This Supernatural article contains MAJOR spoilers for the series finale.
A lot of fans were hoping that Supernatural would end the way its penultimate episode ended, with Sam and Dean literally driving off into the sunset in the Impala, to new and unknown adventures. When it comes time to re-watch the series (a hefty undertaking, considering there are 15 seasons of it!) no doubt many will choose to stop there; the episode even has a series finale-style montage of moments from across its 15 years to go with that classic conclusion.
But Supernatural didn’t end with “Inherit The Earth.” In a show where death was in danger of losing all meaning, it was never really going to be over until we’d seen the Winchesters finally die, for good, we really mean it this time, no take-backsies. Sam and Dean have watched each other die, grieved each other, and brought each other back from the other side so many times that we needed to see them reach their final rest, in a much-improved new Heaven, without demon deals or miraculous resurrections or angel rescues or anything else. When Dean gets Sam to agree not to try to bring him back, there’s an almost palpable sense of relief, as sad as it is. No more deals, no more accidentally ending the world trying to save each other. Just a normal, human death (fighting vampires).
And just as we needed to see the Winchester boys die to really get closure, it had to be Dean who died young, leaving Sam to live out a long and apparently happy life before joining his big brother at last.
There were several reasons it had to be this way. One reason is to honor creator Eric Kripke’s original planned ending for the show without simply replicating it. As many fans know, the series was supposed to end with the season five finale, “Swan Song,” which ended Kripke’s original arc plot, but it was renewed and The Magician‘s Sera Gamble took over as showrunner (followed in later years by first Jeremy Carver, then Andrew Dabb and Robert Singer). In Kripke’s finale, Sam died (he went to the Cage with Lucifer riding his body, along with Adam and Michael) and Dean retired to live a family life with his girlfriend, Lisa, and her son, Ben. Repeating the same ending – Sam dying and Dean trying to move on – would have felt redundant. But reversing it, so Dean dies young and Sam has to move on and start a new life with a wife and son but without his brother? That honors Kripke’s original ending without pointlessly repeating it.
No offense to Kripke, but it has to be said: it makes a lot more sense this way around anyway. Since the very beginning of the series, Sam has been the one trying to escape the hunting life they were raised in and settle down with a family, while Dean has always been a hunter through and through – and hunters don’t usually die in their beds of old age. In the pilot episode, Sam has a girlfriend he loves and a career plan, all of which gets taken away from him when Jessica is killed and Dean comes asking for help. When Dean spent a year in Purgatory, Sam found another girlfriend, Amelia, and a dog, and tried to settle down.
But when Dean spent a year living with Lisa and Ben while Sam was gone, he didn’t adjust too well. He was always on edge, looking out for things to hunt, never quite settled. While he resents Chuck’s dismissal of him as a “killer,” Dean did always get more out of the hunting life than Sam did, taking satisfaction in it as a calling and even enjoying some aspects of life on the road. Dean was his father’s son, and a hunter born and bred; Sam took after their mother a bit more, with more of a yearning to be able to give up that life and rest.
Of course, Sam doesn’t necessarily give up hunting all together, as we see him answer a call for help made to “Dean’s other other phone.” He is also, presumably, married to another hunter. The writers have been carefully setting up Sam and Eileen’s relationship throughout this final season, giving Sam a possible future family. Whether the actress was unavailable, or whether they simply made a choice to focus on just the boys and Bobby (and, randomly, Jenny the vampire) for this finale, the blurry woman in the background while Sam is playing with his son could easily be Eileen, as she seems to be right height with the right hair color, and Eileen is as much a hunter as the Winchesters. So Sam is probably still hunting – but perhaps it forms just a part of his life now, rather than the whole of it. The way he left the bunker and turned out all the lights certainly suggests he’s not living there any more, and perhaps that he’s exploring other things as well.
While Sam was being carefully set up with a future family all season, Dean hasn’t had any really significant relationships outside of Sam, Castiel, and Jack for years. While he was a rampant womanizer in earlier seasons, this was later toned down, and his last romantic interest was Amara – and that was a rather complicated relationship. When Castiel tells Dean “I love you” and sacrifices himself two episodes before the end in “Despair,” it’s left up to viewers to decide whether he means it romantically or platonically – but it’s undeniable that, Sam being his brother and Jack his surrogate son, Castiel is by far the closest thing Dean has had to a love interest in years.
And Castiel is an angel – he belongs in Heaven. It was a bit disappointing not to see him there to greet Dean, considering how big a part of the show Misha Collins has been for eleven years, but Dabb clearly wanted to focus as much as possible on the Winchesters themselves, and avoid taking away from the welcome appearance of Original Bobby. Bobby confirms that Jack brought Castiel back from the Empty and that both of them worked on re-shaping Heaven, so he is around, along with Dean’s parents, Bobby himself – just about everyone Dean loves except Sam. Sam has ties on Earth, people to go to and to care about. Almost Dean’s whole world, except for Sam, is already in Heaven.
Some fans may have been surprised at what took Dean out in the end – a random bit of bad luck during a random mission against some anonymous vamps and a first season character who’s barely remembered (Jenny was turned into a vampire and then escaped the Winchesters in season one’s twentieth episode “Dead Man’s Blood,” in case you were wondering).
But that, too, was the way it had to be. We’ve seen the Winchesters psych themselves up for apparent suicide missions many times, and in several cases they’ve even died. But in the end, as in real life, Dean doesn’t know this is the day he’s going to die when he wakes up in the morning. He’s on a hunt and he just runs out of luck, like so many others before him. And even this was foreshadowed early on. It’s easy to forget that the Winchesters’ first real brush with death came long before Sam stupidly turned his back on a still living enemy and a knife in season two’s “All Hell Breaks Loose,” and before Dean ended up in a coma following a car crash in the same season’s “In My Time Of Dying.”
No, Dean’s first near-death experience came in the first season episode “Faith,” the episode that introduced the Reapers and which was one of the earliest episodes to set the tone and themes for much of the rest of the series – and it’s one of Kripke’s favourites. Most of the episode is dedicated to Sam’s desperate attempts to save Dean from impending death as a result of heart damage due to electrocution, but the actual near-fatal accident happens quickly during a routine hunt in the cold open. The boys are fighting a Rawhead and Dean just gets unlucky. It makes perfect sense, then, that rather than some huge showdown fighting God or Death, in the end, Dean just ran out of luck, just as he had 15 years ago.
This, then, was how it had to be. Season 15 as a whole has seen appearances from many returning faces, of friends and foes alike, across the season. “Despair” gave Castiel a suitably emotional send-off, tying his fate to Dean’s as it has been since his very first appearance in Season 4. “Inherit The Earth” acknowledged aspects of Kripke’s finale, pitting Michael and Lucifer against each other one last time. But, ultimately, this was the fate the Winchesters have been hurtling towards since Dean dragged Sam away from the college in the very first episode. Dean was always going to die on a hunt, and Sam was always going to have a better chance at building a life for himself. And, now, in whatever far-off future year we left him, there’s still a young Dean Winchester around, and perhaps his dad left him the key to a mysterious old bunker full of strange books and a battered old notebook full of monsters…