The one thing that Supernatural fans who are watching ‘The Winchesters’ have in common – possibly the only thing – is that they really want Dean Winchester back. Last week’s episode of ‘The Winchesters’ knew what it was doing when they finally “gave back” the beloved character – on his birthday. Jensen Ackles, who portrayed Dean for so many years, usually acknowledges his best imaginary friend’s birthday, but this year he did it up right, buying plates and party hats and a cake and having the young cast of The Winchesters sing happy birthday. To Dean.
The show was extremely fortunate that it airs on Tuesdays and last Tuesday happened to be Dean’s birthday, so the PR Gods all lined up and made for a fun celebration, topped off by Dean’s “return” to the prequel in a grainy black and white photo.
The Winchesters cast all got together to cook dinner and have birthday cake and then watch the episode, as they’ve done several times – it seems like they genuinely enjoy each other and it’s fun to “hang out” with them on Instagram.
Executive Producers Jensen and Danneel are a little like the mom and dad of the gang of mostly young actors, Jensen doing his best grumpy old man shtick to everyone’s amusement.
As they watched along with us in real time, we got to watch their reactions to the show. When Mary, eyes wide, demanded to know “who’s that guy?” we were treated to a video close up of Ackles looking like “what guy??”
And then when it was confirmed to be Dean Winchester, he sat there grinning like the cat that ate the canary.
All that interaction added to the fun and excitement of this episode – in fact, it was the most enjoyable episode so far for me. I’ll run down the things I liked about it in a minute, but before I do that, this show also makes me scratch my head a lot, and this episode wasn’t an exception entirely. I continue to struggle with lining this show up with the canon of OG Supernatural, and with seeing its characters as the people they will become in just a very short while. Tom Welling is doing a fine job as Samuel, but he’s so different than the Mitch Pileggi version I sometimes can’t see them as the same character. He’s also a bit of an enigma in this episode. He’s bristly, gruff, referring to his daughter as a jackass and admitting that she’s just like him (which fits fairly well with the Samuel we see a little later).
And yet, we also get this conversation, which to me seemed to come out of nowhere.
Samuel: Had I told you what I was doing, I know you would’ve charged in headfirst. I did everything I could to get you off my trail, because I couldn’t… I can’t let you turn out like Maggie. You could’ve been anything, Mary, anything. But when I put that knife in your hands, I chose this life for you. I forced you to follow in my footsteps, just like my dad forced me. It was wrong. I don’t want you to hate me like I hated him. I heard tall tales of an Oppenheimer– someone who found a way to nuke all these damn monsters, so that you could be free of all of this—forever… I can’t give you back all those years. But I’m your dad. I have to try.
The last episode of The Winchesters was special in an unexpected way – the entire cast and EPs Jensen and Danneel Ackles took to Instagram to do a live reaction video every time there was a commercial break in the episode’s airing. It was frankly insane and chaotic and thoroughly enjoyable as I went back and forth between watching the show, watching the cast and grumpy “old man” Jensen commentate, and trying to tweet a little myself.
I wish the Supernatural cast had done more of that back in the day!
At one point an ad for Walker Independence (from EP Jared Padalecki) came on and the whole cast of The Winchesters started cheering and saying what a great show it is.
Jensen: All in the family!
The cast also complained about Drake Rodger’s smelly farts, prompting Ackles to reminisce about Supernatural.
Jensen: It’s like Jared 2.0…
Okay, back to the episode – which had a great opener. A woman runs through the woods, falling, frightened, limping in the dark forest. She takes refuge in an old barn, starting to draw some protection sigils on the door, but the lights begin to flicker and then – in true horror movie fashion – she thinks the sound she heard was just a bird and shrugs, relieved.
Of course that is when she gets suddenly pulled up to the ceiling and turned into a bloody mess. That was a scary opening though – in the dark like it should be!
Cut to Lata, chanting ‘I am at peace’ as though she’s trying to convince herself of that, which is what happens to me sometimes when I try to meditate so I can relate.
Interrupted by Dean Winchester: Hunting has a way of changing a person. After a while right, wrong, good, evil, they all start to look the same. And then it makes you start to wonder, who’s really the monster here, them or me?
You’ve certainly personified that question from time to time, Dean Winchester.
