The longest-running North American sci-fi/fantasy series, “Supernatural” is in a league of its own. Following two brothers (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) who hunt monsters, demons, angels, and ghosts, the series ran for a triumphant 15 seasons and 327 episodes. Even after all that time, fans aren’t through with the Winchester family just yet. Although Sam and Dean’s story came to a close in 2020, a prequel series entitled “The Winchesters” continues the “Supernatural” story on the CW.
The series chronicles the love story between Sam and Dean’s parents John and Mary Winchester — played in the prequel by Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly — and covers not only how they met, but also their time hunting together. If this sounds like it breaks the “Supernatural” canon, you’d be right. Since Jensen Ackles is a part of the series as an executive producer — and reprising his role as Dean– we can only hope that the show will answer all our burning questions.
To prepare for “The Winchesters,” it’s important to get reacquainted with John, Mary, and their future sons, so we’ve put together a list of some of the most important “Supernatural” episodes to rewatch before jumping into the prequel series. Chronicling the lives, deaths, and afterlives of the main characters, these “Supernatural” episodes may not tell the full John and Mary Winchester story, but they’re a solid primer. Oh, and be warned: major “Supernatural” spoilers lie ahead.
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
There’s no better place to start than the beginning. While this isn’t exactly the beginning of John and Mary’s story — far from it — it is the beginning of “Supernatural,” and the story of their boys, Sam and Dean. The pilot episode (simply called “Pilot”) opens with the death of Mary Winchester, a moment that reportedly opened John’s mind to the supernatural and turned him on to a life of hunting. Because of this, Sam and Dean were raised as hunters, just as their mother was — though the pilot doesn’t delve into her background just yet.
Flash forward many years, and Sam is wrapping up his undergraduate studies at Stanford University, having left hunting behind for a normal life. Dean shows up on his doorstep and tells him their father has gone missing, possibly while trying to track down alone the yellow-eyed demon that killed his wife. While following his trail, they battle a monster-of-the-week known as the infamous “Woman in White.” Sam resolves to return to Palo Alto, only to find that the love of his life, Jessica, has been killed in the same way as his mother. Bereft, he joins Dean permanently, and the two begin a season-long journey to fight evil and find Dad.
This first episode is one of the show’s best and an excellent pilot that set up “Supernatural’s” epic 15-year journey. John and Mary Winchester are played here to perfection by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith, who became staples in the “Supernatural” world and made recurring appearances throughout.
Home (Season 1, Episode 9)
Only nine episodes into the series, Sam and Dean return to their hometown of Lawrence, Kansas. Though the boys eventually make the town of Lebanon their home, the first half of the show establishes Lawrence as the place their parents first met, fell in love, and started a family. After Sam has premonitions of a poltergeist in their old home, they head back to Kansas to check it out, though what they find there is not exactly what they expected. As it turns out, the ghost of Mary Winchester — played again by Samantha Smith — still haunts their old home, keeping an evil poltergeist at bay until the boys arrive to help set her free so that she can “pass on.”
This is a pretty emotional episode that dives deep into Sam and Dean’s childhood. Watching Sam lay his eyes on his mother for the very first time is a heartbreaking moment, but not as heartbreaking as the final scene, when Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s John Winchester — who had been in town the entire time — reveals that he can’t reunite with his children, at least not yet. “Home” is one of those episodes that you might’ve easily forgotten about if it weren’t for the deep ties to the overall “Supernatural” mythology, but it remains essential viewing for any true fan of the series and those interested in “The Winchesters.”
Salvation/Devil’s Trap/In My Time of Dying (Season 1, Episodes 21-22 and Season 2, Episode 11)
John Winchester reunited with his sons near the end of the first season. Every time he’s on screen, he commands the full attention of the viewer. Having officially met his sons in the episode “Dead Man’s Blood” to retrieve the infamous Colt — a gun that can kill demons — the Winchester trio continues their hunt for Azazel, AKA the yellow-eyed demon who killed Mary, hoping to finally settle the score. The two-part Season 1 finale “Salvation” and “Devil’s Trap” sends the Winchester boys on a wild goose chase to find this demon and stop its acolytes from killing their friends and allies. Since the season ends on a massive cliffhanger, you should watch the Season 2 opener “In My Time of Dying,” too…
Forced to give his life to save Dean’s, John makes a deal with Azazel that results in his shocking death. While this marked Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s last appearance as a regular on “Supernatural,” that didn’t mean John Winchester himself was off the board, even if he was dead (“Supernatural” is infamous for resurrecting characters). This Winchester family trilogy of episodes is tough to get through since tensions and emotions are so high, but they’re all amazingly written and performed and well worth the watch. If you want to know where John Winchester of “The Winchesters” will end up, these episodes will make it abundantly clear.
All Hell Breaks Loose, Parts 1-2 (Season 2, Episodes 21-22)
Although the season opened pretty bleakly with John’s death and all, the two-part season finale is a bit more… Well, actually, it’s even bleaker, but it’s one of the best stories “Supernatural” ever told. This is the final showdown between the Winchester brothers and the yellow-eyed demon who took both their parents, and it’s everything you could hope for. The truth behind Sam’s psychic abilities is revealed, Dean is pushed to his limits, and a “damn door to Hell” is opened in the process, bringing hundreds of more demons into the world. If you had to pick one must-watch “Supernatural” finale, this two-part horror epic would be it.
