Misha Collins, Jensen Ackles

Castiel has risen! The beloved Supernatural character played by Misha Collins will make his long-awaited return to The CW series on March 23 for the first of at least three episodes — and we've got your exclusive first look. Collins tells TV Guide Magazine that he is still playing Castiel, despite the fact that when we last saw him in the fall his body had been taken over — and destroyed — by the Leviathans.

Cas is not returning as a Leviathan, Collins says, but "he has changed." Whatever he is, Dean [Jensen Ackles, pictured above at right with Collins] sure is glad to see him. Between Bobby's demise and "Sam [being] in really dire straits," Collins says, "Dean is definitely looking to lean on the character for help." It seems Castiel is no longer the Winchester brothers' enemy.

"There's a kind of big experience that is being kicked off at the end of my first episode," Collins reveals. "Cas is going to go through yet another transformation and on to another kind of struggle and journey. Once again, he'll be put through the wringer."

So how was being back on the Supernatural set after a six-month absence? "Funny and kind of bizarre," Collins says. "It was like the entire production was frozen in time." As for appearances in Season 8 (should the show be renewed), "there's no reason why it couldn't happen," he says. "I have been resurrected from the dead around four times. So no amount of death or destruction seems to be insurmountable in the Supernatural universe."

Supernatural airs Fridays at 9/8c on The CW.

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