‘Supernatural’s Dean Winchester and Castiel: The Hunter, the Angel, and the Profound Bond That Helped Save the World

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Image courtesy The CW.

Additional authors: Jules, Julia, Brianna

The time has come — we’ve reached the end of the road after 15 long, gripping, and epic years of Supernatural. Now, in the wake of this emotional farewell, we’re here to reflect on one of the single most significant relationships depicted throughout the course of the show. Supernatural began as a story of two brothers on the road, fighting evil at every turn, and the story expanded tenfold as countless figures came and went in their lives over the years. For Dean Winchester in particular, one of the most important, everlasting, and steadfast of them all through till the bittersweet end was Castiel, angel of the Lord.

The profound bond that Castiel and Dean developed over time would quickly prove to alter the trajectory of Supernatural as a whole, as it became an irrevocable, crucial piece of the story — both for the plot itself and within the hearts of show’s dedicated fandom. The Winchesters and their allies went to great lengths to save the world many times over, and Dean and Castiel’s connection played a pivotal role in the journey down that winding road.

As fans are still coasting on a mixture of feelings after the show’s final bow, we’re here to take comfort in remembering 12 years of Dean and Castiel — from tense and explosive beginnings in a barn, to achingly honest admissions and tearful goodbyes in the bunker, and every unforgettable moment in between.

Image courtesy The CW.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? How something so beautiful began in Hell, of all places.

The story of the hunter and the angel commences in the season 4 premiere “Lazarus Rising,” in which Castiel grips Dean Winchester tight and raises him from perdition. Despite the swoon-worthy implications of such a heroic act, the Castiel that rescues Dean from the grips of Hell is simply a soldier acting on orders. Yet — unbeknownst to either of them at the time — this is the very same man that he will eventually come to defy Heaven for time and time again.

Many of Castiel’s earliest interactions with Dean throughout season 4 are stiff and sometimes awkward (though endearing all the same), because the angel still has a limited understanding of human interactions and emotion. However, despite all the references that Cas doesn’t quite get, Dean doesn’t let that dissuade him from developing a quick and comfortable familiarity with the celestial being. “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” contains a crucial turning point for the two, as Cas decides that he now trusts Dean enough to share the otherwise unspeakable doubts that he’s harboring about Heaven.

Uriel: “Castiel? Oh, he’s … he’s not here. You see, he has this weakness. He likes you.”

Later in the season, Castiel is demoted because his superiors feel that he’s getting too close to Dean. This leads to a turbulent push and pull between them, as Dean struggles to retain their connection and Castiel begins to pull away. When the finale rolls around, Castiel’s loyalty to heaven falters once more when he chooses Dean, freeing him so he can go after Sam before it’s too late. This act of “choosing” Dean will soon become a pattern in the years to come.

Image courtesy The CW.

Castiel: “I’m hunted. I rebelled, and I did it, all of it, for you, and you failed.”

Not long after Castiel’s resurrection in season 5, a small but significant moment occurs when Dean allows Cas to borrow his amulet to attempt to find God, despite how much the necklace means to him. Dean is in a difficult place at this point, struggling to find the wherewithal to trust Sam again. Though this is still early on in their friendship, Castiel’s presence in Dean’s life is an important piece of stability through this inner turmoil. In “Free to Be You and Me,” another shift in their relationship is made clear when Castiel turns to Dean and asks him to help him track down Raphael:

“I need your help … because you are the only one who’ll help me.”

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Meanwhile, Dean begins to see Cas in a new light in “The End” when he meets a startlingly human version of his friend. This Castiel is long past his fall from grace; he is living proof that Dean cannot always rely on him to be an unbreakable force, and at some point it might be the angel that needs Dean instead. Through the rest of the season, Cas continues to assist the Winchesters in the fight to stop Lucifer. Dean’s choices regarding Michael and the angels threaten to break he and Cas — “I gave everything for you, and this is what you give to me?” — but their subsequent reconciliation is no surprise … these two still have miles ahead of them.

Castiel: “Dean and I do share a more profound bond …”

The subtext remains strong in season 6, but things become messy while Castiel is in league with Crowley for the sake of the war in Heaven. It’s difficult to see the hurt between he and Dean in “The Man Who Would Be King” when it all comes to a head. Despite the friction between them, Castiel eventually saves a dying Lisa at the end of the season and erases her and Ben’s memories of Dean for the sake of the hunter. And though they believe that the two of them may be beyond fixing at this point, the story of Dean Winchester and Castiel is far from over, because there’s a deep-seated permanence in the connection that they’ve forged.

By season 7, it’s safe to say their relationship goes beyond friendship. Castiel, try as he might to do what he believes is right, makes a choice that nearly kills Sam and endangers the world, an action that would have easily ended a lesser relationship. But, for better or worse, these two are deeply bonded.

