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The Untold Truth Of Walker

For fans who didn't get enough of Jared Padalecki's cowboy and horseback shenanigans in the Western episodes of "Supernatural," "Walker" came onto the scene shortly after the end of "Supernatural" to fill the void. Not only does Padalecki star as the eponymous character in "Walker," but he also steps up as an executive producer of the series.

While The CW show began as a reimagining of the '90s Chuck Norris series "Walker, Texas Ranger," creator Anna Fricke and Padalecki immediately put their own spin on the concept. The original show is certainly a product of its time, frequently receiving criticism for some problematic messages.  Meanwhile, "Walker" takes a different route, highlighting some of the issues that minorities often face in Texas while making it clear that people need to take a stand against that sort of thing.

There was no doubt that "Walker" would be an instant success for The CW when the series dethroned "Legends of Tomorrow" as the largest CW premiere since "The Flash" debuted in 2017 (via EW). Now, "Walker" even has a spinoff series called "Walker: Independence." There's just a whole lot of cowboy love to give, okay? But when Cordell Walker and co. aren't lassoing problems onscreen, what's happening behind the scenes?

Two cowboys, one role

Let your gasps out now: Jared Padalecki almost never became Cordell Walker. The show was his baby from the jump, but he actually had a different familiar face in mind when it came to the starring role. Padalecki told Variety, "I was tired of being on camera for 20 years straight. I wanted to produce a show called 'Walker' starring Jensen Ackles." Whoa. The eldest Winchester brother almost fulfilled his lifelong goal of becoming a real cowboy.

Yet the role was destiny for Padalecki, who was inspired by the story of a member of law enforcement stepping down when a part of his duty became entrenched locking children in cages. He explained to Variety, "I thought, 'What an interesting person who struggles with what they are bound to do by duty and what they think they should do by their own moral compass.'" And thus, the modern Cordell Walker was born, as was the progressive spin on the original show's right-wing sensibilities.

Of course, the more time Padalecki spent with the character he was creating, the more he fell in love with the role that he ultimately went on to play himself. The CW may not seem like the perfect match for the Western series, but its success speaks for itself. The CW CEO Mark Pedowitz told Variety, "Jared had a desire to do this; we had a desire to support Jared — it was a good mix." He added, acknowledging the show's deviation from the network's norm, "If we're going to expand what the brand is, it's good to expand with a person who has represented the brand so well through his career." It seems like Pedowitz made the right call this time around.

From grandfather to dad

"Supernatural" fans may notice something similar about Sam Winchester's grandpa Samuel Campbell and Cordell Walker's dad — they're played by the same actor. Jared Padalecki and Mitch Pileggi (also known for playing FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner on "The X-Files") may have met on the "Supernatural" set, but in just a handful of episodes together, the duo would make quite a mark on each other's careers. 

Now, it's hard to imagine Bonham Walker as anyone but the somewhat gruff but lovable Pileggi, but if he hadn't met Padalecki on "Supernatural," "Walker" just wouldn't be the same. Of course, in "Supernatural," Samuel Campbell is so hellbent on bringing his daughter back that he's willing to sacrifice his grandson. Meanwhile, Bonham is a more levelheaded and much, much less homicidal grandpa in "Walker." Yet we can't have one without the other, and Pileggi is nothing if not a versatile actor who can fill both shoes. 

So, who's your favorite Pileggi character: Bonham Walker, Samuel Campbell, or Walter Skinner? 

Double vision

It's a tale as old as time: In the throes of passionate demon fornication, two actors fell in love. The tragic love story between "Walker" characters Emily (Genevieve Padalecki) and Cordell is rooted in overwhelming grief, but the series isn't the first time the real-life couple has worked together.

Back in Season 4 of "Supernatural," Genevieve took on the role of the second iteration of the demon Ruby. During Sam's grief over the loss of his brother, things got ... frisky between him and Ruby. The now-married couple provided some of the raunchiest hookup scenes in the show, leading to a budding relationship between the actors. Later, in the satirical episode "The French Mistake" where Sam and Dean are actors in an alternate universe, the Padaleckis play a dramatized version of themselves. So naturally, when Padalecki's character Cordell needed an onscreen wife, who better than his actual wife to come in and do a handful of episodes? Luckily enough for the couple, "Walker" films in Texas, where they live, which offers a much less stressful commute than "Supernatural" and its Vancouver filming location. 

On working with his wife on "Walker," Padalecki told People, "Being able to show her off to the cast and crew was awesome." He also talked about the struggles of their distance during "Supernatural," saying, "She sacrificed so much while I was in Vancouver. She was home a lot with the kids, changing diapers and making lunches. So getting her back out with people with similar passions and interests was awesome."

The Padaleckis are gracious hosts

If you ask the "Walker" cast about the Padaleckis' generosity, they'll regale you with multiple stories about how accommodating the Texas family can be. Not only did Jared Padalecki call up his surgeon brother to help Pileggi replace his shoulder, but the family also took in over a dozen members of the "Walker" cast and crew when Texas encountered a dangerous snowstorm that was bad enough to shut down production.

