When Supernatural ended its 15-season tenure back in 2020, fans were, well, to put it generously, pretty mixed on how the whole thing turned out. While it was nice to see Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) reunite in Heaven after a heartfelt Kansas-turned-Neoni rendition of the series’ official/unofficial theme song “Carry On Wayward Son,” it’s no secret that not everyone was particularly happy with the show’s ultimate conclusion. Not only does Dean die on a routine vampire hunt, passing away slowly in his brother’s arms (which coincidentally may be the best scene in the entire final season), but he’s briskly whisked away into Heaven solo. His parents aren’t there to greet him, neither is Castiel (Misha Collins), and their other long-deceased friends and allies don’t greet him either.
Admittedly, this wasn’t entirely the showrunners’ fault. They had intended an enormous Supernatural reunion in the end, but, like many of us, their plans were dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver) was still there to usher the elder Winchester through the pearly gates. You can always count on Bobby. While series creator Eric Kripke gave the series finale his blessing (he had already written his own ending in Season 5’s “Swan Song,” which is to this day the series’ highest-rated episode), not everyone involved loved the idea. Jensen Ackles himself expressed clear disappointment when talking with his former Smallville co-star Michael Rosenbaum on the Inside of You podcast, explaining that he spent time both liking and disliking the ending chosen for the long-running series. “My initial reaction was, ‘I don’t like it,'” Ackles told Rosenbaum. However, he soon explained how he came around to the idea, but only after discussing it further with Kripke himself, who thought it was the “perfect” ending for Sam and Dean. “From then on, I was onboard.” While fans continued to struggle with the end of Dean’s story in “Carry On,” currently the third lowest-ranked episode of the series according to IMDb, the Winchester saga has continued.
Just two years later, the CW revived Ackles’ trademark character for their new spin-off/prequel series The Winchesters, on which Ackles and his wife (and former Supernatural guest-star) Daneel Ackles also serve as executive producers. The series primarily centers on younger versions of John and Mary Winchester, but not the versions you remember from the Season 4 episode “In The Beginning” or Season 5’s “The Song Remains The Same.” Following the new Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly incarnations of John and Mary, the CW’s latest Supernatural love story changes up the lore and aims to give the Winchester family a more hopeful (and far less bloody) ending.
‘The Winchesters’ Gave Dean a More Thoughtful Epilogue Than ‘Supernatural’ Did
Regardless of whether the spin-off earns itself a sophomore year (the jury’s still out) the first and potentially only season of The Winchesters was a decent ride on its own. More than that, it was a thoughtful epilogue to Dean’s fairweather Supernatural send-off. While Dean himself was only seen in the first and last episodes, he can be heard throughout all 13 as he narrates this John and Mary’s story from afar. A bit that could have easily come off as unnecessarily tacky, Dean’s narration lulls us into a false sense of security, getting us to believe that this is our familiar Supernatural world, one where we know how everything’s supposed to play out. But by the finale, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” that security blanket is ripped right out from under us, and Dean reveals a strange truth that only the diehards might’ve guessed: this isn’t Dean’s home universe, and this John and Mary aren’t his parents.
After years of sacrificing himself for his family, it felt sort of anticlimactic when Dean died by accident in the field. Rather than some macho-heroic death or some world-ending mission (he’d been on plenty of those before, and even died in a few), Dean was impaled while fighting a masked vampire. Not exactly the most notable death, and certainly not his most iconic given that Dean died countless times throughout the series chronology. (No, seriously, he dies hundreds of times in the Season 3 episode “Mystery Spot” alone.) Thus, Dean taking a “detour through the multiverse” in the middle of his infamous Heaven tour (time up there is iffy anyway) made loads of sense and gave him one last shot at changing what he had always hoped he could: his parent’s destiny.
In the Supernatural episode “My Bloody Valentine,” a Cupid reveals that John and Mary Winchester (played primarily by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith in the original series) were set up based on a heavenly decree, making theirs an arranged marriage of sorts. This revelation always stuck with Dean, who believed that his entire life was orchestrated. And as it turned out, he was right. The “God” of the Supernatural-verse, Chuck Shurley (Red Benedict), eventually made it known that he had been pulling the Winchester strings since long before they were born. “You’re my favorite show,” Chuck eventually told Sam and Dean in the Season 14 finale “Moriah,” shaking the entire fandom to their core. But, even though Sam and Dean did beat Chuck before the final curtain closed, they couldn’t reverse the negative effect he had on their lives, including on their parents.
