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SYFY WIRE The Winchesters

Jensen Ackles & ‘The Winchesters’ cast talk expanding the lore of the ‘Supernatural’ universe

Old series or new, the common thread remains the same, says Ackles: ’Never give up on each other’

By Benjamin Bullard
A still from the CW's The Winchesters Trailer

Two episodes into The Winchesters, expectant fans who’ve tuned in to the Supernatural spinoff are starting to get a pretty good idea of how the prequel series vibes with its long-running predecessor. Like its elder demon-slaying show, the music’s on point and the ride-or-die loyalty dynamics are strong — so strong, in fact, that Jensen Ackles flags them as the very essence of the larger Supernatural ecosystem.

"We’re really excited about going back in time to expand a world that most of us already know,” Ackles told SYFY WIRE and other media at a recent New York Comic Con round table. “…It really is about this family, and the relationships that they have and the fight that they fight to keep each other together.

“When you talk about Supernatural, it really boils down to the two brothers doing what they can do — anything they can do — to never give up on each other, and to fight for what they believe in. So now to get to unpack where that DNA comes from, where we see that they got that drive and that heart and that determination and that work ethic — it all stems from these two characters, John and Mary.”

RELATED: NYCC: 'The Winchesters' reveals 'Smallville' vet Tom Welling as Mary's father, Samuel Campbell

Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester (narrator)

John and Mary, of course, are the parents of Supernatural bros Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Ackles), and, as their parents, the progenitors of a whole monster-hunting legacy that kept the Supernatural motor humming through 15 seasons. Played respectively by Drake Rodger and Meg Donnelly, they’re still early in their pre-marriage relationship as The Winchesters revs up, leaving plenty of haunted highways yet to traverse before viewers get to see how they arrived at their later separate fates.

“I actually grew up watching [Supernatural],” confesses Rodger, whom The Winchesters mastermind Robbie Thompson describes as “like an encyclopedia” when it comes to franchise lore. Inheriting the classic series’ fan base is “definitely a massive responsibility,” adds Rodger, “because…people already have their opinions of these characters…Trying to give your own take while also honoring what’s been laid out before you — it’s a huge responsibility, but…it’s one we honestly love.”

Donnelly agrees, noting there’s “pressure” to give longtime Supernatural fans everything they’ve come to expect from nearly two decades of Sam and Dean’s dangerous dives into the ultimate forces of good and evil. But, she qualifies, it’s a “good pressure — but it’s definitely a little nerve wracking!”

The trick, says Thompson, is to strike a balance between the familiar and the unknown. “It’s been a unique challenge, when you’re stepping into a universe that is so lived in,” he explains. “We really have that Hippocratic oath, ’do no harm’ kind of vibe. We didn’t want to upend anything. That led to, very early on, figuring out that, 'Let’s do a different monster' for our sort of ‘big bad’ of the season, which are these sort of, you know, creepy-crawlers that you guys will meet shortly.”

(L-R): Drake Rodger as John, Meg Donnelly as Mary, Nida Khurshid as Latika and Jojo Fleites as Carlos

There’s an even deeper nostalgia driving The Winchesters’ episodic format. John and Mary will of course grow as characters while the larger story unfolds over multiple episodes, but Thompson says that within that structure, the show aims to nail the “monster of the week” formula that made early-vintage Supernatural episodes must-watch TV for fans who could never anticipate the next town — or the next baddie — to grab Sam and Dean’s righteous attention.

The idea, he explains, is “to be able to kind of strip it back to basics, and do monsters of the week and things like that…I like to say that this show is a throwback in two senses: It takes place in 1972, but it’s also the kind of TV I grew up watching, which was the more episodic kind of thing. I feel like it’s an art that’s being lost now, in the streaming world where everything is like a 13-hour movie — which is awesome, great. But I also like a one-and-done kind of a deal as well.”

Set in the early 1970s, The Winchesters inhabits a different world than the one Sam and Dean already knew when Supernatural first aired in 2005. That means the gang dynamic not only between John and Mary, but ride-along pals Carlos (Jojo Fleites) and Latika (Nida Khurshid) has to lean less on long-distance communication when evil emerges — and more on the personal touch.

“We don't have phones; we don’t have the technology as well, so it makes our connections that much stronger,” explains Donnelly. “Because we’re really relying on each other, and really counting on each other’s word.”

Even in the ‘70s, though, kids still knew how to bump their stereos — a Supernatural hallmark that thankfully finds new expression in the magic mix of music filling the airwaves in their world. “It’s been really cool to like, go back,” says Rodger. “That’s all we did when we first met as a cast: We created an album called — what is it? ‘Demon Hunting & Ghost Slaying’ or something like that — and we went through and we just laid out like, as many ‘70s, ‘60s, some ‘50s songs [as we could].”

Pop in the 8-track and dial down the lights (if you dare): New episodes of The Winchesters shake, rattle, and rock the dark demon underworld as Season 1 rolls on at The CW each Tuesday.

Looking for more supernatural thrills and chills? Check out SYFY's original SurrealEstate. The first season is streaming now on the SYFY app, and Season 2 is coming soon.