A toast to the women of Supernatural
As 15 seasons come to a close, EW pays tribute to all the fierce female characters who have come and gone.
So while fans and critics alike celebrate Supernatural in its final few weeks (including EW's can't-miss, wide-ranging Supernatural Send Off series!), it's way past time to celebrate the women behind the men who have come and gone throughout 15 seasons. Sure, Sam and Dean — and Castiel (Misha Collins) and Crowley (Mark Sheppard) and Bobby (Jim Beaver) etc. — may have always been the main characters on whom the story was focused, but let's be real: they would be nothing without the female backup they've relied upon for a decade and a half. In fact, they'd all probably have died many seasons ago if they didn't have these women by their sides.
So pour a glass of your finest bourbon and let's raise a toast to all the women of Supernatural, starting with one of the first (and first long-running) powerful female characters who was more on the side of evil than good, but that didn't stop her from swapping sides as often as she changed bodies: Meg Masters. Played by various actors but most recognizably by Rachel Miner, the deliciously self-servant demon with a fondness for Castiel (and pizza men) was introduced early in season 1, and continued to appear and drive the main story in seasons 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8.
Meg's iconic sarcasm rivaled that of her strength and ambition, and she gave the Winchesters as well as Lucifer (Mark Pelligrino), Azazel (Fredric Lehne), and the King of Hell more, well, hell than anyone else over the first half of the series. She was a loyal follower of Lucifer, and successfully manipulated every situation to her needs. She was a master of the art of torture, possessed Sam at one point, and killed and hurt anyone who got in her way. She even helped take down the Leviathans and romanced Castiel. And she could take it as good as she dished it, since she endured a year of torture at the hands of Crowley without breaking, staying strong enough to help the Winchesters save the day. She was one of the most enjoyable and unpredictable characters this show has ever seen, and one who helped set the tone of formidable villains from the very first season.
Season 2 introduced Ellen (Samantha Ferris) and Jo Harvelle (Alona Tal), the other early major recurring female characters aside from Meg. And they were every bit as badass and capable of hunters as Sam and Dean (maybe even more). Even the way Ellen first appeared on the series was epic, as she held Sam and Dean at gunpoint before realizing who they were. Talk about an appropriate Supernatural entrance! Ellen ran Harvelle's Roadhouse, a saloon frequented by hunters and supernatural creatures alike, and Jo was her young daughter. Their introduction to the series was monumental in that for the first time, a mother/daughter hunter team broke the former "boys club" atmosphere of the hunter world. Ellen was a veteran hunter who helped the Winchesters crack case after case with her tips and information, and even helped close the gateway to Hell. Jo was just getting started in her hunter career, so Ellen’s protective nature of her was understandable. But Jo's dedication and commitment to researching a case thoroughly before acting is what led to cracking the H. H. Holmes’ ghost case wide open. She was basically the female version of Dean Winchester, which played out even better onscreen than it sounds (and yeah, it sounds awesome).
However despite (or maybe even because of?) Jo and Dean's fan-favorite connection which offered him the slightest bit of potential for happiness, Jo and Ellen died in one of the most gut-wrenching moments of the entire series in season 5's "Abandon All Hope." In the fight against Lucifer, Jo was fatally mauled by a hell hound, and Ellen stayed with her, sacrificing her own life to blow up a building, taking the hell hounds with it and saving Sam and Dean. Even in their deaths, they were the ultimate rebels, refusing to stop fighting the good fight even when there was no hope left for them. If only they had survived and been around in later seasons, Sam and Dean probably could have saved the world a lot faster. Actually, scratch that, they definitely would have helped save the world faster. They were just that good.
These first three major women characters of Supernatural paved the way for more fan-favorite female heroes and villains to help/hurt Sam and Dean along the way. There was Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith), the boys' mother and the original hunter of the Winchester family. She's the whole reason Sam and Dean are who they are, since she was raised and trained in a family of hunters and it was her death that inspired John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) to become a hunter himself, setting Sam and Dean on the inevitable path to follow in his footsteps. She was strong and smart and loving in life the first time around, and her sudden resurrection at the end of season 11 brought Sam and Dean a kind of happiness they never dreamed they could have.
It wasn't perfect, as Mary struggled to find her place in their lives and the world 30 years after her death. But she found a new path for herself, working to rid the world of all supernatural monsters, even if Sam and Dean didn't approve of her methods. Her hunter skills even wowed the militaristic British Men of Letters, and she was able to bounce back from being brainwashed into killing American hunters. She sacrificed her own happiness to trap Lucifer in the Apocalypse World, even knowing it would result in endless pain and torture for herself. She constantly gave up her own happiness to save others, and she did it without complaint. She also embodied a valuable lesson for Dean (and viewers), as she was more human and flawed in life than his idealistic memory of her from his childhood.
