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Who Are the Men of Letters? All the Supernatural History to Know As You Watch The Winchesters Premiere

Refresh your knowledge on the Men of Letters, the Campbell family, and more

Lauren Piester

Sam  (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) may both be dead, but the story of Supernatural lives on. The Winchesters serves as a reintroduction to the love story between John Winchester and Mary Campbell, the parents of legendary hunters Sam and Dean who essentially started the story we followed for 15 seasons. The Supernatural pilot began with Mary's terrifying death—burning alive on the ceiling—and John's disappearance 20 years later as he attempted to hunt down the thing that killed her. But John and Mary are both a lot more than just their absences. They're both legacies, descendants of a long line of humans with an inordinate amount of knowledge of the supernatural. If things had gone as they were supposed to, they probably would never have gotten together, but as Cupid revealed in Season 5 of Supernatural, John and Mary were always destined (er, more like ordered by God) to fall in love. 

In The Winchesters, it's 1972. A traumatized John (Drake Rodger) has just returned from Vietnam and immediately runs into Mary (Meg Donnelly), who is trying to figure out what happened to her recently missing father. John has a missing father too, though his has been gone since 1958. Despite Mary's attempts to dissuade John from joining her in what quickly becomes a very weird and dangerous quest, he follows along and begins discovering all the things he would have learned if only his dad hadn't abandoned him. Of course, Supernatural fans know exactly what happened to John's father, and they also know just how disappointed he was that he never got to teach John everything he needed to know about a little order called the Men of Letters. 

While Sam and Dean wrestled with their parents' pasts for the entirety of Supernatural, the Men of Letters wasn't introduced until Season 8 when their grandfather suddenly fell through the closet in their motel room in 2013, having time traveled from 1958. He then opened up a whole new world for the boys and for the show, and unknowingly also offered some important context for the new prequel series. And if you're concerned that this prequel series means that some of what Supernatural established is going out the window, showrunner and former Supernatural writer Robbie Thompson assures TV Guide that that is not the case. 

"What was most exciting when [Jensen and Danneel Ackles] first came to me with this idea was, 'Wow, this is going to be challenging. How are we going to figure this out, and how is this going to work?'" he says. "We were very, very clear that we wanted to make sure we weren't breaking anything, and I know it seems like we have, but without spoiling anything, I can say with 100 percent certainty that we will not be undoing anything of Supernatural." 

In case you forgot all this history or never knew in the first place, here's a quick rundown of what you need to know as you dive into The Winchesters. 

Henry Winchester

Sam and Dean had never heard of the Men of Letters until the middle of Season 8, when a mysterious man fell through their motel room closet and asked for John Winchester. After a few threats of violence (mostly from Dean), they learned that the man was actually their grandfather Henry (Gil McKinney), who had traveled from 1958 in search of his son. Henry then discovered, much to his dismay, that John had died, and had never become a member of the Men of Letters, or passed the knowledge on to Sam and Dean, mostly because Henry had abandoned him back in 1958. 

Henry explained that the Men of Letters are "preceptors, beholders, chroniclers of all that which man does not understand. We share our findings with a few trusted hunters, the very elite, they do the rest." Or, as Dean understands it, the Men of Letters are like Yodas to the (elite and trusted) hunters' jedis, and have been for thousands of years.. 

What Happened to Them? 

On the night of Henry's final initiation into the order in August 1958, the demon Abaddon attacked and killed most of the elders present. Henry traveled through time, and the one surviving elder went into hiding. The order was pretty much destroyed at that point, and the headquarters was abandoned until Sam and Dean opened it back up in 2013. 

So by the time Mary Campbell meets John Winchester in 1972, the Men of Letters have been gone for just over a decade. John thinks his father walked out on him in 1958, and knows nothing about the order he was a part of. 

The Bunker 

The reason Henry traveled through time was to hide a key from Abaddon, and that key was the only way into the bunker that holds all of the Men of Letters' knowledge—every spell, every scroll, everything you could need to know about magic and the supernatural (including all the spells and potions of the Grand Coven, a group of powerful witches that the order took down centuries ago). While one of the last living elders told Sam to make sure the key and the bunker were destroyed and lost forever, the boys instead decided to move in. Why waste magically free electricity, water, and all the supernatural knowledge in existence? The bunker became their home and research hub, and led to adorable moments like Dean realizing he had never had a room of his own before. 

The bunker is located in Lebanon, Kansas, the center of the contiguous United States, and is warded to protect against "any evil ever created," making it the safest place on earth. (Or at least, it was. But that's not important here.) Beginning in World War II, a wood nymph named Mrs. Butters was the keeper of the bunker and took care of the members of the order, but she went into a sort of standby mode after Abaddon's attack. 

So, as far as we know in 1972, the bunker is dormant and the American Men of Letters branch is no more. However, the Men of Letters sigil is featured in the Winchesters logo, so clearly we don't know everything. 

Samuel Campbell

At the start of The Winchesters, Mary is trying to leave the family business of monster hunting, but that is being made more difficult by the disappearance of her father. Samuel Campbell (played on The Winchesters by Tom Welling) is a hunter with a bit of an attitude. Dean traveled back in time to 1973 to investigate his family's history with Azazel, the demon who eventually kills Mary, and saw John, Samuel, and Mary's mother Deanna die after a battle with the demon. Mary made a deal with Azazel that he could enter her house in 10 years (when she ends up burning on the ceiling) if he brought John (and only John) back to life. Samuel is resurrected later on, but again, not important in 1972.

If you're thinking, "Wow, that's a significant thing that might come up in the timeline of The Winchesters," you're not wrong!" Thompson promises that by Episode 13 of the first season, the show will "show its work," and fans will be able to understand how The Winchesters fits in with the known Supernatural lore. Until then, we better buckle our seatbelts because one thing we do know for sure is that John and Mary Winchester's lives have never been easy. 

The Winchesters airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.