“Even when I lose, I win!” Beautiful and empowering words written by Mark Sheppard regarding Crowley and his final accomplishments in the show. As painful as this is to write, I assure you, it is even more painful to accept – but when has that ever stopped any of us? After all, Hell hath no fury like a fangirl scorned! The departure we were given in the finale left us gutted, angry, and confused. How do you say goodbye to someone who mastered saying “hello boys” so perfectly? I feel like no matter how hard I try to put my thoughts and emotions into words, nothing I write is good enough. To the characters on the show, Crowley was someone who was thought of only when needed most. But for me, he is someone who will absolutely never be forgotten.
When we first met him, the Crossroads Demon was a shady business man, cutting deals and causing mischief. As time went on, he made alliances and enemies, but consistently kept the Winchesters within reach. He caused problems for them, considered killing them a few times, and always seemed to put himself first in his dealings with them. But, amid all that, he also helped them repeatedly, placed himself in harm’s way for them, and saved their lives (including Castiel’s) on many occasions. There is a quote from The Lord Of The Rings in which Merry talks about his life-long friendship with Pippin that I feel captures the essence of Crowley perfectly: “I would get [them] into the worst sort of trouble. But, I was always there to get [them] out.” If there is a single line in which I had to describe Crowley’s relationship with Sam, Dean, and Cas, it would be that. Truly. Despite all his dark excursions with unfriendly foes, it was the Winchesters he always came back to, time after time.
Together with Sam and Dean, numerous enemies were fought and defeated, often thanks to Crowley’s intervention. Crowley showed us that sometimes the only thing strong enough to fight the monsters of humanity is the humanity of monsters. All too often he would put aside his demonic nature to join forces with Sam and Dean in their battles to save the world, despite the fact that they’d never hesitate to try and kill him the first chance they got. The times he helped, knowing he would eventually ask for something in return or invariably had some ace up his sleeve, were the times I loved him most. Crowley was a constant reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover. He made me laugh the hardest on the show, but he also made me realize how we each have inner demons we battle, and sometimes they win. Without question, Mark Sheppard elevates every show he stars in, and his character brought a layer of depth and charisma to Supernatural like no other. It was never enough to simply love or hate Crowley. There were too many sides, too many nuances, too many complexities to the character brought to life by an actor who is a master at his craft. I think Dean said it best while speaking to Sam in the finale: “I believe in us. You, me, mom, Cas, … and Crowley. Sometimes.” It may have taken a while, but Crowley had finally become accepted as one of them. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late.
The fact that he was given a noble death is a very comforting notion, however. It makes you want to accept the death and be able to move on from it. It felt like a very fitting end to a very long-standing and beloved character, even a possible redemption of sorts. But that’s only if you don’t look too closely or too far beneath the surface. There was, in fact, very little about his death that made any sense.
Firstly, there is the spell itself to consider. It did not work. Nothing about the spell worked as Crowley described. It was intended to trap Lucifer, which it did not. And, it was supposed to close the portal, which it also didn’t do. Yes, the portal closed, but only after the Nephilim was born, long after Crowley died and Lucifer had passed through it, twice! Castiel explained earlier in the episode that Jack was the one to open the portal, and he’d be the one to close it. Cas wasn’t wrong about a single thing he explained in the entire episode. Why would he be wrong about this? Yet, apparently, there is a magic spell that can close a portal created by a Nephilim (which has never existed before since this is Lucifer’s first kid) to an alternate dimension (which has also never existed before) that requires relatively simple ingredients all collected within the span of an evening. Sure, whatever you say.
Furthermore, while the spell was being cast, Sam took the time to speak aloud each of its ingredients. Was that a clue, perhaps, to the spell’s true purpose? And, Crowley’s line of “two birds, one spell” seemed to resonate strangely. But, if that’s not enough, the spell also required a life in order to work, something The King failed to tell anyone until the last moment. Are we really to believe this demon was so willing to sacrifice himself to save the world after making such a daring play to appear before the Winchesters and strike a deal with them for further survival? Well, apparently so. As heartbreaking as it is, it appears he is truly dead. Still, at the very least, we can admit that something is (or went) awry.
