[Editor's note: The following contains spoilers for Supernatural] Supernatural was a lot of things during its 15 year run, but family was always at the heart of the show (on and off-screen). The #SPNFamily kept the show going for much longer than anyone expected, and that was because the biggest draw was the dynamic between the Winchester brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), as well as their extended found family, the angel Castiel (Misha Collins), their father figure Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), their adopted son, Jack Kline (Alexander Calvert), and their friends Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day) and Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes), to name a few.
As we’re now at the one-year anniversary of the series finale, we take a look back at some of the best episodes that celebrated what family meant on the show. We’re looking at episodes that focused on the Winchester Brothers, as well as the other supporting characters mentioned above. We should not be surprised that a lot of the episodes with a family focus include at least one character death in it, too. Keep the tissues handy.
15. Season 12, Episode 23: "All Along the Watchtower"
The whole Kelly Kline (Courtney Ford) storyline was problematic, but it still allowed some touching moments for the character. Kelly knew that she would die in childbirth, but Castiel never left her side. In the Season 12 finale, Castiel promised to put his life on the line to save her unborn child, and he even took online doula classes to help her through the birth.
Kelly’s message to Jack was extremely moving and will resonate with a lot of parents. Since Supernatural tended to have an overwhelmingly male cast, the brief moment Kelly and Mary had to bond over motherhood was a refreshing perspective in this episode.
14. Season 3, Episode 11: "Mystery Spot"
"Mystery Spot" was a darkly humorous look at the brothers’ relationship. Sam and Dean investigated the disappearance of a man, only for Sam to find himself reliving a Groundhog Day-style Tuesday. Each cycle was reset when Dean was killed. As Sam watched Dean die over and over again, he not only grew weary, but eventually was able to predict Dean’s every move. Watching the episode, you really got a flavor of what it was like being couped up with one person for an extended period of time. The comedy didn’t last, unfortunately, as Sam was suddenly faced with Dean’s actual death. The episode demonstrated the lengths that the brothers would go to save each other.
13. Season 12, Episode 12: "Stuck in the Middle (With You)"
"Stuck in the Middle (With You)" was one of the more stylistic episodes on Supernatural, emulating Quentin Tarantino’s directorial flair. But beyond that, this episode also gave Sam and Dean an opportunity to work with their mother, Mary (Samantha Smith), following her resurrection. It was evident that Mary struggled to work alongside her adult sons, something empty nesters will recognize.
The trio went on a hunt along with Castiel, but he was stabbed and unable to heal himself. The episode put Mary in the spotlight as more than just a mother, though her instinct to save her family remained—she was ready to turn on the British Men of Letters for sending her on a mission that nearly killed Castiel. The crowning moment in the episode was Castiel, coming to terms with his death, expressing his love for all the Winchesters—they were his found family.
12. Season 14, Episode 7: "Unhuman Nature"
Jack Kline was born a Nephilim—literally the son of the devil and a human. It’s no wonder Dean wanted to shoot him on sight. That changed in "Unhuman Nature" when Jack appeared to be at death’s door.
Despite Dean’s stoic façade and previous apathy towards the boy, Dean did an about turn in this episode. Instead of ignoring Jack or leaving him in Castiel’s care, Dean decided to share some life experiences with Jack. Like a road trip! And teaching Jack how to drive. You know Dean likes someone when he lets them near his car—but driving it too?
11. Season 15, Episode 20: "Carry On"
This is a controversial choice. The Supernatural series finale was shot during the pandemic which impacted the eventual story and the cast it could include. Despite the pared down version that viewers got, the finale was ultimately a celebration of family, on Earth, in Heaven and on our screens. Chuck Shurley/God (Rob Benedict) had been defeated; Jack had taken his place; the world was right again. And then, Dean was impaled in a freak accident while on a case. Breaking up the brothers was absolutely heart-wrenching, but their stories felt perfectly in character. Sam knew how to live life and make his own family. Dean died young and was reunited with Sam in Heaven. We heard glimpses from Bobby about how the rest of the extended family were faring.
