This review contains spoilers for the Supernatural series finale, titled “Carry On.”
As Chuck said at the end of season five of Supernatural (an episode that was poised to work as a series finale back in 2010): “Endings are hard… You try to tie up every loose end, but you never can. The fans are always gonna bitch. There’s always gonna be holes. And since it’s the ending, it’s all supposed to add up to something.”
I would never presume to disagree with God but, boy, did Supernatural just do the impossible; it ended a 15-season and 327-episode run with an episode of television that could rival the best of them, and I truly question what anyone could have to bitch about besides a bad grey wig.
To explain the triumph of season 15, episode 20, aptly titled “Carry On,” it must be broken up into thirds. The start of the episode picks up just weeks, or a few short months, after the events of episode 19—which saw Sam, Dean, and Jack defeating Chuck, before the youngest member of Team Free Will undoes his Thanos-style master plan by becoming God himself.
We get a glimpse of what life was like for the Winchester brothers in a truly post-apocalyptic world: Dean has a dog. Sam goes for runs. There are pie-eating festivals. Most importantly, they still live in the Men of Letters bunker because, as the show has reminded viewers throughout its unprecedented 15 years on the air, there’s no world where these two men survive but leave hunting behind. Still, there’s levity and happiness and this is where the writers were able to wink at the fans and have their fun. Sam pies Dean in the face! Why not?
Then there’s the hunt. This section of the episode harks back all the way to season one when the show was just Sam and Dean Winchester, cruising down the road in their Chevy Impala, hunting down baddies to a head-banging ’80s soundtrack. With director-producer Robert Singer at the helm, it was shot like a season one episode as well—complete with eerie, dark lighting and truly creepy masked vampires wreaking havoc in a small town.
(By the way, it’s no coincidence that the hunt opened by upending the lives of a family of four. Monsters break-in, killing one parent as two sons are forced to run by the other. Sound familiar? To quote Chuck again, “nothing ever really ends.”)
That’s not where the references to the early days stop, either—though it’s done more delicately for the remainder of the episode. The “Kripke and Singer” FBI aliases (a nod to the original creator and co-showrunner), the return of John’s journal, and even a familiar face as the head of the rampant vampire clan were woven into the story just subtly enough to land without feeling like an attempt to squeeze as much nostalgia into 45 minutes as the writers possibly could.
But then, as Chuck said, an ending is supposed to add up to something. About halfway through the episode, it was time for the big swing: Dean’s death. For a character who has always said he would go down swinging, this was the best possible choice. In the end, he didn’t meet his match with some random vampire—he still won, but he’s human, and even the great Dean Winchester can’t survive a giant nail through the back.
While a seven-minute death monologue may have felt a touch overdramatic, it was gutting, well-earned, and gave Jensen Ackles—arguably the best actor on the series—room to do what he does best. At that moment, he gave his character, Sam, and the viewer permission to say goodbye. No take-backs this time and nothing to avenge.
The Best Supernatural Episodes From Each Season
So, what’s next? This was always going to be the most difficult question to answer and the hardest part of the episode for fans of the series to accept. As “Carry On Wayward Son” finally plays for the last time, we leave Dean in a heaven that is no longer a cold memory trap: Instead, he learns everyone he loves and cares about is there and free—including Cas, which is implied by Dean’s welcome party of one: Bobby. “It ain’t just heaven, Dean,” he says. “It’s the heaven you deserve.”
Sure, there will be fans—myself included—who would have liked to see Cas safe from super hell for themselves—as well as a host of familiar faces from the past welcoming home their prodigal son—but COVID-19 likely had something to do with that. I can’t be sure why Bobby was chosen to deliver Dean his fate over Castiel, but you know what? It worked because we know the angel is still around.
Plus, Bobby’s paternal presence gave Dean leeway to take that solo drive down the highway as we witness Sam Winchester live out the rest of his life. We see Sam keep on living, raise a child of his own, and break the toxic Winchester father-son cycle we’ve learned is multi-generational. That’s growth, Dabb practically screamed with this script. That’s what this all adds up to.
And when Sam’s time finally comes—when he was done—there’s peace. Just like the song has promised. Sam and Dean, together at the end of the road, where they were always meant to be.