Jeffery Dean Morgan is only credited for 13 episodes on Supernatural, but there’s no denying the impact his character, John Winchester, has had on the show. John’s disappearance in the pilot episode is the inciting incident that sets the brothers off on what is becoming a 15 year long hunt. Dean’s infamous words to Sam — “Dad’s on a hunting trip and he hasn’t been home in a few days” — began the journey into the blue-collar world of ghosts, demons, and monster hunting on the back roads of America.
Because of the show’s longevity and Morgan’s low episode count, John Winchester has become a figure most people love to hate, mostly because it’s clear John’s questionable parenting choices while on his revenge path has left Sam and Dean Winchester with some minor daddy issues.
But John Winchester is finally returning to the show. Supernatural’s always been about family and for the 300th episode, “Lebanon,” there’s going to be a mighty and long overdue family reunion. To celebrate this reunion, and the show’s landmark 300th episode, we’re looking back at some of John Winchester’s better moments. Don’t forget — in a show like Supernatural, some of those moments come after death.
“Home” — Season 1, Episode 9
John’s appearance at the end of the season one episode “Home” might not seem like a moment to celebrate. The brothers had been searching for him for nine episodes and it turns out he’s perfectly fine? But there’s more going on here and in just this one minute-long scene, John sets a much darker tone for the rest of the season.
This is also the first time we see John Winchester in present day. We’re first introduced to John in the pilot’s cold open, in which a perfectly normal father witnesses his wife’s tragic and supernatural death. Ever since, we’ve only known what Dean’s known — that John’s probably hurt, badly, by whatever demon it was that killed Mary. So to see him sitting unscathed on Missouri Mosley’s couch is a brilliant undercut of expectations. Morgan does excellent work here, too. The grief on his face as he talks about Mary’s ghost makes him a much more complicated character than we’ve known him to be. And then, we see his grief subtly but sharply turn to something more dark as he explains why he can’t talk to Dean and Sam: “I want to. But I can’t. Not yet. Not until I know the truth.” That line alone turns Supernatural’s first season into more than just a rescue and revenge story — now there’s something not yet known lurking in the shadows.
“Dead Man’s Blood” – Season 1, Episode 20
It’s always been known that Sam and John don’t get along. When Sam wanted to leave the hunting life to go to college, John told him to never come back. That pretty much took care of the family’s estrangement from each other for the next four years. “Dead Man’s Blood” is not the first time in season one the brothers meet up with John, but it is the first hunt he joins them on.
Not surprisingly, Sam and John butt heads on the best course of action for most of the episode, except for one moment. While Dean’s out gathering dead man’s blood to take care of the vampires they’re dealing with, John and Sam are left in the hotel room together. And for the first time, John’s walls start to break around his kids. He shares with Sam a story about starting a college fund for him when he was first born. He talks about how grief and revenge consumed him after Mary’s death and how he wasn’t really a father to Sam and Dean, but more like a drill sergeant. For John, this is a great moment of self reflection and a great moment for the audience to absorb. For father and son, it’s a moment of shared grief and understanding, as the two finally come to terms with how alike they are and mourn the fact that their reconciliation came at the cost of the lives of the women they both loved.
“In My Time of Dying” – Season 2, Episode 1
“In My Time of Dying” is still one of the best episodes this show has ever produced. The tension was so thick, the stakes high, and Dean and Sam struggled in their relationship with John in different ways. For a comatose Dean, he finally allowed himself to be angry with his dad for seemingly not caring enough to speak to him at his bedside or even taking action to help him out of his coma. Sam was equally frustrated with John for his nonchalance regarding Dean’s situation and for trying to summon the Yellow-Eyed Demon so soon instead of caring for his son, believing it was all so John could finally get his revenge.