Crowley’s journey in the season 12 finale began as a rat (quite possibly the world’s cutest meat suit, by the way), re-inhabiting his old body and pushing his way up through the earth. (Side note . . . demons bury their dead?! Since when?!) Seeing Crowley claw his way out of a premature grave showed us just how resilient and determined he can be. In his next appearance, he returns to his old friendly foes, the Winchesters. Admitting that he feels bored with being King, and that they are everyone’s best chance for survival, he strikes a hefty deal for their allegiance. He seems to be fulfilling his typical role as Anti-Villain in the story, being better off alive than dead, and helping the Winchesters fight a ‘Big Bad’. So far, so good. In his third appearance, however, things shift. He materializes before Sam and Dean boasting that he has the answer to all their problems (and subsequently the cause to all my woes). Crowley suddenly goes from being an Anti-Villain to a Code Hero. He plans to make the ultimate sacrifice and decides that if he is going to go out, he will do so his way and by his own rules.
Exactly why he made this choice is unclear. I surmise that we are supposed to believe that without the spell, the ending would have been different, so Crowley’s sacrifice was somehow necessary. I simply shake my head at that. The spell appears to have changed nothing. His demise was thrown in with three others, and overshadowed by the death of a more central figure in the episode; it was out-of-character and trivialized. The death itself was honorable, but the character was honored in only one way: No one can kill Crowley, but Crowley. Even so, deaths should be handled well on a show like this, they shouldn’t be thrown in with countless others and then diminished to ‘shock value’. Nothing about his behavior was in alignment with the Crowley we’ve known all these years. He should have remained the Anti-Villain he always was. I am all for character development, but no one develops from “I must survive at all costs so I’ll be a rat!” to “I’ll sacrifice myself for these men who just threatened to kill me a few hours earlier!” in a single episode! As Mark Sheppard frequently says on Twitter: no. It was a good death, but a bad ending for Crowley.
In spite of it all, though, Crowley’s time with us is over, and his reign as King of our Hearts has ended. As I think back on the character through his many seasons on Supernatural, I’m reminded of this quote by Pietro Aretino – “I am, indeed, a king, because I know how to rule myself.” Oh, how true that is for Crowley. If anything brings me comfort, it is resolving in the fact that the King Of Hell died on his own terms. Whatever the cost, Crowley went out a hero, and he did so with dignity and honor. Crowley lived his way and died his way. In his final moments, he expressed his absolute feelings to Lucifer, saying to him “I hate you. Deeply. Truly.” But, as he said those words, there was no rage in his voice. No wrath. No anger, even. He, instead, said it with a snicker and a smile, and it was beautiful. Mark Sheppard’s acting choice in that moment was insurmountable. It was as if Crowley was totally content with his decision and had accepted what was about to happen. Even with Lucifer bearing down on him, there was a striking sense of calm and serenity as he spoke his final words to the brothers, “Bye, boys.” He paid a heavy price for them. Crowley may have been a King to demons, but to Sam, Dean, and Cas, he became family. He Carried On for them, and there was Peace When He Was Done. Even when he loses, he wins.
Love Crowley? Then you’ll love these two insightful character profiles on Crowley!
“One of the best writers of both heroes and villains was William Shakespeare, and this essay seeks to align some of Shakespeare’s most complicated villains with Supernatural’s most complicated villain, Crowley. I hope to delve into Crowley to show how he echoes a long line of valued antagonists, how he inherits and translates the villain for today’s genre audience.”
Concerning Crowley: Insights Into the Supernatural Demon Who Is King by Tanya M. Rupa
“There have been plenty of dark deeds the King of Hell has performed as well. While his allegiance to the Winchesters can appear to change with the tides, his devotion to himself has never faltered. Which leads us to an interesting conundrum: Do we call someone who has inarguably helped and supported our main characters, yet serves primarily himself – a hero or a villain? How do we crack the code that is Crowley?”