Mitch Pileggi told Looper, "The day that I met Jared Padalecki was a very important day in my life because he is one of the most outstanding individuals that I've ever come across, and I've come across a lot of people in my 70 years. I told him the other day, I said, 'One of the best days of my life is the day that I met you.'" Does anyone else have a tear in their eyes?

Pileggi added on the snowpocalypse, "There were 15 of us in his house. Fifteen people and five dogs, and they took us all in without a blink of [an] eye and took care of us for a week until we were able to go home, and that's what it's like on this set. The atmosphere and the chemistry between us on this set [are] something I've never experienced before." He mentioned that the set has no diva, no drama, and is one of the "happiest sets I've ever been on." Those are some pretty lovely and strong words for an actor with a resume as long as Pileggi's.

Pandemic precautions changed the game

Most fans know that the "Walker" debut faced a postponement due to COVID shutdowns (via TV Guide), but the pandemic changed the series beyond halted production. Precautions were the name of the game, especially in the early days of the pandemic, leading to altered policies when it came to onscreen romantic dalliances or any other moment that requires bodily fluids. This is a cowboy show, after all. Spitting comes with the territory. Of course, the show's most important couple is arguably Emily and Cordell, so it didn't hurt that Genevieve and Jared Padalecki are married. 

But for cast members who aren't hitched in real life, the number of romance scenes were seriously limited, and USA Today reported that "Walker" even used CGI to achieve the illusion of spit. However, Fangasm noted Padalecki's hatred of getting spit on during scenes, which he revealed during the 2018 Salute to Supernatural convention in Minneapolis. So it's definitely for the best that "Walker" figured out a CGI hack to execute proper spitting scenes that don't allow any actual saliva to come near Padalecki's vicinity. After all, he's been grinding out performances for The CW since all the back when Dean Forester stocked soup cans at Doose's Market and the network was called The WB; the least the universe can do for Padalecki is make sure he remains free from spit at all times. 

Paging director Ackles

Anyone who's followed Jensen Ackles' early work on "Supernatural" knows that the actor had early aspirations to land in the director's chair. In the Season 1 "Year in the Life" segment of the "Supernatural" DVDs, Ackles messes around with a camera Padalecki got for him, and he really seems to get a kick out of fooling around with the clapperboard and the word "cut" in the "Supernatural" bloopers made available to the public. Ackles directed six episodes of the show, but that wasn't the end of his directing career.

Ackles went on to direct the 14th episode of "Walker" Season 2, titled, "No Such Thing as Fair Play." And not only did the actor bring his directing talents to the set, but he also added in more than a few Easter eggs for discerning fans to find (via EW). The episode kicks off with a massive plate of bacon that would make Dean's mouth water, and shortly after, we see the actual green cooler the Winchester bros used on "Supernatural," which Ackles was saving for a rainy day.

But in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene, Ackles himself is actually in the episode. He jokingly told Entertainment Weekly, "That's my M. Night Shyamalan" — referencing the "Old" director's habit of adding himself to his films. Ackles wanted to see if fans would clock his bowlegs in the scene, saying, "The right ones will." And the right ones certainly did.

Carry on wayward sons

Beware: Spoilers for the ending of "Supernatural." It's a gut-wrenching thing when real life interferes with an epic last hurrah for a show that has been on the air for 15 years. "Supernatural" was in its last season as the 2020 pandemic began, and as a result, the series' final season was modified due to COVID restrictions, shutdowns, and precautions. And while the fandom was in severe need of a pick-me-up, the ending of "Supernatural" went from a big family reunion to a small intimate reunion in Heaven.

"Supernatural" producer Andrew Dabb revealed the original plan for the show's ending in the book Supernatural 15 Seasons: The Crew Member's Souvenir, where he wrote, " [...] We came up with something that felt like a fitting version of Sam and Dean's Heaven: all the people the boys had met along the way (or, at least, those we could convince to fly to Vancouver) crowded into a re-built Roadhouse, as the band Kansas played our (official unofficial) theme song: 'Carry on Wayward Son.'" (via EW.)

In some ways, the altered ending makes everything feel full circle by centering it around the brothers. And though we might never get that Roadhouse reunion, Padalecki and Ackles made the Kansas performance happen during the "Walker" episode Ackles directed. Ackles told Entertainment Weekly in an interview that Kansas was playing an Austin concert right around the time they were shooting "No Such Thing as Fair Play." Ackles said about the experience, "The fact that we got to do that in any capacity felt like we got to scratch an itch that needed to be scratched."

Lindsey Morgan bids farewell

One of the most unpredictable aspects of TV and film is whether or not the cast sticks with a show or movie franchise until the end. Fans often forget that actors are real people with their own lives and families and expect them to stay with a project until its totally run its course, which is both understandable and ultimately not cool. So it's always nice to see a fandom and cast support a costar's choice to step down from a role without giving them a ton of flak.

