Supernatural season 12 drew to a close last Thursday, and unlike last year’s finale, the body count is sky-high. We review the events of the final double episode and assess how well these deaths worked for the show.

In an unprecedented move for this show, the CW aired the final two episodes of Supernatural season 12 back-to-back last Thursday night — a connected story which wrapped up the conflict with the British Men of Letters in the first episode and set up the disasters to befall our boys in season 13 in the second.

Episode 22, “Who We Are,” penned by Robert Berens, lived up to its name as the brothers Winchester bloomed into the Platonic ideals of themselves that we’ve been dying for them to become for a decade. After escaping the locked-down Bunker, the boys had the opportunity to show their true colors to one another and the world and stepped up into the roles they were born to play – Sam in a position of power, a self-appointed general, a leader of his community, and Dean as the emotional center and support.

Sam got his full-on Agincourt moment in Jody’s living room, and Dean’s acceptance and acknowledgement of Sam’s dominance, his pride and trust in Sam’s ability to lead, and to keep himself alive, signifies a shift in the balance — a shaking-off of the roles they’d given themselves their entire lives, with Dean as protector, Sam as victim, perhaps once and for all. Sam’s trust in himself to do this — the deliberate separation of his actions from Dean’s (correcting himself from “we” to “I”) and his admission of shame and guilt was also crucial, as Sam is naturally extremely powerful, but due to what that power has been associated with (with Azazel and the Special Children, with Lucifer) he’s been terrified to embrace it. Now, that changes – hopefully for good.

Dean’s exploration of self in “Who We Are” was also enormously significant, as he delves into his brainwashed mother’s mind and confronts her, at long last, about the way that her actions way back when ruined their lives — ruined their father, ruined their childhoods. His admission that he was forced to parent Sam — be both mother and father to him, in the wake of their own father’s shambolic and abusive parenting – is both validating to finally hear come out of his mouth, and distinctly related to the significance of his letting go of Sam in this episode, and if this isn’t the year that Jensen Ackles finally gets an Emmy nod for his work on this character, there is no justice in the world of television. That first “I hate you” sucked all the air out of the room. Sam and his team dismantle the British Men of Letters, Dean saves Mary from her own mind, everyone hugs, and all in all, “Who We Are” instantly became one of the finest episodes of Supernatural not just for this season, but ever written.

The actual finale, “All Along the Watchtower,” was written by showrunner Andrew Dabb, and dealt with the long-awaited birth of Lucifer’s nephilim baby. Castiel, having run away with the expectant mother Kelly in order to protect her and the child from Lucifer, discovers that the nephilim’s power has created a rip in space and time — the door to an alternate universe. When he visits it momentarily, he meets a new version of Bobby Singer – it’s super unlikely there will ever be a season of Supernatural that Jim Beaver doesn’t appear in — in post-apocalyptic world locked in eternal battle between Heaven and Hell.

When the brothers track Cas down, they come up with a plan to seal Lucifer, who’s also right on their tail, inside that mad world instead of theirs. Things go sideways and there are several major casualties, along with the accidental trapping of Mary, alongside Lucifer, inside the Thunderdome. To top it all off, the nephilim adapts into a young adult man immediately, and we have no idea what his intentions are.

The season 11 finale “Alpha and Omega” was notable in that it was a crisis averted: no death or drama at the end of the day, and it left our characters in a pretty stable, clean-slate-ish place, with only the hint of a new threat — the British Men of Letters — on the horizon. “All Along the Watchtower” is more of a return to form — it follows the long-running pattern in Supernatural, where the events of the entire season culminate into the catalyst for the entire next season – the Leviathan problem begat the Purgatory problem, and so on.

So the Supernatural season 12 finale has set up a clear focus for what’s to come next – we have to get back into this alternate universe (possibly passing through several other universes along the way) to rescue Mary, we have to figure out what’s up with the devilspawn kid, and we have to see if any of our major characters who died can be saved. Because, yes — there were deaths. A bunch of them. Now that the dust has settled, we must review and rank the multiple murders that peppered the final night’s airing of Supernatural for season 12.

Content warning: Supernatural features graphic death scenes, so please be advised that this post includes images of the characters at or after the moment of death.

Below, we’ve discussed the demise of each named character that we lost at some point during the final two episodes last Thursday. This isn’t a care-least to care-most situation, more like a ranking of the least effective and well-portrayed death to the most effective. Here goes.

Rowena

Okay, no. Supernatural, we literally just talked about this. God, can’t you just instantly change your shot-months-ago, already-in-the-can finished product on a week-to-week basis to cater to my emotional breakdowns? You’ll get right on that? K, thanks. But seriously, no. This is the one that I’ve got to believe is a genuine fake-out, because how dare they?

