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What we learned from ranking every 'Supernatural' episode

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Abandon All Hope
David Gray/The CW

Sitting down to rank 200 episodes of a show as beloved as Supernatural was not easy. Coming into it, we had our own ideas about what the best and worst seasons were, and by looking at individual episodes, those ideas, for the most part, were proven to be true. But after refreshing our memories on what happened in any (and every) given hour, we looked at each episode on its own, apart from which season it might have taken place in.

Coming into the ranking, we considered seasons 4 and 5 to be the strongest, and despite the lack of season 4 in the Top 40, we still feel that way. Yes, only four episodes from season 4 made it into our Top 40, but three of them are in our Top 10. And as the numbers reflect, seasons 6 and 7 are, in our opinion, the show’s weakest.

Here’s how the exact season count came out in our Top 40 gallery and Worst 10:

Episodes in our Top 40

Season 1: 3

Season 2: 5

Season 3: 5

Season 4: 4

Season 5: 13

Season 6: 3

Season 7: 1

Season 8: 2

Season 9: 4

Season 10: 0

Episodes in our Worst 10

Season 1: 3

Season 2: 0

Season 3: 0

Season 4: 0

Season 5: 0

Season 6: 3

Season 7: 3

Season 8: 0

Season 9: 1

Season 10: 0

But with that being said, what factors come together to make a good episode of Supernatural? Based on what we looked at in order to rank each episode, there were a few key elements of the series that made recurring appearances:

Grand mythology: There’s no question that, based on our rankings, season 5 is the strongest. And what was season 5 about? The biggest mythology of all-time surrounding the apocalypse and the ultimate fight between archangels Michael and Lucifer. Not only are Sam and Dean’s lives on the line, but so is the entire world, and the stakes don’t get much higher than that. Another example of a large mythology doing well: The Trials of God in season 8.

Memorable guest stars: One of the best parts of having such a small core ensemble on a show like this is that there is a large number of beloved guest stars who can pop up any given week. From the Ghostfacers to the oh-so-good Lucifer, the guest star card almost always takes an episode from good to great.

Solid case-of-the-week: When there isn’t a larger-than-life mythology at play, say in season 1, the other thing this show does really well is the case-of-the-week formula. However, there are good cases and bad cases. “Bugs”? Not so much. “The Benders”? Great. And that comparison also points to another thing this show can do really well: Horror.

Brother bonding: The Winchester brothers are what make this show. Their relationship is the reason fans tune in every week, so for them to have a moment of fun or reflection or even a fight means good things for an episode. It’s one of the main reasons we love the season 8 finale so much.

Life-or-death situations: As painful as it is to watch the brothers die time and time again, it’s some of the best drama the show has to offer. (Not to mention that putting the brothers in life-or-death situations is what generally leads to those great brother bonding moments we already talked about.)

Meta everything: It’s no secret that Supernatural does meta better than just about any other show currently on the air. The boundaries that they are willing to stretch in order to create some of the funniest and most inventive episodes deserves more recognition than it will probably ever get.