You got something?
I got anxious, but it turns out the something is a Pie Fest.
Dean: This is my destiny.
Dean looks so happy with his box of pies, teasing Sam about being “sad Sam” when he’s thinking about Cas and Jack, as you often do about those you’ve lost even many years later – wishing, I think, that they could share these good times.
Dean reminds him that them keeping living makes their sacrifices worth it, and tells Sam to quit being “friggin’ Eeyore”. Sam pies him in the face (as real life director Bob Singer laughs in the background), and Dean doesn’t even mind.
But this is Supernatural, and we eventually switch from happy pie fest days to a case. This is a Monster of the Week episode, a throwback to the early days of Supernatural, which seems appropriate. A family (who were at the pie fest) are attacked by clown mask wearing vampires (clownpires?), the dad stabbed and the mom attacked as the kids run upstairs and hide under the bed. We get one more chance to remember just how scary Supernatural can be as the creepy creepy bad guys yank the kids out by their feet just when you think they’ve left. I have to say, those masks were way scarier than most of Season 15’s monsters have been. Whether partly for Covid restrictions or not, they totally worked.
We get to see Sam and Dean in their fed suits one last time as they arrive to work the case, as Agents Singer and Kripke, because this episode has more Easter eggs than the bunny himself and pays beautiful homage to all sorts of things. (Also, shallow aside, damn those boys look fine in their fed suits…)
One more time to pull out their IDs, like we’ve seen them do so many times over the years.
After they leave the crime scene, they stop in a beautiful spot to pull out John’s journal and an old school map to figure out where the clownpires will strike next, a nice throwback to the first season of the show. And if I’m not mistaken they’re at ‘Kim’s tree’? That’s the one there’s a photo of their beloved producer/director Kim Manners standing under. I’ve stood under it too a few times, so it made me very emotional – well, more emotional than I already was.
Dean: They’re mimes! Evil mimes.
Sam: Or vampires.
Dean: Vampire mimes! Sonofabitch.
Oh goddamn, I am gonna miss these boys. One more sonofabitch for the road, and it’s making me tear up just typing that.
They track the clownpires to the next house because smart Winchesters, kill one and shoot the other with a dead man’s blood bullet so they can interrogate him. They’re dangerous and confident and Sam is scary as hell threatening him with a slow death by the ‘little knife’ and once again I want to cry, because I am going to miss every single flavor of Winchester SO much. Including the dangerous ones.
They get the intel, and pull up to a dilapidated barn – and my heart stops.
One of the things I was sort of spoiled for was that Dean dies in a fight in a barn. I think I started shaking as soon as they pulled up. I couldn’t even manage a smile as Dean tried to cajole Sam into letting him use the Ninja stars, something they knew fans would appreciate.
Dean: Fine, we’ll go with the machete…
My shaking only got worse as they found the young brothers but were then surrounded by clownpires who outnumbered them four to two. (I was so terrified that I missed the quick shot of a tan trench coat in the trunk, an homage to Castiel’s death in the Leviathan season and Dean keeping his discarded trench coat in the trunk as he grieved – and is grieving again).
This whole scene is so symbolic and so terrifying, Sam and Dean flanking and protecting the younger brothers, and all around them the monsters waiting, peering in through the open windows in the dark. There’s so much foreboding, and knowing what was going to happen sent my adrenaline level into overdrive. It’s a wonder I didn’t just pass out and miss the whole thing.
It is, if I can get my emotions under control for a moment to recognize it, a beautiful scene. The lighting is gorgeous, coming through cracks in the old barn, set dec wizard Jerry Wanek and director of photography Serge Ladouceur working their magic up to the last second.
The final showdown.
The fight scene is epic, and apparently took several days to film, with stunt and fight coordinator Rob Hayter having one last chance to work his magic too. Sam is eventually knocked out and his machete goes flying, while Dean is subdued and in walks – Jenny the vampire from Season 1? That was a weird moment, because of all people to bring back, Jenny the random vampire was not on my bingo card. I’m assuming she’s a local Vancouver actress, and I guess it does show the way their lives as hunters will always put them in danger, that they’re always haunted by their past as hunters. A bit of a full circle moment, with a flashback to baby Sam and Dean in Season 1.
Dean keeps her busy with snark while Sam’s hand slowly creeps toward the machete.
Just as Jenny is about to bite Dean, Sam lobs her head off from behind.