Rowena is, to date, the show’s longest-serving female character, with actor Ruth Connell appearing in more episodes than anyone outside of the “big four” and Jim Beaver. Sure, she’s a tricksy character to incorporate, but she’s deliciously funny, a useful ally, a fan favorite, and has the makings of a redemptive arc. She was already — quite literally — put on a bus earlier this season, implying that they wanted to save her for later.

To kill off Rowena without even including Connell in the episode — to show just her crispy corpse – seems like a huge injustice to both character and actor. Unless something is going on behind the scenes that mitigates this circumstance, I’m gonna want a bloody great powerful comeback, pronto.

Roy

Who’s Roy, you may ask? Roy, of Walt and Roy fame, was a hunter known to the Winchesters for many years. Back in season 5’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Walt and Roy shot Sam and Dean dead in their beds, propelling them directly to Heaven where they learnt a few home truths. Various members of the hunting community wanted the Winchesters dead back then, because of what they knew about Sam, Lucifer and the Apocalypse. Walt and Roy actually managed it, for a hot second, and understandably, it didn’t leave them in the brothers’ good graces.

For whatever reason, they’re some of the hunters who show up at Sam’s muster of troops (the only ones we’ve met onscreen before) and, awkward as it may be, they agree to follow their new general and assist with taking out the British Men of Letters. Roy doesn’t make it back alive. Oh Roy. You came, you fought, you died. No one cares.

Toni

Lady Toni Bevell had a very confusing journey over the course of season 12, showing up in the previous season’s finale to take out Sam, and proving herself the season’s first antagonist when she has him tortured, drugged and quite literally mind-raped for information. She’s then removed from the scene and replaced by the genial and apologetic Mick Davies, presumably intended to be the carrot to her stick.

Elizabeth Blackmore did fantastic work in every single scene, making Toni into a character with a unique attitude, and she’s the one Brit I would have liked to have seen stick around — even if her super-unexplained son was a classic womanly sympathy card. Her animosity with Ketch was really never fully explained either — it trickled down from the implication of something genuinely disturbing to ultimately petty griping between exes — but either way, her ex-lover killed her brutally offscreen, while we were inside Mary’s head with Dean. Toni deserved better.

Kelly

The lead-up to Kelly Kline’s death was very touching — her and Castiel playing house, both operating under the complete awareness that she was going to die giving birth. It was kind of one of those “act as normal as possible and pretend the rest isn’t happening” situations, which made the cracks in that facade, like her breakdown over building the crib, all the more painful. However, the cause of her death was really not made clear, which makes me question its value.

I might be getting this all wrong, but I don’t believe that Jack, the nephilim, the son of Kelly and Lucifer, is going to turn out evil. I don’t think that is where this story is going. Jack chose Cas to look after him and Kelly, and seemed to want to be hidden from Lucifer. I think he’s going to be weird as heck in an alien way, very powerful, but not evil. Ergo, Jack loves Kelly, ergo, Jack would not have let Kelly die if he could help it.

Perhaps it could not be helped on a physiological or supernatural level, given that he sprang out as a fully formed adult — though the birth didn’t rip apart or destroy her body. Perhaps he’ll resurrect her immediately. Perhaps her death will serve has his guilt and drive during season 13… I don’t know. They just never actually said why this birth had to kill her, and I kind of need to know the logistics in order to accept something like that as necessary.

Ketch

Ketch definitely needed to die, and Mary definitely needed to be the one that killed him. His obsession with her and the conflict it brought him had shades of color to it, but nowhere near enough to deserve any kind of hero moment. Ketch is an example of a character who gets worse as we unravel more about him — at first he seems cool, competent and classy, doing the job he’s been told to do, discovering more about how others do things, and then as he reveals his true, irredeemable behavior, we realize what a psychopath he actually is — the genuine lack of empathy, emotional triggers and false equivalencies of a serial killer.

It was he who locked Toni and the boys in the Bunker to die, and he who intervened to keep Mary all murdery, just the way he liked her. His faux-innocence when he came to comfort Mary during her brainwashing was one of the sickening things I’ve ever seen. His death was one of the best that the finale had to offer purely because he needed to die so badly, and it happened so righteously. I only wish it had been crueller and more painful, akin to what he relished inflicting on others.

Hess

The long-awaited coup led by Sam against the British Men of Letters ended up, as all good coups do, in the control room, with the rebels challenging the leader of the organization. We know how evil Dr. Hess is — we know what she’s ordered people to do, what she’s made people into. We know that she made children kill children to prove themselves. We know her finger was on the trigger of every hunter death in which Mary was used the murder weapon. In general, the coup showed us something outside the norm of Supernatural — a full-on firefight between humans, with both sides shooting to kill. Sam’s team take down those “just following orders” with clean killing shots and a take no prisoners attitude – his leadership displays his ruthlessness (and he has a lot of it) for all to see.

