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.
 
We Need To Talk About Kevin

We find Sam in Kermit, Texas, and he's leaving a woman (and dog) in the middle of the night.  He's sad.  So, what does this all mean?  

He's leaving behind the last year of his life, that part is clear.  But exactly what happened in that year will be told over the next several episodes.  It's implied though that the incident we did see, Sam hitting Riot the dog with the Impala, wasn't long after Dean's disappearance. 

When Sam and Dean reunite, Sam is definitely relived that Dean is alive, and quite stunned that Dean was in Purgatory.  That never even dawned on him.  The debates have been endless as to why Sam didn't look for Dean, but in this analysis, we have to go with what we're given - he didn't.  Sam explains to Dean why, because everyone he knew was dead.  There was no family left.  "Yes, Dean, and as far as I knew, what we do is the thing that got every single member of my family killed. I had no one. No one. And for the first time in my life I was completely alone, and honestly I didn't exactly have a road map. So, yeah, I fixed up the Impala and I just drove."  

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Dean is rather livid that Sam didn't look, and he won't buy into any explanations that Sam gives.  As a matter of fact, he won't stop giving Sam grief about not looking for him the entire season.  However, the fact that they're talking about it in the first episode of the season is encouraging.  Considering how much these brothers didn't talk the last several seasons, this is pretty darned good. 

Dean: Is that, uh, is that how you rationalize taking a year off? People will be okay?
Sam: People were okay, Dean. You're okay.
Dean: Wow.
Sam: Look, I did what we promised we'd do. I moved on, I lived my life.
Dean: Yeah, no I'm gettin' that.
Sam: Look, it wasn't like I was just oblivious. I mean, I read the paper every day, I saw the weird stories, the kind of stuff we used to chase.
Dean: And you just said, what, not my problem?
Sam: Yes. And you know what, the world went on.
Dean: People died, Sam.
Sam: People always die, Dean. And maybe another hunter took care of it, I don't know, but the point is for the first time I realized that it wasn't only up to me to stop it.
Dean: ...So what was it, hmm? What could possibly make you stop just like that? A girl?
Sam: ...
Dean: Was there a girl?
Sam: ...The girl had nothing to do with it.
Dean: There was a girl?
Sam: Yeah, there was. And then there wasn't. Any more questions?

When Sam and Dean do find Kevin, it's clear the poor kid will have to give up everything to pursue this quest to close the gates of Hell.  His dreams of a normal life won't be possible.  Sam believes that eventually Kevin can find this happiness, and tells him so.  This isn't unusual with Sam.  By giving Kevin that hope, he's giving it to himself.  He just has to do this one thing, and then he can go back to that normal life he had the last year.  Now all Sam has to do is convince Dean of that.  Oh, and remember how history never allows that to happen.  

What's Up Tiger Mommy?

I just want to know when in the world Sam, who hasn't been hunting for the last year, learned out to do a reverse exorcism.  That would have so helped before in other circumstances.  

Aside from the fact that Sam's new longer hair made for a great Thor joke, the big take away from Sam in this episode is him seeing Dean's new raw mental state.  How Dean would have killed Mrs. Tran if he could to get to Crowley.  Sam is clearly having some issues adjusting back to the life and his brother's new edge.  That's especially clear judging by his reaction when Dean interrogated the man with the knife to his throat.  

Heartache

Sam clearly wants to enjoy the finer things in life, which is why he and Dean end up at Farmers' market.  

Sam:  What? I had a year off. I took the time to enjoy the good things.
Dean:  While avoiding doing what we actually do.
Sam:  Wow, Dean, does it make you feel that much better every time you say it?

On top of dealing with Dean's constant reminders about the last year, Dean later mentions how well they are working together, but Sam still has it in his mind this is only temporary.  He tries to explain they want different things, and maybe Dean would be better off without him.  "Look, I'm not saying I'm bailing on you. I'm just saying make room for the possibility that we want different things. I mean, I want my time to count for something."  Dean doesn't understand, thinking what they do does count.  The chat stops there for now, but Sam is a little more direct later.  He tells Dean he wants out.  Dean won't accept that, thinking Sam will eventually change his mind.

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Sam leaves it there, instead choosing to remember a better time instead of fighting with Dean.   Sam's flashback is very interesting here.  For one, it's very sweet and saccharine, glowing with bright colors and white light, as if it's heavenly.  So not Sam.  Two, it reflected Sam's paranoia, he can't find Amelia and he's worried sick.  No wonder he's stunned by the outcome.  Instead of a horrible, bloody end that he's grown accustomed, she's there with a surprise picnic and birthday cake.  He's pleasantly stunned, and he's smiling!  It truly implies no one has ever thrown him a birthday celebration before.  Then he's still smiling, there in the Impala as he remembers it all.  Oh yes, this is a very strange setting for Sam, who's had nothing but tragedy his whole life and a lot of sad birthdays.  No wonder he can't let go of that life. 