You shouldn’t just watch this one to see the boy’s final revenge on old Yellow-Eyes — though that would be enough reason. In the heat of the moment, John Winchester — once again played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan — climbs out of Hell and saves Sam and Dean, holding Azazel off just long enough for Dean, using the Colt, to take the final shot. In a heart-wrenching moment, John reunites with his sons, finally able to be at peace after decades of hunting down Mary’s killer and ascending to Heaven to reunite with her. “All Hell Breaks Loose” is one of the best two-part episodes of television you’ll ever see, and closed a chapter in “Supernatural” that would never be reopened.
In the Beginning (Season 4, Episode 3)
Season 4 of “Supernatural” is wild. You learn not only that angels exist, but also that they’re at war with demons, who are trying to release Lucifer, AKA Satan, from his cage in Hell so that he’ll bring on the Apocalypse. It’s honest-to-goodness one of the best parts of these early years of the show, even if it does get a little stale later on. That said, when the angel Castiel sends Dean back in time to 1973, he encounters two people he never expected: his parents. That’s right, John Winchester and Mary Campbell — played here by Matt Cohen and Amy Gumenick, respectively — were only going steady back in ’73, but they were still madly in love.
It’s here you learn the truth about Mary’s death at the hands of Azazel: that she made a deal with the creature to save John’s life. As it turns out, Mary is from a family of hunters led by her father, Samuel Campbell (played by “X-Files” alum Mitch Pileggi), and grew up knowing about the supernatural her entire life, always dreaming of “getting out.” John, on the other hand, was oblivious to the paranormal, at least according to what we see here in “In the Beginning.” With tons of mythological revelations and our first look back at a young-and-in-love John and Mary, this one is a must-see for any fan of “The Winchesters!”
The Song Remains the Same (Season 5, Episode 13)
Sort of a sequel to “In the Beginning,” the Season 5 episode “The Song Remains the Same” sees Sam, Dean, and Castiel travel back in time to 1978 to save John and Mary Winchester from a rogue angel hoping to “terminate” them. Matt Cohen and Amy Gumenick reprise their roles as the young John and Mary — now happily married and away from hunting — as Sam and Dean experience their parents in an entirely different light. It’s really fun to watch Sam and Dean interact with John and Mary here, especially once they let the cat out of the bag about the angels and being their future sons. Though, nothing is as great as seeing John learn about the supernatural for the “first” time.
Seeing this side of these characters — a Mary who desperately craves a normal life and a John who’s willing to lay down his life for those he loves — is what makes “The Song Remains the Same” such a powerful episode, and one that was no doubt the basis for “The Winchesters” as a series in the first place. While John and Mary’s memories are erased by Michael the Archangel, Sam and Dean hold onto this experience forever — or, at least until they’re reunited with their parents again later on in life. Cohen and Gumenick perfectly encapsulate their roles as John and Mary, giving Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly of “The Winchesters” lots to live up to.
As Time Goes By (Season 8, Episode 12)
A few seasons later, Sam and Dean meet a young man who stumbles out of their closet while on the run from a demon. This man is Henry Winchester, their paternal grandfather — played by Gil McKinney — who had abandoned their own father when he was young. As it turns out, Henry never meant to leave John all those years ago; instead, he accidentally traveled through time after running from Abaddon, the Knight of Hell. Unfortunately, Henry is killed by the demon while saving his grandsons before he can go back in time and thus never returns to young John, who grew up not really knowing his father. Thankfully, Henry at least got to know his grandchildren.
While an episode about Henry might not feel important, “The Winchesters'” version of John struggles with his father’s disappearance. Not only that, but Henry — and by extension John, Sam, and Dean — was a member of the Men of Letters, a super-secret organization that kept tabs on the supernatural and trapped anything deemed too dangerous. It’s in this episode that Sam and Dean discover the existence of this group and their roles as Legacies, something their father never knew about. “As Time Goes By” is essential viewing for fans of “The Winchesters” for the introduction to the world of the Men of Letters and John’s place in it.
Keep Calm and Carry On/Mama Mia (Season 12, Episodes 1-2)
Although the Samantha Smith version of Mary Winchester was brought back to life in the final moments of the Season 11 finale “Alpha and Omega” as a gift from God’s own sister Amara AKA the Darkness (don’t ask), it’s the two-part Season 12 opener “Keep Calm and Carry On” and “Mamma Mia” that deal with the ramifications of her resurrection. Well, it’s mostly Dean who deals with it, as Sam fights for his life against the British branch of the Men of Letters, who kidnap and torture him. As Dean and Mary get reacquainted and rescue Sam, Dean catches her up on everything that’s happened since she’s been gone, including how losing her changed John and made him into a battle-hardened hunter.