Lata as her friends argue in the next room: I am at peace….I am deeply annoyed!
John wants to keep searching for the Akrida, Carlos doesn’t, accusing John of being obsessed.
Carlos: Mellow out, amor.
John: The fate of the world is literally at stake!
I already posted my emotional non-spoilery reactions to the pilot episode of The Winchesters which aired at New York Comic Con, but I also wanted to do a rewatch and a deep dive into the events of the episode itself and the introduction of the younger version of John and Mary Winchester who we know from the original series, Supernatural. As a very very passionate Supernatural fan who watched that show for 15 seasons, I felt both anticipation and trepidation at a prequel kicking off – it was mostly due to the reassurance of people who knew the Supernatural world intimately that I went into watching ‘The Winchesters’ pilot hoping for the best. I was also anxious, though. I am very protective of “My Show” and always will be.
So it was with a lot of conflicting emotions that I watched the series premiere. Now that I’m home and have done a rewatch, here’s my deep dive into the events of the pilot and the characters, familiar and new, introduced in the episode.
It’s a suitably spooky beginning, a dark graveyard and an Indiana Jones-esque character entering a crypt by torch light to slice his palm and draw a blood sigil, opening a stone container to retrieve something – and then run like hell trying to escape from the monster that’s now after him! As Supernatural beginnings go, that’s pretty on point!
And then we’re greeted by a “Welcome To Lawrence” sign and an instrumental music background that’s also reminiscent of what Jensen Ackles likes to call “the mothership”, OG Supernatural. That show used lots of signage to mark the brothers’ travels, so this also feels familiar. Young John Winchester (Drake Rodger) is on a bus heading back to Lawrence, fresh from the war, still rattled by flashbacks thanks to the PTSD he’s brought back with him, and clutching a mysterious letter addressed to him.
Apparently the show had to fight hard for the extra budget to film John’s war scenes, but I think those instincts were good – we need to understand how much impact the violence John experienced had on him, and how much guilt he’s carrying around as a result of not being able to save his comrades. Those experiences are integral to his determination to head down the ‘saving people hunting things’ path, especially the guilt and the subsequent need to save everyone he can. Similar motivations will send his sons down the same path eventually, as we all know.
“March 23, 1972” a familiar voice narrates – it’s no surprise to anyone that it’s Jensen Ackles reprising his role of Dean Winchester. The narration is emotional for any Supernatural fan, but it’s also a bit confusing, because we don’t know who Dean is supposed to be talking to, and it actually sounds like he’s talking to us, the audience – and that he’s somehow savvy about the anxiety fans have had over whether this prequel will mess with established canon. “I know this story might sound familiar, but I’m gonna put the pieces together in a way that might surprise you” seems directed at us, the anxious viewers. Perhaps that’s only for this first bit of narration but it struck me as interesting. I guess we’ll see!
I’m not entirely convinced that we really needed Dean as the narrator, as much as I’ve missed having my favorite character in the history of the universe on my screen. I would kinda like to watch this story as its own thing, and am not sure I need the frame of Dean looking back. But hopefully they worked that into the ongoing story in an organic way that just hasn’t been revealed yet.
Anyway, John does indeed bump into Mary Campbell (Meg Donnelly) just like we’d heard in the original show. It’s a “meet cute” in the tradition of meet cutes, and both John and Mary are likable, but they don’t get that cup of coffee that we heard they did right away. Instead, Mary walks away with a “see ya around, soldier boy”, a cheeky shout out to Jensen Ackles’ role on The Boys as Soldier Boy.
I admit I smiled at that and both her and John’s love of licorice (something their son Dean will later share and which I cannot fathom at all..). Also I love Mary’s bell bottoms! Don’t tell me that bell bottoms aren’t awesome, I remember how awesome they were! I’m hoping fervently that Danneel Ackles agrees with me, because I’m fairly certain she’s the biggest influence on the fashion choices we’ll see on this show.
John’s reunion with his mother Millie (Bianca Kajlich) is frosty to start, which is interesting. Millie owns the gas station and is a mechanic, and she pulls no punches reminding John that from her perspective, “my husband and son walked out on me, so…”
She also clearly adores him as she sweeps him into a welcome home hug.