The final shot of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki standing on the bridge surrounded by the crew that have made the show come alive was the best expression of unity the show could give fans during those trying times.
10. Season 7, Episode 10: "Death’s Door"
After being introduced in the first season, Bobby Singer quickly became part of the Winchester family. He stepped in as the brothers’ mentor and father figure, so it was a surprise when the character was killed in "Death’s Door."
In the episode, viewers were privy to Bobby’s heretofore secret history. In his final moments, Bobby "teamed up" with Rufus (Steven Williams) in his mind to revisit some of the worst moments of his past. But, instead of wallowing, Bobby comforted his younger self, and finally admitted to himself that Sam and Dean were as much his sons as they were John’s. And while Bobby lay dying, Sam and Dean wrestled with the prospect of losing the last person left that they considered to be family. The episode was able to rise above melancholia with the final scene of Sam and Dean joking around and Bobby looking down at them, exclaiming ‘Idjits!’
9. Season 8, Episode 23: "Sacrifice"
The episode is titled "Sacrifice" but in an unusual twist, a sacrifice was not made. Sam, Dean and Castiel were intent on stopping the new King of Hell, Crowley (Mark Sheppard), while simultaneously dealing with problems in Heaven. To stop the world from ending (again), Sam was to complete the three trials that would seal the gates of Hell. The only catch? Sam would die after the third trial.
Death may have been ephemeral on Supernatural but none of the characters actively wanted to die. In this episode, Dean stopped Sam from continuing the trials despite the devastation it would cause. Sam even fought him, letting his own insecurities cloud his judgement. Dean’s speech berating Sam for even thinking he’d put anything in front of Sam was peak Winchester brotherly love!
8. Season 5, Episode 10: "Abandon All Hope..."
A hunter’s reunion! Sam, Dean and Castiel teamed up with the rest of the hunters on what could have possibly been their last stand. Their mission was to take down Lucifer, but first they needed to survive his hellhounds and worse.
There’s a sense of finality to the episode, but the team still took time out to rejoice what they had—each other. Bobby got everyone to pose for a picture and even Castiel joined in. But the most heart-breaking moment of the episode was Ellen (Samantha Ferris) and Jo Harvelle’s (Alona Tal) deaths. Their final scenes showcased Ellen and Jo’s mother-daughter relationship, something that hadn’t received as much screen time before this episode. Jo comforting her mother when she knew there was no hope, while Ellen sacrificed herself to save the mission and be with her daughter, it was such a quintessentially Supernatural moment for these supporting characters.
7. Season 2, Episode 1: "In My Time of Dying"
The first season of Supernatural ended with the Winchesters left for dead. "In My Time of Dying" took off soon after with John and Sam recovering and Dean’s life hanging in the balance. It was the first time that Sam and John spent time together without Dean being a mediator. Those two fought like family all right—throughout the episode the tension between them was palpable. But it was obvious that they were worried about losing Dean, especially Sam, who was just getting used to them being brothers again.
In the end, John demonstrated his love for his sons, especially Dean, by making the ultimate sacrifice. He offered his life to bring Dean back. John wasn’t always the best dad, but he made sure Dean knew how much he loved him. Plus, John tried his best to make peace with Sam before his death.
6. Season 9, Episode 20: "Pac-Man Fever"
Charlie Bradbury was a refreshing addition to the world of hunters on Supernatural—quirky, geeky, cheery and very queer, But who was Charlie? Well, "Pac-Man Fever" shed some light on the girl behind the Dungeons and Dragons tattoo.
Charlie’s mother was left in a coma following a car crash that killed her father, and while navigating a video game illusion created by a Djinn, Charlie confessed to Dean that she’d been keeping her mother alive because of misplaced guilt. Charlie believed she was responsible for the accident. This episode hit all the feels—Charlie’s bubbly personality hiding years of pain, the obvious love she had for her parents, and Dean being the older brother that Charlie never had. Charlie’s family history also gave Dean some perspective to appreciate how much he loved Sam. One hug said it all. The cherry on top was Charlie and Dean quoting the famous Star Wars dialogue "I love you/I know" to express their geeky sibling love for each other.
