It’s not every day that your favorite show changes its tune and switches in an entirely new direction, but that’s exactly what Supernatural did with its fourth season. After three years of hunting down demons and uncovering an apocalyptic plot to take over the world, the Season 4 premiere “Lazarus Rising” introduced a concept to the show that the Winchesters could never have expected: angels. But more than that, this season ended up being the show’s darkest, diving hard and fast into themes of regret, addiction, betrayal, and even the end of the world. It all starts here, and with this episode, Supernatural changed forever.

What Happens in “Lazarus Rising?”

Season 4 opens with a bang as Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) claws his way out of a coffin and climbs right out of his own grave after being rescued suddenly from Hell. The elder Winchester travels the country until he returns to Bobby Singer’s (Jim Beaver) place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota before heading back to Illinois where he was buried to find his brother Sam (Jared Padalecki). Neither Bobby nor Sam is sure it’s Dean at first — he’d been mauled pretty badly by a hellhound at the end of Season 3 — but they believe him pretty quickly after he passes all the usual monster/demon tricks that would’ve trapped a paranormal entity. Unsure how Dean was brought back from the dead, Bobby takes them to a psychic known as Pamela Barnes (Traci Dinwiddie), who soon uncovers the name of the entity who rescued him: Castiel.

But before she can properly see this creature’s face, Pamela’s eyes are burned out of her sockets. It’s brutal and sudden and shakes the Winchesters to their core, as they have yet to ever deal with something as powerful as this. Sam and Dean try to get some info off a local bunch of demons, but when Sam goes back to get more out of them, their eyes have also been burned out of their sockets. Sam then reveals that he’s continued using his psychic demon powers, unbeknownst to Dean, and exorcizes the black-eyed spirits while Ruby (now played by Genevieve Padalecki), watches on in support. Elsewhere, Dean and Bobby go to one of Bobby’s spiritual safehouses to summon this new creature, only for Castiel (Misha Collins) to appear, claiming to be an “angel of the lord.” He tells Dean that he was raised for a purpose and that Heaven has work for him to do.

Like Dean, ‘Supernatural’ Was Effectively Reborn in Its Fourth Season

Kicking off with a “Road so Far” sequence headlined by AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” was a hardcore way for Supernatural to ignite its fourth season, but one that fits entirely with the direction the show took here. Whether you love the show’s early years when Sam and Dean were hunting the demon who killed their mother or prefer the later seasons that include multiversal escapades and Nephilim, Season 4 was a turning point in the Winchester saga that combined the best elements of both. Dean’s insane death in “No Rest for the Wicked” was unsettling, to say the least, and fans wondered desperately how the elder Winchester brother would return. Well, the only way at this point is divine providence, and if demons and hell exist, then by that logic, series creator Eric Kripke and company figured that angels and heaven (and possibly even God) must too.

But unlike the angels you’d see on shows like Highway to Heaven or Touched By An Angel, the ones explored on Supernatural were much more akin to the biblical definition: warriors who smite at God’s command and drive out the armies of the devil. Angels became a regular staple on The CW series, and the mythology behind them only continued to get more elaborate as time went on. This episode even ends the way much of the season is later framed, with Dean on the side of the angels and Sam playing in the dark with devils. It’s a compelling juxtaposition that pits the ever-faithful Winchester brothers against each other, often without the other even knowing it. “Lazarus Rising” may not be your usual Winchester hunt, but it forever changes the Supernatural game. From now on, the show would never be the same. For better or worse, the genie couldn’t go back into the bottle.

On the surface, it sounds like Season 4 fundamentally changed Supernatural, but it wasn’t like that. The grungy motels, horrible monsters, and the classic rock soundtrack all remained the same here, all that changed was the scale on which the Winchesters hunted the supernatural. No longer were demons sufficient, but angels now too became both a blessing and a curse. The lines between angel and demon were often thin, with some angels just as bad (if not worse) as the black-eyed plague on humanity. To make things even more interesting, this season would also introduce other kinds of white-eyed demons that make Lilith look even less frightening. All of that can be seen here in “Lazarus Rising.” From the time the demon’s eyes are burned out off-camera to the moment Castiel arrives on it, we’re unsure of where this story is going––and things only get more intense from here.

Castiel’s Introduction in “Lazarus Rising” Properly Set the Stage

This premiere is a particular fan-favorite (with one of the highest episode ratings of the series) because of its mythological aspects. Castiel may need no introduction now, but when he first appeared on screen, it was like a bomb went off. When auditioning for the character, Misha Collins famously noted that he thought he was playing just another demon (via MovieWeb). It isn’t surprising that Eric Kripke and his crew (including this episode’s director, Kim Manners, who died before the season’s end) kept this a secret. The idea that Supernatural would introduce angels —especially after Season 2’s “Houses of the Holy” dismissed them upright — is preposterous on the surface, and yet, after an introduction like this, it’s hard to remember the show without the hosts of heaven causing trouble.

