I wasn’t sure I’d do a happy birthday post for my favorite characters this year. Supernatural ended nearly six months ago, and that means the Winchesters haven’t been on my TV screen. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been in my heart, where I’m fairly sure Sam and Dean will live forever. So even though I can’t watch new episodes, in my heart Sam Winchester is having a birthday, and I want to celebrate!
Over the course of fifteen years, Sam became a beloved character to so many of us, thanks to Eric Kripke who created him and Jared Padalecki, who brought him to life. I was fascinated by Sam and Dean from almost the beginning, and over time, through good times and bad times, that fascination only grew. So here’s a post full of reasons of what I love about Sam Winchester, from the start to the finish (at least temporarily, because I’ll hang onto the hope that we’ll see the Winchesters again in time…) Instead of not doing a post at all, I got entirely carried away and took a trip down memory lane, reminding me of all the reasons Sam is special to me.
One of the reasons Sam Winchester is so inspiring as a character is because he’s been through the kind of trauma and loss that would have most of us flat on our backs and unable to put one foot in front of the other. The first losses come when he’s just a baby – his mother, his home, and his father too – still there but no longer the same man or the same father to his young sons.
Twenty years later, Sam’s at school, with goals and aspirations, kicking ass on the LSATs and planning his future with Jessica. And disaster finds him again, Jessica burning on the ceiling just like his mother did.
The boys hit the road. So young and pretty, so many challenges yet to come.
We experience Sam’s empathy and his strength early on. We’ve followed him on quite a journey in just one year, from the boy who struck out on his own to the boy almost as bent on revenge as his father, and finally to this – the young man who understands that there are things more important than revenge, including his love for his family. Sam goes against his father in a completely different way here, with Sam and Dean on the same page about family and reconnected with each other.
Continuing our week long spring break celebration of that little show we miss, here are some memories of the Supernatural cast over the years, seen through the lens of Kim Prior’s trusty camera – and her photographer instincts!
First up, some pics from Vegas Con 2015. I remember the first time Gil McKinney stepped onstage and started singing and everyone kind of stopped and went WHAT? Because damn, can he sing! The song he wrote for his dad is a favorite of mine – if you haven’t heard it, check out his album with that beautiful song and more.
Rob with the perfect tee shirt and almost clean shaven at that con!
I can hear the harmonies on Seven Bridges Road just looking at this photo…
Jensen looks as excited as all of us were to have both Winchester parents onstage at the same time with him!
Here are a few from Jacksonville 2016 – Ruth Connell and Kim Rhodes with smiles that light up the room, and Mark Sheppard doing one of the things that clearly makes him happiest – playing drums.
Nashville 2016 Matt Cohen when his hair was really long, which I’d almost forgotten. Matt can pull off any look, and I love how much he’s bringing to Entertainment Tonight these days – all his experience helping host cons with Rich and Rob have been put to very good use!
I’m now convinced at this point in my epic Supernatural from the start rewatch that the entire Season 1 was just freaking amazing, but even before the rewatch, I knew this week’s episode was one of my favorites. The aptly named ‘Home’ told us so much about the Winchesters, and is one of the very few episodes that includes Sam, Dean, John and Mary. Just that alone makes me extremely emotional.
I was at a convention once when Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith were both there, with Jared and Jensen, and I couldn’t help but tear up.
When you care about the Winchesters, it’s a special thing to have them all together – even if they don’t all interact in this episode. Typical heartbreaking Winchester lives, right?
I’m doing the rewatch with a group of friends (via Zoom, as everything is done in the midst of the pandemic we’re a year into…), so we all settled in to watch with anticipation.
The episode begins with a woman unpacking, having just moved into a new house. Her young daughter insists, as kids sometimes do, that there’s something in her bedroom closet. But this is Supernatural, so the mom’s casual “oh honey there’s nothing in here, look I’ll just open it up and then turn my back on it” does not reassure all of us watching. Instead we all start screaming NOOOOOOO because it’s creepy as hell even though I mostly remembered that nothing happens until later.
Little kid agrees to go to bed, mom hears scrabbling and scratching noises in the basement, and unlike me, decides she needs to go down there and investigate right now. When the lights don’t work for some unknown reason she’s undaunted and continues with a freaking flashlight.
Everyone watching: No no no why would you do that?
Upstairs in the little girls’ bedroom, the closet door slowly opens.
Everyone watching: Why are you just sitting there, little girl? RUN LIKE HELL!!!
The woman in the basement finds an old wooden box and stops to open it up.
Me: Does she think the rats are in there? And if they are, what the hell is she going to do armed with a flashlight??
She pulls out some old photos. Written on the back: The Winchesters. John, Mary, Dean and Little Sammy.