But this kill was almost difficult to watch, which made it all the more powerful. It wasn’t quite in cold blood – Sam was working up to straight-up executing her, but didn’t seem to be able to manage it, given that she was just standing there, an old human lady in a posh suit. However, as soon as Hess manages to pull a maneuver and grab a weapon herself, Jody Mills, abiding perfectly and precisely by the combat rules of the police, takes her out coolly with a full-frontal head shot, proving herself the perfect partner for Sam in this endeavour. My only regret in all of this is that they destroyed the Men of Letters base in its entirety instead of using all those brilliant resources to aid the hunter community, with Sam as the big boss.

Castiel

The biggest loss for the boys and fans alike was that of Castiel, who was stabbed in the back by Lucifer, right in front of Sam and Dean as they escape from the alternate universe in the season’s final moments. “All Along the Watchtower” was celebrated as Misha Collins’s 100th appearance as the faithful angel, and so this unexpected and meaningless death (he didn’t die saving anyone, he didn’t get a special last moment, it was just — like life sometimes sadly serves up — a cruel turn of events) on this special occasion had the audience in absolute fits about what this meant for the show and for the actor. If I’d thought for one second that this death was permanent, this entry would be right up there above Rowena as the outright worst, because this is not how Supernatural does last hurrahs – that was not the final exit that the show’s indisputable third lead deserved, by any means.

However, post-finale, less than 36 hours passed before Jared Padalecki accidentally (or “accidentally” – what are they gonna do, fire him?) let slip that Collins would be returning and had, in fact, already recorded voiceover for Supernatural’s upcoming Scooby Doo animation, which will air as episode 16 of season 13. At the same event, Collins himself spoke about the fact that death for characters who have the chance to come back usually serves as a transition point, so the real question is how this death may transform Castiel, and later jumped on Twitter to assure fans who don’t follow the convention circuit that that there is a future for Cas in sight.

So now that we know that no, Collins was not shown the door or did not choose to take a break to focus on other projects (narratively, the idea of this death being permanent made very little sense, but if the actor requests it, you never know) we’re free to safely wallow in the misery of this loss and relish the prospect of the Winchesters’ grief — particularly, of course, Dean’s, who remained slumped by Cas’s body, burnt wingprints and all, a first for Cas, and a real heartbreaker — while Sam composed himself enough to attend to the other urgent matters at hand. Cas will return, and for those who care about his emotional connection with the Winchesters, this death will only serve to strengthen that.

Crowley

Earlier this season, after “Rock Never Dies,” I pondered over the question of Crowley – about where the show could take him, now that he’s so clearly Not Evil. That the only plausible way for him to go was up. Though his some of actions throughout this season — specifically, sabotaging the spell the gang did to put Lucifer back in the cage — were a little tough to parse out motivation-wise, Crowley continued to step up to the plate for Team Free Will during season 12, saving the day – and Castiel’s life — in “Stuck in the Middle (With You)” (in which we learnt how he got the job as King of Hell in the first place) and assisting them in the recovery of a rogue hellhound in “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell.”

“Watchtower” ties up those loose ends regarding Crowley’s actions with Lucifer – he explains that he wanted to beat him and break him on his own terms, to keep ahold of his throne once and for all, but that that process in and of itself made him realize that he hated his position. Crowley’s belief in the Winchesters never wavered — it was hammered home over and over again — and he so very obviously wanted their approval. His offer to seal up the gates of Hell once they re-caged Lucifer, with he himself the only demon that the Winchesters would ever have to bother with again, was sadly too good to be true – he was so close to becoming an honorary member of Team Free Will that you could taste it – Dean even named him as one of the only people he has faith in to be on their side and to get the job done.

If a full redemption was never in the cards for Crowley — given the truly wicked things he’s done in the past, perhaps there’s no way to come back from that — then this death, his self-sacrifice to save the Winchesters and the world, was how he needed to go. He showed up knowing the spell they needed, knowing he was going to do it. He kept the upper hand, he brought the devil down with him, and he showed his beloved Dean exactly what he was made of. I hope, if there’s time, that the Winchesters can discuss or explore a little more of their relationship with Crowley, or their reaction to his death, because it’s complicated and interesting. This was a good death – a valuable, honorable death – this was a goodbye forever death.

Mark Sheppard, who first appeared in season 5’s excellent “Abandon All Hope…” and was upgraded to a series regular for season 10, won’t be returning to the show, or to the exclusive Supernatural convention circuit, next season. While I would have liked this character to stick around until the final curtain — I wanted both Cas and Crowley to walk out of Supernatural having chosen humanity and been allowed to have it — at least he got to prove himself. “Bye, boys.”

Which ‘Supernatural’ season 12 finale death was worst for you?

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