Misha Collins is a master at work here, commanding the scene with a distinct brand of stoicism and reverence that makes him feel more powerful than even the Yellow-Eyed Demon himself. Castiel might’ve been turned into something of a joke throughout the show’s impressive 15-season run (12 of those which featured the angel), but when he first appeared he was a force to be reckoned with. He was intimidating, self-assured, and confident in his mission––it was only after the angel’s faith would be shattered by the end of the season that Cas was made weaker, both in strength and overall personality. Nevertheless, Castiel’s first appearance was a pivotal moment for Supernatural. It showed the audiences that the writers had no intention of getting lost forever in the demon plotline, and that the show still had some real life left in it. Of course, this wasn’t the only way things changed.

“Lazarus Rising” Creates Some Serious Tension Between Sam and Dean

Of all the seasons that pitted Sam and Dean against one another, even if just for a small arc in the middle, Season 4 takes their issues to a whole different level. We mentioned before that Dean is recruited to the side of the angels here, while Sam is often left with the demon Ruby. Well, that becomes an issue for these two real quickly, especially because Sam himself is a man of faith. He believes that he too is doing the right thing, albeit in his own compromised way. Sam’s psychic powers are only the tip of the iceberg here. The true source of his power is later revealed, but it’s the fact that he lies to Dean constantly about this issue, and his strange relationship with Ruby, that drives a wedge between them. Yes, Sam is elated to see his brother alive and well (and that angels exist), but that doesn’t mean he’s willing to come clean. The drama here is rich.

Likewise, Dean is also keeping his own set of secrets from Sam. We hear him say in this episode that he doesn’t remember much at all, especially not his time in Hell, but “Lazarus Rising” blatantly opens with shots of Dean trapped in the darkened pit, clueing us in on the fact that he remembers more than he let on. Come to find out later, Dean actually remembers all of his time “downstairs” (four months is 40 years in hell). Supernatural was always great at putting Sam and Dean at odds with one another over little (and big) secrets that they could have easily worked through earlier, but “Lazarus Rising” kicks off the best long-term arc between the two concerning their divergent paths. In many ways, Season 4 is the perfect precursor to the fan-favorite Season 5, and everything that makes both seasons of the Apocalypse arc great can be found here in this episode.

The Apocalypse Plot Breathed New Life into ‘Supernatural’ (and Is How It Likely Should Have Ended)

Speaking of the Apocalypse arc, Season 4 opens the door for the soon-to-be-introduced 66 Seals, which, once broken, will open Lucifer’s cage. Yes, after years of teasing some “big bad apocalypse,” Supernatural tackles the literal biblical Apocalypse (or, at least its distinct interpretation of it) in Seasons 4 and 5. At a time in the early 2000s when “End Times” stories were still fairly popular, Supernatural took the whole thing in a different direction, basing the cataclysm in present-day America and centering the whole idea on two brothers: Sam and Dean, or rather, Lucifer and Michael. While “Lazarus Rising” itself doesn’t touch on pretty much any of this, this plotline is only made possible because of this episode in particular. Opening the door to an angel/demon war that ultimately culminates in the Apocalypse is the only way Supernatural could have gone with the introduction of the angels, and the show thrived because of it.

Many (including this author) have said in the past that Supernatural should have ended with its fifth season, and that much is probably true. The series’ angel/demon wars of Season 4 led directly into the biblical Apocalypse of Season 5, climaxing with a powerful and sacrificial finale that culminated in everything we loved about the entire show. That is the story that series creator Eric Kripke hoped to tell, and with “Lazarus Rising,” he pivots the narrative a step further into that cosmic battle. The Season 4 premiere opens both the Winchesters and the audience up to the possibility of more. The possibility of Heaven, angels, and even God. With those ideas firmly fixed in our minds, it continues to shift and transform the world to fit these new categories, eventually ending with the ultimate battle for humanity.

No, Supernatural didn’t end the following season. It went on for ten more years and ended a bit underwhelmingly by comparison. Of course, Sam and Dean Winchester kept us going that whole time, which made the ride worth it by the end. Even if the show lost its steam in later years, “Lazarus Rising” represents an era where the show had nothing but potential. The sky was literally the limit with the introduction of angels, and it gave both us and the Winchesters hope that there was more out there. Being the beginning of the Season 4 narrative, the episode itself ends with a cliffhanger, but it’s worth continuing from there. Who knows, maybe one day the show could return with the same exciting potential.


By Ivaylo Angelov

Ivaylo Angelov born in Bulgaria, Varna graduated School Geo Milev is Tvserieswelove's Soaps Editor and oversees all of the section's news, features, spoilers and interviews.