The fight continues with me screaming NONONONONONO the entire time, knowing what’s coming and trying desperately to forestall it, and then as Sam kills the second to last clownpire, the other tackles Dean and drives him backwards – right onto the giant piece of rebar we saw prominently protruding from a post. We see Dean’s gasp and shock, the clownpire leans in to finish him – and Sam Mothereffing Winchester lobs its head off.
Sam steps back, says ‘let’s go’, doesn’t know, and it’s heartbreaking.
I’m shaking so hard by this time I can barely see what’s going on, as Dean says softly, “Sam, I don’t think I’m goin’ anywhere.”
Sam instinctively tries to pull him away from the spike, but Dean knows, he knows already.
Dean: Don’t move me…
Sam, increasingly panicked, says he’ll call for help, get the first aid kit, something… but Dean calls him back. The look on his face is shocked, wide open, desperate.
Dean: Sam, stay…stay with me…stay with me, please.
Sam fumbles behind Dean, trying to figure out how bad it is, and his hand comes away drenched in his brother’s blood.
And Sam, then, he knows too. He doesn’t want to accept it yet, but that ‘please’, that did it. He knows.
Sam: Okay, yeah.
Dean steels himself, a hunter to the last.
Dean: Okay. Okay. You… listen to me, you get those boys safe.
Sam is shaken at that, steps closer.
Sam: Dean, WE will get those boys safe.
But Dean shakes his head. His expression is soft as he tries to lay it out for his brother while he still can.
Dean: No. You knew it was always gonna end this way for me.
A little smile crosses his face, despite what he knows, pride there too.
Dean: Look at us, saving people, hunting things. It’s what we do.
The call back made me start to sob so hard I couldn’t be quiet anymore. Onscreen, Sam tries denial one last time, the truth dawning on him. He’s pleading with Dean, like he can bargain and plead his way out of it being true.
Dean manages a little smile for his little brother.
Dean: It’s okay… its good. We had one helluva ride, man.
It’s Dean talking to Sam, and it’s Jensen talking to Jared, and it’s both of them talking to all of us too, because we have had one helluva ride, right along with them.
Sam: No, Dean, we’ll find a way, we’ll find another way.
Another callback, another gut punch, and I was starting to feel sick I was crying so hard.
Dean says no, no deals, no trying to bring him back, they know how that ends, as Sam’s tears begin to streak his cheeks.
Sam: Dean, please…
Dean: I’m fadin’ pretty quick, and there’s a few things I need you to hear. C’mere. Let me look at you.
Sam immediately shuffles forward, and I realize suddenly, this is not a mirror of Swan Song so much as it’s a mirror of All Hell Breaks Loose. Those are the words Dean said to Sam as a mortally wounded Sam fell into his arms, and the call back destroys me.
Dean is shaking now, blood loss and shock making it difficult to move, perhaps to see. He reaches out to touch Sam, looking up at his little brother as Sam comes closer.
Dean’s voice is labored now, but full of so much affection.
Dean: Come here. Let me look at you. Yeah, there he is.
Sam is shaking, Jared’s hands trembling so hard he can barely reach out, showing us Sam’s emotions and how afraid he is to even touch his brother.
Dean: I’m so proud of you, Sam. You know that? I’ve always looked up to you… So damn smart… you never took Dad’s crap. You’re stronger than me, you always have been.
Dean’s voice grows more halting, and he struggles to get the words out. Sam reaches out, afraid to touch his brother too much or hasten the inevitable, but instinctively supports his arm that Dean has reached out to him with.
Dean: Did I tell you that night, that I came for you at school… you know when Dad hadn’t come back from his hunting trip…
He falters, it’s getting hard to talk, hard to think, hard to stay, and Sam steps in.
Sam: Yeah, uh, the woman in white.
Dean is fading, was starting to lose the thread, and Sam supports him in that too.
Dean: Yeah, the woman in white, that’s right.
Dean: I must’ve stood outside your door for hours, because I didn’t know what you’d say. Thought you’d tell me to get lost … or get dead. And I didn’t know what I would’ve done … if I didn’t have you. ‘Cause I was so scared…
Sam is sobbing now, his chin trembling as he tries to hold it together, let his brother say what’s so important for him to say.
Dean: I was scared… ’cause when it all came down to it, it was always you and me. It’s always been you … and me.
That may have been the moment my tears went into overdrive, because it was clear that wasn’t just Dean talking to Sam – that was Jensen talking to Jared. It’s what they’ve said to each other so many times, what they said at that first audition when they discovered they were the only ones there. This has been the journey of a lifetime for them, and they’ve taken it together.