Cas tries to make amends to Dean for the damage he has done, taking on Sam’s hallucinations which literally break his mind. This new Castiel helps how he can, but is utterly paralyzed by fear. He already failed the world, failed Dean, and is petrified of repeating his past. Even so, it’s Dean’s forgiveness that gives Cas courage. Dean’s love for the world spurs Cas to action, and like so many times before, he accompanies Dean on a potentially lethal mission.

Dean: “Yeah, but you know what? Bottom of the ninth, and you’re the only guy left on the bench. Sorry, but I’d rather have you, cursed or not.”

Dean’s forgiveness allows Cas to begin to forgive himself; without it, he would remain lost and petrified. When they are thrown into Purgatory in season 8, Cas is presented with a chance to “do penance” for his terrible deeds, believing he deserves to be hunted and afraid.

Dean, however, immediately looks for Cas without rest. When presented with the chance to leave Purgatory, he never once considers going without Castiel. When he finds him, Dean hugs Cas tightly with a smile, and for one wild second everything is okay. It’s in the all-out kill or be killed hellscape of Purgatory where their previously tumultuous relationship is made immeasurably stronger. They not only fought together, but trusted each other implicitly with their lives every waking moment. Dean’s affection for the angel runs so deep that he subconsciously rewrites his own memory when he escapes without Cas, placing blame on himself rather than on Cas’ choice to stay.

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Without Dean Winchester, Castiel would undoubtedly become just another weapon of heaven when Naomi enters the picture. She’s so aware of how deeply Dean has already changed the angel, she forces Castiel to kill a thousand Deans to remove his emotions. Naomi sorely underestimates the underlying love and loyalty embedded in the profound bond that the two of them share. Facing a bloodied Dean with orders to kill, Dean’s own words pull Cas back:

“Cas, I don’t know what the hell is wrong with you, but if you’re in there and you can hear me, you don’t have to do this. Cas, this isn’t you. This isn’t you, Cas. Cas I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. Cas, It’s me. We’re family. We need you. I need you.”

Tricked by Metatron, Castiel faces a new challenge: being human. He learns about every aspect of humanity — eating, sleeping, emotions. Without a thought, he turns to Dean for refuge in this strange new world, and is met with heartbreaking rejection. Dean makes the gut-wrenching decision of forcing Cas to leave in the hopes of saving Sam, an act that weighs heavily on his conscience and has him checking on Cas a few episodes later. Dean knows Cas is no longer the tough warrior angel he once was, and shields him from the fact that the spell is irreversible. If Cas knew the truth, even as a human, he might reach out to the angels and get himself killed again, and that’s not something Dean is willing to risk.

But Cas finds himself again forced into a leadership role among the angels in season 9, stealing grace and amassing an army. At the height of his power, Castiel’s forces ask for one show of faith: kill Dean Winchester. And just like before, he chooses Dean instead. Every time, Castiel chooses Dean, and it again highlights the depths of their bond and how much Dean has changed Castiel. As Metatron tells Gadreel, “He’s in love with humanity.” Because Dean cares about the world, so too does Castiel. He cares deeply about the man who has fought his whole life to save others, and always chooses to save Dean, even when he won’t save himself.

Things seem to take (another) turn for the worst in season 10. Dean is a demon, thanks to the Mark of Cain, and Castiel is horribly ill. When Cas initially finds out about Demon!Dean, he’s shocked. Despite being sick, we still see his devotion and willingness to find Dean and help him. Throughout Cas and Sam’s journey trying to find and cure Dean, Castiel’s concern is at the forefront. He becomes noticeably sadder as the Mark of Cain’s darkness continues to affect Dean. Meanwhile, Dean seems to have lost any real hope about healing from the damage of the Mark, stating that Cas and Sam will have to do whatever necessary (aka killing Dean) to finally stop the it. Eventually, Cas begrudgingly turns to Crowley. He’s desperate to help Dean, who has his own ideas about how to destroy the Mark.

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Even in their sadness and Dean’s hopelessness, Castiel won’t give in so easily, arguing with Dean that it doesn’t matter what the cost of destroying the Mark is so long as Cas doesn’t have to watch Dean turn into a monster.

Castiel: “I’m the one who will have to watch you murder the world.”

Season 11 presents a greater cosmic challenge: the Mark of Cain is gone, but from it comes Amara – also known as the Darkness and God’s sister. This season, though, the tables turn and Castiel is the one trapped in seemingly impossible predicaments.