The big day is finally here – tonight is the premiere of new series (and prequel for Supernatural), The Winchesters. For the #SPNFamily, it’s been a long, lonely time without the “saving people, hunting things” story we came to know so well, so there’s a lot of anticipation, and all sorts of strong emotions, surrounding tonight’s premiere.
This past weekend, New York Comic Con was a whirlwind Winchesters-focused weekend that resulted from a last minute decision to trek to the Big Apple – because yes, we really are that passionate about all things Supernatural. We being Lynn Zubernis (of MovieTVTechGeeks and Fangasm) and Laurena Aker (“Nightsky” of The Winchester Family Business). After covering the original Supernatural series (or, as Jensen Ackles likes to call it, the “mothership”) for the past decade and a half, we were eager to immerse ourselves once again in the Supernatural universe, so the weekend was a frenzied blur of planes, trains and automobiles followed by panels, press rooms and lots and lots of people at Comic Con. But, finally, we are excited to share with you our first impressions of this highly anticipated prequel in the same way we experienced it – together.
As longtime fangirls and writers about Supernatural, we’re transcribing for you the exact morning-after, Starbucks fueled, adrenaline pumped conversation we had as we unpacked both our personal (emotional fangirls) and professional (analytical reviewers) reactions to The Winchesters. Obviously no spoilers here for the episode itself. Instead, we’re sharing the evolution of unfiltered initial reactions to evolving deeper understandings of what it meant to finally see a piece of Supernatural again.
To set the scene, The Winchester pilot premiered to fans in the largest ballroom at New York Comic Con, the Empire Stage. While not as gigantic as San Diego’s Hall H, the Empire is nevertheless really, really big, so it was exciting to watch it fill up with Supernatural fans eager to reenter the world we’ve been missing for the past two years. To amp up the anticipation, the hosts blared the music that the reunited SPNFamily immediately recognized as the instrumental music cue on every Supernatural DVD. Apropos for the screening of a new episode! Soon enough, the house lights dimmed, and we slumped down in our second row seats to crane our necks (ouch!) at the giant screen that was looming over us (“immersed” in Supernatural in every sense of the word now!) Cue: The Winchesters!
Lynn: I think I went into watching this new series with a little more trepidation than you did, right?
Laurena: Absolutely. I’ve been excited about this show since it was first announced. I had a few unspoken reservations based on the pre-screening promotions, but I unreservedly believe in Robbie Thompson’s abilities as a writer, so I was determined to stay optimistically hopeful.
Lynn: I wasn’t really blown away by the trailer or the teasers either, so I was more cautiously optimistic.
Laurena: I was greatly relieved when the trailer was re-released with music. “Carry On” and Supernatural background music made it more relatable. So, given your concerns about the series, what was your first impression of the pilot?
Lynn: I was pleasantly surprised. I liked it even more than I expected to, particularly after having a chance to chat with (series stars) Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly in the press room and seeing what big fans of Supernatural they are. I was especially blown away by Drake Rodger’s acting – his character is someone I’m interested in, over and above knowing he’s John Winchester.
What about you?
Laurena: Even given the small part of me that was secretly worried about the hippie vibe in the trailer, I can honestly say I loved the episode. I’m completely invested in Drake as John Winchester and totally bought into John’s relationship with his mother. The pilot immediately delivered a depth of story that I didn’t expect. I was actually in tears when a certain familiar musical instrumental (that I won’t name to not spoil it for others) underscored the emotional scars in the Winchester family.
Lynn: I know, I was sitting next to you! I didn’t actually cry during that cue but yeah, that got to me too. And I also believe in Robbie Thompson and have missed his Supernatural writing ever since he left the show. They did a great job depicting John’s relationship with his mother, and Bianca Kajlich was able to bring Millie to life even with the short amount of time she had onscreen. We knew so little about John’s mother in the original show, so that’s a cool thing to be able to explore more.
Laurena: She gave a very emotional performance portraying the complexities that had developed over the years between the two people left behind by a loving father/husband who seemingly abandoned them.
Lynn: The quintessential theme of Supernatural – secrets, trying to protect the people you love, the aftermath of doing whatever it takes to make that happen, etc. I recognized all that in John and Millie’s loving but fraught reunion.