Sam: D-don’t leave me… I can’t do it alone.
Dean shakes his head, answers gently: Yes you can.
And damn, I know what’s coming, because the lines are so iconic for anyone who watches this show, and when Jared says what’s in my head I sobbed so loudly I couldn’t even see anymore.
Sam: Well, I don’t want to.
Dean’s fond little smile after, knowing that Sam also remembers, and that’s all he needed at that moment, broke my heart in pieces.
Dean gathers the last of his remaining strength to tell his brother what he needs him to know.
Dean: Hey, I’m not leaving you. I’m gonna be with you, right here, every day.
He places his trembling hand on Sam’s chest, over his heart.
Dean: Every day you’re out there, and you’re livin’. Because you… you always keep fighting. You always keep fighting, you hear me?
Sam nods, sobbing openly.
It’s Dean’s message to Sam, and it’s Jensen’s message to Jared, and it’s their message to all of us too. It’s been the mantra of the show, and for them to include it here, at the end of things, is so perfect and so meaningful. It’s Supernatural, and its characters, and its real life actors, saying we’ll be with you, always, every day, in your hearts. So you can always keep fighting. (It’s so hard to type right now, I can’t see a damn thing…)
Dean: I’ll be there, every step.
He looks at Sam, nothing held back.
Dean: I love you so much. My baby brother.
Sam nods, hearing him, acknowledging his big brother’s love through his tears.
Dean: I didn’t think this would be the day… but it is, and that’s okay.
Because we often don’t, and that’s one of the hardest things in life. It’s so real, it stabs me through the heart as I watch and listen and wait for the inevitable.
Dean is unsteady now, just trying to talk clearly becoming difficult. Ackles is brilliant in the little physical details – Dean’s head sways back and forth just slightly, as he starts to lose muscle control, holding it together through sheer force of will now.
Dean: I need you… to promise me… I need you to tell me… that it’s okay…
Sam shakes his head, doesn’t want to go there, can’t face it, but Dean presses on. He needs Sam’s permission to let go of what has been so important his whole life, to leave his brother. He needs to hear it – and he needs to, finally, believe it’s okay.
Dean: Look at me, I need you.. I need… I need you…
The Winchester family theme by the brilliant composer Jay Gruska starts to play, and I think ohgod this is the last time, for this music that means so much to me, for this show and these brothers that mean so much to me.
Dean: You tell me…
Sam reaches down, places his hand over his brother’s, calls up his own unbelievable courage.
Sam: Dean, it’s okay. You can go now.
He nods, giving his brother the permission he needs to let go.
If you’ve ever lost someone, you know that this is often how it goes. If you’ve ever had to say those words to someone you love more than life, to put your own selfish wants aside and do what’s right for them, you know how achingly, painfully real this moment was.
Dean lays his hand over his brother’s, and Sam leans in.
The brothers’ foreheads touch, and it’s such a beautiful moment, so tragic yet so right.
Dean: Goodbye, Sam.
His hand falls to his side, and Dean sighs, one last breath as a single tear slides down his cheek, and falls against his brother’s chest.
Jared, at that moment, shows us every agonizing second of Sam’s grief, his body shaking uncontrollably, his hands and chin trembling as he turns his face up in a broken sob, so intense that it comes out soundless.
The final shot of the brothers seems to encapsulate so much of what the show has been all about.
I saw someone say it way better than I could online – surrounded by gore, blood and death are two brothers who cling to each other, in life and in death.
It evoked all my memories of Sam’s death in All Hell Breaks Loose, the way one brother tried to hold the other up as he slipped away; the anguish when they lost him. The parallels – the dialogue, the hand pressed to the back, coming away bloody, the dawning realization and attempt at comfort, the final keening grief – made it so much more impactful. Dean’s last words in life, “Goodbye, Sam” the full circle moment of toddler Dean’s first words in the pilot, “Goodnight, Sam.” In the pilot, he leans down to kiss his brother’s forehead; in the end, Sam leans in to rest his forehead against his brother’s.
I was on a zoom call with a bunch of my fandom friends, and we all came back to the zoom during the commercial sobbing so hard nobody could talk, everyone’s faces streaked with tears, eyes red and puffy and just about able to open at all. We didn’t need words to share the grief.
And somehow, the episode is only half over.
