Sam has always been an inward person, taking in with little protest all the horrible things that have been dished out at him. Yet in season seven, it all got borderline ridiculous. Forget borderline. The wall in his head came down, and suddenly he had to live with psychosis. Yet this is Sam Winchester, the teflon hunter. It all got better with just a little hand grab. After one psychotic (and oh so gripping) meltdown, Sam was fine for most of the season, until it all caught up with him. But instead of taking advantage of Sam's breakdown and exposing those dark inner layers, he just sat there and took it, waiting to die. That angst lasted long enough for Castiel to magically take it away, even if he took on the burden for a small bit. Do over! This is exactly why this time last year I was primal screaming over the total wasted opportunity of showing Sam to be something more than a very pretty piece of toast.
What a difference a year makes. As I said in my "Deeper Look Season Eight at Dean Winchester," Sam Winchester, much like Dean, in season seven was unrecognizable to me. My wish was for him to be humanized, and season eight delivered big time! We finally got to see those inner layers and exposed vulnerabilities, and they were relevant to the Sam we've gotten to know the entire series, not just who he was this season. It tied together so many things, and suddenly this is the best we've ever known Sam. He's finally a relatable character.
Just like with Dean, this is a tale of two seasons. Sam in the first half was not Sam in the second half. Sam spent the first half of the season trying to ease back into a life he abandoned a year ago, and it wasn't easy, especially with a big brother that was more supercharged than ever for the job. But it was more than that. In Sam's year, he found his identity, something that he hasn't seen most if not all of his life. It was ground breaking and character defining, and long overdue. It was also boring as hell. But, when put together with the second half of the season, it made sense.
Going through each one of the season's episodes, the progression of Sam's behavior and actions makes a lot more sense when put together. Sure, there were a few head-scratchers (Amelia?) but it all did lead to something. Since the first and second halves were so drastically different, I'm breaking down Sam's analysis into parts one and two, just like I did with Dean. The first half covers Sam from episodes 8.1 - 8.11, and the second part is episodes 8.12 - 8.23.