On Supernatural, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse Drive Muscle CarsS

Last season, midwestern monster-slayer show Supernatural left the heroic Winchester brothers in the middle of Armageddon. At Comic-Con, the writers and cast gave us a taste of the road ahead next season. Spoilers ahead!

Season 5 is an all-out apocalypse, according to producer Sera Gamble and showrunner Eric Kripke. "We call it the Walmart apocalypse because of our budget," Kripke joked. A lot of the epic action takes place offscreen, but there will be plenty of creative, unexpected twists on familiar Biblical stories. Gamble said it's their chance to "bring in all the A-list monsters," including Lucifer, "who will be very nice and likable." The writing team has played a lot with the concept of Lucifer, borrowing liberally from the fairly sympathetic depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost. "At one point he says he doesn't fly because he doesn't have to," Gamble said. Lucifer will be played by Lost's Mark Pellegrino.

All the trappings of the apocalypse will be turned on their heads, too. Kripke said the four horsemen of the apocalypse will be introduced in different episodes throughout the season – Gamble is currently working on the first episode featuring one, called War. "He's got great monologues," Kripke said. "At one point he says, 'I was in Germany. And then I went back to Germany. And then I was in Darfur. And then I got paged about coming here.' Also, our horsemen won't ride horses – they have muscle cars."

Producer Ben Edlund summed up season 5 in his usual offbeat way: "We're looking at the most classic horror story of them all - the Bible." He said that they do have an ending for the series planned, and "it will be bittersweet." Will the end of season 5 be the end of the show? Showrunner Kripke said that he's open to doing a season 6, but that they will definitely wrap up the apocalypse arc at the end of season 5. "We'll end with a bang, which isn't to say another story can't begin," he added. Basically he's flattered as hell that anybody would want to renew the show for a 6th season, and remains open to the idea. But there are no concrete plans yet.

On Supernatural, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse Drive Muscle CarsS

We saw a 5-minute clip from season opener "Sympathy for the Devil," and the crowd at Comic-Con simply went wild. It opened with a jokey introduction from the Ghostfacers, and then segued to a scene where the Winchester brothers meet fanfic prophet Chuck again. First of all, brothers Sam and Dean were clearly working together, which is a good sign. But - uh oh - Chuck is picking angel Castiel's teeth out of his hair. The archangels "blew him up like a water balloon full of Chinese soup," he tells the brothers mournfully.

The archangels show up at that point, and once again try to recruit Dean to help them stop Lucifer, whom they "need to strike hard and fast." There is a great scene of angry quippery between Dean and the archangels, in which Dean calls them "asshats" and dicks. And then he pulls a pocket door out of the wall, which has an angel-banishing sign on it, sending the dicks back to heaven.

Gamble and Kripke both called season 5 "ironically the most hopeful season of the show," after "season 4's almost suicidal depression." The arc of the season will bring the brothers back together, after they were torn apart last year. They also said it's going to be one of the most fun seasons of the show.

Castiel will return to Earth as a human, and has to reacquaint himself with human ways. "He's lost and afraid, on the run and shut out of heaven," Kripke said. "But in episode 3, Dean takes him to a whorehouse." He also joins the brothers on some of their monster-of-the-week missions, and becomes an awkward third wheel. Bobby is going to undergo a dramatic transformation in the first couple of episodes, and it's something so surprising that the cast and writers wouldn't tell us anything about it. Jim Beaver, who plays Bobby, told reporters that when he read the scripts he was "incredibly shocked."

Edlund is writing a time-travel episode (episode 4), where the brothers see the world 5 years into the apocalypse. "Sarah Palin is president," Kripke said. Edlund added that the episode asks whether this dark future is fated, or if fate can be changed. He also told a group of journalists that one of the things he loves about Supernatural is that it has the balls to ask where God is. "Just like Star Trek 6, which is the best movie ever!" he enthused weirdly. (I think he meant Star Trek 5.)

Kripke explained what exactly the archangels meant last year when they said "God has left the building." Apparently God has disappeared and nobody knows where God is. (Gamble warned us that we shouldn't necessarily assume God is male.) So the archangels started Armageddon all by themselves. We will meet God later in the season, however.

Other little goodies to look out for: Gamble says old hunters like Rufus are coming out of retirement. We'll see Ellen again, who reluctantly becomes a hunter. We'll also see Sam's girlfriend Jessica again. And demon Meg will be back too, in a new meatsuit. Kripke also promised more meta episodes ala "The Monster At The End of This Book."

Fans in the audience at the Supernatural panel asked great questions (maybe I'm biased, but these fans seemed like a really smart bunch). One asked whether cast and writers have gotten any blowback from church groups for their unusual depiction of angels. Apparently very little, and in fact Kripke said he's heard anecdotally that priests watch the series because it's one of the only shows out there that actually tries to grapple with telling the story of Revelation, and ask about the true meaning of existence. Gamble added that the Supernatural team is mostly agnostic on the question of religion, and that they were raised in a variety of religious faiths (Gamble herself is Jewish, and Misha Collins is a Buddhist). They aren't trying to make a religious point, she emphasized. "We are just trying to make life really hard [for the Winchester brothers]."

Kripke joked that he is planning to turn Supernatural into a religion. "I'm gonna L. Ron Hubbard this shit!" he quipped with a laugh. Misha Collins, who plays Castiel, added, "Way better money than syndication." Just watching the team interacting at their panel, you could see exactly where the goofy humor of the show comes from.

On Supernatural, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse Drive Muscle CarsS

I had a chance to grill Kripke about something I'd been wondering for a while: Why did he choose to set the show in the midwest, which isn't exactly your typical horror/gothic location? He said:

I'm from Ohio and the midwest. I find it deeply beautiful and deeply eerie. There's paint peeling on farmhouses in the distance, and thick woods. It's beautiful and ominous in a way that felt uniquely American. Often people think of the coasts, of creaky castles or Japanese horror. But I wanted to represent for the midwest.

And I asked Collins whether he thinks his character is a good guy. He answered with an emphatic "yes," and then elaborated:

I have a tendency to see all the characters I play as good guys. I played a serial killer once and while I was playing him I thought his actions were justified. It doesn't seem to me that Cas' actions are unjustified. And I think he's on the right side, and he's trying to save the world. So far I think he's a good guy.

As good as a serial killer? Hmmm . . .

I've got to say, as a fan and a critic, it sounds like next season will be as good as the last one. And that's great news. Catch up on thow show before it drops Sept. 10 by picking up the DVDs for season 4 on Sept. 1.

Images of the panel via downbeat.