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My friend Caro once commented that, while she likes the CW hit show Supernatural, she didn’t think she could “really love a show without a female regular.” This is not a bad thing. It’s also true: Supernatural doesn’t have a female lead. But Supernatural does have something many popular shows don’t have–even the ones with female stars. Supernatural has consistently strong female characters.

Do they stick around for more than one episode? Not always. Do they kick some serious ass? You bet they do. So without further ado… five female characters that effectively distract the public from the idea that Supernatural is all about two guys killing demons.

Spoiler warning for the first 4 or 5 seasons. Ready? Okay!

1. Mary Winchester, née Campbell (1×01 Pilot, recurring)
Mary (Samantha Smith and Amy Gumenick) starts off the show as a sort of… heavenly Madonna-type character (mother of Jesus, not the pop star). However, in season four we get to know her the way she truly was–as a young woman raised by a family of hunters, to be a hunter herself. This gives Mary new depth: instead of a spotless paragon of virtue who always shows up wearing the nightgown she died in, we get to see her as a fighter and a warrior. We also see for the first time how much Mary is willing to sacrifice for her family. In the pilot we know that she died to save her son, but in season four we learn that she would give anything to save her husband. Mary is a strong character because she is selflessly devoted to her family–even to the point of violence. In a show populated by warrior men, it’s nice to see some warrior women.

2. Ruby (3×01 The Magnificent Seven, recurring)
Oh, Ruby. Is she an evil bitch demon who played a long con to orchestrate the end of the world? Well, yeah. But did she have style while she did it? Oh yes she did. The genius of Ruby’s character was that she kept everyone on their toes. Even when Blonde Ruby (Katie Cassidy)’s body died and she was replaced by Ruby 2.0 (Genevieve Cortese-Padalecki) was hard to read–she got Sam addicted to her demon blood while trying to get them to believe that she wants to help them. Ruby makes a perfect villain, because she’s evil and she’s not evil at the exact same time.

3. Meg Masters (1×11 Scarecrow, recurring)
Before there was Ruby, before there was Jo, before there was Bela or Anna, there was Meg. Meg was the first (in a long line of) women who wrecked havoc on the Winchester boys. When Meg was introduced she was just a cute girl Sam met while hitchhiking. At the end of the episode, however, Meg leaves Sam, hitches a ride with a trucker, stabs him in the throat and uses his blood to talk to a mysterious person. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Meg is actually a demon possessing the body of a poor college student. What makes Meg so awesome is that she’s uncompromisingly sadistic. She’s kind of like an evil, female Dean.

4. Jo Harvelle (2×02 Everybody Loves A Clown, recurring)
Jo (Alona Tal) is my favorite Supernatural female–more than Meg, more than Ruby. Not many fans like her, but that’s because 90% of Supernatural fans are girls aged 14-20 who react with startling and violent negativity to the very idea of a recurring female character, let alone a recurring female love interest.

Jo is a great example of two things: a female hunter and a well-rounded, flawed character. What makes Jo such a strong character is, counter-intuitively, her weaknesses. She’s headstrong, she’s impulsive and when she’s first introduced, she lacks the training to be a good hunter. She’s imperfect, which is what makes her so awesome. She also doesn’t take any of Dean’s crap, which still doesn’t stop him from giving it. Even though Jo never loses her proclivity to volunteer as bait, she eventually becomes a great hunter (and Dean stops making cracks about her being an amateur)

5. Ellen Harvelle (2×02 Everybody Loves A Clown, recurring)
Jo’s mother Ellen is roughly twice as hard-assed and awesome as her daughter. I like to think of Ellen as what Mary would be like (if she had lived) except… on steroids. Ellen is a good hunter and a fiercely protective mother. Ellen does become a mother character for Sam and Dean (a much-needed mother figure, I might add). What makes Ellen so amazing is that she seamlessly adopts all the strays in her life–Sam, Dean, Ash, even Bobby, occasionally–and loves them with the ferocity with which she loves her only daughter.

I could literally go on and on about the female characters in Supernatural. Trust me when I say that these five women are barely scratching the surface–the first two seasons of the show are very episodic; very monster-of-the-week. It affords the opportunity to create one-and-done characters, which, God bless him, Kripke loves to write as women.

Are they protagonists? Nope. Do we follow them week in, week out? Sadly no. But are they awesome? 100%