Speaking of Supernatural mothers, who could forget Rowena (Ruth Connell), one of the show's most powerful witches ... and Crowley's mother? Her intelligence and powers of manipulation made her one of the most formidable villains the Winchesters ever faced (and reinforced Dean's deep-seated hatred of witches). She loved and loathed Lucifer in equal measure. She was the bane of Crowley's existence. And her fashion sense couldn't be beat — throughout all her hundreds of years of living, she always made sure to take time to enjoy the finer things. Not even death could stop her, as she was killed and resurrected more times than you could count throughout her run. Her most recent death in which she sacrificed herself to save the world from all of Hell's souls is considered to be her final one (who would have thought Rowena would go out saving the world?!) and she took over as Queen of Hell post-death, achieving the impossible by turning Hell into a somewhat functioning institution. If anyone could do it, it would be Rowena.
There was Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day), the quirky, cool nerd who started as a hacker and quickly evolved into an experienced hunter when she helped Sam and Dean defeat the Leviathans in season 7. She fought to free all the oppressed people in Oz (yes, that Oz) as a true warrior, a far cry from the days when her only tool was a keyboard. She became the Winchesters' secret weapon, helping crack the codex that translates the Book the Damned when even lore expert Sam was stumped. She was the reason why Dean was ultimately freed from the Mark of the Cain's influence. But her talents attracted the wrong crowd, and she was killed and dumped in a bathtub in what's widely considered to be the most controversial and unnecessary death of the entire series. During the 2015 Comic-Con panel, the showrunners were even forced to face a brave fan who asked why Charlie had to die (complete with the stars' hilarious reactions to the question). And Day's return in later seasons as an alternate universe version of the character was hardly a worthy consolation prize considering all she had accomplished before coupled with her undeserving end.
If only the trend of awesome women characters dying gruesome and heartbreaking deaths ended with that infamous bathtub moment. But as all Supernatural fans know, that road has been well-trodden by a parade of strong, inspiring, and hilarious female characters throughout its entire run. From Chuck/God's (Rob Benedict) sister Amara (Emily Swallow), to Knight of Hell Abbadon (Alaina Huffman), to con artist Bela (Lauren Cohan), Supernatural continued to deliver iconic female characters time and time again only to kill them off either a few episodes or seasons later. Powerful psychics Missouri Moseley (Loretta Devine) and Pamela Barnes (Traci Dinwiddie) both died saving others. There was the first significant recurring Reaper in Tessa (Lindsey McKeon) as well as Billie (Lisa Berry), who eventually became Death. But not even becoming Death could stop Billie from dying herself. Manipulative demon Ruby (played by both Katie Cassidy and Genevieve Padalecki) was a true highlight of the series, not only for introducing the demon-killing knife to the series, which saved Sam and Dean's lives countless times, plus restoring power to the legendary Colt gun, but she also manipulated Sam into getting addicted to demon blood. She is one of the few people to ever successfully drive a wedge between the Winchester brothers (which is a feat in and of itself), and changed the fate of the Winchesters (and the world) by raising Lucifer ... before Sam and Dean killed her.
This isn't to say that Supernatural always treated the best female characters badly by killing them off. In fact, back in season 13, a potential all-female hunter spinoff series was in the works, Wayward Sisters, airing as a backdoor pilot. But just like when the showrunners tried to make the Chicago-set monster mafia-themed Supernatural: Bloodlines spinoff a thing, the lesson was once again hammered home that what makes Supernatural is Sam and Dean. They’ve always been the core of the show, so trying to frame an entirely separate spinoff series with other characters wouldn’t work no matter who the characters are (all-female or otherwise). Of course, killing off or sidelining all the fan-favorite female characters throughout the years wasn’t the answer either. Either way, Wayward Sisters never moved forward despite a passionate fan campaign attempting to save it.
And while most of the women on Supernatural have unfortunately met gruesome ends, thankfully not every female character has been killed off. Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes) and Sheriff Donna Hanscum (Briana Buckmaster) have come a long way from their days living in ignorance of all the supernatural threats in the world. They still lend a hand to Sam and Dean whenever they need it (and they always need it), keeping the Wayward Sisters spirit alive both on and offscreen as they hunt their own cases, doing their part to keep the world safe from things that go bump in the night. Young hunter Claire Novak (Kathryn Newton) is also off in the world, handling her own cases. Lisa (Cindy Sampson) gave Dean his first real taste of a happy, normal life full of love with a human family back in season 6, and while he made Castiel erase her memory so he couldn't be tempted to return to that life, she's still alive (as far as we know). And deaf hunter Eileen (Shoshannah Stern), who is maybe the best hunter this show has ever seen, recently came back from the dead, giving Sam a chance at his own kind of happy ending. These impressive women have a real chance at doing what all the other female characters couldn't: surviving this series. And that deserves another toast with a hefty glass of bourbon.
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Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki star as the Winchester brothers, hellbent on battling the paranormal forces of evil.