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Supernatural's showrunner explains the challenge of writing episodes without one Winchester brother

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Sep 4, 2018, 11:52 AM EDT

Supernatural has, since its inception, been a two-hander. Even as their world changed around them and their supporting cast came and went, there was always Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) battling evil together. When the beloved CW series returns for its 14th season next month, for at least a little while, that will no longer be true.

Yes, though various things have separated before, the Winchester brothers have never had to deal with something quite this powerful to keep them apart: The archangel Michael from the Apocalypse World has possessed Dean, and he's not letting go. Dean's sacrifice at the end of last season means that Michael is now walking the world in his body, and that means the show has to find ways to keep things interesting without one of its two main characters, even if the guy walking through the episodes still looks like Dean Winchester.

“The show’s built upon two pillars, and those two pillars are Sam and Dean,” co-showrunner Andrew Dabb said in an interview with TVLine. “We’ve taken Sam away for little chunks of time here and there, but never in a huge way. He’s been soulless and things like that, but he’s still kind of present. Demon Dean was kind of a one-episode thing, and largely, the action happened off-screen.”

So, Dabb explained, “one of the pillars of the show is gone, basically,” setting up an entirely new dynamic for the show's writers and cast to work with heading into Season 14. In some ways that's good, as it allows the writers to stretch their creative legs a bit and it allows the rest of the supporting cast to step up and take on new challenges for their characters. It's also an acting challenge for Ackles, who has to step out of the comfort zone of a character he's built for more than a decade and play something new, but Dabb also highlighted an even larger benefit at play with the Michael storytelling. Since Season 13 ended with Dean getting possessed, the show was able to go into Season 14 without going through the whole process of crafting a brand-new villain and finding the right actor to play the part. The story could just continue, with an actor everyone already trusted.

“The hardest thing about a show like this, sometimes, is every year, you have to create the new Big Bad,” Dabb said. “You have to build that character. You have to build that actor to find a comfort level with the show and everything else. With Jensen playing Michael, there’s none of that. This is an actor who everyone loves, who knows exactly what the show is, who knows exactly who he is, who knows exactly [and] very smartly how to approach this character. So it’s really given us, like instantly, a great bad guy, which is kind of obvious, but it’s something where you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s really, really cool.' ”

Supernatural returns for its 14th season on The CW Oct. 11. How long will Dean remain trapped by Michael? Tune in to find out.