It was a whirlwind weekend in New York City, and for me – a long time passionate Supernatural fan – the most exciting part of the weekend was getting a chance to ask a few questions to the cast, showrunner and executive producers of the Supernatural prequel series ‘The Winchesters’ which premieres tonight on the CW! I spoke to producers Jensen and Danneel Ackles, showrunner Robbie Thompson, and series stars Meg Donnelly and Drake Rodger on Sunday at New York Comic Con.
Press rooms are always a combination of highly stressful (will I have time for this one or have to run to the next one…) and highly enjoyable (especially when it’s a cast and a show you really care about, like this one is for me). A big thank you to the publicity team who organized this one, because they kept everyone on schedule, despite it sometimes inevitably being like herding cats, and made sure we all got a chance to meet with all the talent. For me, this press room was also a Supernatural mini-reunion, and I was thrilled to get the chance to see some fellow journalists who are also long-time SPN fans in the room.
Executive producers Jensen and Danneel Ackles came with daughter JJ, who patiently waited for her parents to walk the carpet and make the rounds to each press table.
It’s always wonderful to see Jensen, whose hugs are exuberant (and whose green velvet jacket, I can happily report, was just as soft and cuddly as it looked when squished against it). It was extra wonderful to see Danneel, who I haven’t had the pleasure of saying hello to in far too long – her hugs are also wonderful, as was her 70s inspired outfit. Gorgeous!
I’ve been lucky enough to have some in depth conversations with showrunner and writer Robbie Thompson over the years, but it’s been a while, so seeing him again was also a thrill. His episodes of Supernatural are some of my favorites, so I’m ecstatic to have him helming The Winchesters.
Jensen and Danneel, with their years of experience doing red carpets and press lines, made sure he took off his lanyard before the cameras snapped – just like any family would!
Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly are brand new to me, so I was happy to get a chance to talk to them about taking on the iconic roles of John and Mary Winchester – and by the time they left our table, I was even more excited to see them do just that! Drake has been a Supernatural fan for a long time, and clearly cares about the show and its canon just as all of us fans do. Meg is new to the show, but its history and importance are something she’s clearly already absorbed and understood.
Here are a few highlights of our conversation, which is included in its entirety in the yotube video linked here.
My question for them kicked off our table’s chat.
Lynn: The fandom was both excited and nervous about a prequel for Supernatural. One of the things that has been reassuring for me is to hear how you both talk about the show – Drake, you’ve been a fan long before this new show came along, and Meg, you talk about it in a way that suggests you really ‘get it’.
Fifteen Seasons and It Was So Good, How Could It Be Better?
Drake: I resonate with you, because when I saw the prequel come along, I was like oh come on, there’s no way, 15 seasons and it was so good as what it was, how could it be better? And then I read the script and was like, that’s how! They have something here, this is not just to put product out – the series means so much more to them (the creative team). For Jensen, after 15 years, it’s not about product, it’s about story. He had a story that he really wanted to tell for characters that he loved, John and Mary.
Meg said at the time it aired, it was too scary for her (and sometimes this one is too).
Meg: Watching it now, especially the John and Mary scenes for context, it’s such a beautiful show. And learning about it from Jensen and from Jared (Padalecki), it was such an honor learning about the show. We constantly think about the fans and their expectations and keep asking how can we make it better.
Lynn: Well your passion for this really helps!
Meg talked about taking inspiration from shows like Buffy – and Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
Drake: That’s the vibe!
She’s not used to playing a character that’s so closed off, Meg said, but it sounds like she’s enjoying that challenge too. Drake is finding all the Latin a challenge, just like Jensen and Jared did years ago.
Meg shared with a laugh that Jensen gave her the advice not to ever sink on her heel when standing next to Drake, since that will make you look even shorter – something he had to learn from all those years of standing next to Jared Padalecki!
Jensen also gave Drake the advice that, when it’s not your coverage, make sure you make the other people pay for it – as in, making faces to crack them up! A Supernatural tradition for sure.
I was very happy to see showrunner Robbie Thompson in person after a long time, and we all were excited to get to ask him some questions. I asked him about the character of Carlos, after his history of writing some of the most beloved original characters in Supernatural like Charlie, who was important to fans in terms of representation.
