Supernatural Storylines You Should Revisit Before Watching The Winchesters

At long last, a "Supernatural" spin-off is on its way to fill the void that those monster-hunting brothers left behind. Across its triumphant 15-season run, many attempts were made to develop a spin-off and explore the world of supernatural monster hunters, but only one has actually survived beyond its pilot: "The Winchesters."

Stop me if this sounds familiar, but the story begins with Mary Campbell, a hunter who's been fighting the forces of darkness since she was old enough to wield a knife. Now she's embarking on a hunt like no other, following breadcrumbs to solve the mystery of her missing father, who never returned from a hunting trip. Mary, an experienced hunter herself, decides to take matters into her own hands and follow his tracks to figure out the details of his case. But since she doesn't have a tall, well-researched sibling to help her out, she opts for another gangly boy with a very familiar last name. Yes, "The Winchesters" is taking us all the way back to the start to uncover the untold story of how Mary met John.

Well, "untold" is a bit of a stretch. "Supernatural" may have been about the adult lives of Mary and John's sons, but thanks to the power of flashbacks, time travel, and straight-up magic, this isn't our first time seeing glimpses of the past. We've seen quite a few key moments from the early days of John and Mary's romance, but this prequel series will be filling in the gaps of their story. In other words, it might be helpful to refresh your memory on what we already know of their past. And since you probably don't have time to binge 327 episode before the premiere, we've got you covered with the abridged version. These are the seven essential storylines to revisit before watching "The Winchesters."

Pilot (season 1, episode 1)

The "Supernatural" pilot doesn't delve too deep into the Winchester family lore and raises more questions about John and Mary than it knows how to answer, but it does communicate some central Winchester family ideals. "Saving people, hunting things: The family business." No matter which Winchesters we find ourselves watching, this mantra always holds true. As the seasons progress, it ends up being more true than Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) could've ever thought: Hunting is in their blood, on both sides of the family tree, and no matter how hard they try to distance themselves from that truth, they always get pulled back in. Long before they learn that lesson, Mary beats them to the punch.

Unbeknownst to us, Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith) has managed to extricate herself from the world of monsters — until a mistake from her past resurfaces, threatening the life of her infant son and killing her in the process. That tragedy sparks the dark beginnings of John Winchester's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) years as a hunter, in which he learns everything he can about supernatural beings, forces his kids to do the same, and dedicates his life to avenging his wife. This is the tragic end "The Winchesters" is leading to. Bleak, huh? But it's about the journey, not the ending, and this happens to be the start of the Winchester family saga.

The pilot episode is also a great way to reorient yourself in the world of all things "Supernatural." Before the many apocalypses, the rivalry with God, and their friendship with an angel, the Winchesters were just two brothers cruising down highways and chasing after the past in a stony state of melancholy with a terrific soundtrack. It's a stripped-down look at the world of monsters (a ghostly urban legend!), and while "The Winchesters" will follow a different duo, it promises a very similar vibe.

In The Beginning (season 4, episode 3)

Season 4 of "Supernatural" is arguably its best, expanding the lore in ways that didn't seem possible. Yet by the end of the series, those newly introduced elements feel like they were always part of this world. It's hard to recall a time before resurrections, angels, Lucifer, and God, just as it's hard to remember that we didn't always know Mary Winchester as a hunter. For the first four seasons, Mary's death was just an unfortunate fact of the Winchester's lives: They could've been a happy, normal family, if not for a demon killing their mother and shaking John to his core. But then comes "In The Beginning," which sees Dean sent back in time by angels to 1973 Lawrence, Kansas, where he discovers that his mother comes from a long line of hunters.

When he meets her, Mary is no stranger to ganking vampires or exorcising demons, but she has big plans to walk away and begin life anew with John Winchester. "He's everything a hunter isn't," she explains to Dean while he swallows back some painful dramatic irony. Mary didn't want to raise her children as hunters, forced to wield knives and guns while facing down deadly creatures. So while changing things could make him cease to exist, Dean tries to alter the past for her.