Awwww. No time for sentimentality though, because a flaming creature walks out of the closet and the little girl screams and then we see the mom screaming from a second story window.
Sam Winchester wakes up from a nightmare.
Later, he keeps drawing the same tree that he saw in his dream over and over, lost in thought, while Dean is looking for cases.
Dean: Am I boring you with this hunting evil stuff?
Sam says no, but continues to pore over the drawing of the tree, while Dean gets increasingly frustrated with the lack of his little brother’s attention.
Dean: A man shot himself in the head…. Three times…
He theatrically waves his arms around, trying and failing to get Sam’s attention, while all of us watching are laughing. It didn’t take long for Jensen Ackles’ talent for physical comedy to make itself known, and it is a joy to behold. All over the world, in 2005, people were falling in love with Dean Winchester because of it.
And with his shaggy haired, intense younger brother.
Sam: Wait! I’ve seen this.
He pulls out Dad’s journal and finds a photo with the tree. And the Winchesters.
Sam: Dean, I know where we have to go next. Back home. To Kansas.
Dean: Okay, random….
Sam doesn’t want to explain further, but Dean has had it with his brother’s repeated nightmares and reticence to tell him what’s going on.
Sam (reluctantly) I have nightmares.
Dean: I’ve noticed.
Sam: And sometimes… they come true
Dean: Come again.
Sam finally tells Dean what he’s been keeping from him. That he dreamt of Jessica’s death for days before it happened.
Dean is clearly rattled, trying to cling to the belief that it’s a coincidence, and that it’s not something to do with their family. He’s tried so hard to regain a sense of control with hunting, and the last thing he wants is to think their family curse is reasserting itself – and that Sam is somehow in the middle of it.
Dean: First you tell me you’ve got the shining and then that I’ve gotta go back home? Especially when I… I swore to myself I would never go back there.
Dean has on the red plaid shirt of doom, and sad violins play as he looks back over his shoulder at Sam and you can see just how anguished he is. But this is Sam telling him they need to go save people, and there’s no way Dean Winchester is going to say no.
You know how they say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone? Or that you don’t know how much you love something/someone until you don’t have them anymore?
Yeah. It’s true. I’ve known for fifteen years that I was madly in love with Dean Winchester, but even knowing that, I truly didn’t know how much I was going to miss him when he was gone. I took for granted that I’d always be able to “see” him, that I could keep discovering his character and his story, little by little as time went on. I underestimated how wonderful it was to be endlessly fascinated by a fictional character and have the privilege of learning who he was, in bits and pieces and often-covered-up glimpses of the ‘real’ Dean Winchester, over the course of years and years and years. There was a reality to that discovery, in that it played out gradually, just like it does with people in our actual lives. And thanks to Jensen Ackles’ brilliant portrayal, there was a reality to everything about Dean Winchester that made him real to many of us.
That made him very hard to lose.
I thought that 2020 would be the last time I wished Dean happy birthday; I knew that he wouldn’t exist in the present by 2021. But right now I find myself needing to write about him again. It’s part of grieving the loss of something/someone important, that we want to hang onto our memories of them and remember why they were so important to us. I don’t want to forget him, not ever. And since fictional characters never needed our real-life validation, it doesn’t make any difference whether Dean ‘exists’ in the present or not – remembering him is for me. I miss him, and reminding myself of all the reasons why I love him helps me feel just a little bit better.
This could be a really long article if I tried to make an exhaustive list of what I love about Dean Winchester, so I’ll keep it short. Top five reasons why I will always love Dean Winchester.
One, I love his complexity. That’s due to Eric Kripke, who created him and wrote him for the first five seasons, and to Jensen Ackles’, who brought him to life in a way that was even more vivid than what was written on the page. It took me a whole season to fall for Dean Winchester; at first, I dismissed him a little as a stereotypical ‘bad boy’ type, a little too brash. Pretty on the surface but too stereotypical underneath. (Forgive me, I was only watching because a friend insisted, so clearly I wasn’t paying enough attention!) When Season 2 began, I suddenly realized that I had misjudged the show, and the brothers. I remember watching Dean, leaning against the Impala, break down and confide to Sam that he was not at all okay, tears glistening in his eyes, voice breaking. I let the papers I was grading slide to the floor and said out loud, “how did I not realize this show was amazing?” But it was also Dean, and Jensen’s willingness to show his character’s vulnerability, that made me fall head over heels for Supernatural.
When some of my friends decided that the best way to cope with Supernatural ending and having no more new episodes was to just go back to the beginning and start a rewatch with the pilot, I honestly wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready to do that. I was still grieving the ending of this show that has meant so much to me for fifteen years, and just thinking about it brought a fresh round of tears every time my favorite fictional characters crossed my mind. Could I really go back and see where it all began? Remember a time when I had 326 episodes to look forward to and had no idea where the story would take Sam and Dean – and me?
