used the “family” card with Cas many times. Sometimes he’s used it when
talking to Cas himself, and sometimes Cas hasn’t been present when Dean’s said
it. In season 11, Cas was told by the angel Ambriel and Amara that he was
expendable; he even let Lucifer possess him because he felt that way. If he got
himself killed, “no big loss” as Ambriel put it. We know Dean didn’t feel that
way about Cas because we saw him; we saw his desperation to get Cas back since
he found out Cas was possessed. However, Cas never saw any of that. That’s why
when season 12 started Cas still wasn’t sure whether he belonged or not.
This is what he told Mary in 12x03:
MARY: Castiel? After you left heaven, when did it start to feel like… like you fit, like you… belonged here?
CASTIEL: Well, I’m still not sure I do.
It was really painful to think that after so much Cas has been through with the Winchester, he wasn’t sure of his place in the family. The good thing was that season 12 was meant to correct that. It was a season for Cas to understand once and for all that he’s not an expendable tool to the Winchesters, especially not to Dean.
However, to explain how and when exactly Cas realized that he did belong, let me show you all the cards Dean has used with Cas and how meaningless or meaningful they have been to help Cas feel welcomed and loved or not.
The first time Dean told Cas something that had to do with family was in season 6. The problem was that it seemed to be a privilege given under certain terms. If Cas didn’t do what Dean wanted him to, then he wasn’t family at all. To be put in the category of “family” he had to conform. There was no unconditional love for Cas at the time and Cas felt it. This was the interaction between Dean and Cas in 6x20:
DEAN: Look, next to Sam, you and Bobby are the closest things I have to family – that you are like a brother to me. So, if I’m asking you not to do something… You got to trust me, man.
CASTIEL: Or what?
DEAN: Or I’ll have to do what I have to do to stop you.
Cas understood the condition behind the so-called family label. “If you don’t do as I say, I’ll have to kill you if it’s necessary to stop you.”
That first use of “family” didn’t work at all. In fact, it totally backfired two episodes later when Dean used the “family” card for the second time. This happened in 6x22:
DEAN: Listen to me. Listen, I know there’s a lot of bad water under the bridge, but we were family once. I’d have died for you. I almost did a few times. So if that means anything to you… Please. I’ve lost Lisa, I’ve lost Ben, and now I’ve lost Sam. Don’t make me lose you too. You don’t need this kind of juice anymore, Cas. Get rid of it before it kills us all.
CASTIEL: You’re just saying that because I won. Because you’re afraid. You’re not my family, Dean. I have no family.
Of course Cas felt he had no family. Dean said “we were famiy” as in “we’re not anymore because you stepped out of the condition I’d given you”. A person is supposed to be loved without “ifs”, and at that point, Cas knew Dean’s offer of “family” didn’t come free of conditions. Besides, let’s notice that Cas wasn’t using the plural “you” when he said “You’re not my family”. He was using the singular “you” since he addressed Dean directly by name.
After everything that happened in season 6, it took a lot for Dean and Cas to reconstruct their relationship. Dean didn’t try the “family” card again in a very long time. However, when his feelings were too overwhelming, he made use of two different cards: “home” and “I need you”. He used both cards for the first time in Purgatory, in 8x02:
DEAN: Cas, we’re getting out of here. We’re going home.
CASTIEL: Dean, I can’t.
DEAN: You can. Benny, tell him.
BENNY: Purgatory has an escape hatch, but I got no idea if it’s angel-friendly.
DEAN: We’ll figure it out. Cas, buddy, I need you.
DEAN: And if Leviathan want to take a shot at us, let ‘em. We ganked those bitches once before. We can do it again.
CASTIEL: It’s too dangerous.
DEAN: Let me bottom-line it for you. I’m not leaving here without you. Understand?
CASTIEL: I understand.
This was the first time Dean Winchester decided to show Cas unconditional love. Dean wasn’t getting anything in return for trying to save Cas. On the contrary, they didn’t know if their escape hatch was angel-friendly, as Benny said it. Taking Cas with him was dangerous for Dean, but he didn’t care; he just knew that he would not leave Purgatory without his angel. He didn’t use the “family” card, but the cards he chose along with his actions were a lot more meaningful.
The third time Dean used the “family” card was in the crypt scene in 8x17. Cas was being mind-controlled and Dean was trying to break through before Cas could actually kill him. We all remember the words:
DEAN: Cas. Cas. I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. Cas… It’s me. We’re family. We need you. I need you.
If you notice, Dean used the “I need you” card for the second time, too. It wasn’t the first time Dean had said those words to Cas. The first was in Purgatory and Cas knew Dean wasn’t getting anything in return back then. Dean honestly meant how much he needed Cas, just as in the crypt scene Dean wasn’t just begging for his life, he was actually confessing he needed Cas. He used the “family” card after almost two seasons because this time there wasn’t any condition attached to the label. Maybe that’s why this time it worked. Cas listened, and Naomi’s control was broken.
The third time Dean used the “I need you” card Cas didn’t hear him. It was in 9x01 when Dean was praying to him without knowing that Cas was human.
DEAN: Cas, are you there? Sammy’s hurt. He’s hurt, uh – he’s hurt pretty bad. And, um… I know you think that I’m pissed at you, okay? But I don’t care that the angels fell. So whatever you did or didn’t do, it doesn’t matter, okay? We’ll work it out. Please, man, I need you here.
