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Why Supernatural Is Not At All What First-Time Viewers Expect

Over an impressive 15 seasons, "Supernatural" cemented itself in the pop cultural zeitgeist like few other shows of its era. Following Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles), two brothers who hunt malevolent paranormal creatures, the show drew on inspiration ranging from the horrific to the biblical to weave a rich lore around its heroes. In its heyday, "Supernatural" gained a large and passionate fan base who lovingly shared fan edits of their favorite moments from the show to Tumblr and other social media.

As pointed out by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of Daily Dot in 2014, "Supernatural" spread its angelic wings to reach a massive audience largely thanks to the zealous word-of-mouth advocacy of its fans. The show's runners and writers appeared to understand this dynamic, often crossing the line into manipulative tactics such as "queerbaiting" for the seeming purpose of driving fan engagement, a practice which continued until the show's final episode. Even so, the fan edits and GIF compilations continued to compound, drawing many new viewers to the show and converting them into fans as well, thus continuing the cycle of hype.

However, given that the moments which tend to be shared most by fans are of a lighthearted and thus easily sharable variety, the actual tone of "Supernatural" often takes new viewers by surprise when they first dive into the series.

Supernatural is a lot more painful than it appears

On the "Supernatural" Reddit page, u/ch5697 shared a meme expressing how shocking the show is from the opening moments of very first episode, in contrast to the impression people might get from the more humorous moments often shared in GIFs and other fan content across social media. Fans reacted knowingly, with u/ingsara98 quipping, " Don't worry, season 1 is the happy season get ready for more pain." 

Indeed, the show is a lot darker in tone than even creator Eric Kripke's original description for the series made it sound. According to Entertainment Weekly, Kripke first described the show as, "Two brothers cruising the dusty back roads in their trusty 64 Mustang battling the things that go bump in the night," during his initial pitch back in 2004. Kripke may have undersold the more horror-oriented elements of the series. The first episode of Season 1 opens with the horrific murder of Sam and Dean Winchester's mother, Mary (Samantha Smith) by the demon Azazel (Jeffery Dean Morgan). Mary is pinned to the ceiling and burned alive while a young Dean (Hunter Brochu) and infant Sam flee the house. It's true, the '64 Mustang does feature heavily from that point forward, but in regard to Kripke's pitch, "things that go bump" is putting it mildly.

Supernatural was a journey for both its fans and creators

From that opening episode of "Supernatural," things only escalate. By Season 5, the Winchester brothers are embroiled in a battle to prevent the biblical apocalypse, battling the forces of Hell and sparring with the angels of Heaven. As executive producer Bob Singer told Variety in 2014, "The mythology really started to evolve in the first year. We didn't exactly know where we wanted to go, and I don't even think Eric knew exactly where he wanted to go."

It's a journey that fans experienced alongside the creators, especially as the fandom developed online, bringing in more viewers with each season. The painful aspects of the show continued to be present, balancing out the moments of levity. In the same Variety article, writer and producer Sera Gamble observed that "[Eric Kripke] understood the power of doing the unexpected thing to the character the audience thinks is safe." It seems Kripke's instincts were spot-on, because despite the tonal difference between the way fans presented the show and the often heart-wrenching reality of actually watching it, the fan base remained vibrant — and continued to increase (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Even after the conclusion of "Supernatural," the show's fandom has yet to disband. There's even a prequel series, "The Winchesters," in the works, meaning the network thinks there's enough gas left in the tank to keep drawing an audience to this world and its characters.