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Learn the Rules of John Wick's Underworld

A killer guide to what's happening in the criminal realm of 'John Wick!'

By Matt CatesPublished 5 years ago 9 min read
The Rules of John Wick

John Wick trivia is getting addictive these days... and is taking up a disproportionate amount of my time, as I peck out Quora answers to questions popping up like targets in my feed.

Somehow I managed to become a top viewed writer on the topic, which I wasn't aiming for. So I'm thinkin' yeah, I'm going to re-post some of my popular content here, for John Wick newcomers trying to figure out WTF is going on.

So launch this rocket with the big question: What are the business rules of John Wick?

If you just want the highlights, check out the Bullet point version in BOLD below.

If you need more trivia ammo, there's more under the bold parts...

And, this probably goes without saying, but yeah, SPOILERS for all three films...

The High Table

Santino D'Antonio

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Global crime is highly organized, and led by the elite High Table.

The Table consists of 12 seats, including the Mafia, Camorra, Ndrandheta, Chinese, and Russians.

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This High Table bullshit includes slimeball Santino D'Antonio from John Wick 2.

Santino had previously helped Wick in some unspecified capacity, which had allowed Wick to terminate his career working for the Russian mob. But this isn't the type of guy to do a solid without calling it in years later.

He requested John Wick murder his sister Gianna after she inherited their father's chair at the High Table (what a total prick!). However she decided to die on her own terms.

Santino only rose to a position following Gianna's suicide.

Under the Table

Viggo Tarasov

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All crime syndicates fall under their purview, or “under the Table.”

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Virtually all criminal activity seen in the films is conducted under the over-arching auspices of the High Table. This includes Viggo Tarasov's Russian mob family, which John Wick once worked for, before retiring.

Ironically, years after Wick left the illustrious Tarasov organization, Viggo's son Iosef took a liking to Wick's 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429, and decided to steal it... murdering Wick's new puppy Daisy along the way.

This, of course, was the catalyst for the sequence of events to follow.

The Continental Hotels

The Continental in New York

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Operatives blend in with all elements of society, and control false front establishments.

These include hotels, which act as neutral ground, meaning all persons are safe while on the grounds. The Continentals in New York, Italy, and Morocco are examples.

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Many of the major events in the first and second films occur within the confines of the New York hotel, though Wick also pays a visit to the one in Rome. There, he plots to kill Gianna D'Antonio, while also prompting the manager to inquire if Wick is there to assassinate the Pope.

In John Wick 3, Wick also visits the hotel in Casablanca, Morocco, after deciding he needed to escape New York. It's unclear exactly how many Continentals there may be... perhaps every major city in the world hosts one.

Hotel Rules and Managers

Winston, Manager of the Continental in New York

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Violation of hotel policy results in severe penalty, up to and including death or excommunication (revocation of use of the facilities).

Violations made by hotel Managers can lead to their hotel being deconsecrated, meaning it loses its own status as neutral ground.

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Winston, the Manager of the Continental in New York, seems to have a special affinity for John Wick, going out of his way to help him... and also use him, when necessary for his own personal ends. The head concierge at the New York Continental is Charon, who also assists Wick in a variety of small ways, including boarding Wick's second dog.

John Wick 2 introduced us to Julius, the manager of the Continental in Rome. In John Wick, Chapter 3 we meet Sofia, the manager of the exotic Continental in Casablanca. She and Wick have a long history, and she owed him a great debt for a favor he'd done for her prior to his retirement. The film doesn't dive into this debt much, other than to reveal it had something to do with saving her daughter.

Continental Gold Coins

Coins used in John Wick

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These hotels utilize a service currency of minted coins, which supposedly have no monetary value outside the underworld.

**Edit: I could be wrong on this, but there's no indication the coins are minted using actual gold...

Instead they are traded in-house for services, to include a night's lodging or entrance to a secret club.

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Not only does John keep a large stash of these buried under the floor of his house, but he's got handfuls of them squirreled away in secret locations... including a hollowed-out book at the New York Public Library! These come in handy when he's on the run and needs a little power-up.

Service Professionals

The Sommelier

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There are also special tailors, dead body “cleaners,” doctors, arms dealers, historians, and storage facilities for operatives. These take “Continental” coins as well.

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Wick and others can be seen using these coins to pay Charlie's crew for the disposal of corpses. Winston himself is also seen utilizing Charlie's unique services after the sentencing (i.e. execution) of Ms. Perkins. That's what happens to you break Continental rules! Consequences, consequences...

