Spoilers follow for all 15 seasons of Supernatural.
As Season 15 of Supernatural comes to an end (the series finale airs on Thursday, November 19, at 9pm ET), the adventures of the Winchester brothers will have lasted 327 episodes. That’s an incredible run by any stretch, but it makes catching up, or doing a rewatch, a tad difficult. Do you start from the very beginning? Maybe just all the season finales? So many episodes, so little time.
In order to make digesting the tale of Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) easier, we’ve put together a compilation of the best episode of every season so far (since Season 15 hasn’t finished quite yet, we’re holding off there for now). Obviously, this is a small sample size of a broad canon, so your mileage may vary, but if you want the bullet points of our favourite wayward sons, these are the highlights to keep in mind.
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“Home” – Season 1, Episode 9
Sentient trucks aside, Supernatural’s first season is stronger than most. Between some chilling monsters-of-the-week, and the immediacy of Sam and Dean Winchester’s mission to hunt down the demon that killed their mother, the show finds its legs rather quickly. The Eric Kripke-penned “Home” is an early example of the series’ innate ability to balance character drama with compelling chills. After Sam has nightmares of a woman trapped in the old Winchester family home, he convinces Dean to go back to where it all started, to give a mother and her two young children the kind of chance they never had.
A broody flashback by Dean and some spectral investigative work later, the boys are confronted by a poltergeist that their mother’s ghost helps them to vanquish. Where the pilot sets everything in motion, “Home” is where we find Supernatural’s beating heart – two brothers, who’ve lost everything but each other, trying to save the world by whatever means they can.
Season 1 Honorable Mentions: “Pilot” – Episode 1, “The Benders” – Episode 15
“What Is and What Should Never Be” – Season 2, Episode 20
Dean is given the one thing he most desires: a life where his mother never died and he and Sam went on to have normal lives. Except such fantasy comes at a price, because all the people the Winchesters had saved up to this point were now dead, with no one around to hunt the monsters that targeted them.
Now in its second season, Supernatural saw fit to have Dean explicitly choose the path of the hunter when shown an alternative, as if the brothers were stuck in the belly of some fourth-wall-shattering creature. Never coy about the pain and sacrifice our ragtag duo endure, a Djinn dangles a reality where Dean gets everything he thinks he wants, but at the cost of those who’ve benefited from the Impala rolling up in the right place at the wrong time. True to the family oath, the older Winchester sees through the veil and decides that being the hero in the real world is better than sleeping in a fabrication.
Season 2 Honorable Mentions: “Born Under a Bad Sign” – Episode 14, “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1” – Episode 21
“Ghostfacers” – Season 3, Episode 13
Amateur ghost hunters getting in Sam and Dean’s way is a recipe for hilarity as is, but shooting from the ghost hunters’ point-of-view, and making it quasi-found footage? Genius, and the second appearance from the Winchester-wannabes is one of the funniest episodes across all 15 seasons. The Ghostfacers, a ragtag group of paranormal investigators, set up shop in a haunted house in Texas before bumping into our heroes. They think ghosts aren’t dangerous, the Winchesters know differently, and the two parties argue until Freeman Daggett’s vengeful spirit grabs one of the ‘Facers.
If the sheer disdain on Sam and Dean’s faces isn’t enough to inspire some giggles, the perfectly timed bleeps of the not-ready-for-The-CW language almost certainly will. Although it plays as the show just having some fun with perspective at the time, the metatextual notion that the brothers we normally see are filtered would eventually become the crux of their war against God. It’s all fun and games until you piss off a vengeful spirit.
Season 3 Honorable Mentions: “A Very Supernatural Christmas” – Episode 8, “Mystery Spot” – Episode 11
“Lazarus Rising” – Season 4, Episode 1
No image is more iconic within the Supernatural canon than the first shot of Castiel’s fully spread wings. Due to a writers’ strike, Season 3 had to be cut short, so showrunner Eric Kripke had the wild idea to just end the season on Dean’s death, bringing him back with the power of the angels to kick off Season 4. It was a risk that paid off massively, if only for introducing Misha Collins’ Castiel to the world.
After spending what amounts to 40 years in hell, Dean crawls out of his grave with no recollection of how he got there. The demons have no clue, so he, Bobby and Sam decide to just summon whatever it was that caused the mess. Enter Castiel, an angel who resurrected Dean as part of God’s plan. Ever the would-be martyr, Dean’s skeptical of his worthiness, beginning his long, winding struggle with theology, destiny and free will. “Lazarus Rising” started Supernatural on the path it’s still following, and kickstarted an entire movement of Dean-Castiel shippers and superfans in the process.
Season 4 Honorable Mentions: “Monster Movie” – Episode 5, “The Monster at the End of This Book” – Episode 18
“Abandon All Hope” – Season 5, Episode 10
The most aptly named Supernatural episode ever? Definitely a contender. Nobody goes into this thinking the Winchesters, Bobby, Castiel, Jo and Ellen are actually going to kill Lucifer in the mid-season finale, but the devastation that ensues is a true gut-punch for the ages.