We watch Sam at Dean’s funeral pyre, a hunter’s funeral, Miracle at his side, while a hauntingly beautiful oh so sad song plays, Dire Strait’s ‘Brothers in Arms’. He lights Dean’s lighter and tosses it on the pyre — and the fictional character who I fell in love with fifteen years ago, who inspired me and changed me in so many ways, is no more.
And I am devastated.
What we see next is again, so real, it brings back all the losses in my own life in brutal clarity. Sam carries on, grieving and in pain, cooking breakfast wearing Dean’s gray hoodie and I think about how I wore my mom’s sweater for so many days, just trying to be close to her again. He startles as the toast pops, spins around and I know he’s thinking for a split second that he’ll see Dean there complaining about how hot it is, because our brains play tricks on us for a while, letting us forget the person we loved is gone.
He looks at the initals carved into the table and thinks about that day and about their legacy, and about all the loved ones and family he’s lost, walks the halls and feels the emptiness. He sits on Dean’s bed, his room just as he left it, beer bottles on the table, and takes solace in petting Miracle, saying softly “Me too” when Miracle whines his own sadness about missing Dean. It’s so well done, and it hits so hard.
The moment is broken by the sound of a cell phone – Dean’s Other Other Phone. Someone in Austin (a shout out to Jared and Jensen’s home and where they’ll head after) and someone asks for Agent Bon Jovi for a werewolf hunt that Donna Hanscum recommended them for, and Sam squares his shoulders and says, “I’m on my way.”
He carries Dean’s duffel and Miracle is at his heels as Sam climbs the stairs of the bunker for the last time. He pauses and looks down at the map table, at the library, the telescope, all the familiar places that have been home. And then he turns out the lights and closes the door.
My tears flowed freely then once again because the Men of Letters bunker is yet another loss. It was their home, so it was special to us too. I had the great privilege of being there to watch filming for one whole day, and it was such an incredible set that felt entirely real when you were in it. I know they loved it; I remember Jensen’s tearful post as he watched them tear it down. I felt like that scene was a little meta moment, including us in the goodbye.
At this point, the episode takes a more hopeful turn, as if it knows I’m about to throw up if I can’t stop crying. Dean arrives in Heaven, greeted by Bobby Singer. Not AU Bobby, who I never cared about at all, but OG Bobby. The Bobby who’s like a dad to Dean. The one who coined the famous line “family don’t end with blood”. He tells Dean “that kid of yours” (Jack) made some changes and set some things right in Heaven, tore down the walls so it’s what it always should have been, everyone happy and together. Rufus and Aretha have a cabin somewhere, and John and Mary down the road.
He offers Dean a beer.
Dean: Jack did all that?
Bobby: Well, Cas helped.
Dean smiles softly, knowing that Castiel also made it to his own Heaven, and is responsible for making it over for all of them along with his son. It’s an overt acknowledgement that Cas also found the ending he was working for and that he deserved – together with his son, remaking Heaven, his first home, into what it should be. Part of a family, with Jack and undoubtedly with Sam and Dean, now that they’ve been welcomed into the paradise Cas and Jack have built for them. Knowing that, while it cost both him and Cas their lives, they DID IT.
Dean: It’s almost perfect…
Bobby smiles knowingly.
Bobby: He’ll be along.
Bobby: Time here is different. So what’re you gonna do now, Dean?
Dean looks up and sees the Impala, gleaming and shiny in the sun, waiting for him, her original license place restored.
Dean: I think I’ll go for a drive.
He gets in, a smile on his face.
Dean: Hey, Baby.
He starts her up and the radio comes on, and the first notes of Carry On Wayward Son come on, and my tears are back, but this time I’m smiling through them.
Dean: Ah, love this song.
It’s another meta moment. The song isn’t just for the opening montage, it’s incorporated into the show itself now, a part of canon forever. Dean drives, heading Baby toward sunset, the open road waiting.
There’s a montage of Sam as he lives on, that parallels Dean’s life with Lisa after Swan Song, but is also a vivid reminder of the growth and evolution of the Winchesters. Both of them.
Every part of him, every fiber he’s got, wants to die, or find a way to bring him back. But he isn’t gonna do either. Because he made a promise.
That didn’t go so well at the end of Season 5 – but it does now, a decade later. The whole show has revolved around Sam and Dean’s struggle to find that elusive balance between dependence and independence in actual interdependence. To make a truly different choice when confronted with what they both fear most – losing each other. There were so many times they couldn’t do it, ending up on one end of the spectrum or the other, but this episode shows us how, in the end, they did just that.
