The original was a big surprise when it landed in 2014, not just because of its insanely awesome, remarkably audacious action choreography, but also because of its adept world-building. The universe may look like our own, but it also has its own specific set of rules that influence how the characters all operate within it. This particular aspect of the franchise expanded wonderfully in 2017’s , and now audiences are preparing for another dose with .
There is one potential drawback with detailed world-building, however, and it’s the complexity that it invites. Every new chapter told within the universe means the creation of more rules, and that means each one becomes exponentially denser – which can make them challenging to watch for new audiences or casual fans. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
With now just a few days away from heading towards a theater near you, we’ve put together this handy, spoiler-free guide about the John Wick universe and all of its most important characters and intricacies. Need a refresher course? Do yourself a favor and read on!
Also known by his nickname Baba Yaga (which has the tendency to strike fear in the hearts of even the toughest men and women), John Wick is the most skilled killer that the world has ever seen. Not much is known about how exactly he acquired his deadly talents, but what has been made perfectly clear is that he has the capacity to end a person’s life with pretty much any instrument – a pencil most definitely being the most notorious.
Because of his intense abilities, he spent much of his adult life as a gifted assassin, but at one point he made the decision to try and walk away from the game for good. He was given what was thought to be an impossible task, the completion of which would lead to his freedom, and much to the surprise of everyone he actually succeeded. Sadly for him, however, he was pulled back into the world when the son of a powerful Russian Mafioso killed his dog and stole his car – leading him on a blood-thirsty quest for vengeance.
Played by the venerable Ian McShane, Winston is one of the most important characters in the franchise, and a key ally of the titular hero. He lives in New York, and is the owner of the hotel The Continental – though exactly how he acquired the establishment has not yet been revealed (we’ll get more into the details of The Continental later on). He is a very influential figure in the assassination world, and has displayed very little patience for most individuals not willing to play by the rules.
That being said, his personal history with John Wick does lead Winston to offer some leniency towards him – most notably demonstrated in . At the end of that movie Winston has every right to try and kill the franchise protagonist – for reasons that will be discussed further down – but instead he offers him an hour to try and get his affairs in order.
The name Charon is likely familiar to those who know their Greek mythology, as he is the ferryman of Hades who leads souls of the deceased across the river Styx to what will be their final destination. In the universe, however, the character isn’t quite the same ominous figure. Instead, he is best recognized as the helpful concierge at The Continental, and is a long-time employee of Winston’s.
Also a friend of John Wick’s, he operates as basically any concierge at a hotel does – both checking clients into their respective rooms, and taking on tasks that are within his purview. Of course, his jobs tend to be a bit more “heightened” given the exclusive clientele that The Continental services.
The Bowery King
In the universe, it often feels like most people aren’t what they seem, and that extends to the homeless people living on the streets of New York. Rather than being simple vagrants, they are actually part of a vast network that reports to a single leader: The Bowery King. It’s through these individuals and his use of carrier pigeons that The Bowery King is able to keep entirely up-to-date with the goings on in his city – often learning about developments far faster than anyone else.
Like many, he has a complicated relationship with John Wick, though it is mostly positive. Years before his retirement, Wick spared The Bowery King’s life during a mission, so there is a certain sense of obligation that is felt. That being said, the highest priority for The Bowery King is still his network, and he doesn’t let anything threaten it.
There is exactly one reason why John Wick tried to get out of the assassin game, and her name was Helen. The notorious killer fell in love, and his desire to live a normal life with her as his wife resulted in him successfully achieving the impossible. Sadly, though, it’s a story with a tragic ending, as she wound up getting cancer and died.
The reason why John Wick was so obsessive about getting revenge for his murdered dog and his stolen car was because of their connection to Helen – as the former was a final gift from her that helped lift him out of despair, and the latter contained a birthday card and photograph that he held precious. She is the only reason he wishes to keep living, as he wants to keep the memory of her alive.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, The Continental is a hotel that serves as a home base and neutral ground for those in the assassin game. It’s actually a global franchise, with establishments in major cities all around the world, and each one provides its clients with specific services catered towards their craft (including weaponry and specialty tailoring). The golden rule that must never be broken is that “business” must never be carried out on the grounds, and the punishment for violating this rule is death. Unfortunately, John Wick just can’t help himself following the events of – which is what catapults him into the main plot of .
The High Table
Like in any career field, there is a hierarchy in the assassin game, and sitting at the tippy-top of the ladder in the universe is The High Table. It’s a shadowy organization made up of the leaders of the most powerful crime bosses in the world, and they call all the shots and basically make all of the rules that every killer must follow. Thus far the most significant member of this group that we’ve met is Santino D’Antonio, who hired John Wick to kill his sister, Gianna, so that he could take her place. Unfortunately for him, he followed his ascension up by putting a hit on Wick’s head (big mistake) – which was a favor that the protagonist returned by putting a bullet in his head in the middle of The Continental dining room.
Remember that impossible task that John Wick accomplished in order to get out of the assassin game? It wouldn’t have been possible without the utilization of a marker – which is essentially a blood oath in physical form. When a killer needs a massive favor from somebody for any reason, they give the other person a marker, which looks like a palm-sized coin with a small door in the middle. Behind this door is a surface split in two, and the person requesting the favor leaves a bloody thumb print on one side – signifying that they will return the favor upon request (the penalty for failing to do so is death). The exchange of markers is monitored by The Continental, which has a ledger tracking debts that are both owed and paid.
Because fiat money is both volatile in value and traceable, the assassin community tends not to use it. Instead, the way that killers pay for things is with specially made gold coins. They are used as payment for both items and services rendered, though their exact worth isn’t precisely determined in any of the movies thus far. One gold coin is the price for basically anything and everything, with haggling never being a thing.
“Excommunicado” is the status that John Wick finds himself saddled with at the start of , and it essentially translates to “open season.” Wick earns it because of his inability to resist killing Santino D’Antonio on the grounds of The Continental, and it leads to every killer in the world aiming at a target on his back (with the reward for getting the job done being $14 million). As mentioned, Winston gives Wick a bit of leeway by giving him a full hour to prepare for the onslaught, but there’s only so much you can do when assassins all around you are getting text messages notifying them of an irresistible bounty.
Do you feel like you’re fully prepared now for ? We certainly hope so! Be sure to check out the film when it hits theaters this weekend, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for a whole lot more of our coverage of the movie in the coming days and weeks.