The devilish plotting is made all the more engrossing by the imagery – the reapers all gathering in Carthage and that bittersweet group photo represent the visual scale of the show. The battle against Lucifer starts to feel so grand and epic that maybe it goes beyond a couple of regular boys in some pulp fantasy TV fare. The Winchesters would eventually prevail, of course, but we all feel the loss in this one.
Season 5 Honorable Mentions: “The End” – Episode 4, “Swan Song” – Episode 22
“The Man Who Would Be King” – Season 6, Episode 20
It’s hard not to shed a tear at the sheer emotion in Castiel and Dean’s eyes during their face-off here. In the middle of a heavenly civil war, Castiel has made a deal with Crowley to use the souls of Purgatory to fight the archangel Raphael. This places him in direct conflict with the Winchesters, and sitting on a park bench, Castiel prays to God for guidance while contemplating the totality of his time as an angel.
Normally so resolute in his conviction, Castiel finds himself at a crossroads where he has to choose his side. Does he keep working with Crowley, giving him the army he needs to battle Raphael? Or does he jump sides, back to Sam and Dean, and find another way? It’s an impossible choice he must make alone as his prayers yield silence. This episode is an emotive portrait, written and directed by Ben Edlund, of a figure driven by faith and purpose finding his allegiances stretched, and it’s carried by Collins’ subtle performance.
Season 6 Honorable Mentions: “Weekend at Bobby’s” – Episode 4, “The French Mistake” – Episode 15
“Death’s Door” – Season 7, Episode 10
Many hunters find themselves thrust into the hunting life without ever choosing it. For Bobby, it was having to kill his possessed wife, Karen. However, as we learn through the Sera Gamble-written “Death’s Door,” Bobby’s heartache started long before that. On his deathbed in a hospital, Bobby’s forced to confront his agonizing memories in order to regain consciousness. Moving from recollection to recollection, we learn about his resistance to having children, wary as he was of carrying on his father’s abusive behaviour, and how it created a rift in his and Karen’s marriage. The episode eventually reaches back to one fateful night when Bobby, then a child, shoots his father during another of his violent outbursts.
Jim Beaver’s enthusiasm and commitment to playing Bobby always lit up whatever episodes he appeared in, but it’s especially great when Beaver gets to stretch his dramatic talents. “I adopted two boys, and they turned out great. They turned out heroes,” Bobby tells the man that caused him so much pain, affirming that he’d broken the cycle of abuse as he stares down his own mortality. Supernatural fades to black on many a cliffhanger, but none still yank on the heart-strings as hard as this.
Season 7 Honorable Mentions: “Slash Fiction” – Episode 6, “The Born-Again Identity” – Episode 17
“Pac-Man Fever” – Season 8, Episode 20
Celebrating videogames and literary fiction amid a meditation on catharsis and acceptance is the exact kind of heady subject matter Supernatural’s gotten very good at in the back-half of its tenure. Inspired by “Carver Edlund’s” novels on the exploits of Sam and Dean Winchester, Felicia Day’s Charlie shows up on their doorstep as a fledgling hunter, eager to learn and with a case to track. Dean takes the opportunity to sideline Sam, who’s weakened from the trials, and takes him and Charlie on a Djinn-hunting adventure that lands him inside her subconscious.
The multi-layered action that includes Dean trapped in an all-too-realistic version of a game Charlie designed demonstrates the increasingly ambitious production, switching between the real world and Charlie’s nightmare for a stretch. However, it’s the sullen ending, where Dean tells Charlie she needs to let her comatose mother go, that makes this the most notable hour of the season. Charlie, understanding she needs to move on, sits down to read The Hobbit with her mother one last time, a low-key nod to the way fiction binds us and helps sculpt our legacy. No doubt Supernatural will play a similar role for many even after it’s gone.
Season 8 Honorable Mentions: “Hunteri Heroici” – Episode 8, “LARP and the Real Girl” – Episode 11
“King of the Damned” – Season 9, Episode 21
In which Crowley, the king of hell, a man dedicated to being despicable, shows he’s not the worst dad in the universe when extreme push comes to extreme shove. Crowley, Dean, and Abaddon engage in a web of trickery, one betraying the other, who manipulates another. Abaddon kidnaps Crowley’s son Gavin from the 17th century to start, leading Crowley to agree to show Abaddon the First Blade and trap the Winchesters, but warning Dean about the ruse, who gives Sam bad information so he can face, and kill, Abaddon alone.
This is a satisfying Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming co-penned spiral that throws almost everyone into the air, then keeps us at the edge of our seats until we see where they land. Killing Abaddon is unexpected, setting the stage for demon Dean, and Crowley completes his face-turn, zapping Gavin away at the end to hide him. Masterful and confident, the episode shifts the axis of the whole season while only two episodes from the end.
