Last year I wrote a long and emotional post for Jared Padalecki’s birthday, remembering (fondly) some of my favorite moments with him over the years. That was his last birthday as Sam Winchester, so I had all sorts of feelings about that fact – and so did he. Nobody knew what 2021 would bring, either in terms of Supernatural being at an end or whether or not we’d still be living in a pandemic-impacted world. They hadn’t yet started filming the final episodes of Supernatural, and we didn’t know how Jared or Jensen or Misha would do afterwards, or how any of us would feel about that big transition. It was frightening, to be honest, to think of giving up these fictional characters that have meant so much to so many of us for so long. And for them, to make such sweeping changes to their lives after being in a routine that worked for so long, working together to film the show and traveling from city to city on weekends for conventions.
(No, this is not just an excuse to put some of Kim Prior’s gorgeous photos of equally gorgeous Jared at conventions in here…)
Fast forward to now – 2021 and the show did finally manage to wrap up, in a way that felt satisfying to its cast and crew despite the pandemic’s restrictions. We’re still living in a pandemic-impacted world, unfortunately, but the other unknowns are clearer now. Jared isn’t Sam Winchester, though it’s very clear that Sam will always be in his heart, but it’s been wonderful to see him thrive on a new show and create a new character in Cordell Walker.
Being back in Austin surrounded by kids and family seems invigorating for him; he’s Executive Producer of a new show, co-owner of a new business start-up in Mantra Labs, and enjoying perhaps his favorite role – Dad. Kids, dogs, chickens, gigantic bugs – Jared seems to be enjoying the entire menagerie, with a little (a lot) of help from Gen.
I’ve heard from so many people that the chapter that Jared wrote for Family Don’t End With Blood has inspired them – even literally kept them going through hard times. I will forever appreciate his courage and candor in writing something so personal. It’s that intimacy that he shared in his writing that makes his chapter so impactful. He’s continued that openness even though being open can also make a person vulnerable, and that has certainly happened. But it also allows a person to make an impact.
He’s having an impact with Mantra too, I think – even I’m drinking more water and staying hydrated, which is a miracle that anyone who’s watched me go through an entire con drinking Starbucks decaf lattes will understand. He’s also supporting Gen in the change she’s trying to make, from encouraging a more sustainable lifestyle with TOWWN to giving new books and authors a forum.
I’ll be honest and admit I had a lot of trepidation about investing in new shows after being SO invested in Supernatural for fifteen years. Luckily for me, I was already watching and loving ‘The Boys’ for its first two seasons, so Jensen joining in Season 3 was a no brainer. But I didn’t watch the original ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ and it didn’t sound like the genre that is usually up my alley, so I wasn’t sure. I watched for Jared, because after working with him on his chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood and his contributions to my other books, I love him and want to support him always. I have also always loved horses and I fell in love with Austin after my first trip there seven or eight years ago, so I knew I’d appreciate the show’s backdrop and Jared’s acting at least. I didn’t expect to be pulled into the show itself. I didn’t expect Jared to create a new character who is absolutely nothing like Sam Winchester – someone entirely different with complexities of his own to discover and struggles to root for him to conquer. I love that Cordell is a man with a heart, with imperfections, with hang-ups. A man who is struggling mightily to live up to his responsibilities in the face of being shattered by loss.
I teach a graduate course in Grief and Loss, and was actually teaching it as Walker began airing, so I was also drawn to the show for what it had to say about grieving. Many times, Walker got it right when media sometimes doesn’t – the messiness of grief, the varying timetables for adapting to loss, the different ways we all respond to losing someone or something we love. In the midst of a pandemic, the show was even more relevant, and I was even more grateful that it did get so many things right. The entire cast is doing a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life, as is Jared. I’ve already heard many cast members credit him with the positive atmosphere on set that’s bringing out the best in all of them – just like it did on Supernatural. I’m not surprised.
Supernatural being at an end was hard for me, I’m not gonna lie. I will always adore Sam Winchester and wish that he was on my TV screen forever. The show ending changed things for all of the actors, who were used to everything being the same for fifteen years, on set and off, in ways that are hard to anticipate before you actually experience those changes. A change like that brings lots of emotions, for actors and for fans, and challenges us all to work through things we weren’t prepared for. I have no doubt that they – and we – will.
Jared said this in his chapter in There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, and I hang onto his words when I’m missing the show I’ve loved for so long:
I’m very proud of what we’ve done and of the story that we got to tell. Sam Winchester has inspired me, just like he’s inspired many fans… I feel sad about the show ending, but I want to feel sad about it ending. Someone asked me recently what it’s going to be like saying goodbye to Sam Winchester. And my honest answer was that I can’t say goodbye to him. Sam Winchester will forever be a part of my life. I’ll always love Sam, and he’ll be a part of me forever.
That last photo is the last time I was able to chat with Jared in person – and that was a long time ago! Even longer ago was the first photo op we shared (though that wasn’t our first time meeting – that was when Jared came to watch Jensen Ackles’ performance in the local stage production of ‘A Few Good Men’ and I ran into him in the lobby as we were all buying candy. He was warm and welcoming then, to a stranger overly excited about meeting him and inadvertently ruining his attempt to stay incognito – and he’s been warm and welcoming and a pleasure to work with on the books ever since).
But this still makes me smile – baby Jared!
That was 14 years ago. Fast forward, the pandemic is not gone and 2021 is still bringing a lot of challenges, but I too will always love Sam Winchester. And I’m so happy to have a new show and a new character to care about too in ‘Walker’ – and to still be able to look forward to Thursday nights!
I’m thrilled to see someone I care about thriving personally and professionally. I can’t wait to hug him again when conventions resume. Until then, Happy Birthday, Jared Padalecki – keep on carrying on!
Walker caps by spndeangirl. Con photos by Kim Prior, photo ops by Chris Schmelke.
You can read Jared’s heartfelt chapters in Family
Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When
You Are Done, available at the links here or at: