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Pick your favorite alter ego of Sam Winchester. Possessed Sam? Demon Blood Sam? Evil Sam? Mind-Controlled Sam? Discussing the many faces of Sam sounded like an easy topic for my latest Con-tinual panel of Supernatural media professionals... until I started listing the many times and ways that Sam wasn't the brother we all know and love!

Odds are that the same one or two images come to mind for all of us when we think of days when Sam "wasn't himself." But when challenged to really consider how often Sam had to fight for control of his body, mind and soul, I discovered that Jared Padalecki played an alternate version of Sam Winchester in at least one episode, and often in several episodes, in nearly all 15 seasons of Supernatural. That's a lot of faces for Sam!

What is the best way to do justice to all the versions of Sam we witnessed over the years? We could revisit Sam's journey chronologically. That would recreate the way he experienced his life being hijacked by supernatural forces. It's a bit more interesting, though, to look back at 15 years through the lens of accumulated memories. How many times was he possessed? How many times was he broken down by supernatural powers? All those traumas compounded each other. They could have insidiously perverted who he was as a person, yet, somehow, he chose to forge his trials into a more authentic, stronger, more compassionate Sam. No wonder he inspires so many of us. 

So, I've chosen to group Sam's experiences into the categories of forces that overpowered him - both supernatural and human. Let's see how many I found, then you add the ones I've forgotten! Part 1 covered the times when Sam was truly a monster, by all the definitions that matter to a hunter (possessed, cloned, turned, etc.). Part 2 explored the faces of DemonBlood!Sam, followed immediately by post-demon blood, Soulless Sam in Part 3. Part 4 continued Sam's saga by looking at how he was broken by his memories of Hell once his soul was restored. Sam was whole then for a short time, until he slowly deteriorated through Hell's trials, traced in this installment.  To wrap up, just for fun, Part 6 looks at how many ways Sam was supernaturally bewitched!

Trials!Sam - Season 8

The tablet says, 'Whosoever chooses to undertake these tasks should fear not danger, nor death, nor...' A word I think means getting your spine ripped out through your mouth for all eternity.- Kevin Tran, after translating the demon tablet, 8.14 "Trial and Error"

8.14 "Trial and Error" kicked off another supernatural journey for Sam as he undertook "trials" that slowly broke down his body to the point of death. Sam was not the intended bearer of this burden as it was Dean who wanted to perform the trials to close the gates of Hell. But Sam was in the right (wrong?) place at the right time, and had no choice but to battle the Hell Hound they were seeking for the first trial's spell.


Sam's skills as a hunter and his instincts for survival took over, until Sam killed the hound,


making Sam the only person who could recite the first spell.


Once the spell was cast, ancient supernatural forces merged with Sam.  At first, he felt no ill effects, so he stubbornly convinced Dean that the process had begun and couldn't be reversed. Sam was Hell's lever whether they liked it or not.


But when Sam starting coughing blood, he worried that the tablet's warning may have been more literal than metaphorical. 

SPN815 CARSAM 8.15 "Man's Best Friend With Benefits"

Sam...You're damaged in ways even I can't heal. It's something on the subatomic level and his electromagnetic field -- - Castiel 8.17 "Goodbye Stranger"

The second trial involved a trip to Hell to free an innocent soul (Bobby). After completing his mission in 8.19 "Taxi Driver", Sam received the second spell's power but it was much more painful than what he had experienced thus far.

8.19 1541 Sam Trial2 

The second spell hit Sam hard. More deeply connected to supernatural forces now, he could feel the agony of the "subatomic" changes that Castiel sensed. In his physically and emotionally weakened state, Sam confessed his feelings of always having been "unclean" because of the demon blood he received as an infant. 


The physical mutations Sam was undergoing progressed until they blistered into a raging fever that caused him to get delirious. 

8.21 0627 Sam Delirious

8.21 0697 Sam delirious

On top of the fever,  the tablet (and its creator) created a piercing, resonating sound in Sam's presence. Sam struggled to carry on despite the pain and the fever, 

8.21 0720

but eventually succumbed to their attack.

8.21 0732 Sam passed out

Sam's downfall led to a glorious sequence of Big Brother Dean frantically saving Sam in an ice bath...

SPN 0770

which led to a shivering...

SPN 0784

wet Sam!


The third and last trial, as depicted in the season 8 finale "Sacrifice", took everything he had to give as an actor, according to Jared.


It drained him mentally and physically, as he brought Sam to the brink of death.

SPN 1347

Since Sam's task was to cure a demon, this last trial became a test of wits and endurance between Sam and Crowley. For eight hours, Sam confronted his perception of his personal failings while injecting syringes of his own blood into Crowley. Each step broke Sam's body down further, killing him from the inside out. 


At the last second, Dean stopped Sam's ritual, begging Sam to not sacrifice himself.  Feeling unworthy of love or salvation, Sam confessed his self-hatred,


and profound regret to his brother.


Sam was so close to death and so entirely obsessed with completing his mission, 


he couldn't see any other way forward. 


Dean's profession of his devotion to his brother finally convinced Sam to accept love and and stop the trials,


but the fatal damage...


had already been done.

SPN 1574

Sam could only be saved now by supernatural intervention. 

To continue Sam's story chronologically, see "Gadreel!Sam" in "Part 1: Monstrous Sam"! Otherwise, study Sam's many other faces, if you missed them: Addicted Sam, Soulless Sam and Broken Sam! Then join us in Part 6 for Bewitched Sam! 

What did you think of the trials storyline? Let us know below in the comments!

Enjoy the full Con-tinual panel, "Who Wore Sam Winchester Best?" with panelists Michelle Crowley, Carole Stokes, myself and host Gail Z. Martin.

Continue the fun with more of Nightsky's Supernatural insights!

If Sam is your jam, enjoy our deep character studies, "Breathtaking" photo essays and fun articles dedicated to Sam Winchester

If Dean is your man, enjoy "The Many Faces of Dean Winchester"