In previous seasons, Dean traveled back in time Back to the Future-style to try and stop his parents (played then by Matt Cohen and Amy Gumenick) from making the same mistakes, but to no avail. The timeline is incredibly hard to change (and even if you do, the consequences are monumental), and at the end of the day, those experiences made John and Mary, and by extension Sam and Dean, who they were. That isn’t even to mention that, though they were reunited again in Supernatural’s 300th episode “Lebanon,” John and Mary started a new life post-series with one another in Heaven. So, as he drove through the multiverse in search of a world, a universe, where his family had a happy ending, hoping for some closure himself, Dean became aware of Chuck’s contingency plan: the Akrida.
Based on the Greek word meaning “locusts,” these monsters, like many on Supernatural, come straight out of the Book of Revelation, and they threatened to eat the entire multiverse as a result. Though Chuck was defeated in “Inherit the Earth,” his backup army of monsters began to invade the alternate 1970s world of The Winchesters, which is where the new versions of John Winchester and Mary Campbell come into play. After being pushed by Dean to investigate his father’s disappearance, a young John quickly met a young Mary and, unlike their main universe counterpart, they began hunting together as they fell in love. As John, Mary, and their Monster Club tackled everything from demons, werewolves, vampires, evil clowns, and the Norse trickster Loki (yes, with Richard Speight, Jr. returning), Dean worked behind the scenes to keep the Akrida from destroying this world — and his family’s chance at happiness.
‘The Winchesters’ Finale Allows Dean to Have More Closure From Beyond the Grave
While it’s obviously exciting to see Jensen Ackles step out of the Impala as Dean Winchester once again, what’s arguably more compelling is what he does to change The Winchesters’ story so that it doesn’t go on to reflect his own. As we see in the finale, Dean kicks off the series by handing young John a note from his dead father Henry (Gil McKinney). A man who, died saving his grandsons in the future (at least, according to Supernatural’s “As Time Goes By”), Henry missed John’s entire life. He didn’t get to teach him what it meant to be a Man of Letters, nor did he have the chance to be there for him as his father. This profoundly screwed John up, pushing him towards Vietnam, and eventually affecting the way he raised Sam and Dean. By giving John the push he needed to find closure, Dean shifted the type of parent that the young Winchester would one day become. But this wasn’t the only change he made to this alternate world’s 1973.
Upon saving Mary from the World Between Worlds (a clever nod to C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew), Dean encourages his young parents and their friends and family, including his maternal grandfather Samuel Campbell (played here by another former Smallville co-star, Tom Welling) and his paternal grandmother Millie Winchester (Bianca Kajlich), to write their destinies. After a push by a divine Jack Klein (Alexander Calvert), who had warned Dean not to interfere at all, and his surrogate father Bobby, Dean gifts John and Mary his own hunter’s journal, full of his adventures with Sam, as well as a newly-minted Colt, the gun that can kill anything (especially Yellow-Eyed Demons who might show up looking to make a deal). This, along with their Monster Club allies, gives John and Mary an edge that their Supernatural counterparts never had, and a true fighting chance against the forces of evil.
There’s no doubt that the return of both Bobby (who, like Dean, is also dead) and the uber-powered Jack was a welcomed yet unexpected addition (still no word on Cass though…), but what made it all work was Dean’s explanation for defying Jack’s wishes and continuing the fight. The Akrida were made by Chuck to devour anything in their path, including entire universes. This meant that once they took over John and Mary’s world, they’d come for Dean’s homeland next. When Dean died, he left Sam alone, and he hasn’t quite forgiven himself for that. Though we know that Sam is okay (he eventually marries and has a son, whom he names Dean in honor of his late brother), Dean is still the over-protective big brother he’s always been. By putting Sam’s safety above his own peace, Dean is acting more like himself than ever, proving that even beyond the grave, Dean Winchester is a self-sacrificing hero.
Though Sam and Dean sacrificing themselves for one another is sort of a cliché at this point, what made Dean’s return to The Winchesters especially interesting is that he isn’t alive anyway: he’s still dead. How he can interact with the land of the living, albeit a land foreign to his own, is still somewhat unknown (maybe Jack gave him this ability?), but it ultimately means that he is in no real danger. This sacrifice isn’t one that could easily result in his death, he’s simply giving up his own peace and rest. And, at the end of the day, there’s nothing more Dean Winchester than that.
All in all, Supernatural is an incredible series about two brothers who would do anything for their family (well, full-blood and surrogate family anyway), and The Winchesters piggybacks off that wave like the Impala doing 90 down the highway. No, The Winchesters isn’t exactly a prequel to Supernatural, but it’s a well-thought-out companion piece that gives Dean a bit more closure and allows him the one thing he ultimately always wanted: the chance to save his family. With Dean’s hunting journal as their guide, John and Mary can choose whatever life they want. Whatever life they choose, they’ll do it together as they continue their journey toward becoming the Winchesters.