We see Sam with a toddler little boy, overalls embroidered with his name: DEAN. One of AD Kevin Parks’ beautiful dogs (maybe Kuma, who has been in multiple episodes) runs along with them.
The montage cuts back and forth between Sam as he grows older and Dean, still driving.
Sam playing ball with his son, photos of Dean and Sam and John and Mary all over his house. Sam in glasses, helping his son with homework.
Older Sam (in a wig that became a meme way too fast) visits the Impala in his garage, pulling off the tarp and looking like he wants to get into the passenger side before walking around and sitting in the driver’s seat.
He takes off his glasses, reverently lays his hands on the wheel as Carry On continues to play: “Lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry know more…” He looks over at the empty seat beside him, tears in his eyes.
As Sam’s hands are on the wheel, so are Dean’s in Heaven as he speeds along.
But now, the Impala is headed toward us instead of away, Dean headed toward something – someone – toward home.
Sam very old, lying in a hospital bed in his living room, hooked up to a monitor. His son (Spencer Borgeson, who does a nice job here), now grown, a protection tattoo visible on his arm, comes to sit by him, reaching down to lay his hand over his father’s gently. Sam manages a smile for his son, just as his brother did for him, all those many years ago.
It’s love, and again, it’s not romantic love, but it’s such a beautiful depiction of familial love, this time the love of a son for his father. A son who has been raised with love, and can love in return. The result of Sam and Dean’s lifelong struggle and its positive outcome, a new generation of Winchesters carrying the ultimate hope of that resolution.
Dean Jr: Dad, it’s okay. You can go now.
The same permission that Dean needed from his brother, all those many years ago.
The song switches from the familiar Kansas version of Carry On to a cover, slower and softer – fittingly, performed by two fans of the show who are also sisters (We Are Neoni).
Old Sam places his hand over his son’s, just as Dean did over Sam’s before he died. We see that old Sam is wearing Dean’s watch, has worn it all these years.
Sam sighs, takes his last breath, his head falling to the side and a single tear sliding down his cheek, a mirror of Dean’s final breath so many years ago. The monitor flatlines.
The scene blends gradually into the familiar tall trees of Vancouver.
In Heaven, Dean stops driving in the middle of a bridge and gets out of the car, walking over to the rail and looking out over the incredible Vancouver vista as the lyrics from Carry On reach ‘my life’s no longer empty, surely Heaven waits for you’.
His brow furrows as he senses something, without even turning around, and then his handsome face slowly breaks into a grin that looks like the friggen’ sun coming out after a long long rainy day.
Dean: Heya, Sammy.
He turns around and there’s his little brother.
We’re at the last scene, the one we knew would happen on a bridge.
The last scene Jared and Jensen ever filmed for Supernatural, and the final scene of the episode.
The family theme plays again as Sam and Dean hug, and Jared and Jensen hug, and I start crying all over again. There’s so much emotion there, between the characters and between the actors, both having been on this incredible long and sometimes difficult journey together.
Sam and Dean, Dean’s arm around his brother, look out over the beautiful scenery, Dean turning to look at Sam again, nodding like all is right with the world once more, as the camera pulls up and out and the sun starts to set, and then the picture fades.
The end of the “hero’s journey” that Kripke started these brothers on fifteen years ago, the protagonist returning to where they started out, after having learned and changed in so many ways.
The credits begin and then we return to the bridge, Jared and Jensen instead of Sam and Dean there smiling.
Jared and Jensen: Thank you to the fans for your support and your love, through blood, sweat, laughter and tears, you’ve kept us on the air for fifteen years. We wouldn’t be here without you and we’ll remain forever grateful for the opportunity and honor to play these characters for so long. We felt you guys with us all the time, so thank you.
They wave, flanked by director Bob Singer and the entire crew, as they all wave from the bridge and the camera pulls up and away again. I think I can spot Jim Beaver, Jerry Wanek, Kevin Parks, Jim Michaels, Eugenie, Maisie, Robin, Jose, Brad, Stef… so many familiar faces from all these years of lovingly making this show I love so much. The instrumental music that played at the end of Swan Song, Kripke’s original ending for the show, plays softly in the background as we hear Bob Singer’s voice one last time.
Bob Singer: And…. Cut.
Fade to black.
And that was it. In a way, they beautifully incorporated the fandom into canon too, in that last scene, all of us directly addressed before the final ‘cut’.
I am so grateful.