5. Season 13, Episode 10: "Wayward Sisters"
‘Wayward Sisters’ was the backdoor pilot for a spin-off show which unfortunately never came to fruition. In the episode, Sam and Dean had gone missing, so Sheriff Jody Mills and Sheriff Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster) took on the case. Helping them save the brothers were a group of young girls, all orphaned or affected by supernatural tragedies.
The episode was a rare instance of the show giving supporting female characters center stage. More importantly, the writers shifted the focus to the power of found family. Jody established her own foster family with Alex Jones (Katherine Ramdeen), Patience Turner (Clark Backo) and Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton). And the girls, despite being at odds with each other had united because of their mission—to avenge their friend Kaia Nieves (Yadira Guevara-Prip). This episode was a celebration of sisterhood on the show.
4. Season 2, Episode 22: "All Hell Breaks Loose: Part 2"
By the end of the 15 seasons of Supernatural, it was something of a running joke that the Winchesters habitually died but tended not to stay dead. However, viewers watching Season 2 had never faced that. The Season 2 premiere ended with John dying and then the closing scenes of the 21st episode saw Sam being killed. He couldn’t really be dead, could he? Well, not for long.
"All Hell Breaks Loose: Part 2" was the beginning of the Winchester brothers’ toxic relationship with death, but who could blame them? Dean’s heartfelt confession that he was Sammy’s big brother and Dean’s one job in life was to protect him was heartbreaking. Of course, it made sense that Dean would put his life on the line to bring Sam back. But the best part of the episode was Sam reminding Dean that they both needed to protect each other—they’re brothers, after all.
3. Season 5, Episode 22: "Swan Song"
The Season 5 finale was initially intended to be the conclusion to the series. But while Supernatural carried on for 10 more seasons, "Swan Song" hung on to its epic and tragic roots. The tension was cranked to the maximum in the finale—Sam knew that he would have to host Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino) to protect the world. Dean debated becoming a host to the archangel Michael to stop Lucifer. The Winchesters’ half-brother Adam Milligan (Jake Abel) was eventually chosen by Michael to fight them. Castiel appeared in the nick of time to help the brothers. This episode was action-packed but at its core the story was about the Winchesters.
To undercut the tension, Chuck (back when he was pretending to just be a Prophet) recited the history of the Impala—but this wasn’t a story about a car, it was about what the car meant to the Winchester family, how they’d left their own mark on it and how the car became a home for Sam and Dean.
2. Season 11, Episode 4: "Baby"
One of the most innovative episodes on the show came in the eleventh season. "Baby" took the essence of "Swan Song" to give viewers an unusual look at life with the Winchesters. When Dean got tired of being stuck in the bunker, he and Sam left as soon as they got a whiff of a case.
Told exclusively from the point of view of the Winchesters’ Impala, Baby, the episode followed the brothers on a road trip, saw them hanging out with each other, but most importantly bond with one another. It’s unsurprising that the quieter moments between Sam and Dean were the most memorable. The scene where Sam and Dean talked about their future perfectly reflected Dean’s nihilism and Sam’s nascent optimism. We learned so much about the Winchester family by watching them through the eyes of the inanimate family member, the Impala.
1. Season 14, Episode 13: "Lebanon"
In honor of the 300th episode of Supernatural, the showrunners were finally able to bring all four Winchesters together. After Sam and Dean discovered a mythical pearl that made wishes come true, they accidentally summoned John Winchester from the past, thus endangering the timeline. They soon realized that John couldn’t stay long, but at least he and Mary were briefly reunited. The Winchester boys also got closure by sharing their feelings with their father. Despite the sentimentality of this episode, the writers were able to avoid being saccharine. Instead, watching the Winchesters enjoy a meal together in their hometown of Lebanon, Kansas was a touching celebration of togetherness. Fans had virtually given up on the idea that Jeffrey Dean Morgan would reprise his role as the Winchester patriarch, but he returned and the episode was a fitting reminder of how important family has always been on this show.
These mystery shows have more than just a plot twist.
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