How CW’s ‘The Winchesters’ Changes ‘Supernatural’
Saving people. Hunting things. It’s the family business—and the business is back.
Supernatural was more than just a TV show. With fifteen seasons, it holds the record as the longest running sci-fi/fantasy series on American television. The fandom is legendary online, both for the way they’ve rallied behind good causes and the way they seem to have a GIF for every situation. On top of that, the cast and crew have always been highly interactive with the community. There’s a reason Supernatural fans call themselves the SPN Family.
It was a family that had its heart broken when Supernatural came to an end in 2020. Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for the revival.
Announcing the Prequel
It’s June of 2021. Fans are just seven months out from the series finale, and everyone is still reeling. Destiel is canon. Jack is now God. After everything, Dean still died. Sentiment is split online between an outpouring of love and the inevitable complaints.
Then the news hits: the CW is making a prequel.
The Winchesters will give us more insight into Sam and Dean’s parents—John Winchester and Mary Campbell. It’s comforting to know that Jensen Ackles (Dean) is involved in the project, but the show still brings up some concerns. For one, John and Mary weren’t known to be stellar parents, so some fans are wary about their portrayal.
But more importantly, the plot of The Winchesters seems to completely disregard all the details and history that were previously established in Supernatural. In the trailer for The Winchesters, a voiceover from Dean says that his parents’ past has always been a mystery. But that’s…not really true. We’ve heard plenty about the Winchesters’ past. Thanks to both angelic and demonic time travel, we’ve even seen their past a few times. Not much of it lines up with the show—so let’s start from scratch.
Supernatural: The First Testament
At the start of the show, we’re given a limited view of John and Mary. They were just like any other couple, and didn’t get involved in the supernatural world until Mary’s death. John learned all about ghosts and demons from a psychic named Missouri. Then he devoted his life to hunting down the thing that killed his wife, taking out as many monsters as he could in the process. His obsession with revenge is the reason Sam and Dean grew up on the road, moving from motel to motel and learning how to use a shotgun instead of how to play ball. We don’t really hear anything different until Season 4.
4.03 “In the Beginning”
Castiel sends Dean back in time to 1973, where he runs into a much younger John Winchester. John is already dating Mary, though her family doesn’t like him very much. That’s because the Campbells are a family of hunters, and Samuel Campbell doesn’t want his daughter dating “a civilian.” (Made all the more ironic by John’s status as a war veteran.) Over the course of the episode, Dean learns that Mary hates hunting and plans to run away with John so they can live a normal life. She has no intention of dragging him into her world.
5.13 “The Song Remains the Same”
The next time we see John and Mary is in 1978. Both Sam and Dean go back in time to prevent their mother’s untimely death…before her actual untimely death in another few years. Mary is officially Mary Winchester, living a normal, married life with John. He still doesn’t know anything about the supernatural…until an angel tries to kill him and his wife. John’s quickly given a crash course in hunting, but at the end of the episode, his memory is wiped. So despite all their progress, John and Mary go back to living a normal life—right up until the house fire.
5.14 “My Bloody Valentine”
The only other thing we really learn about the Winchesters is how they fell in love. On a case dealing with Cupids, Sam and Dean learn that their parents were only together because of Heaven’s involvement.
“Ooh, they hated each other at first. But when we were done with them? Perfect couple!”Cupid, 5.14
It’s a blow for the Winchesters’ moral, knowing that destiny has interfered with their lives every step of the way. At the same time, it fits with everything else we’ve heard over the course of the season. If Sam and Dean are destined to fight in the Apocalypse, then John and Mary were destined to be together, even if it was hate-at-first-sight.
Supernatural: The New Testament
Longtime fans know that Supernatural was initially supposed to end with Season 5—but the CW didn’t want to give up on a good thing. Instead, we got ten more years of the Winchesters fighting everything from demons to humans, the Antichrist to God himself. (Damn you, Chuck.)
This is where things start to go awry. At some point, the story became so long and complex that not even the writers could keep track of the lore they’d established. The in-universe solution is that Chuck could change and rewrite anything he wanted as he went along, because he wanted to tell a good story. It’s one of the most genius, infuriating tricks I’ve seen come out of a writers’ room.
So let’s take a look at some of the details from late-stage Supernatural.
8.12 “As Time Goes By”
In Season 8, we get another look at Sam and Dean’s ancestry. The Campbell side of the family were hunters. The Winchesters were Men of Letters—basically supernatural scholars who cataloged the goings on of the magical world while maintaining limited interaction. Sam and Dean’s paternal grandfather, Henry Winchester, was actively trained in spells and lore. However, he kept all of this secret from John, intending to explain everything when his son was “of age.”
