What do you get when you mix two demon-hunting brothers, a ’67 Chevy Impala, and a whole bunch of self-sacrifice? Fifteen years of a little show called Supernatural. The once cult series made history as the longest-running genre show in the U.S. — and apparently, the formula for a successful supernatural drama is family.
In the show and its fandom, found family is the lifeblood that holds the series together. That, and a heavy dose of tears from Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) and Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester). It doesn’t hurt to have an angel with a trenchcoat (Misha Collins’ Castiel) riding shotgun on your shoulder, either. While hunting monsters and losing everyone they love, the brothers die a few (hundred) times, too. Cheery, right?
With a show this enduring, it can be challenging to keep the timeline straight — especially when much of the Winchester history unravels out of order. Let’s take a look back at 15 seasons of Winchester and Campbell family drama, hunting, resurrections, and that little thing called the apocalypse.
Sweet child o’ mine
In the ’70s, a cupid ensures that God’s sadistic plans for the apocalypse come to fruition by making Dean and Sam’s parents, John Winchester and Mary Campbell, fall in love. Mary hails from a family of hunters while John’s father, Henry Winchester, secretly belongs to the bookish monster-hunting organization called the Men of Letters. When the angel Castiel sends Dean back in time to 1973 during the episode “In the Beginning,” Mary tells a heartbroken Dean that the worst thing she could think of is for her future children to join the family business.
Knowing her death is a decade away, Dean desperately tells Mary not to get out of bed on November 2, 1983 — but it’s all to no avail. Mary’s future killer, Azazel, is in town when the demon possesses Samuel Campbell (Sam’s namesake). Azazel stabs Samuel, later snapping Deanna Campbell’s neck (Dean’s namesake). Keen on taking down the whole family, Azazel snaps John’s neck, prompting Mary to make a deal. For the small price of a “favor” in ten years, “where no one will get hurt if he’s not interrupted,” Mary gets her fiancé back. Cas zaps Dean to the present, where he mourns Castiel’s assurances that “destiny can’t be changed, Dean.”
Burnin’ for you
A few decades later, Dean makes another trip to the past to see his young parents — this time with Sam in tow. The brothers witness John and Mary living an apple pie life when John gets his own heartbreak moment with Sam. Young John asks, “What kind of irresponsible bastard lets a child anywhere near [monsters]?” Finally resolving his daddy issues, Sam says, “My dad died before I got to tell him that I understand why he did what he did, and I forgive him for what it did to us. And I just… I love him.”
Self-sacrificing as ever, Sam and Dean try to convince Mary to leave John to prevent their births (and the apocalypse) — but she’s already pregnant with Dean. The archangel Michael reveals that the Winchesters are ancestors of Cain and Abel — the biblical brothers destined to destroy each other. While Dean is Michael’s true vessel, and Sam is Lucifer’s, anyone in their bloodline will do. Having taken over John’s body, Michael tells Dean that it was always going to play out this way.
Mary gets out of bed the night Azazel visits the Winchester house in 1983 as Azazel drips demon blood into Sam’s mouth. He burns her alive on the ceiling for the interruption, sending John down a destructive path. From then on, the Winchesters’ lives revolve around crappy motel rooms, hunting monsters, and seeking vengeance on the demon that ruined their family. Dean practically raises Sam, and while Dean tries his best to be like John, Sam tries to be anything but their dad. Yet Dean is far more like Mary, and Sam is the spitting image of John.
Brothers in arms
After Azazel flays Sam’s girlfriend on a burning ceiling like Mary, the brothers take to the road, hunting monsters while they search for their missing dad. They head back to their childhood home, discovering that Mary has been haunting their old house since her death. She apologizes to Sam after saving them from a poltergeist, foreshadowing her deal with yellow eyes.
Cue more Winchester family drama when the brothers discover Azazel’s other psychic kids with powers like Sam. When John bothers to show up, he tells Dean that if he can’t save Sam from going Dark Side, he’ll have to kill him. After Sam gets swindled by a demon named Meg, the boys discover that their father is possessed by Azazel — but Sam can’t bring himself to take the kill shot with Samuel Colt’s demon-killing gun. The first season closes on a possessed trucker running their Impala (known as Baby) off the road, leaving the Winchesters’ fates unknown.
Highway to Hell
Winchesters just love making deals with demons. In season 2, John makes one to save a comatose Dean — immediately cashing in his one-way ticket downstairs. Everything comes to a head when Azazel snatches his psychic kids up to duke it out gladiator style in an abandoned ghost town.
When fellow psychic kid Jake kills Sam, Dean follows Daddy’s footsteps, making a deal for Sam’s life, and Dean’s impending trip to Hell is just a year away. A resurrected Sam brutally kills Jake as Dean, Ellen, and Bobby try to close the demon-infested gates of Hell that Jake opened. John escapes Hell, wrestling Azazel from the boys and giving Dean a clean shot to finally gank the demon that killed his mother. John, finally at peace, goes to Heaven.
As Dean and Sam struggle to find a way around Dean’s deal in season 3, Sam gets buddy-buddy with another demon named Ruby. Time becomes a central theme of the season as they deal with their new Big Bad — Lilith, the first demon, who possesses children and kills their families. The trickster from season 2 comes back to throw Sam in a time loop, forcing him to watch Dean die over a hundred times. The season, which is the show’s shortest due to a writers’ strike, concludes with Hellhounds ripping Dean apart limb from limb and dragging him to Hell.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s door
In the season 4 opener, Dean crawls out of his grave, clueless about how he escaped Hell, leading to a major reveal: angels. Immediately, angel Castiel understands Dean better than anyone else, asking if Dean thinks he doesn’t deserve to be saved. Adding angels to Supernatural changed the show forever, shifting it from a monster-of-the-week theme to a more traditional series and spiking viewership.
After Dean unknowingly jumpstarts the apocalypse by torturing souls in Hell, Lilith works on breaking 66 seals to free Lucifer from Hell. Enter Chuck Shurley: supposed prophet extraordinaire who receives visions of the Winchesters exploits, which he turns into a cringe book series called Supernatural. Meta much?
Dean and Sam discover Adam, the half-brother they never knew existed, only to realize that he’s been dead the whole time. When Sam goes off the deep end with Ruby-sponsored demon blood-drinking benders, Dean mirrors the words John said to Sam when he left for Stanford: “If you walk out that door, don’t you ever come back.” Lilith sacrifices herself, goading Sam into using his powers to kill her — fulfilling the final seal. Sam helps Dean kill a backstabbing Ruby as Lucifer rises.
Can’t find my way home
Satan wreaks havoc in season 5 as sassy crossroads demon Crowley gives the Winchesters their long-lost Colt, hoping they’ll slay Satan. Beloved allies Jo and Ellen sacrifice themselves, telling the Winchesters to “kick it in the ass” — a tribute to Kim Manners. Dean shoots Lucifer, but not even Samuel Colt’s gun can kill the Devil. Killed by two hunters, the Winchesters take a “trip” to Heaven, where they discover that the pearly gates consist of humans’ greatest memories before yet another resurrection.
Death freely gives Dean his ring (the final key to open Lucifer’s cage) with the promise that Sam will lock him in the cage for good. Sam finally gains control over Lucifer, shoving himself and an Adam-possessed Michael into Satan’s cell. Chuck, dressed in white, says, “Endings are hard, but nothing ever really ends, does it?” He disappears, both as a metaphor for the departure of original showrunner Eric Kripke and an implication that the nutty prophet is God after all.
Back on the road again
In season 6, Dean Winchester gets approximately one year of hunter-free contentedness with girlfriend Lisa and her son Ben before Sam comes back onto the scene, saving Dean. Their mysteriously resurrected grandfather Samuel and some Campbell cousins tag along. Sam and the Campbells’ attempts to kill alpha monsters earn the ire of Eve, the mother of all monsters. Meanwhile, Cas has been duking it out with Raphael in Heaven in a Civil War stalemate to prevent the apocalypse. Again.
Samuel has been colluding with the new King of Hell, Crowley, with the false promise to bring Mary back. But Samuel’s not the only one in Crowley’s pocket. Castiel has also been working with the demon, consuming Purgatory’s souls to gain power. Cas and Dean figure out that an empathy-free Sam is missing his soul. Dean retrieves it while Adam continues to rot in Lucifer’s cage. They kill Eve only to discover that Castiel’s gone off the rails, claiming to be the new God.
Godstiel goes on a smiting spree in Heaven and Earth during season 7, striking down any “nonbelievers.” The boys discover that when Cas ate his Purgatory Crunch, he swallowed some pesky leviathan — the first beasts God locked up in Purgatory. The Winchesters help Cas open a portal to Purgatory, and Cas releases the souls. There’s just one snag: Castiel gets possessed by the Leviathans.
As if the Winchesters haven’t had enough run-ins with the law, Leviathans shape-shift into the Winchesters when they go on a murder spree. Meanwhile, Leviathan leader Dick Roman lives up to his name when he shoots the Winchesters’ surrogate father, Bobby, whose last word is “Idjits.” Dean and Cas avenge Bobby, killing Dick — only to get sucked into Purgatory along with him.
Long, long way from home
Dean describes Purgatory best: It’s “31 flavors of bottom-dwelling nasties.” He escapes Purgatory during season 8 with an unlikely vampire ally named Benny, unable to save his angel. But instead of looking for Dean, Sam settles down with Normal Girl Amelia, causing a season-long rift between the brothers. When Cas mysteriously shows up on Earth, he reveals the truth: he chose to stay in Purgatory, attempting a twisted penance. He tells Dean, “You can’t save everyone, my friend. Even though you try.”
Most absent fathers just suck, but in the case of John’s dad, Henry, he gets trapped in the future and killed by a Knight of Hell. Henry sacrifices himself for John’s children — defeating Abaddon. The boys obtain a key to the Men of Letters bunker from Henry — their first real home since Sam was a baby.
With prophet Kevin’s help, the Winchesters discover that it takes three tasks to seal Hell: 1. Bathe in the blood of a Hellhound; 2. Save an innocent soul from Hell and deliver it to Heaven; 3. Cure a demon. Always a martyr, Dean intends to take on the trials himself, but Sam kills a Hellhound, setting the wheels in motion instead. A brainwashed Cas chooses his human over the angels when Dean says, “I need you.” Once the boys find out that Crowley sent Bobby to Hell instead of Heaven, they know which soul to save.
The Winchesters bring back Abaddon to complete the third task, only to lose her and go after Crowley instead. Despite their issues, Dean convinces Sam to stop curing Crowley after learning that finishing the trials will kill his brother. The obnoxious angel Metatron tricks Cas, stealing his grace before banishing the angels from Heaven.
Some kind of monster
During season 9, Dean tricks Sam into letting an angel possess him to heal him from the trials, but the angel Gadreel forces Dean to make a newly human Cas homeless before killing Kevin. Back on the “kill Abaddon” train, Dean and Crowley seek out the First Blade, belonging to the Winchesters’ ancestor, Cain — the Father of Murder. Cain reluctantly gives Dean the matching murder set of the First Blade and the Mark of Cain, shifting its insidious burden.
Team Free Will turns into Team Free Dean when he declares their merry band of misfits a dictatorship while they raise arms against Metatron, who’s warring with Castiel to take over Heaven. Dean brutally kills Abaddon, and Cas captures Metatron after he fatally wounds Dean. Crowley, unwilling to lose his first friend in decades, resurrects Dean as a demon.
The eldest Winchester isn’t a demon for too long, but he doesn’t want a cure. Cas, forever in tune with Dean’s emotions, says: “Only humans can feel real joy, but also such profound pain. This is easier.” During season 10, the angels lock Bobby in Heaven’s jail after he helps Cas and Sam break into Heaven, getting Castiel’s grace back.
When Crowley’s witchy mother Rowena tries to meddle in her son’s life, Dean references Bobby, saying, “A wise man once told me, ‘family don’t end in blood.’ But it doesn’t start there either.” Soon after, they lose another chosen family member — Charlie. Dean still struggles with his mark, almost killing Cas and Sam. Luckily, Dean kills Death instead, and Rowena removes Dean’s Mark of Cain — letting out the dark force it was unknowingly keeping at bay.
Back in the saddle
Nothing says, “Congrats, Dad!” like welcoming a creepy soul-eating baby who bears the Mark of Cain into the world. She’s Just God’s twin, the Darkness, imprisoned since the dawn of man. No reason to worry. During season 11, after Sam opens the lines of communication with Satan, Castiel allows Lucifer to use him as a vessel to kill Amara.
