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The entire John Wick timeline explained

2014 saw the release of a little movie about a retired assassin on a quest to avenge his dog. Thanks in no small part to the star power of Keanu Reeves and some killer fight choreography, John Wick quickly rose from mid-level action thriller to phenomenon, and a franchise was born.

Since then, two sequels have followed, each charting John's reluctant journey through an intricate and heavily mythologized criminal underworld that he'd once sought to leave behind. Each chapter in the saga adds more color and detail to the world, and though much of it remains shrouded in mystery, we get a clearer picture of who John is and how his life has progressed with each installment.

With that in mind, let's dig into the John Wick timeline so far, examining what we know about Mr. Wick's past, his criminal career, his motivations… and what he intends to do next.

Early life

Not much is known about John Wick's early life, but we do learn in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum that "John Wick" is not his real name. When he's desperate for assistance after being declared excommunicado, he goes to see the Director (Anjelica Huston), and during their meeting it's revealed to the audience that his real name is Jardani Jovanovich, and that his ancestry is Belarusian. This heritage, and John's status as the last of his particular tribe, is enough to ensure him safe passage from New York City to Casablanca.

Beyond that, the only thing we can reliably say about John Wick's early life is that at some point he entered the United States Marine Corps, which we can guess because of the tattoo across his upper back. It reads "Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat," which is Latin for "Fortune Favors the Bold," the motto of the 3rd Marine Regiment stationed in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii (which itself is likely a nod to Reeves' own Hawaiian heritage). It's possible he got that tattoo just because he thought it was cool, but tattoos and military service are often linked inside and outside popular culture, so it's a solid bet.

"Baba Yaga"

The John Wick films don't tell us exactly when or how John became a killer for hire, but they do suggest certain things — namely that Wick's chief mentor may have been Marcus (Willem Dafoe), his friend and fellow assassin who ultimately takes a contract to kill him in the first film. It's quite possible they served in the military together, and that Marcus took up the hitman life first, paving the way for his slightly younger friend to eventually join up. However their bond developed, Marcus seems to have taught John quite a few of his tricks.

What we do know for sure is that John was a natural hitman, and quickly developed a reputation that earned him the nickname "Baba Yaga." He was the boogeyman for the most dangerous people in the world, and he could kill with tremendous efficiency in just about any way he had to — including, famously, with a pencil.

At some point during his career as a sought after and feared assassin, John did some kind of favor for his friend Sofia (Halle Berry), which called for her to offer him a blood oath marker which he could later cash in.

The Impossible Task

At some point in his career as an assassin, Wick came under the employ of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), a mob boss with big ambitions. It was during this time that Wick famously killed three men in a bar with a pencil. Then, though the life he'd chosen was supposed to be permanent, Wick approached Tarasov and "asked to leave" because he was in love with a woman. Tarasov agreed to let Wick retire, but only if he performed "a job no one could have pulled off." Tarasov does not go into specifics in the films, but Wick's legendary "Impossible Task" was apparently a series of assassinations, and "the bodies he buried that day" paved the way for Tarasov and his family to rise up through the ranks of organized crime.

Having accomplished his impossible task, Wick was allowed to retire from his life as a contract killer, and Tarasov became one of the most powerful men in the crime world. During the "Impossible Task," though, Wick also sought the help of his friend Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), who secured a blood oath marker from Wick for his trouble.

Retirement

After the Impossible Task was completed, Wick left the world of crime, going so far as to bury his guns and remaining gold under concrete in his basement. He married Helen, and the two settled into a happy life together. That happiness, unfortunately, was not to last.

At some point in the course of their marriage, Helen fell ill. The illness was terminal, and she died shortly before the events of the first John Wick film. The films rarely elaborate on Helen or her illness, but we of course know that her death greatly impacted John, to the point that he's willing to stay alive if only to remember her, so that everything he did in order to have a life with her will be worthwhile.

We can also infer that Helen was a wise woman who knew that death was coming, and also knew that her husband would not handle the grieving process well alone. To ease his pain, at some point before her death she arranged for a puppy to be delivered to his doorstep to help him move on.

Vengeance for Daisy

The main events of the first John Wick film begin just days after Helen's death, when several years have apparently passed since John's retirement as an assassin. We can infer this because Viggo Tarasov's young son, Iosef (Alfie Allen) seems to be the only denizen of the criminal underworld who doesn't know who John is. We know that because Iosef and his friends decide, after seeing Wick's classic Ford Mustang, to stage a home invasion and steal the car. They also kill Wick's new puppy, Daisy, in the process… and make the mistake of leaving Wick alive.

When Iosef takes the Mustang to a chop shop to have its VIN changed, word begins to spread in the underworld of the sin he's just committed, while John digs up his guns and gold and prepares to go on a quest for vengeance. Viggo Tarasov berates his son for what he's done, but still prepares to go to war with Wick, even taking out a contract to have Wick killed in the process. Some of the most talented assassins in the world try and fail to stop Wick as he burns through the Tarasov family, eventually killing both Iosef and Viggo.

Eventually, the vendetta ends at the chop shop of Viggo's brother Abram (Peter Stormare), where Wick retrieves his car and makes peace. He returns home and buries his guns once more.