Blood Brother

Sam and Dean are at each other's throats for sure.  They are sniping at one another as they continue to be frustrated over the hunt for Kevin.  Sam's frustration doesn't change when Dean just suddenly leaves with no explanation other than he needs to take care of something "personal."  That leaves Sam alone to remember his time with Amelia, and how their relationship got started.  He got a job as the handyman at the local motel, and that's where Amelia, the mean vet lady, was staying.  After their frosty start, they both realize they have something in common.  They both had someone they used to love and that someone is gone.  Good to know.  

That's a total contrast to Dean, especially when Sam finds out Dean's new friend, one that he took off to help with no explanation, is a vampire.  Sam's overreaction to Benny, the angry stare at Dean, reaching for his weapon only to be shook off by Dean, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense until the season finale.  Why would Sam react so harshly to Benny, especially when they had just let Kate go in "Bitten?"  Suddenly, Sam's sins from the last year aren't any worse than Dean's, at least in his mind.  He now has Benny to throw back at Dean.  

Southern Comfort

Oh man, does the s*** hit the fan on this one.  Sam isn't going to stay silent anymore, which is kind of cool because he's standing up for himself so early into the season.  Normally, he has to be provoked for a very long time.  I think Dean kind of counted on that, which is why he'd been throwing all those passive-aggressive digs at his brother.  Ah, families.  

Sam has more flashbacks about Amelia, and they're in bed together.  She talks about her dead husband Don, and then feels weird about it.  Sam later opens up about Dean, they drink, they talk, they hold hands in support of one another.  You know, I'd honestly find that moment endearing, and lord knows I'm thrilled that Sammy found some emotional support because no one on earth deserves it more, but chemistry was never right between these two.  It always seemed off.  Oh well, it gave Sammy a fresh perspective and new lease on life, so that's what matters.  

That's where Sam's contentment ends, because this whole Dean and Benny thing has really got him hot.  Sam at the beginning spells out his displeasure about Benny, but Dean defends his pal, saying he isn't hurting anyone.  Sam doesn't understand how Dean can believe the vampire.  They carry on though, until the contrived yet always effective curse gets Dean in a mind controlled tizzy and he's ready to kill Sam for all his transgressions the last few years.  He's not just angry about the last year, but he brings up Ruby, the demon blood, being soulless, etc.  Sam isn't apologetic, and actually fights back anger during that moment (being physically hurt probably contributed), but luckily Garth is able to talk Dean down.  

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Garth however doesn't have that same chat with Sam, and he's still fuming after the incident.  Sam tells Dean he didn't need a cursed penny to say those things.  "Own up to your crap, Dean. I told you from the jump where I was coming from, why I didn't look for you. But you? You had secrets. You had Benny. And you got on your high and mighty, and you've been kicking me ever since you got back. But that's over. So move on, or I will."   Dean is okay with that, but Sam is still too angry.  So he threatens Benny next.  Oh Sammy, just don't go there.  This can't go well for you, pushing your brother into a corner like that.  

A Little Slice of Kevin 

Now Sam and Dean are supporting one another again.  I like how Sam tried to be there for his brother and listen as visions of Castiel were haunting Dean (even if it really turned out to be Castiel).  Supportive brother is good.  Plus, how cool was it that Sam got to blow those demons away with demons bombs?  It was well deserved payback.  

Hunteri Heroici

More flashbacks, and I have to admit by this episode flashback fatigue had set in.  This time we meet Amelia's Dad, Stan.  He can tell from just looking at Sam how damaged he is.  Although in fairness, when he finds out a guy living with his daughter went to Stanford and now he's a maintenance man at a motel, no dad would be impressed by that.  Stan digs on, especially when Sam mentions his dad was a marine.  Stan's surprised Sam has never served, because he's got the look.  "The one a lot of guys get after they've been through the meat grinder "“ the one that lets you know they've seen a lot of crap they can't forget. The second their feet hit solid ground, they start running, and they don't stop "“ not till they find something to hold on to."  

The perspective in this flashback seems a bit skewed, and I think Sam especially was remembering this time with Amelia in relation to Fred Jones and his life in a dream world of cartoons.  "Look, it can be nice living in a dream world. It can be great. I know that. And you can hide, and you can pretend all the crap out there doesn't exist, but you can't do it  forever because...eventually, whatever it is you're running from "“ it'll find you.  It'll come along, and it'll punch you in the gut. And then... then you got to wake up, because if you don't, then trying to keep that dream alive will destroy you! It'll destroy everything!"

