'Supernatural' Cast, Showrunners on Season 11 Big Bad The Darkness: "We're Working Without a Playbook"

Executive producer Jeremy Carver, co-EP Andrew Dabb and stars Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard dish on what to expect from the Big Bad to Sam and Dean's "united front" and more.
Courtesy of CW

Supernatural is forging new territory in season 11.

In the past, the long-running CW series has relied on urban legends and stories from the Bible for inspiration for every villain, from monsters of the week to season-long Big Bads. But 10 years later, executive producer Jeremy Carver wanted to throw everything they knew out the window and start fresh. This season, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) will find themselves facing an unknown entity, The Darkness, and not having a single idea where to start when it comes to defeating it. 

"This is something we've never seen on the show before," Carver tells The Hollywood Reporter. "At the beginning, everyone knows that something very bad is out there, but the boys aren't sure what they're dealing with. To make it even more frightening, everyone from angels to demons don't know what they're dealing with either. There's so little information about this thing out there in the universe. The show starts with a mystery in terms of what this thing is and what it wants. We take our time in building up our understanding of exactly that. It's going to have a pretty cool payoff."

As exciting as that idea was to Carver and the rest of team behind Supernatural, that also presented a challenge when it came to plotting out the season-long arc.

"This is a show that, as crazy as things get, there's always some lore somewhere that explains it. There's always some big dusty book or scroll or tablet or something that helps folks understand what they're dealing with," Carver says. "In terms of The Darkness, basically none of that is there. The boys have to turn to the very limited resources in terms of who might know something, who might have an understanding of what this is and what it wants. From the writing standpoint, we don't have the typical go-to answers that we normally come up with. We're working without a playbook here. The show starts in a bit of a different way than it started in the past. There's a whole lot of questions and a lot of great drama, but we don't feel the need to answer all the questions at first in the premiere. It's a fun, new way for us to start the show after all these years of following the same format."

But Carver is proud of where they were able to take the story of The Darkness.

"Some of the most exciting parts, I can't really talk about yet," Carver says with a laugh. "Last season, we made a real concerted effort to focus on smaller, personal stories and a lot of great stuff came out of it. While the character relationships are still there this season, with the release of The Darkness, the stakes are going to feel much, much higher, not just for the boys, but for the demons in hell and the angels in heaven. It excites us to confront this issue of what you do when you have a big bad that pretty much everyone wants gone but nobody knows how to deal with."

And that's going to put Sam and Dean in uncertain territory like never before.

"We are dealing with a force that predates even God," Padalecki tells THR. "So we're all out of our league here, in true Supernatural form."

Seeing both angels and demons at a loss for how to deal with The Darkness will really put the crisis into perspective for the boys. 

"Largely, Cas is going to be uniting with the boys against this common enemy, The Darkness," Misha Collins tells THR. "When Cas finds out what it is that they're dealing with, it's kind of an 'Oh, shit!' moment, because he previously thought that The Darkness was just a scary story that angels told one another at bed time that wasn't real. Finding out that it is real is going to be very scary for everyone."

And co-executive producer Andrew Dabb promises that no one will be able to predict what The Darkness wants.

"The Darkness is really a monolithic bad guy for us," Dabb tells THR. "She will have a particularly strong point of view that will come through and it's something that we can grow and develop over time into a fully-realized character. This person is going to be really scary, intimidating and wry like some of our best villains have been."

As dangerous as The Darkness will be, it does have a silver lining: the situation will be so dire that Sam and Dean will finally be in a good place with each other, frankly out of necessity. 

"We're going to see the boys in the first episode confronting their past issues head on and coming to an understanding," Carver reveals. "In terms of any lingering anger or resentment, I think the boys are ready to put that to bed in the service of a greater need. That said, it wouldn't be the brothers and it wouldn't be the show if there weren't issues that pop up down the line and things that threaten to divide them. How they handle that, however, is another story this season, but their intent is to be as united as they possibly can in pursuit of taking down The Darkness. They share a sense of guilt, like, 'We broke this,' in regards to releasing The Darkness, so they share a desire to fix it in a much more mature way than they have in the past."

Padalecki knows that the fans are going to be as relieved as he is to see Sam and Dean back together again. 

"I'm really excited to see the boys back on the same page," Padalecki says. "It seems like they have vacillated so much, they've been to the lowest of the lows with each other, and now there's a united front. That's always been my favorite part of Supernatural — when the boys team up and we have a united front of Sam and Dean Winchester. When Sam and Dean are fighting, that doesn’t sit right with Jensen and me. They're brothers, and underneath it all they love each other, and so this season is how it should be."

Ackles agrees, adding, "We feel the same way that the fans do. Sam and Dean are much better when they're working towards the same goal, on the same page. Teaming up to figure out what The Darkness is, what it wants, and how to defeat it is the boys' best chance of survival. We're taking the show back to its roots, and it feels good."

Of course, there are other factors that Sam and Dean will need to confront as well as The Darkness, like the fact that Dean killed Death (Julian Richings) in the season 10 finale. 

"We're going to start to see that addressed as early as episode two," Carver says. "We'll start to see the ramifications of that. There are those who are affected by the death of Death who, under no uncertain terms, lay down exactly how they feel about it. There will be some major consequences of that."

And Castiel and Crowley (Mark Sheppard) were stuck in a bit of a sticky situation themselves at the end of season 10, when Crowley's mother Rowena (Ruth Connell) put an "attack dog" spell on Cas and set the angel loose on Crowley, hoping he would kill the King of Hell.

"Crowley was about to die by the hands of Cas, and it does not look good for him, does it?" Sheppard tells THR. "The situation is pretty bad. We'll pick up with that right away. If Crowley doesn't make it out alive, it's kind of a wussy way to go. I'd rather him have a much more noble death."

Collins reveals that the spell will have long-lasting effects for Cas.

"We will pick up with Castiel right away in the premiere, we are picking up the pieces and Cas is definitely still under the effects of the attack dog spell," Collins says. "We have a very small time jump but you'll see Cas struggling with it. It's not something that has completely consumed him, he's fighting against it and essentially fading in and out of consciousness. But it's going to continue to be something he's fighting and struggling with for a very long time."

One of the things Supernatural does best, year after year, is its high-concept, meta episodes, and season 11 will have its fair share.

"Episode four is one that we're all really excited about," Carver says. "It takes place all inside the Impala. It's all from the point-of-view of Baby. It's giving tribute to the Impala, which is basically the unsung hero of the show. And then we'll have a nice mix of fun and frightening episodes coming up. We have one episode where we investigate what's happening in the world of imaginary friends, revealing that Sam himself had an imaginary friend when he was younger, Sully [played by Nate Torrence]. It's going to be a lot of fun."

And once again, Ackles is putting on his director's cap for an episode airing early in the season.

"I am directing again, and I'm really excited about it," Ackles says. "It feels really good to get behind the camera for an episode again. I kill myself during prep. I make sure that I meticulously do my homework so that when I show up for day one, I'm not scared and I can be ready for anything. I like to come over-prepared as far as directing goes."

Supernatural season 11 premieres Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 9 p.m. on The CW.

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