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‘Supernatural’ Stars Tease Season 11’s Big Bad, ‘United’ Winchesters at Comic-Con

The stars of the CW’s “Supernatural” were on hand at Comic-Con to discuss the horror hit’s 11th season, with Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard joining showrunner Jeremy Carver and executive producer Andrew Dabb to delve into the darkness that was unleashed in the season 10 finale.

On the final day of the convention, Hall H was packed with loyal fans who had a special message of support for star Jared Padalecki, who recently went public about his battle with depression by launching the “Always Keep Fighting” campaign to support those affected by mental illness, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

In solidarity with Padalecki, fans held up tea lights emblazoned with the words “Always Keep Fighting” during the panel, prompting the visibly moved star to respond, “This is so touching and humbling and honoring … I don’t have the proper words to say thank you, or how humbled and honored and excited I am. Keep it up guys, thank y’all so much.”

It was a panel laden with appreciation from both sides of the stage, with the actors and fans expressing their admiration for each other in equal measure.

“We really are a family here that enjoys being here with our extended family,” Ackles said. “You guys are awesome, thanks for continuing to watch and support and inspire us to do what we do.”

Padalecki agreed, “The gratitude you feel towards us, we feel back towards you guys. We don’t exist without you, so thank you.”

Last season closed with Sam (Padalecki) and Dean (Ackles) successfully removing the Mark of Cain from Dean’s arm and freeing him from the bloodthirsty curse, but in the process, the brothers unleashed a more ancient and terrifying form of evil that’s even “bigger and badder” than before.

“We’re really proud of last season; we had a lot of intensely personal character stories, and this year we’re going back to a more epic feel with a Big Bad and a quest for the brothers to unite on,” Carver previewed of season 11’s new direction. “It’s a pretty special Big Bad we have this year. It’s pre-biblical story that’s never been told, so I think it’s gonna be a really fun, epic feel, and the brothers are going to be really, really united in their need to take this thing down.”

As for whether the Winchesters can hope to stop the spreading threat, Padalecki was ready with a groan-inducing quip: “I think we’ll beat it, because we’re not the Lose-chesters!”

Both Ackles and Padalecki expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming season and a chance to see the brothers as a united front again, “similar to the way they were season one when we were looking for dad,” Ackles said. “There was a unity there — it’s not ‘one of us is inflicted with some sort of craziness, demon-blood-drinking, Mark of Cain-wearing whatever it is.’ We’re back to normal, so to speak, and we have a common target, and I’m excited to get back to that original format.”

In the aftermath of season 10, Ackles said, “essentially, we’re now left with the cleanup. Getting rid of the Mark of Cain was not just getting rid of it and now everything is back to normal. Obviously something happened at the end of last season, and now it’s figuring out how we’re going to deal with the decisions we’ve made.”

Fans last saw Castiel (Collins) and Crowley (Sheppard) going head-to-head in an implied battle to the death, and Sheppard was coy as to Crowley’s fate, insisting, “I’m dead!” with a typical twinkle in his eye, before adding, “Even if I knew what was going to happen, I wouldn’t damn well tell you.”

Castiel, on the other hand, will be in the trenches with the Winchesters once more. “So far, from what I have seen of the season, we are united against a common enemy,” Collins confirmed.

The panel was moderated by “Supernatural” alums Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr., who played Chuck and Gabriel, respectively. The duo kept the panel light and playful, but couldn’t resist needling Carver about whether any fan favorite characters were likely to return in season 11. “There are, but they’re coming back in surprise ways so there’s not much that I can say,” Carver teased.

Carver also addressed the death of another beloved character last season — Felicia Day’s Charlie: “When we’re in the writers’ room, we have to go where the story takes us… we have favorite characters throughout the years who come on the show and if we’re doing our job right, people fall in love with characters and on the show where pretty much everyone dies at one point or another, it’s one of those horrible, sad, yet dramatic things that we do on the show.”

The cast are four days into shooting season 11, with Ackles once again directing. Despite “four very long days,” Ackles said, “everybody comes back refreshed and ready to go … it’s fun, it’s challenging. One of the things I like about directing is the challenge itself, challenging myself to think about the script in a different way.”

The panel wrapped with the season 10 gag reel, and Padalecki later took to Facebook to further thank fans for their support:

A thank you.

To anybody and everybody that had ANY part whatsoever in the Always Keep Fighting Hall H tea light event.

As I travel back to Vancouver from San Diego Comic-Con, with my partners in crime Jensen Ackles and Mark Sheppard, the enormity of what happened is finally starting to sink in….

I am beyond moved.

I feel so blessed, and grateful, and honored to be a part of the magical Supernatural Family.

Sitting on that stage in Hall H, I initially mistook all of the lights for cell phone cameras. It’s difficult to discern specific shapes and faces with all of those stage lights shining on you (and, it’s quite intimidating up there, sitting in front of 6,500 people!!). Then, when I had a light given to me with an explanation of what it was and what it stood for, I was (and am still) gob-smacked.

Thank you.

From the very bottom of my heart and my soul, thank you so much.

I will never forget this day. I will never forget the love that I felt, and still feel.

And, to everybody who held a light for me, please know that I hold my light for you.

Though I happened to be the one sitting on stage, I am but one small light in a see of thousands. TOGETHER, we can and will make a difference!

Keep letting your light shine. I will do the same.

And, keep fighting.

Always Keep Fighting.

“Supernatural” fandom has long combined their collective powers for good — as evidenced by Padalecki, Ackles and Collins’ charitable efforts, including Collins’ nonprofit org, Random Acts. Collins also mounts an annual scavenger hunt known as GISHWHES (the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen), which runs for a week beginning August 1. Thousands of participants (including celebrities like William Shatner) from over 100 countries build their own teams with friends or are placed in 15-person groups to acquire and create items from an elaborate list of tasks. Challenges range from the heartwarming to the absurd, with past examples including, “Hug a uniformed veteran,” and “Get a picture of a Stormtrooper cleaning a pool next to a sunbather enjoying a cocktail.”

“We got participants to rally together and scrape together all the furnishings for a disabled veteran… to surprise [them] with a house, fully furnished,” Collins told Variety of a previous item that recently came to fruition.

While the prize for the winning team is an all expenses paid trip to an exotic locale (this year it’s Costa Rica, last year was Croatia), Collins says for many people, the participation is reward enough in itself.

“There’s a whole cadre of people who are just doing it to have fun with their families and they’re not setting out to win but they’re participating with full gusto and producing some really great items. I think it’s about 50/50, half the people are trying to win, and half the people are just trying to have a really fun week,” he noted.

“I meet a lot of people who have participated in GISHWHES and we get a lot of testimonials and some of the stories that we hear are so moving… I’ll meet someone who says ‘I was agoraphobic and I wasn’t leaving the house, and then my online friend convinced me to participate and I have been dealing with my social anxiety so much better since then and leaving the house all the time’ … or these amazing stories of teams that were formed of total strangers [who] became this incredibly close-knit group of friends that were spending Christmas vacation together. Or people who got married because of the hunt, you get a lot of really cool stories,” Collins admitted. “It’s like you’re in a foxhole with someone, it’s a very intense week, and people form intense friendships. And that’s really gratifying to see. But we also try and create items that push people to do things way outside their comfort zone, and since it’s in the context of a playful game, people do it and then they say ‘holy s–t, I can do things I never thought possible.’ I think it does give people a little bit of a perspective shift.”

Get more information on GISHWHES here.

“Supernatural” season 11 premieres Wednesday, October 7 on The CW.

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