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Sam misses Amelia, he misses his real life, but he left for a reason and needed to remember what that reason was.  Amelia's dad triggered all the doubts that Sam had about their relationship, and maybe heightened feelings he had deep inside over why he wasn't good enough for her.  Since it was discovered at the end that Amelia's husband Don was really alive, it was those doubts that played in Sam's eventual decision to leave.  Ultimately, he was trying to assure himself he did the right thing.  It's the things that minds to do carry on.  

Citizen Fang

Remember that brotherly camaraderie and support from the last couple of episodes?  Gone.  Sam still has that bug up his ass about Benny, and when crazy Martin from "Sam, Interrupted" came to him looking for work, how harmless could he be?  Just have him look after Benny and report back to him.  Except people started turning up dead from vampire wounds where Benny just happened to be, and Martin didn't have to see Benny caught in the act.  Vampires after all are evil.  So Sam agreed.  Huh?  Sam took Martin's side over Dean?  They even knocked out Dean and chained him to a radiator?  It didn't make a lot of sense at the time, but in retrospect it's understandable. 

We know Sam's bias against Benny wasn't just a mere hatred for vampires.  It had to be something more, because remember Sam's defense of Lenore in "Bloodlust?"  He learned back then vampires could be good.  He never sent anyone out to tail Lenore.  I believe part of Sam's overreaction was in a way to protect Dean, because vampires don't help you out of Purgatory out of the goodness of their hearts.  He didn't trust and has that fear of his loved ones dying.  There's also jealousy too.  Dean has chosen a vampire over him.  Dean relies on this vampire more than he does him.  Even though Sam really doesn't want to be hunting.  Yeah, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, until the season finale.   

On the plus side, this Amelia thing is starting to finish up.  In the flashback Sam wants to stay with Amelia and is willing to fight for her, but his one conversation with Don changes his mind.  He does what he thinks is best for Amelia and leaves.  I'm not exactly sure why he didn't wait for Amelia to make her choice, but I figured he was making it easy for her.  He loves her, but perhaps part of him knows them being together isn't right.  Those he loves usually end up dead.   

But then he gets the text message that Amelia is in trouble during the hunt, and suddenly letting go of her goes out the window.  He bails the second he sees it, leaving Martin out in the woods alone.  He's frantic, he's worried, he's scared, and suddenly all those memories of tragically losing people he loves comes back to him.  At first he's relieved to find that she's okay, although very disappointed to find out she's carried on her life with Don.  That all ends with anger toward Dean when he figures out Dean sent that message and Benny killed Martin.  He won't even speak to him.  It doesn't help after finding that out that he runs into Amelia in the bar!  Awkward.  

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Torn and Frayed

Poor Sammy.  We know it wasn't Dean's intent wasn't harmful when he sent that text message, but it really hurt Sam in a way Dean never would have guessed.  Sam is clean with him over the reason why, which is quite refreshing to see.  He's being more open and honest with Dean, more than he's been in a while (if ever).  This isn't about Benny.  "You needed me to what? To tear ass to Texas? To be afraid that what happened to Jessica, what happened to... everybody that we care about might have happened to her?"  

The brothers part angrily, so enter Castiel!  But first, Sam rekindles the lost romance with Amelia.  She arrives in the motel room, they cave into their passions, and they both realize it's wrong.  She issues the ultimatum, he can stay with her, but he has to be all in.  No more of his other life.  Sam needs time to think about it, but there's nothing like Castiel coming along and dragging him into his quest to find Samandriel, even though Dean is helping.  When Castiel says to stow their crap, they listen!  

The case is all Sam needs.  For one, he realizes how much he and Dean need each other during the rescue attempt.  Only they know how to cover each other's backs against the bad guy.  Two, something is wrong with Castiel, and this whole tablet thing has gotten more complicated.  They're needed.  Still, Dean gives Sam the option to leave it all behind.  Sam, with heavy heart, decides to stay with Dean.  He's sad, maybe borderline devastated, but he knows it's the right thing.  The Amelia thing is over, unless that fit of passion results sometime later in a baby.  I know, bite my tongue!  

LARP and The Real Girl

Sam is still really smarting over the whole Amelia thing.  Dean wants them to try and have some fun, but Sam is all business.  But something happens at the end.  He sees everyone having all that fun at LARPing, including Dean.  Why should they have all the fun?  

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Coming up in part two, Sam's life profoundly changes.  He takes the hero's journey and it's brutal.