Early in the season, Cas is cursed with a spell that turns him feral, tortured, and he beats up Dean. Regardless of his actions, Dean is quick to let Cas know that it doesn’t matter. As Cas tries to apologize, Dean tells him, “You’re right, there aren’t words, Cas, ‘cause there’s no need.” Dean’s words and his general reaction continue to showcase the evolution of his and Castiel’s bond, going from an extremely distrustful man to one who holds a deep understanding of Castiel’s struggles and loyalty, as Cas showed Dean the same empathy.

We continue to see the affection Dean holds for the angel. He constantly checks in on Castiel, telling him to focus on healing. Of course, Cas has established that he won’t be benched so swiftly, helping whenever he can. But, because this is Supernatural, everything goes south. While searching for leads on Amara, Dean, Cas, and Sam find themselves in Hell to talk to Lucifer, an encounter that ends with Castiel allowing Lucifer to possess him. Dean and Sam don’t immediately notice, but because of his connection with Castiel, Dean knows something’s up besides Cas just being Cas. When they figure it out, Dean is visibly heartbroken, aching for Castiel to return home as his normal, glorious self.

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By the end of the season, Castiel is back to normal, to Dean’s immense relief. They prepare for the final showdown with Amara, where Cas offers to go with Dean, who won’t let him. It’s a wonderful and heartfelt moment between the two.

Season 12 throws a few different curveballs for Team Free Will: Mary Winchester is resurrected, Lucifer is bouncing from vessel to vessel, Jack’s birth is imminent, and we’re introduced to the British Men of Letters (BMoL), who kidnap Sam. For much of the season, Cas and Dean are on their own journeys, occasionally crossing paths. However, that doesn’t stop them from giving us their quality banter (shout out to “at least I don’t look like a lumberjack!”).

Dean, at a loss with how to talk to Mary like a normal person, turns to Castiel for advice. In return, Cas continues to offer his help with Mary. They continue through the season searching for Lucifer and dealing with the BMoL. They also learn more about Nephilim, leading to a bloody confrontation where Cas is on the brink of death, unable to heal himself. As he bleeds out, Dean attempts to (unsuccessfully) mask his pain with humor, clearly hurting over the thought that he might lose Cas again. Looking around at Dean, Sam, and Mary, Cas first looks in Dean’s direction, saying those three little words, “I love you,” before telling all three of them that he loves them. But, thankfully, Cas lives …

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As the season concludes, Jack is finally born. TFW finds Lucifer and also discover the Apocalypse World, where Mary is trapped, even after Cas killed Billie to make sure Dean and Sam didn’t lose her again. But Mary (though living) isn’t the only loss. After several close calls, Dean loses Cas, and this time it feels permanent; Cas isn’t breathing and his wings are singed into the ground, the mark of an undeniably dead angel. And Dean is absolutely broken.

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Season 13 opens with Dean grieving the loss of Castiel and lashing out at Jack for his role in causing it. Castiel wakes up in The Empty. The Empty is upset to be awake, as Cas stubbornly refuses to go back to sleep with the others. Attempting to force Castiel to join his brethren in eternal sleep, The Empty searches Castiel’s mind for the reason he is awake. With what we now know of the later episode “Despair” in mind, what The Empty finds is even more profound:

“I have tiptoed through all your little tulips. Your memories, your little feelings, yes. I know what you hate. (Whispers) I know who you love … what you fear. There is nothing for you back there.”

Castiel is in love with Dean and fears that Dean can never love him back — it is something he can’t have. The Empty preys on this fear, implying that Dean doesn’t share his feelings, so what’s the point of trying? But he is still drawn back to saving Earth, begging The Empty to release him so he can help. Castiel’s return is what gives Dean a much needed burst of hope. Going into season 14, Castiel is focused on getting Dean back from Michael. He’s so focused on saving Dean that he finds himself at odds with Jack, who argues that the priority is stopping Michael even if it means killing Dean as his vessel. The problem appears solved when Dean returns, free from Michael’s control much to Castiel’s relief. But soon, in order to save Jack, Cas makes the deal that will become his undoing. He promises The Empty that when he finally reaches a moment of true happiness, The Empty can take him forever.

A rift develops between Dean and Castiel after Mary’s death when Dean lashes out, blaming Cas. The distance between them grows when Castiel finds out that Dean and the others want to kill Jack. The tension doesn’t stop as season 15 sees Castiel and Dean fighting alongside each other, but not together. They’re going through the motions, with Dean too proud to admit he was wrong and Cas still hurt by Dean’s willingness to let his anger take over. Things reach a boiling point after Rowena dies. Cas, heartbroken without Jack and with Dean angry at him, leaves the bunker. Forced to team up in Purgatory, Castiel finally tells Dean how his rejection made him feel: “You didn’t give me a choice. You couldn’t forgive me. And you couldn’t move on. You were too angry. I left, but you didn’t stop me.”