Season 9 Honorable Mentions: “Holy Terror” – Episode 9, “Do You Believe in Miracles” – Episode 23
“Fan Fiction” – Season 10, Episode 5
Hitting 200 episodes called for a celebration, so Supernatural did a musical episode. But rather than rehashing Buffy’s “Once More, With Feeling” and having Sam and Dean break into song, the boys stumble on an all-girls high-school stage production based on the Carver Edlund novels of their misadventures. That’s not all – the students are under threat from the goddess Calliope, meaning Sam and Dean can’t just quietly hightail it away either. Despite their best efforts, the Winchesters get some time in the spotlight, defeating Calliope to uproarious opening night applause.
Rarely is fandom acknowledged and celebrated so unreservedly, where the script makes numerous references and in-jokes that only the most dedicated would catch. The songs are joyful pieces of sugary pop and at the end, when Dean’s given a replica of his amulet from seasons of old, he actually seems at peace for once.
Season 10 Honorable Mentions: “Reichenbach” – Episode 2, “Angel Heart” – Episode 20
“Baby” – Season 11, Episode 4
If you’re wondering about the hardest decision we had to make for this list, deciding between “Baby” and the momentous “Don’t Call Me Shurley” was it. Where one reasserts the philosophical and thematic backbone of the show’s bigger story, the other brings us back to basics in clever fashion. Unfortunately for God and Metatron, this is the Impala they’re up against, and nothing competes with a 1967 Chevrolet Impala.
Set entirely within the five-door confines of the Winchester family roadster, “Baby” turns an otherwise standard hunt for Sam and Dean into a humanizing glimpse at what their life really looks like most of the time. The cinematography is refreshingly bold and creative, always nestled somewhere amid the vintage leather and dash, giving unique angles to the by-the-numbers beats. We even get an appearance from Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s John Winchester, and a heart-to-heart between the brothers to boot, all inside the ’60s classic. Truly, home is where the Impala is.
Season 11 Honorable Mentions: “Just My Imagination” – Episode 8, “Don’t Call Me Shurley” – Episode 20
“Who We Are” – Season 12, Episode 22
Starting with Sam and Dean trapped in the American Men of Letters compound, before ending with Sam and a band of hunters destroying the British Men of Letters base and Mary killing Ketch, the penultimate episode of Season 12 is action-packed and dense. It’s the rare instance where we get both brothers at the forefront: Sam leads the charge in ending the American-British hunter conflict once and for all, and Dean saves their mother.
Standing in Mary’s psyche to undo her brainwashing, Dean delivers an impassioned speech about his real, difficult feelings around their family. In a series full of touching soliloquies, this is one of Jensen Ackles’ best, proving after all these years these characters and actors can still draw us right in. As a ruthless hunter, Ketch was one of the Winchesters’ most pathological baddies, making his execution by Mary particularly sweet.
Season 12 Honorable Mentions: “American Nightmare” – Episode 4, “Stuck in the Middle (With You)” – Episode 12
“Beat The Devil” – Season 13, Episode 10
Sam’s death and revival in the space of less than one episode is a dubious record, but a record nonetheless. Eaten by vampires in Apocalypse World, he’s swiftly brought back to life by Lucifer, who knows the younger Winchester will then owe him a favour. Earlier, the original fallen angel had been captured so the Winchesters, Rowena, Gabriel, and Castiel could open a rift to the alternate dimension in the first place, but he broke free so he could see his son, Jack.
It’s a lot, but the way all these chaotic elements still come down to simple motivations is a testament to Supernatural’s ability to always center itself. Having so many familiar faces together creates an electric chemistry, particularly among Rowena, Gabriel, and Lucifer. The first half, moving from capturing Lucifer to a struggle in a vamp-infested cave, is riveting, flowing right into the heart-sinking conclusion as Sam leads Lucifer back to camp so he can see Jack.
Season 13 Honorable Mentions: “Wayward Sisters” – Episode 10, “Scoobynatural” – Episode 16
“Lebanon” – Season 14, Episode 13
It’s among the many staple motifs of Supernatural, but it’s also one of the most effective no matter how many times it’s deployed: giving Sam and Dean time with their parents. The 300th episode is a curve-ball, framed as a standard reality-bender where Dean accidentally summons John Winchester from 2003 using a magic pearl, thereby altering the timeline.
But in the new reality where John disappeared from 2003, Dean’s a wanted serial killer and Sam’s an internet superstar. Away from that on-brand goofiness, we have the entire Winchester family sharing a meal together, because for the first time, Sam, Dean, Mary and John are reunited all at once. Their happiness comes at the cost of the fabric of time and space, because this is the Winchesters, so they share a fleeting meal, followed by a proper goodbye. Really, it’s the farewell that matters, for them and us. Much as we’d like to see the Winchesters hunt things and save people for years to come, all good things must end, and here we all get to share in that preemptive sendoff.
Season 14 Honorable Mentions: “Mint Condition” – Episode 4, “Jack in the Box” – Episode 19
What are your favorite episodes of Supernatural? Let’s discuss in the comments!