There are certain moments in the life of a beloved fictional character that you never forget, some good, some not so good.
The moment they first walk into your universe – or through a set of barn doors.
The moment they throw off years of service and devotion to God to devote themselves, instead, to two hunter brothers and their fight for free will.
The moments of self-sacrifice and even death in defence of said brothers. The glorious resurrections that follow.
And then there’s that moment when your beloved character and the one with whom he has shared a "profound bond" reunite in Purgatory, and both – through words and deeds – express so much of what you've been waiting so long to hear.
"I’ve been trying to stay one step ahead of them… to keep them away from you."
"I prayed to you, Cas. Every night."
"Cas, Buddy, I need you."
"Cas, we're getting out of here. We're going home."
"Let me bottom line it for you. I’m not leaving here without you. Understand?"
This moment is so important not just because of those words or that brief but significant - and so-appreciated - hug, but because you realise that somebody truly gets it. Gets how important the character is. How important his role in this universe is. How important his relationship to these two brothers is.
And dare we presume to say it, how important he is to all of us.
Showrunner Jeremy Carver returned to the Supernatural fold earlier this year, and at the San Diego Comic Con declared that
"No one is a bigger fan of Dean and Cas more than I am."
And we were delighted to be informed that Castiel would appear in at least 8 episodes during the latest season.
Further, when asked not long after SDCC how soon we would find out what happened to Castiel in Purgatory, he was quoted as saying:
"How soon? Well, we’ll be telling that story in Purgatory, pretty steadily through the first seven or eight episodes, so by Episode 7 or 8 you’ll start to get a real good understanding of what happened in Purgatory to Cas."
You will have to forgive us, Jeremy, if we now confess that we took such words with the tiniest grain of Grade-A, Winchester-approved, Demon-warding salt. Because we have had reassurances before and they walked into a murky pond, and didn't show signs of life again until 15 episodes later.
(Yeah, there's one of those moments that's hard to forget.)
But a couple of episodes into this new season, a season so many - including us - are already calling Season GR8 - and we feel, at last, cheerful.
More, we're excited.
We're excited because we finally know Castiel is getting out of Purgatory and becoming part of Team Free Will again. And we're excited at the possibility that his fellow TFW members may have an opportunity to have his back, to show their support of Cas as he battles whatever dark plans the writers have for him.
We're excited because we know Castiel has a big story-line coming up - that the upcoming sweeps ep is a Castiel-focused one fills us with glee (the non-musical type *g*) - which, with any luck, will play out in various episodes till season's end.
(Eight episodes was an estimate, yeah? *g*)
We're excited to know that, despite the oft-convention-reported humorous, occasional challenges of Misha and Jared filming together *g*, that future episodes will feature Sam and Castiel spending a bit more time together.
Don't get us wrong, the Dean and Castiel bond is unique. We're talking Mulder/Scully unique. But we love Sam, too, and it's about time this Winchester brother had a little Cas-time, eh? Afterall, these two characters have much in common given the somewhat faulty, though well-intentioned and similar decisions they made on the path to defeat evil and avert an apocalypse or two. Road, hell, intentions and all that, these guys have their own grounds for bonding.
And with our excitement we have hopes.
We are hoping that, while accepting that Supernatural will never be all rainbows and sunshine and fluffy white bunnies - unless they're possessed - we can take this journey through Season 8 (and 9 and 10 should they happen) with just a little less dread and a little less fear.
We've quoted it before, and we will again, that writer supreme Ben Edlund once said:
"It's just a really good combination, Supernatural and Misha Collins."
He also said of the character Misha brought to life on our screens:
"He's another brother, he's another main character."
Together with the declaration of fan 'love' of Dean and Castiel by Jeremy Carver, we are hoping that such declarations are more than a sound byte, that we can continue through this great season - and beyond - knowing that the powers that be, like us, feel that Castiel is relevant in the ongoing story and lives of Sam and Dean Winchester.
We want to hope that ignominious deaths are behind us, that Castiel - whether powered up or down - is recognised as who he is: an honorary Winchester family member whose story is most definitely not at an end.
And, finally, with our excitement and hopes, we are thankful.
We are thankful in ways that mere words cannot express that Castiel was returned to us from those watery depths. Maybe a little battered, a little bruised, a little bat-shit crazy for a time, but back to us he came. You really, REALLY, have no idea how much we appreciate his resurrection.
We are thankful that a hellatus-long, angst-filled wait to find out if Castiel would actually get *out* of Purgatory is over, and that our worst fears are, it seemed, put to rest.
(Forgive us, after 7+ years of this show, you tend to expect the worse!)
We are thankful that he has reunited with Dean, that he will mix it up with Sam, that he does have a role to play this season.
And just so we're not ignoring the big, pink elephant in the room - correction, the big ol' hug in Purgatory - we are thankful for whatever inspiration drove those words to be put to paper, that direction to be given, that interpretation of words to be acted, that scene to be played.
It is no exaggeration to say that a week later there was still much said in joyful refrains about that scene. And as we know you're aware of such matters, let's clarify it has nothing - okay, little - to do with fannish wishes of a romantic nature. After you've spent a season checking if the trench coat was still in Dean's car after Castiel's' Captain Nemo deep-dive, such scenes that, with so apparent little effort, express so much about the brotherly bond of trust, friendship, faith, protection, support and kinship, have a huge impact.
They are moments you never forget.
(And if in doubt, just wander over to our Galleries pages and check out just some of the art this scene inspired.)
We are excited. We are hopeful. We are thankful. As fans of Team Free Will and Save Castiel, we are a long way from where we were at the end of Season 6.
For that alone, this is, so far, most definitely Season GR8.