Unfortunately, this time travel story goes the self-fulfilling prophecy route. In trying to prevent the yellow-eyed demon from ever crossing paths with his parents, Dean kickstarts a series of events that leads to his father's death. To save John's life, Mary makes a deal with the demon to resurrect John — the very same deal that will later cost her life.

This is where "The Winchesters" gets sticky: The prequel sees Mary and John hunting together, meaning he knows the truth about her from the start of their relationship. But how does that line up with the oblivious John and hopeful-to-escape Mary that we meet in this episode? Since executive producer Jensen Ackles has promised the prequel won't be changing the canon, we'll have to watch to find out.

The Song Remains The Same (season 5, episode 13)

One trip into the past wasn't enough, so Dean goes back for more — and this time, he isn't alone. Sam and Castiel (Misha Collins) tag along for the ride, jumping back to 1978 because the angels have enacted a plan to stop Mary and John from ever conceiving Sam Winchester. If anybody can stop them, it's Team Free Will, or in the words of Dean Winchester, "One ex-blood junkie, one drop-out with six bucks to his name, and Mr. Comatose over there."

While Cas recovers in a motel room, Sam and Dean track down their parents, which results in an extremely emotional reunion ... for the boys. To their parents, they're two strangers who bring utter chaos into their lives, including the revelation (for John) that monsters exist. Poor John is extremely distressed to learn that these strangers have been raised as hunters, angrily exclaiming, "What kind of irresponsible bastard lets a child hunt?" Irony, you fickle beast.

The real meat of the episode is Dean trying to convince his mother to leave John so that he and Sam are never conceived (this man is obsessed with not being born), only to learn that she's already pregnant. Then the Archangel Michael pops in, tells Dean that free will is an illusion, and reveals that destiny requires the birth of Sam and Dean, who have crucial roles to play in the battle between Heaven and Hell. He also wipes John and Mary's memory, assuring that they'll have no recollection of meeting their future kids.

All of this is coming off the heels of a previous encounter with a cupid, who apparently played a role in Mary and John's love story. Heaven needed them to fall in love and since they didn't get along at first, a cupid stepped in to spark their romance. So the "Supernatural" theme of fighting against destiny will obviously continue in "The Winchesters," as we learn how genuine this love story really is.

As Time Goes By (season 8, episode 12)

After learning so much about their hunting genes on Mary's side of the family, the boys eventually learn that their father was a legacy hunter, too. John came from a long line of Winchesters who were Men of Letters, members of the secret order that chronicles supernatural phenomena. They're like the librarian version of hunters, who maintain a vast cache of knowledge including books, artifacts, and more, only intervening when they deem it necessary. John would've become one himself, but his father and the rest of the American chapter disappeared before he was old enough to be indoctrinated. "As Time Goes By" explained what happened.

While John grew up believing that his father simply ran out on him and his mother, we learn that Henry was transported into the future. After escaping the wrath of Abaddon, a Knight of Hell who slaughtered the rest of the order, Henry comes face to face with Sam and Dean in the present day. Before he can return home, he's killed by Abaddon and dies in his grandson's arms. Before he does, he entrusts the brothers with the key to the Men of Letters bunker, a base that will become their home and retreat from danger.

"The Winchesters" will see John trying to uncover the mystery of his father's disappearance, but how close will he get to the truth? While the Men of Letters themselves are long dead when he begins this hunt, everything they left behind is up for grabs and could be crucial to his and Mary's journey. But that also means there's more history to the Winchester name than he realizes, which could (and usually does) lead to some serious trouble.

Celebrating The Life of Asa Fox (season 12, episode 6)

While we only get a few fleeting moments with young Mary Winchester, the late seasons of "Supernatural" offer an unexpected gift: Mary is resurrected and the boys get to spend a few extra years with their mother. Unsurprisingly, it's not nearly as easy as it sounds — Mary needs time to adjust to being alive and the reality of having two adult, monster-killing sons instead of the innocent children she left behind. It's so difficult that she even takes some time to herself, away from Sam and Dean, until they inevitably cross paths.

This episode sees the family attending the funeral of Asa Fox, a legendary hunter who Mary saved during her final days on the job, before dedicating her remaining years to family life with John. Besides being a great awkward family outing for the Winchesters, the episode gives us a complicated portrait of the hunter community. Everyone comes together to celebrate the life of one of their own, trading stories of wendigos, ghouls, and that time Sam was possessed by Lucifer ... but there also comes the shocking revelation that Asa was murdered not by a monster, but by a fellow hunter. This kind of incident will be important to keep in mind for "The Winchesters," which will see John and Mary crossing paths with many different hunters.

The episode also spotlights a couple dilemmas in Mary's life. After saving young Asa, he asks her a heartbreaking question: "If you retire, who's gonna save people like me?" The thing about Mary is she's a great hunter. She's a legacy who has killed every kind of monster there is. She saves lives, and that's important. She's always known that, but it doesn't change the fact that her heart isn't in it. Mary has always wanted something different for herself, and chasing that means leaving behind a life of saving others. But on the other hand, continuing means meeting a fate like Asa's and so many other hunters: Fighting until you're eventually bested.

Damaged Goods (season 14, episode 11)

Another key episode in the second life of Mary Winchester sees her much more comfortable living in the present and spending some quality time with her son. There's plenty of doom and gloom in this episode — a former vessel of Lucifer loses his marbles and exhibits some dangerous serial killer behavior to get close to Mary — but before s*** hits the fan, there's lots of mother-son bonding. Mary didn't have much time to mother her children and spends much of her new life mourning that fact and the little boys she once knew, but that doesn't mean she can't build something new with her grown-up kids.

Dean, in particular, jumps at the chance to share a special meal with his mother, which is how we learn about Winchester Surprise. In her early days as a mother, Mary would occasionally serve her husband and son a greasy, cheesy casserole best described as "a heart attack on a plate." At Dean's request, she resurrects the nostalgic meal as they reminisce about the past. It's extremely bittersweet — Dean and Mary are both making up for the time they never had together by dwelling in the past, but that doesn't mean this time together isn't still important.

We later learn that Dean sought her out because he has big plans to get into a magical coffin and sink himself to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, and yes, that puts a serious damper on the evening. But my point still stands. In "Damaged Goods," Mary comes face to face with the life she dreamed for her family vs. the one they actually got. And as complicated as a hunter's life may be, they still find openings for love and connection.

Lebanon (season 14, episode 13)

When "Supernatural" hit the 300th episode milestone, the writers decided to give us a treat. "Lebanon" sees the entire Winchester family reunited for what will be the final time. When Sam and Dean stumble across a mythical pearl that makes your heart's wishes come true, Dean hopes it will rid him of the archangel on the verge of taking over his body. But though that's something he desperately wants, it's not his deepest desire. And so Sam and Dean return home to find their father (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, for the first time since the show's second season) resurrected from the dead.

As usual, the result is bittersweet: They can't keep John for very long, as the temporal paradox of his presence is already starting to wreak havoc on their reality, but they do get to share a final family dinner. Meal time highlights include John recognizing his failings, speaking aloud his pride in all that they've done, having a heart-to-heart with Sam, and giving his sons a chance to say a proper goodbye. 

Having them all back together also means the first reunion between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith since the pilot. It's a sharp reminder that — cupids and questions of fate aside — John and Mary Winchester are a love story before they're a tragedy. It's also important that Dean is the one who wishes his parents back together, without even realizing it. "I've wanted this since I was four," he tells Sam. So of course he's the one to narrate their story, after spending his entire life chasing the family he never had. 

Though there are plenty more episodes of "Supernatural" to go after this, "Lebanon" feels like the spiritual conclusion of the Winchester family saga, recognizing the family they could've been, but highlighting the importance of the lives they ended up leading — and in the end, opting not to change a thing.