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When Dean and Cas are separated, Dean panics, finally realizing what Cas means to him and putting aside his anger. In a speech that exemplifies the growth Dean has experienced over the years, Dean prays to Cas, begging him to come back:

“Cas? Cas, I hope you can hear me … that wherever you are, it’s not too late. I should’ve stopped you. You’re my best friend, but I just let you go. ‘Cause it was easier than admitting I was wrong. I don’t know why I get so angry. I just know — I know that it’s — i-it’s just always been there. And when things go bad, it just — it comes out. And I can’t — I can’t stop it. No matter how — how bad I want to, I just can’t stop it. And — And I — I forgive you. Of course I forgive you. I’m sorry it took me so long — I’m sorry it took me till now to say it. Cas, I’m — I’m so sorry. Man, I hope you can hear me. I hope you can hear me.”

When Cas returns, Dean’s relief is palpable. The distance between them is healed, and they go back to Earth to stop Chuck with renewed purpose.

But soon, the deal that Castiel made with The Empty will come back to haunt him. As Cas and Dean find themselves backed into an impossible-to-escape situation in episode 18, Dean gives in to despair. He thinks the world will never be saved. Cas suddenly has a realization, and his demeanor changes. Turning to Dean, he launches into what will be known as Supernatural‘s most iconic speech, where Cas finally tells Dean the truth of how he feels before The Empty comes for its end of the bargain:

“I always wondered, ever since I took that burden, that curse, I wondered what it could be? What my true happiness could even look like. I never found an answer because the one thing I want … It’s something I know I can’t have. But I think I know … I think I know now. Happiness isn’t in the having, it’s in just being. It’s in just saying it …

I know. I know how you see yourself, Dean. You see yourself the same way our enemies see you. You’re destructive, and you’re angry, and you’re broken. You’re “daddy’s blunt instrument.” And you think that hate and anger, that’s … That’s what drives you, that’s who you are. It’s not. And everyone who knows you see it. Everything you have ever done, the good and the bad, you have done for love. You raised your little brother for love. You fought for this whole world for love. That is who you are. You’re the most caring man on Earth. You are the most selfless, loving human being I will ever know. You know, ever since we met, ever since I pulled you out of Hell … Knowing you has changed me. Because you cared, I cared. I cared about you. I cared about Sam, I cared about Jack… I cared about the whole world because of you. You changed me, Dean … I love you.”

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If Castiel had never met Dean Winchester and had never fallen in love with him, he wouldn’t have fallen in love with Earth and the humans in it. He wouldn’t have fought alongside them with such passion. Loving Dean led him to care, and that caring led him to make the sacrifice that allowed the Winchesters and Jack to beat God once and for all. Castiel’s final choice to save both Dean and the world out of pure love shows the integral part their bond played in saving the world. Although episode 18 was unfortunately the final time that we saw Castiel on screen, it was confirmed in the series finale that he is no longer in The Empty, and he assisted Jack in rebuilding Heaven. It’s safe to say that, as they always have, Cas and Dean will find each other again.

Goodbyes are never easy, especially for characters that mean so much to fans that they begin to transcend the show itself. For years, fans of Castiel and Dean have eagerly sought out clues in every look, line, and casual glance as they saw the bond between them grow and develop. Dean has resisted being loved his whole life, believing he doesn’t deserve it. Cas, despite his alien-like qualities, is incredibly relatable in his fumbling through human life and growing understanding of emotions. It’s why we rooted for him as his true feelings for Dean became clear. And it’s why we hoped that someday, he would get to speak his truth.

Castiel’s confession in “Despair” felt earned, and it sent a resounding message to Destiel fans everywhere: we see you, and you are worthy of being seen. And in the end, that is what we all want — to be seen and understood by the ones we love. Castiel was fully seen in his last moments on Earth by the man that he loved, and his expression of love is what summoned The Empty, sparing Dean to continue the fight. Though fans of Supernatural have found themselves divided over the show’s conclusion, one thing is abundantly clear — Castiel’s sacrifice, born out of his relationship with Dean, helped save the world once and for all.

Over the course of 12 years, the angel of the Lord and the hunter of monsters found the one thing they’d been missing while saving people and hunting things — each other — and that deserves to be celebrated. So here’s to Dean Winchester and Castiel, and all the promise in Heaven that still lingers beyond the pages of the final script. May we all someday experience an unconditional love like this — one that reaches across Heaven, Hell, and everything in between. Dean and Castiel changed each other, they changed the world, and they changed us, too.

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By Lindsey
Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. She has spent a large portion of her life dedicated to her first love, photography. When she's not behind the camera, she's likely reading books and comics or dabbling in creative writing. Otherwise, she's probably yelling about Star Wars, Marvel, anime, or Ted Lasso. Contact: lindsey@nerdsandbeyond.com
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