At the end of John Wick 2, with what looked like the entire city of New York about to take up arms against Keanu Reeves' titular hero, it seemed like the next chapter in the assassin's saga would have to wrap things up one way or another. We were pretty surprised, then, when John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum concluded not with John's death or his triumph over the High Table, but basically where it began: with John Wick on the run, out of friends, the whole world against him. But was Winston's betrayal of John real, or is there more to it than that?
At the end of John Wick 2, Winston (Ian McShane) gave John an hour's head start. He was still on the assassin's side, despite the reality of John's affront against the High Table's laws when he spilled blood on Continental grounds. By John Wick 3's conclusion, Winston has fully turned on John, shooting him repeatedly and sending him careening over the edge of the Continental's roof. But are things really that black and white?
The Continental vs. The High Table
First off, let's talk about the conflict that served as John Wick 3's climax: the fight between the Continental (well, really John and Charon (Lance Reddick), since Winston mostly hid in a vault with John's dog), and the High Table's elite strike team. The High Table doesn't take lightly to being defied, and the hour Winston gave John at the end of 2 was enough to get the NY Continental manager in deep trouble with his overlords. They sent the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) to negotiate Winston's "retirement," and the High Table's Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui) sent John back to New York to kill Winston.
Obviously, the High Table's plans in this case didn't work out, largely thanks to the bond that Winston and John share after years of working together. Winston had no interest in stepping down, and John didn't really want to kill him. John may have gone through with it in order to survive, had Winston not offered him an alternative--teaming up to fight the High Table.
The Continental and John won the initial skirmish, but both sides knew this fight was just the beginning. When they met for a parley, Winston and the Adjudicator agreed to a ceasefire, under the shared revision that Winston had only risen up in the first place in order to prove his strength and devotion to the High Table. It was a simple show of force--at least, according to the version of events Winston and the Adjudicator settled on in the end.
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Either way, that left one loose end: John Wick himself. Winston shoots John several times, seemingly taking the assassin by surprise, and John plummets off the Continental's roof.
If you take this scene at face value, it seems that Winston betrayed John in order to reaffirm his loyalty to the High Table. But that may not necessarily be the case. Throughout these movies, the friendship and trust between John and Winston have seemed genuine. When Winston said he'd rather be killed by a friend, he appeared to mean it.
In light of that, there's another possibility: Winston was just doing what he had to in order to make it seem like he'd turned on John, while actually trying his best to ensure John walked away from the situation with his life. Winston shot John in the torso, where he knew John's magic bulletproof suit would prevent the bullets from killing him, and he may have even known that John would hit some obstacles on his way down, breaking his fall, if he hurtled off the roof in that exact place. Winston never looked over the edge to make sure John was dead, and he didn't seem too concerned about the fact that the boogeyman-assassin he'd just seemingly betrayed had apparently gotten up and walked away.
At the very end of the movie, Jason Mantzoukas's character (the Tick Tock Man, who we didn't get nearly enough of) finds John and takes him to the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who apparently lived through his seven slashes. Like John, the Bowery King isn't looking so hot--but given both characters' current standing with the High Table, that's not the only thing the two now have in common.
Is there a real rebellion against the High Table brewing for the inevitable John Wick 4? Will Winston and John reconcile, or was that betrayal the last straw? We'll have to wait and see, but the foundation is certainly there for a fourth chapter in John Wick's saga.