In Season 2 of "Walker," Lindsey Morgan left the show for personal reasons, but fortunately, everyone respected her decision. Regarding her final scene, Morgan told Entertainment Weekly, "That final scene was not in the original script. So Anna [Fricke] had added that scene during the week of shooting, and when I received it, it just gutted me." She added about her decision to leave, "Me leaving was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make in my life, and it's really interesting because my life can parallel Micki's a lot, and this was kind of a similar instance." She also said that she would consider appearing in the show again if the story was right.

On Morgan's departure, Pileggi told Looper, "It was tough saying goodbye to Lindsey because I adored her. I still adore her, and I thought she was absolutely wonderful in the character, and I was so sorry to see her go." But according to Morgan, everyone was supportive. In a statement to Deadline, she wrote, "I am eternally grateful to have the support of the producers, CBS Studios, and The CW in allowing me to [step away from the role.]"

A scary accident

Fans tend to get concerned when actors drop out of convention appearances for unspecified personal reasons just days before the con. When Padalecki dropped out of the 2022 Salute to Supernatural convention in New Jersey, fans began wildly speculating on the cause of Padalecki's abrupt departure. According to Variety, during Ackles' then-solo panel that Sunday, he told the audience, "[Jared] was in a very bad car accident. He wasn't driving, he was in the passenger seat, and he's lucky to be alive." Ackles noted how lucky his pseudo-brother was for being able to recover at home instead of a hospital, making the situation sound pretty scary.

Of course, fans were quick to hop on Twitter and send Padalecki buckets of love, and the actor responded by posting a photo of himself and his daughter with a message to fans: "Hey y'all! I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love. I'm definitely on the mend and hoping to return to filming later this week. I'm so lucky to have had the best care and be surrounded by people who love me. So grateful for everyone[.]" Luckily, Padalecki was back in fighting form shortly after, and fans let out a sigh of relief that the actor was genuinely okay.

No horsing around for Molly Hagan

Not everyone's suited for the wild life of the wild, wild West, and Molly Hagan would typically prefer to take several steps away from the horses on the "Walker" set. While the series has featured almost every member of the Walker family engaging with their horses, Abeline keeps a healthy distance, possibly because horses are the actress' Kryptonite. Hagan regaled Looper with her horse horror tales during an interview where she said, "I have had many interesting experiences with horses." The strongest italics in the world would not precisely communicate the tone of her voice when she said the word "interesting."

Though she added that they're "working on" her horse-related anxiety, she recalled the moment when her first non-TV horse tried to knock her down, which she narrowly avoided. She also mentioned that her first TV horse from "Dallas: The Early Years" was "truly angry." Who knows what that horse's problem was, but maybe it's better that this cowgirl stays firmly on the ground.

Meanwhile, Padalecki and Matt Barr are Texas natives who are pros on horses, and Mitch Pileggi has been on more than a few Western projects in addition to attending college in Texas, so these guys are more than capable of handling the show's horses and their associated shenanigans.

The possible end of the road for this cowboy

Actor Mitch Pileggi has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in Hollywood, but he just might be ready to retire his acting spurs at the end of "Walker." Pileggi told Looper during an exclusive interview to promote Season 2 that "Walker" may be his swan song. Asked about his aspirations for the future of his career, Pileggi said, "I don't know if there's much future left for me. I think this is going to be it." Pileggi has been incredibly vocal about his love for the show, the cast, and the crew, and it's always better to end on a high note than stick it out for something that doesn't bring as much joy.

The actor has no intention of leaving the show hanging, however. He even detailed a text exchange he had with Padalecki, recalling, "Jared, he texted me, and he goes, 'We got a lot more stories to tell.' And I said, 'I'm with you to the end.'" While a retirement seems to be approaching on the horizon, Pileggi wants to stick it out until the end of "Walker." He added, "To me, that's paramount because I know we've got the people to carry the water in this thing, and our writers have been doing a wonderful job bringing us great storylines."

Walker: Independence

The CW cancelled a whopping 10 series in 2022 (via THR), but alongside the bloodbath came two spinoff prequel orders: "Walker: Independence" and "The Winchesters." Like "Walker," creator Anna Fricke lent her imagination and time to the "Independence" pilot alongside writer Seamus Fahey. Fans will also notice another "Walker" staple in the show: Matt Barr. Not only did Barr play Hoyt Rawlins in the present-day series, but he plays his old character's ancestor in the 1800s-based spinoff.

The show also features "Shadowhunters" alum Kat McNamara and "Supernatural" icon Mark Sheppard. According to Deadline, Padalecki told fans at the ATX Festival that the show came about when everyone got ticked off about "Walker" killing off Hoyt. Padalecki explained, "The first TV spec script [Fahey] ever wrote was a Western, and when he wrote for 'Walker,' he created then subsequently killed a character named Hoyt Rawlings, and everyone was mad at him, me included. He talked to Anna Fricke, who runs 'Walker,' about doing a spinoff prequel, and this was in January of 2021 when they were having these discussions."

The creators got the ball rolling on the spinoff lightning quick, even finishing the pilot quickly enough to show fans at ATX in June of 2022.