And finally, the plot twist fans had been anticipating since season 5: Metatron reveals that Chuck is God, having inserted himself into the story. Amara banishes Lucifer from Cas while Dean prevents a cosmic showdown between God and Amara, successfully convincing the siblings to reconcile. Amara gives Dean what he wants most for helping her — his mom.
Mary is more than a little shaken, waking up to find that her young children are older than she is and unable to cope with them being hunters. Meanwhile, what do you get the Devil who has everything? A kid, apparently. In season 12, Lucifer uses the President of the U.S. as a vessel to impregnate his secretary Kelly.
Cas kills Billie when she comes to collect on her deal with Dean — but not before Mary tries to sacrifice herself for her boys, honoring the Winchester Way. After Dean makes peace with Mary, the birth of Lucifer and Kelly’s son Jack creates a rift to an alternate apocalypse world where Sam and Dean never existed, taking Lucifer and Mary with it. But not before Satan kills Cas in front of a devastated Dean. Yet the existence of an apocalypse world without Dean and Sam answers the question of whether they’re responsible for the apocalypse. It’s not their fault, God’s just kind of a jerk. Dean and Sam return to find Kelly dead and her infant already an angsty teenager.
God was never on your side
During season 13, the Winchesters give Cas and Kelly hunter funerals while mourning the supposed deaths of Crowley and Mary. Meanwhile, Jack is not chill with his surrogate father Castiel in a state of nonexistence in the Empty — where angels and demons go to die. He wakes Cas up by simply saying his name, and the angel annoys the Empty into releasing him. When Castiel kills the Winchester-hating reaper Billie, she becomes Death 2.0.
After Jack and the boys save Mary and alternate versions of their fallen friends (like Charlie and Bobby), Lucifer becomes the direst threat. Again. After Luci steals Jack’s grace, Dean makes a deal with Alternate Universe Michael to kill Lucifer. But after finishing off his brother, alternate Michael takes over Dean’s body.
Michael’s vacation in Dean’s body is short-lived after the angel goes on an Eat, Pray, Hunt expedition to find himself. In season 14, Satan’s vessel Nick misses having the devil on his shoulder, praying to Lucifer to wake him up from the Empty. Cas makes a deal with the Empty to bring Jack back.
Attempting to kill alternate Michael, Dean accidentally summons John Winchester, allowing for a short-lived heartwarming family reunion. However, John goes back to 2003, thinking it was a dream. Michael flees Dean’s body, only to be consumed by Jack, who banishes Luci back to the Empty. A soulless Jack begins hearing voices and accidentally kills Mary, an action Dean never really forgives.
Cas and Jack try to find a way to resurrect Mary, but leave her be when they find out she’s in heaven with John. After Dean realizes he can’t kill Jack, God admits he’s been manipulating humanity for entertainment, killing Jack himself. Sam shoots God with an equalizer gun, injuring them both, while Death wakes Jack up in the Empty with a proposition.
Carry on wayward son
When God’s pissed off, he releases Hell on Earth. Literally. During season 15, Rowena sacrifices herself to cast billions of escaped souls back to hell, but she’s quite happy as the new Queen of Hell. While Chuck merrily destroys each alternate universe, Jack gets his soul back — working with Billie to turn Jack into a bomb that will end God and Amara. Cas’ deal with the Empty rears its head, and Castiel’s moment of true happiness comes when he admits he loves Dean, sacrificing himself to drag Billie to the Empty with him. Meanwhile, God snaps every living being out of existence.
After Team Free Will manipulates Lucifer, Michael, and Chuck, Jack absorbs all of God’s power until Chuck becomes human. Jack says God’s mistake was inserting himself into the story, and once he fixes everything Chuck messed up, he says goodbye to Dean and Sam — forever. Finally, the Winchesters are free to write their own story. In the Supernatural finale, “Carry On,” the Winchesters set up the next generation of hunters. Sam and Dean save two young brothers on their final hunt, but not before Dean gets impaled on a rebar. Dean tells Sam to live his life: No deals or resurrections before Sam says it’s okay for him to die.
In Heaven, Bobby greets Dean, explaining that Jack and Cas remade Heaven in the way Dean deserves — paradise surrounded by his loved ones. Dean chooses to wait for Sam, though, taking a Heavenly drive. During the span of the song “Carry On, Wayward Son,” viewers see a lifetime for Sam and his son Dean II — and Sam meets Dean on a bridge in Heaven, bringing the series full circle.