The final shot filmed was the final scene of the series, confirmed by Kevin Parks, who was responsible for the shooting schedule. He tweeted that “it was the best way to finish the series” and I so agree. When Jared and Jensen broke character completely to become themselves, looking out at the beautiful Vancouver scenery, flanked by Bob Singer and the rest of their beloved crew, they drew us into the final moments of Supernatural also. We are who they were waving at and thanking as the final moments played out, the smiles on everyone’s faces in gratitude for the fans who were such an integral part of this fifteen year journey. When Bob Singer called ‘Andddd…. Cut” for the final time, we were a part of that, included in the ending.
I’m crying again.
They did that for us. That’s how much they care.
Let me pause to say that so many of these little nuanced moments that made these scenes so poignant were added by Jared or by Jared and Jensen. Sam wearing Dean’s watch, Sam’s son repeating the words that he had said to Dean before he died, passing it along – the permission to let go. The deliberate call back to Sam and Dean’s iconic “I can’t do it alone, yes you can” repeated with the roles switched. The “heya Sammy” and “Dean.” Jared said in his Stage It panel today that Bob Singer gave them a whole day to shoot Dean’s death scene, knowing how much they would need to be ‘in it’.
Jared: At first when Dean says to Sam to keep going, it was written “I can’t do this without you” and it occurred to me that it would be nice to have a throwback to “I can’t do this alone” like Dean said to Sam in the pilot, to hearken back to the way we all started. Another thing that was important was the first thing we saw Sam and Dean say to each other on camera, Dean ‘heya Sammy’ and Sam’s ‘Dean?!’ in a fight in Sam’s apartment. I thought it would be neat if their first words were also the last words they ever said to each other. So on that bridge, Dean says ‘heya Sammy’ and I’m dressed as best I could like the pilot and Sam says, ‘Dean.’ We talked to Andrew and Bob a lot about it, like hey are y’all okay if we kinda see what makes sense and what we’re feeling, repeating lines here and there and going with the flow? When we shot that scene, Jensen and I knew Sam and Dean in a way that no one else could. We’d lived with these guys for fifteen and a half years and felt strongly. We did the script as the script, but then we’d do little bits that were meaningful to us or helped convey a message we were trying to convey. Also it was really important to me that the last words Sam says to Dean (at this point in the panel, Jared got emotional – but so did all of us), says ‘it’s okay, you can go now’ I thought that Sam’s son Dean needed to say those same words to Sam and that was his cue to go.
The degree of caring that these actors have is frankly amazing after fifteen years. Not only are they not ‘phoning it in,’ they seem to care more than ever. About the show, about their characters, about us. Their acting was so incredible in this episode that I still can’t look at photos or gifs or even think about the ‘barn scene’ without starting to cry again. All the kudos to Jared and Jensen, to Andrew Dabb for the writing, to Bob Singer for the directing, and to everyone else who worked so hard to pull this off and finish this show in the middle of a pandemic. I’m so grateful.
Jared, Jensen and Misha have talked many times about a saying they’ve had on Supernatural since way back in the Eric Kripke and Kim Manners days. “Give ‘em what they want in a way they weren’t expecting.” I think they did that. We were hoping for, maybe even expecting, that there would be “peace when you are done”. And there was. It just didn’t come about in the way we were expecting. I had a conversation with Kripke a year ago, around the time Jensen also talked to him about the ending, and while he was careful not to spoil me, we talked about how as long as those boys are alive and together and there’s something to hunt, there’s no rest, no peace for them. Dean gave Sam the explicit permission to get out and stop hunting, which was only doable because they had managed to take out Chuck and every other ‘big bad’ and now had Jack and Cas in charge so there were no ‘big bads’ to worry about, only the everyday monsters, so Sam could find some peace in living to an old age. And it was when Sam joined Dean in heaven that they truly found those words were true: There’ll be peace when you are done.
Those words are for us, too, because we also need to find peace. I need some time to sit with these feelings of loss and to grieve this show that has been so important to me. Whether you loved the finale or hated it, we’re all grieving the loss of the show, and hopefully we can give each other the space to grieve it in the way we need to. I need to talk more to friends and write more and rewatch the finale a few more times and read Jared and Jensen and Misha’s words in Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done. I need to do more crying. And then maybe do a rewatch of The French Mistake and some gag reels to balance it out. It’s going to hurt for a long time, but I also have no intention of turning away from what I’ve learned from the Little Show That Could – always keep fighting. (And maybe anticipate that reboot….)
Caps by kayb625
Gifs by jaredandjensen
You can find There’ll Be Peace When You Are
Done and Family Don’t End With Blood at