Unfortunately, the episode’s adventure ends with Henry dying in Sam and Dean’s time, meaning John never got that knowledge. John grew up thinking that his father ran out on his family, and lived a sad but normal life until he met Mary. Sam and Dean, on the other hand, inherit the Men of Letters legacy and move into a secret bunker their grandfather entrusted to them.
12.01 “Keep Calm and Carry On”
Things took a hard right in Season 12 when Mary Winchester was miraculously resurrected by God’s sister. (Long story, don’t ask.) It’s a shock for her; after all, she’s been dead for over thirty years. The world has changed and her two baby boys are grown men. In an effort to convince Mary that he’s really her son, Dean recounts a bunch of details he remembers about her. This includes the story of how John and Mary first met.
“March 23, 1972 you walked out of a movie theater—Slaughterhouse Five, you loved it—and you bumped into a big Marine and knocked him on his ass. You were embarrassed and he laughed it off, said you could make it up to him with a cup of coffee. So you went to, uh, Maroni’s. And you talked, and he was cute, and he knew the words to every Zeppelin song. So when he asked for your number, he gave it to him, even though you knew your dad would be pissed.”Dean Winchester, 12.01
Now, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound much like what Cupid described. Unless the initial interaction was John and Mary cursing each other out before being struck with Cupid’s arrow, the anecdote disregards the facts we learned earlier in the show. Of course, that’s not anything new for Supernatural.
When Dean takes Mary home to the Men of Letters bunker, she’s absolutely floored. She always believed the Men of Letters were a myth, a bedtime story for hunting families. And if she didn’t know they existed, she definitely didn’t know John Winchester was a legacy.
The New Winchesters
Now that we’ve had a brief refresher on the past, we can talk about the trailer for The Winchesters. If you haven’t had the chance to watch it, you can view the full video here.
Right off the bat, we see a very different origin story for John and Mary. John is about to be offed by a demon when Mary steps in to help—even if John does more harm than good. After some bickering, apologies, and poorly-aimed punches, John asks the million dollar question: “What was that thing?” Then Mary’s irritated response: “That was a demon.”
So. Safe to say Mary isn’t hiding her training as a hunter. She doesn’t appear to be ashamed of her training, or longing for a normal life. Rather than John saving her from the supernatural world, she’s about to pull him in.
An even bigger surprise, the Men of Letters seem to play a huge role in the plot. John talks about how “saving people and hunting things” is what he was born to do. John, Mary, and their companions gear up in what appears to be a Men of Letters bunker, with a Men of Letters handbook that says “Men of Letters” on the front.
So. Also safe to say that John and Mary both know that the Men of Letters were a real organization and that the Winchesters were part of it.
Changing the Past
Retconning is something Supernatural has always done spectacularly well. The show has never let its beginning bind it, and when it wants to go in a new direction, it will. Still, the changes that The Winchesters makes have vast implications for the rest of the series.
If John knows about demons, and is fighting side by side with Mary, then her father Samuel Campbell shouldn’t have any reason to disapprove. If John knows about demons, it completely changes the circumstances of Mary’s deal with Azazel to save John’s life. If John knows about demons, and is so passionate about the fight between good and evil, why would he and Mary give everything up for a normal life? Why raise their boys without training them as hunters and Men of Letters?
There’s always the possibility that their memories are wiped, but in order to preserve the timeline, that would mean the plot of The Winchesters could only take place between March 1972 and April 1973. It would have a hard stop that prevented the new show from continuing past a certain point and, based on the lifespan of Supernatural, I can’t imagine the CW making that call.
It’s also possible that The Winchesters takes place on an alternate version of Earth. After all, the multiverse is very popular in media these days, and Supernatural has already established the existence of parallel universes in Season 15. This could easily be a “rough draft” world that Chuck scrapped. However, if it is, I doubt it will be established in the narrative. That seems like a call the SPN family will have to make together.
The Old Winchesters
While the plot of The Winchesters raises a lot of questions it’s still thrilling to have our Winchesters back. For however brief a time, fans will see Jensen Ackles reprise his role as Dean Winchester. After the series finale, that feels like a blessing.
It will be interesting to see where exactly Dean’s investigation of his parents takes place; or rather, when. The trailer gives us tiny clues: the Samulet hanging on the rearview mirror and the Impala’s original KAZ 2Y5 license plate that was swapped out in Season 2. This could suggest that Dean’s journey takes place before the pilot episode, while Dean is hunting solo and Sam is still studying at Stanford. One thing’s for sure. It doesn’t take place after the series finale.
For better or for worse, The Winchesters has a lot of questions to answer, and that alone might draw curious fans back into the fold. You best believe I will be watching the first episode as soon as it airs—dressed in flannel, eating a burger and some pie, and blasting “Carry on Wayward Son.”
The Winchesters premieres on The CW on Tuesday, October 11. It will be available to stream the next day on The CW website.