The marker

John returns home with a new, unnamed dog and tries to move on with his life, but his peace is quickly interrupted by Santino, who arrives to cash in on the marker John had given him years before in exchange for Santino's assistance with the Impossible Task. John initially rejects Santino's demand that he honor the marker, and Santino retaliates by destroying John's home. John journeys to New York City once again and, after encouragement from Winston (Ian McShane), the owner of New York's Continental (a hotel that exists as a sanctuary for criminals with strict rules governed by the underworld), he agrees to meet with Santino.

Santino wants to hire John to assassinate his sister Gianna (Claudia Gerini), who is about to ascend to a seat at the High Table, a council of crime lords that rules over the whole underworld. With his sister out of the way, Santino could claim the High Table seat for himself, but he can't kill her, because that would spark a war among assassins. John reluctantly agrees and travels to Italy to kill Gianna. When he arrives and meets Gianna in secret during her coronation festivities, we learn that the two are old friends (though we don't learn much about their history). Knowing that John is bound by a blood oath to carry out the hit, Gianna slits her wrists in an effort to die on her own terms. As she loses consciousness in a bath, John puts a bullet in her head.

Excommunicado

Even as he was honoring the Marker by killing Gianna, John was under surveillance from Santino's chief bodyguard, Ares (Ruby Rose). In the catacombs beneath Gianna's compound, Santino's henchmen attack John. Santino always intend to double cross his old friend and tie up all possible loose ends connected to his coup against his sister. John fights his way out and returns to New York City, where he learns that Santino has taken out a $7 million contract against him as a public show of vengeance for his sister's death.

Gianna's loyal bodyguard, Cassian (Common) attempts to cash in on this contract and avenge her, but John defeats him in combat and ultimately seeks refuge with the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who grants him a gun with seven bullets which he can use to seek vengeance against Santino. John fights his way through Santino's guards, but Santino himself seeks refuge in the Continental, where one of the chief rules is that no blood can be spilled on company grounds. John breaks this cardinal rule and shoots Santino in the head in the hotel's lounge, forcing Winston to declare him "excommunicado." In honor of their friendship, Winston grants John one hour to flee before a contract on his life takes effect.

The Elder

Even before his hour-long grace period is up, other assassins are determined to kill John Wick. Seeking refuge, John retrieves a crucifix and one last marker from a dummy book in the New York Public Library, and visits the Director. She "tears his ticket" and brands him with the crucifix, signifying that all of his favors have been used up. This is enough to get him to Casablanca, where he finds Sofia and uses the marker she gave him to ask for a favor.

That favor — after first battling the assassin Berrada (Jerome Flynn) over one of Sofia's dogs — is ultimately a journey to find the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), the only person left who can restore his status with the High Table and allow him to continue living his life. John explains that he wants to keep living so that he can carry on the memory of his wife Helen, and the Elder offers him a deal. If John will show his loyalty by killing Winston and continuing to serve the High Table as an assassin, he can go on living. John agrees to this deal, severing his own ring finger and giving his wedding ring to the Elder as a sign of devotion.

The Adjudicator

While John is overseas attempting to restore his status with the High Table, an Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) arrives in New York to dispatch justice on behalf of the High Table for the wrongs done in John Wick: Chapter 2. To carry this out, the Adjudicator recruits Zero (Mark Dacascos), a loyal assassin, and they begin their work. For his role in giving John a one-hour head start, the Adjudicator tells Winston that he has seven days to get his affairs in order before being removed from the Continental. 

The Adjudicator then goes to the Director and, in retribution for her role in letting John escape, has Zero plunge a sword through both of her hands. They then visit the Bowery King. As punishment for providing the gun and seven bullets John used to kill Santino on Continental grounds, the Adjudicator orders Zero to give the Bowery King seven cuts with his sword. The Bowery King is severely wounded, but survives.

"Prepare for War"

John returns to New York City after his meeting with the Elder, but his restoration to service with the High Table will not be complete until he kills Winston. With Zero's men in pursuit, both John and Winston decide to deny their orders from the Table. Winston will not step down as manager of the Continental, and John will not kill his old friend. In response, the Adjudicator orders the New York Continental to be deconsecrated, and a squad of High Table enforcers arrive to kill Winston, John, and everyone loyal to them, including the Continental's concierge, Charon (Lance Reddick).

Though they initially struggle to fight off the SWAT-like enforcers with their bulletproof armor, John and Charon defeat the squad with armor piercing rounds. John then goes on to battle Zero and his men, narrowly walking away victorious. Winston, meanwhile, uses his defeat of the High Table enforcers as leverage to parley with the Adjudicator, who decides to frame the defense of the Continental as a "show of strength" from Winston. To prove his loyalty to the High Table, Winston shoots John, who falls off the hotel roof.

The Bowery Alliance

The Adjudicator agrees to reconsecrate the Contintental and restore Winston to power, but when they look for John's body in the alley, he's gone. The Adjudicator makes it clear that John remains a threat to both Winston and to the High Table, which Winston is all too aware of himself.

John, severely wounded but alive, is transported to the Bowery King by his servants. The King, still suffering from his sword wounds and struggling to walk, makes it clear that he does not accept the punishment of the High Table. The Bowery King declares that he's ready to wage war against the Table for their attempt to remove him from his territory, and asks John if he's also ready to fight back. John says that he is, setting the stage for a confrontation.

Shortly after John Wick: Chapter 3 was released, Lionsgate confirmed that a fourth film in the franchise will arrive May 21, 2021, setting the stage for the war between the Bowery and the High Table. Si vis pacem, para bellum, indeed.