Two very important deaths book-ended Sam Winchester’s journey on the CW’s “Supernatural,” and now one equally emotional loss will set up actor Jared Padalecki’s new on-screen journey on the same network’s “Walker.”
The long-running demon-hunting drama, “Supernatural,” which came to an end after 15 seasons in November 2020, started with Padalecki’s Sam getting sucked back into the “family business” of “saving people and hunting things” after his college girlfriend Jess (Adrianne Palicki) was killed in the same way as his mother was when he was just an infant. He was a character who grew up on the road with his big brother Dean (Jensen Ackles) while their father searched for the thing that killed their mother, but when he got old enough to choose for himself, he wanted to go to college and try to have a normal life.
A decade and a half later, after taking on Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino), Archangels and even God himself (Rob Benedict), as well as one failed attempt at a normal life when Dean was sent to Purgatory, Sam lost his brother during a routine hunt in a vampire nest. Although he kept the family business going a little while longer, he ultimately did get to have some semblance of a normal life, including having a son.
“It was a success story — it was Dean’s success story,” Padalecki reflects on the “Supernatural” series finale. “This guy gave his life for years and years and years and ultimately gave his life to have his No. 1 on the planet live as normal a life as possible.”
Shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the “Supernatural” season finale was not a parade of beloved guest stars getting one last good-bye, but instead focused on the Winchester brothers who started it all (with one very special appearance by Jim Beaver). Padalecki confirms for Variety that there was no version he had read that revealed who Sam’s wife was in those flashes through his later years. In the episode, she is seen out of focus, from a long distance.
“I think it was very, very purposely ambiguous and strangely I agreed with that,” he says. “I feel like a lot of what Sam did after Dean died was almost in honor of what Dean would have wanted, and Dean would not have wanted his little brother to marry Eileen, Ruby, someone in the life.”
Padalecki and Ackles shot Dean’s death scene and Sam’s goodbye to him on Sept. 4, 2020. “That day sucked,” Padalecki says. “It was all day, just watching Dean die. Going through that was really awful.” Less than a week later duo was shot reuniting in heaven, on what was their final day — and the final shot — for the series overall. Five weeks after that, Padalecki truly set Sam aside to step into his new role as Cordell Walker, the titular Texas Ranger who is mourning the death of his wife (played by his real-life wife Genevieve Padalecki) on the reimagining of “Walker, Texas Ranger” that is simply titled “Walker.”
The Padalecki spouses met and fell in love on the set of “Supernatural” in 2008, and her character was killed off (by Ackles’ Dean) just a year later. So to some degree, Padalecki is “used to Gen dying on-camera,” he says with a little laugh. But now that they have been married for more than a decade and have three kids together — not to mention the fact that her character on “Walker” is a loving wife and mother, not a demon as on “Supernatural” — it hits him a little bit differently.
“We will shoot scenes where it takes place in the present sense [and] Gen’s character Emily is there in my head, and that’s pretty sad,” Padalecki shares. “There was a scene the other day that I can’t really talk about involving her character’s story that I had a tough time getting rid of the scene, so to speak. I didn’t know how it would affect me, but I went for it and they called, ‘Cut!’ and I couldn’t get rid of it. So you go for a drive and do what you can.”
In addition to Emily appearing to Walker in present-day, the show will also feature a number of flashbacks to their life together before she passed away in the story. Those often consist of the on-screen husband and wife talking about “appreciating the kids, appreciating our lives, our jobs,” Padalecki previews. “It’s kind of a constant reminder and it’s good and it’s been a wake-up call. Frankly what’s great is that when she and I film together we can get a babysitter and hang out for an hour in a trailer and just talk like two people who are in love, not like two parents who are scrambling to take care of the kids.”
Because Walker is in such deep grief when the audience meets him, Padalecki says that his challenge in the first season is to just keep it all together and try to balance being a good law enforcement official with being a good father.
“If he was on a boat that went down, he’s still trying to figure out how to stay above water; he’s not even looking for the horizon yet. It’s, ‘How do I fucking stay alive? My wife is gone, she did everything. I’m passionate about my job and making the world safer, but I can’t do that and be a dad. I may get in trouble with my job if I fail but I may fail my kids.’ He’s just trying to tread water,” Padalecki says.
Therefore, “it’s not about romantically moving on, but it’s also not really about trying to figure out how to move on” at all, he continues.
Regardless of how long a run “Walker” ends up getting to have, Padalecki says the central component of the show will always be Walker “not as a Texas Ranger who happens to have a family man, but a family man who happens to be a Texas Ranger.”
But, to be clear, even after jumping from one 15-year run on a broadcast drama straight into another broadcast drama, Padalecki says he hopes “‘Walker’ goes longer than ‘Supernatural.'”
“I get to wake up in my house with my wife and kids everyday and go to bed in the same house; I have a vote on where the story heads, so that makes me feel a little bit safer; the crew’s amazing; I love this city [Austin, Texas] and I have for years; I love the story we’re telling,” he explains.
During those 15 years on “Supernatural,” its fandom, he says, helped him realize “we can make a connection with other human beings in the real world by telling a story on television about random strange things as long as the underlying heart is there.” And that is what he hopes to continue for as long as he can.
“Walker” premieres Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. on the CW.