But the breakthrough moment came after Dean woke up from his coma. Sam was ready to pick another fight and John, calmly and gently (and knowing he was going to die) asks Sam if they could stop fighting for once. Sam is taken aback at John’s kind tone and, perhaps sensing something was off, Sam complies and leaves to go get them coffee without question. John then gives a heartbreaking and touching monologue about all the ways in which Dean has protected and looked out for their family, how Dean’s always watched over him and Sam and never complained, “not once.” “And I just want you to know that I am so proud of you,” he says. It’s all Dean has ever wanted to hear from John and to get that approval and validation from him is overwhelming. Of course, the moment is broken after John’s whispered reveal to Dean about Sam and the Yellow-Eyed Demon. But, for that one shining moment, John showcased love, pride, and appreciation for his eldest son in a way that he never had before and it was beautiful. —Mae Abdulbaki
“All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2” – Season 2, Episode 22
One of the tragedies in the early seasons of Supernatural was the death of John Winchester. It was the ultimate sacrifice, trading his life for his son. For that, John redeemed himself in every way imaginable. But it also meant he wasn’t going to be there for the final showdown with the Yellow-Eyed Demon. His revenge path was halted when he decided to save Dean, and ultimately, that was John’s character development — to let go of his revenge. Still, there’s something to be said for beating evil, so when John’s spirit appeared at the end of “All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2” to take part in the final showdown, the revenge was all the more sweet.
His screen time contains no dialogue, but he does stop the Yellow-Eyed Demon from killing Dean, is there as Dean fires the kill shot, and shares a final goodbye with Dean and Sam. Plus, since he made a deal with the Yellow-Eyed Demon to save Dean at the beginning of the season, his soul had been in hell for awhile. With the gates of hell opened, he was able to escape, aide in the killing of the demon, and finally make his way to heaven. For a character who was in and out of the story ever since we met him, he got a wonderful final moment to send him off for good.
“The Song Remains the Same” (aka “Back to the Future II”) – Season 5, Episode 13
Even though the John Winchester we knew was dead, Supernatural still found a way to bring him back… at least the younger version of him anyway. Although the scene lasted less than a minute, one of John Winchester’s most memorable moments comes during a brief car scene where young John, for the first time, interacts with his adult children like a father. In the episode, Sam and Dean travel back in time to prevent the angel Anna from killing their parents. They end up trying to convince Mary to end things with John so that they’d never be born as their warped way of ensuring that Lucifer and Michael wouldn’t use them as vessels to bring about the apocalypse. Prior to becoming a hunter, John was an all-around average Joe, a happy mechanic who just wanted to settle down and live a simple life. So he’s surprised to discover that Mary is also a hunter and has been all her life while on the car ride to a safe house. The change from sweet, innocent John to shocked, strict, paternal John is swift and alludes to the kind of man he’ll become in the future.
The car ride is awkward, with Sam and Dean in the back acting like chastised children after John raises his voice. It’s the weird family road trip no one asked for and got anyway. What also makes it a great scene is the snippy exchange. Despite Mary and John not yet being parents, the scene is the first time the Winchester family is all together onscreen. Being chewed out by the younger version of their dad certainly puts Sam and Dean in an interesting situation, but it also feels very familial and true to the relationship they’ve always been shown to have with John. The episode in general gave them a new perspective on their dad, whom they’d never known to be genuinely happy. Interacting with a more optimistic John definitely made for some unique and interesting scenes and a nice, if strange and short-lived, road trip. —Mae Abdulbaki
With Mary Winchester having returned to life at the end of season 11, it makes John Winchester’s return not that much of a surprise (except for that they were able to get Jeffrey Dean Morgan back). However, the manner of John’s return isn’t as important to the narrative so much as it’s paying tribute to the show’s history. After all, John hasn’t really been apart of the story since season two. That’s 12 seasons of story and adventures and journeys to hell the brothers have gone through. Sam and Dean are different now. They’ve experienced more than John ever learned about as he was traveling across America, searching for revenge. More than anything, this family reunion will be more about reconciliation and learning who his kids are now. Not to mention, the secrets we’ve learned about Mary as well.
For the first time, the entire Winchester family will be in the same room together. And this time, there’s no time travel to interfere or alternate realities to get used to. It’s just family.
Supernatural’s 300th episode, “Lebanon,” airs February 7 at 8/7c on The CW.