Robbie: When I’m creating characters, I don’t really think about that. I know that Charlie is a character who has really endured – someone just thanked me for her and I said thank Felicia (Day)! It’s hard for me to separate coming up with the idea and the collaboration with the actor. JoJo is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, and they are such a national treasure and a delightful energy. So what they’re bringing, I’m excited to have that connect with the audience. But you just never know. For Charlie, I had said, we need a Felicia Day type and Sera Gamble was like well, how about Felicia? And I was like, we can just do that?! But it’s a real credit to JoJo and also to Robert Ulrich, our casting director, and his team. They cast Supernatural too. Carlos was probably harder to cast, since it’s a very fun character who had a very dramatic entrance as you’ll soon see. I’m really excited for people to meet these characters, they’re amazing and it’s been such a collaboration with this cast. You can’t recreate Jared and this guy (pointing to Jensen), you just can’t, but what we wanted to do was find the type of fun atmosphere that we had and I think we’ve done a good job.
Someone else asked how he made sure that everything will align with Supernatural (adding that otherwise the fans will be coming for you!)
Robbie: And they should! I was the first to ask that question. The great thing about working on Supernatural was we always pushed the boundaries and could think outside the box, and that takes two to tango, a great cast which we had and a great audience who’s willing to go there with you…. We do not want to one thing that will undo one moment of Supernatural. So for anyone who thinks this will change things or change the ending, no. How we get there? That might be a surprise, but we will reveal it in episode 13, I promise. Now if you’re someone who’s seen 15 seasons of Supernatural (stares at Lynn meaningfully…) you’ll probably have a good solid guess about what’s going on in a couple directions. I’m sure fans have theories already and that’s good. But we have no interest in control alt deleting Supernatural. We want a show that can live on its own and be its own thing, and because we have the ability to do these out of the box things, we have a creative solution for it.
Robbie said that it was equal parts terrifying and exciting to tackle this prequel. I didn’t get video of the rest of Robbie’s chat with us, so I’m including here most of the rest of his interview because it was all equally fascinating!
Supernatural Didn’t End, We’re Just Pausing It
Robbie: When we did the 200th episode of Supernatural, it wasn’t my idea, but they said we’re doing a musical episode, and I was like, that’s terrifying – I wanna write it! When we were in that scary space, that was the sweet spot. Jensen says it all the time, Supernatural did not end, we’re just pausing it. It is my firm hope that he and the taller one put the boots back on someday and get back in that Impala, and we spoke very explicitly about not doing anything that would impede that or undo anything that fans have loved over the seasons.
He said he went back and watched ‘In The Beginning’, the episode where Matt Cohen and Amy Gumenick played John and Mary.
Robbie: the thing that struck me about it on the rewatch was the thing that struck me originally, which was who is this guy? That’s not Jeffrey Dean Morgan! Obviously a different actor, but the performance was so wonderful and so layered and interesting, I was like, something else was going on in this kid that predates Mary dying. The fact that she dies obviously is horrifying and traumatic, and there’s the Viet Nam trauma as well, but it sort of created a lane to be in. When I left Supernatural, Mary was being brought back, and it was the only thing that might have pulled me back in because I love the character and Samantha Smith is a great actress. And that was another character who someone put a knife in her hand at four. That’s a character I wanted to explore more of. I want to show the audience why they made some of the choices they made. She’s already decided to leave hunting in that episode, and that’s like a superhero life, it blew my mind when I saw it. But the decision tree that led to that seemed like a lane for us to explore. We have a great group of writers, David H. Goodman, and we all got excited about how do we find our lane from what existed and both amplify and shed new light on things the audience didn’t know about.
He also said Millie is another character through which they do that exploration, and talked a bit about the casting process for John and Mary, acknowledging that Jeffrey Dean Morgan really put his stamp on the character.
Robbie: He showed up and it’s like oh, shit’s going down, dad’s home! Same with Sam, that iconic image of her is seared into your brain, so that was a challenge.
Robbie also said that Drake has a really fantastic perspective on John and his history and is really excited about playing that darkness. The Matt Cohen you meet is oh, I like that guy, then you meet Jeffrey and you’re like oh, that guy’s kinda scary! Being able to show that journey is fantastic and it’s a similar thing with Meg and Mary.
I’ll Never Be Done With Dean, And He’ll Never Be Done With Me
Our conversation with Jensen and Danneel Ackles started with us asking about his long hair (that he’s now stuck with thanks to his role in Big Sky).