It was one of those decisions that you make and then second guess immediately, but luckily for me I wasn’t watching alone – I was on a zoom call with three friends who share my love of the show and my grief that it’s over. Who wouldn’t make fun of me if I started to tear up or got emotional over a scene in the pilot that had a call back in the finale. Who get it. If there was any way to dare to do a rewatch, it was with these people. So we made drinks, chatted about the pandemic and the weather and life in general, and then we dove in.
Although I’ve been watching Supernatural from the beginning, I didn’t fall madly in love with it until the beginning of Season 2, and I didn’t start writing reviews until Season 8, so as long as I’m doing a rewatch, I figured I might as well catch up on those reviews I missed. The first seven seasons will be reviews with the benefit of hindsight, while the last eight will be fresh from a first viewing – but maybe that will be an interesting diversity of perspectives. So, from an emotional state still raw and grieving from the finale, here are my thoughts (and a whole helluva lot of feelings) about Supernatural’s very first episode, Pilot.
(Because these reviews are with the hindsight of the rest of the series, spoilers ahead up to and including the finale)
It took me approximately .5 seconds to get overwhelmed by emotion. Toddler Dean leans over his baby brother’s crib and gives him a kiss on the forehead, saying with so much affection, “Goodnight, Sam” and I am immediately thrown back to the finale, grown up Sam leaning his forehead to his brother’s as Dean says a final “Goodbye, Sam” with just as much love, after all these years and all they’ve been through together.
The first time I watched the pilot, this was just a tender scene, a happy family with a baby in a crib and a young boy in his father’s arms, everyone safe and warm and together. I had no idea what was to come, either in the next few minutes of that episode or in the next fifteen years. I had no idea how much the Winchesters would come to mean to me, or how excruciatingly painful it would be to lose them.
There’s such a sense of innocence now, watching the pilot – my own innocence reflected in the innocence of those two little boys, that short-lived peaceful moment before Sam and Dean’s happiness was shattered. From the first five minutes, Supernatural has never been a show about happily ever after.
I remember thinking that the Pilot was scary as hell too, as I sat in my dark living room watching with my three closest friends, one of whom had already decided Supernatural was the next thing we would all be fannish about. She was so sure about that, she brought VHS tapes of the show to our get togethers (yes, VHS videotapes. That’s how long this show was on the air). One of our foursome pronounced the Pilot “way too scary” and stopped watching halfway through; the rest of us stuck it out. Fifteen years later, that scariness still holds up. The show is so deliciously dark in the pilot episode, shot so beautifully, dimly lit by moonlight or flashlight.
We also get so much background in the pilot episode, although it takes barely any time at all to convey and at the time, we don’t realize just how devastating it will be to know what the Winchesters’ life was like before the event that changes everything. We get little glimpses that seem innocuous – toddler Dean’s love for his daddy, the family’s joy in new baby Sammy, John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) a loving father, the sheer normalcy of their lives with hugs and goodnight kisses in a nondescript house in suburban America.
We have no idea that we’re seeing the origins of the trauma that irrevocably shaped Dean Winchester’s life, yanking away his happy childhood and loving family at a time when he was just old enough to always remember, but not old enough to ever make sense of it without heaps of undeserved guilt and unacknowledged longing that would plague him almost his entire life.
Even 15 years later, knowing what’s going to happen, the opening sequence works to put you on edge – the ticking of the clock, the slowly spinning crib mobile, the baby monitor crackling and the hall light flickering. We don’t know what that means yet, but watching it now? It’s all I can do not to yell at Mary, “you know what that means!!”
At the time, we had no clue that she knew (and neither did the writers or Samantha Smith, whop played Mary, so her lack of suspicion about the flickering light seems logical then, but odd now – Mary grew up a hunter, we now know, so she might have been a little more alarmed). Even with that knowledge, the scene works so well, building up the suspense and letting the viewer know that something is just not right. And that terrifying moment after Mary sees “John” leaning over Sam’s crib and starts down the stairs, when she rounds the corner and sees the real John sitting in the living room watching TV and OMG THAT ISN’T JOHN IN SAM’S ROOM!
The pilot is brilliant in its rollercoaster of ups and downs, the look of terror on Mary’s face as she realizes someone else is leaning over her baby – and then John’s pov as he hears her screams and runs up the stairs, bursting into the nursery to find it quiet, Sammy in his crib. For a moment we sigh with relief along with him – even now, even knowing. John looks down at his son, Jeffrey Dean Morgan showing us all the tenderness that will soon be wiped away in John Winchester’s quest for revenge.