If you can ignore all the mythology holes riddling these two episodes — namely the power struggle between the demon Crowley and Lucifer — there are a lot of great Winchester family bonding moments, especially at the end of “Mamma Mia.” It’s here that the boys give Mary their father’s hunting journal, reminding her that they’re glad she’s back and that the world isn’t like it was when she died. Although bringing Mary Winchester back was one of the strangest choices that “Supernatural” made, it’s episodes like these that make it so interesting, especially since most of her appearances in Seasons 12-14 really aren’t. Plus, we get to see her hunting skills in full effect.
Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox (Season 12, Episode 6)
A fun “whodunit” episode all about the funeral of a hunter named Asa Fox whom Mary saved when he was a boy, “Celebrating The Life of Asa Fox” reunites the Winchesters after the boys had been separated from their mother for a few episodes. Learning to work together as a family, the Winchesters deal with a crossroads demon hoping to kill the funeral attendees while in disguise. There are a lot of great character moments for Mary here, especially since she’s still dealing with the strangeness of her new life and adult children, but she comes around in the end and reassures her sons that she wants to be with them.
It takes much of Season 12 and even Season 13 before Mary feels fully comfortable with this new life of hers. Though she clearly loves her sons, she struggles with mourning the loss of their childhood. It’s such an interesting concept, and one worth revisiting if you’re watching “The Winchesters” given how personal it all is to Mary. Still, “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” is a solid episode of “Supernatural” that pulls no punches and shows us a new side of Mary Winchester. For all the misuses of the character in the later seasons, it’s by no means the fault of Samantha Smith, who does a terrific job of bringing Mary to life.
Damaged Goods (Season 14, Episode 11)
If you ignore all the heavily mythology-related plot issues of Season 14, “Damaged Goods” is a great Mary Winchester-related episode that shows her love and compassion towards her children. As Dean is contemplating locking himself away in a supernatural lockbox — hoping to keep an alternate version of Michael the Archangel from escaping his mind — he heads north to spend some time with Mom before he essentially dies. While there, he asks her to make her famous “Winchester surprise,” a poor cook’s meal that Dean once failed to replicate. It might be a strange episode, but moments like these put a smile on your face.
Buried beneath all the plot intensity, there are a handful of fun Dean and Mary moments that are very sweet, especially when he recounts one of his earliest childhood memories to her. While much of Mary Winchester’s time in the later seasons of “Supernatural” is aimless, episodes like these remind us how much Sam and Dean needed their mom. Watching Sam call Mary all concerned about Dean, and likewise seeing that Dean wanted to spend some quality time with just her, is heartwarming, especially since they never got a chance to have that type of relationship with her prior to her death. Even though she doesn’t remain on the series much longer than this, Mary grew a lot from her resurrection to these moments here, and that’s worth revisiting.
Lebanon (Season 14, Episode 13)
No one ever really dies on “Supernatural.” One of the most important episodes of “Supernatural” is the 300th episode, “Lebanon.” This one reunites Sam, Dean, and Mary with John after Dean makes an unconscious wish. As John gets to know his fully adult sons and is finally reunited on-screen with his beloved wife, there are more tears shed here than almost any other episode of the show. Though it’s a bit slow-rolling at first, once John is pulled to 2019, the episode becomes an earnest, heartfelt mess that you can’t help but love. The on-screen reunion between Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Samantha Smith — who hadn’t appeared together since the “Pilot” — is just as magical, especially given it’s their last on the series.
Samantha Smith returned for two more episodes after this before Mary was killed off again — this time in an accident involving the Winchesters’ then-soulless friend Jack — giving her a total of 37 appearances on the show. By comparison, Jeffrey Dean Morgan only appeared on the show 13 times (including voice cameos), which feels low considering how vital John was to those early seasons. Regardless of how Mary’s journey on the show ended, “Lebanon” is the perfect conclusion to the story of John and Mary Winchester, and one that Sam and Dean could hold onto long after John and Mary were gone. Truthfully, if Mary could have returned to the past with John, she probably would’ve in a heartbeat…
Carry On (Season 15, Episode 20)
Okay, so John and Mary aren’t in this episode at all — aside from a picture cameo from “Lebanon” — but in order to dive into “The Winchesters,” it’s important to remember where “Supernatural” left off. Since the series’ mythology ended in the previous episode “Inherit the Earth,” the series finale “Carry On” takes place approximately five years later and follows Sam and Dean on their final hunt. As the brothers live their last day together, we witness their final moments together on Earth before Dean is sent to a newly revised Heaven, where John, Mary, and all their fallen friends and allies — who were meant to appear in the episode — are all at peace and happy. By the episode’s end, Sam arrives there, too.
Although fan reactions to the series finale were a bit mixed, we know Sam and Dean are happy and together with their folks by the end — and after everything they’ve been through, we couldn’t ask for anything more than that. While it’s sad that John and Mary weren’t there to usher their boys beyond the pearly gates, there’s no doubt they’re there waiting to be reunited with them. It might not have been every “Supernatural” fan’s cup of tea, but “Carry On” does a great job at reminding us what the show was about: family. “And, well… Isn’t that kinda the whole point?”