Danneel (smiling) I love it.
Me: So do we!!
Jensen: I may not have a say in this…
I think he lost that battle, like completely.
Someone at our table dared to say ‘just when you thought you were done with Dean….” and Danneel immediately corrected, ‘he’ll never be done with Dean.’ Jensen agreed that he’ll never be done with Dean and “Dean will never be done with me.”
Me: (silently) THANKGOD!
Jensen recalled how in the early days of Supernatural, he didn’t think they’d get more than 3 seasons – and he’d be excited about getting 3 seasons!
Jensen: You get more than three, that’s a runaway success.
Not to mention the show was on multiple networks and survived all those changes.
Jensen: I’m still very proud of every episode we did and every season we completed…. I think all of us ingrained into this world were always looking to expand it.
He also shared the story of coming up with this idea during the Covid break and of wanting there to be a Winchester in it, of following the waypoints of the original story but filling in the blanks in a way that wasn’t suspected.
Jensen: Enter Robbie Thompson!
A Romance Instead of a Bromance
Someone asked what fresh perspective Danneel brings to the table and Jensen laughed.
Jensen: The 70s!
Danneel: That’s what got me excited, I do love that period in time and there are things happening now that are very similar so it’s interesting to watch those parallels. But I also kept driving home the love story of this. Because that’s something that’s been said again and again, Supernatural was not loved because it’s a show about monsters, it’s about the brothers.
Jensen: it was the love story of two brothers, to be honest, it really was.
Danneel: We’re following another love story.
Jensen: This is a romance instead of a bromance.
Danneel: And there are other characters, so when you see those other characters you also see the love between Carlos and Latika and Mary and all those other relationships, which reminded us a lot of Supernatural because we brought in like Castiel and the love that was created there.
Jensen: It’s a team, not only fighting the good fight but fighting for each other.
My question followed along from that discussion.
Lynn: I so agree, Supernatural was a love story, absolutely. It was a love story that was a platonic one, which is so unique and rare, so what’s the difference when you’re conceptualizing this love story, which is a more traditional romantic love story?
Jensen: Well obviously we know where they end up so we know the romance worked, but it is the getting there that we really wanted to mess with. And that’s where Robbie came in and said it should be not necessarily a forbidden love, but it should be a love that is fought against. It should be something that is, I can’t do this because it means that I’m gonna have to do this. I can’t bring you in, I can’t get too close to you, so it’s that friction, that resistance, but ultimately they can’t help wanting to fight for each other or wanting to fight for that love. And I think that resistance and struggle gives us great story and great character drive and motivation, not only individually but also together.
Danneel: And the sacrifices people do for that kind of love, I mean you do in all love, but the kind of sacrifices you’ll make for your children.
Jensen: It’s a different kind of love.
Danneel: If you have children or even a dog, because Jensen would have laid down his life for our dog just the same – everyone who’s a parent knows.
Jensen: That unconditional love, yeah.
Lynn: That’s a pretty good parallel, that was a great answer!
Jensen: (triumphantly) Hah!
(I don’t have an update on the Ackles family dog Icarus, but I can certainly vouch for the love they have for him – and him for them! I had the pleasure of meeting him when he was a pretty new fluffy puppy fifteen years ago and he was already besotted with Jensen, wriggling with joy as soon as he came offstage.)
Having a chance to talk with the Ackles, Thompson, Rodger and Donnelly gave me some of the reassurance I was looking for as a long-time Supernatural fan who loves the canon just as it is and doesn’t want it messed with. It’s plain to see they all care about not just this series, but the Mothership series that inspired it and is its sequel. And I’m as hopeful as ever, if not more, that – as Robbie said – one day soon Jensen and “the taller one” will put those boots back on and climb back into the Impala. Until then, I’m ready to watch John and Mary drive.
You can watch the videos of all three interviews at the links below – and you can watch The Winchesters series premiere tonight on the CW! Stay tuned for some joint coverage of The Winchesters along with The Winchester Family Business from the pilot screening and panel at NYCC!
Jensen and Danneel Ackles Video Interview:
Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly Video Interview:
Robbie Thompson Video Interview:
Enjoy The Winchesters tonight on the CW – and let me know what you think when you watch!