That was the first time he used a new card as well, the “we’ll work it out” one. This time Dean didn’t want his words to sound like his feelings were attached to a condition. He wanted Cas to understand that the fact he might have messed up regarding the angels fall didn’t really matter to Dean; Cas still meant a lot to him… Dean still needed him and he knew they would find a way to fix things as they always did. It’s a shame Cas didn’t hear him!
The fourth time Dean included Cas as his family, Cas wasn’t there to hear either. Dean was talking to Kevin in 9x02:
DEAN: Because you’re family. After all the crap we’ve been through, after all the good that you’ve done… man, if you don’t think that we would die for you… I don’t know what to tell you. Because you, me, Sam and Cas, we are all we’ve got. But hey, if none of that matters to you, then I won’t stop you.
Cas wasn’t even present, but of course Dean mentioned him as part of the family. How could he not?
More than two years passed before Dean called Cas ‘family’ again. And Cas wasn’t even there to listen. He was possessed by Lucifer, and Dean was desperate to save his angel. This is what happened in 11x18:
DEAN: We’re not gonna send Lucifer into battle inside Cas. What if he doesn’t make it?
SAM: Dean, it’s a strong vessel. It’s held Cas for years, and we know what he’s been through. I’m guessing it can hold Lucifer.
DEAN: “It”? It’s not an “it,” Sam. It’s Cas.
SAM: And Cas wanted to do this.
DEAN: Yeah, well, there’s times I want to get slapped during sex by a girl wearing a Zorro mask. That don’t make it a good idea.
SAM: Dean, this is exactly how we screw ourselves. W-We make the… the heart choice instead of the smart choice.
DEAN: Oh, okay. Thank you, Dr. Phil. Cas is family.
SAM: Yes, and his choice deserves to be respected.
DEAN: Even if it kills him?
After the audience witnessed Amara and Ambriel saying Cas was expendable, it was refreshing to see Dean acknowledging Cas as family. The only problem was that Cas was called expendable to his face, so he needed to be reassured face-to-face that he was family. No matter how beautiful it was for us to hear Dean say it, Cas wasn’t there to listen. That’s how we got to 12x03, to the moment when Cas himself told Mary that he still wasn’t sure he belonged there (with the Winchesters).
In 12x10, Dean used the “family” card when talking about Cas again, but the angel wasn’t there to hear.
LILY: How did you find me?
SAM: We’re here to talk, that’s it. We come in peace. Just hear us out. We heard what happened to your family.
LILY: My family?
DEAN: See, Cas is our family, so we can’t let you hurt him.
By the end of the episode, Dean was given a choice between saving his life and saving Castiel’s. Cas was there to witness how Dean chose to risk his own life in order to protect Cas.
DEAN: Don’t move *his hand hovering over the sigil to blast angels away*
ISHIM: Do it. You blast me away, you’ll blast away every angel in the room. I’ll survive. Castiel, on the other hand, he’s hurt. He might live or he might just end up a bloody smear on the wall. Roll the dice.
DEAN: *backs off*
Dean would have never done anything that could hurt Cas no matter how long they’d spent bickering in that very same episode.
All of this was leading to the big moment… the moment when Castiel would finally realize how much he meant to his family, the moment when he’d see he was loved without conditions. The moment he’d hear from Dean himself (and Sam) that Castiel wasn’t going to be left behind. This happened in episode 12x12, when Castiel got hurt and almost killed.
CASTIEL: Crowley’s right. You should go.
DEAN: Cas, come on.
CASTIEL: No, you listen to me. You– Look, thank you. Thank you. Knowing you, it… it’s been the best part of my life. And the things that… the things we’ve shared together, they have changed me. You’re my family. I love you. I love all of you. Just please… please, don’t make my last moments be spent watching you die. Just run. Save yourselves. And I will hold Ramiel off as long as I can.
DEAN: Cas, no.
CASTIEL: Yes. You need to keep fighting.
SAM: We are fighting. We’re fighting for you, Cas.
DEAN: And like you said, you’re family. And we don’t leave family behind.
The seventh time Dean used the “family” card was everything Cas needed to hear. In season 6 Castiel had told Dean specifically that he was not Cas’ family. Now 6 years later, Cas is saying the opposite. Not only is he calling the Winchesters family, but he’s also using the “I love you” card.
Dean isn’t ready to use the L word yet; the closest he got was giving Cas a mix tape. (Dean could say “I love you” to Mary in 12x22, though, so hopefully he’ll be more comfortable with the L word from now on). At least Dean’s continued to use other important cards like:
Who knows what that crazy man was talking about. Let’s go home. (12x10)
We’ll work through our crap. We always do. (12x23)
It’s true that Cas sort of betrayed the Winchesters when he stole the Colt, but he did it to keep them safe. In 12x19, he called the angels ‘his men’, whereas Dean and Sam were ‘his friends, his family’. There’s a big difference! He started the season not sure of where exactly he belonged, but by the end of it, he was sure of something: he didn’t care about his reputation in Heaven anymore. All he cared about was protecting his family, the Winchesters. By the end of season 12, I’m sure he didn’t consider himself expendable in the eyes of the Winchesters anymore.
The only problem now is that… Cas is dead. We need him back… Dean needs him back ASAP. There are some cards Dean hasn’t used yet, but we’re getting there slowly. Facing the reality of losing Cas might give him another little push in the right direction. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for more than a mix tape in season 13!