In other cases, we don't see the exchange of coins. For instance, Wick's scene with the arms dealing Sommelier results in the hitman procuring several expensive weapons, which we don't see him pay for. Possibly they were billed to his hotel account, since this was more of a straight-forward transaction for merchandise versus an actual service being performed.


Marker with blood thumbprint

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Assassins are trained and assigned to work for a mob family. They are bound to service for life, but may barter for help from one another through the use of blood markers.

A marker is imprinted with a blood thumbprint from the person receiving the favor, and they are bound to repay the favor when asked. Then the person receiving the returned favor will imprint the marker as well, closing it out. Failing to honor a marker is punishable by death.

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In the three films, we see markers used three times. Once, when Santino D'Antonio visits John Wick's home and pulls one out; once, at the end of John Wick 2, when Winston gives Wick a marker ("You might need this... down the road"), but the audience is left uncertain of what this marker is for; and again, when Wick himself reveals that he was carrying one around, from Sofia... the new manager of the Continental in Casablanca (perhaps this was the marker Winston gave to Wick, but why would he have been holding it?).

Though not used, we also see the very first marker (and first coin) on display at Berrada's rooftop lounge, in John Wick, Chapter 3.


Accounts Payable

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Assassination contracts and other bureaucratic activities are administered though an office and “accountants” using legacy computer systems and vintage office gear and practices.

Contracts for murder are sent out as messages to all available assassins for hire. Rules are very strict regarding when a contract is officially open or closed.

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Not much else to say here, except that the accounting and admin section seems to always be humming with activity, suggesting they are overseeing a lot of criminal activity processes, which lends credence to my theory on John Wick existing in a dystopia... More to come on that!

The Bowery

The Bowery King

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Other criminal operations which exist under the Table include the Bowery, a network of spies which pose as homeless people and operate a false front soup kitchen...

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The self-styled Bowery King keeps a low profile, but has eyes and ears cast throughout the city, and relies on carrier pigeons to deliver messages in true old school tradition. "Can't track it. Can't hack it."

This is very similar in concept to how the Accounts Payable and Administration section uses legacy computer equipment, apparently in an attempt to avoid modern-day information security risks.

Indeed, in an interesting parallel, many real-world intercontinental ballistic missile systems continue to use the same IT equipment they were tied to decades ago.

The Director

The Director

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... and the Russian ballet/assassin training camp run by the Director.

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The Director is surrounded in mystery, but seems to be almost a mother-figure to Wick, or Jardani, as she calls him. Indeed, he states his name is Jardani Jovonovich, implying that "John Wick" is either an alias, or he Americanized his name at some point. We also learn from him that he's an orphan, and a "son of Belarus," suggesting he immigrated to the US from Belarus, perhaps brought here as a child after the other members of his family's gypsy tribe (or Ruska Roma) were gone.


A High Table Adjudicator

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Special high level matters may be dealt with through High Table emissaries called Adjudicators. These are non-combatant “judges” with authority to investigate and rule upon issues without further consultation from above.

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We only get to see one Adjudicator in the three films, but it's clear there must be others... and they have a lot of clout. The Adjudicator from Parbellum met with the assassin Zero at his sushi bar, and enlisted his aid to eliminate the Bowery King's henchmen simply to get a meeting with the man, issue his judgement on behalf of the High Table ("seven cuts" for the seven rounds of ammunition he'd given to Wick), and then stroll out without a single mark on her person. Essentially, she was considered untouchable, which suggests that if her duties were interfered with, there'd be even more severe consequences.

The Elder - The One Above the Table

The Elder

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Only one individual sits “above the Table,” a mysterious desert-dwelling crime boss who exercises absolute power over all operatives beneath him.

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The Elder, as he's called, is not a man one finds. If you want an appointment, you have to wander out into the desert and wait. If he's willing to meet, he'll send someone to pick you up and save you from dehydration and death. Otherwise, yeah. You're literally toast.

Of course, like Wick, if you are granted a meeting, you may wish you hadn't asked. John is given a reprieve from his death sentence IF he's willing to go back to New York and murder Winston to prove his loyalty. And he's also got to commit to basically being a hitman slave for the rest of his days, serving at the whim of the Elder. Oh yeah, and he had to cut off his ring finger and fork over his wedding ring to the guy. Damn!


About the Creator

Matt Cates

Freelance writer and owner of Cates Content and Copywriting; retired Air Force Veteran; former administrative assistant at Oregon State University; author of Haveck: The First Transhuman, the greatest sci-fi novel in the multiverse.

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