From Boy King of Hell to The Guy Who Saves the World: The Evolution of ‘Supernatural’s Sam Winchester

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Out of all the Supernatural characters, Samuel Winchester had one of the most visible transformations from season 1 to 15 — and I’m not just talking about the hair (but omg his hair). Constantly pulled between the wayward lifestyle of a hunter and the desire for a normal “apple-pie” life, Sam struggled for a long time with an internal identity crisis, feeling as if he, a “freak,” never truly belonged anywhere. However, as Sam progressed through life, experiencing ups and downs (mostly downs — let’s be honest), we saw the sweet triumphs and the hard losses carve him into a new animal. We saw Sam Winchester, Boy King of Hell, rightfully earn his place as The Guy Who Saves the World.

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When we meet Sam, he’s escaped from the clutches of his old life and established a place for himself in the world — until disaster strikes. Following the death of his girlfriend Jess, Sam felt obligated to abandon his collegiate experience at Stanford to search for John and the thing that killed his mother and his girl. The Winchesters traverse the country in the Impala, hunting John and a plethora of monsters. Throughout the season, Sam is plagued with headaches, nightmares, and visions as his psychic abilities grow.

After Azazel kills John, Sam becomes more involved in hunting, citing that it’s what John would’ve wanted. Dean grieves and berates Sam for being more obedient to their father’s will after his death. Sam begins looking into the other children Azazel infected which brings the brothers into contact with a variety of psychics. When Sam begins worrying about these encounters, Dean divulges that John warned he might have to kill Sam, as Azazel had a plan to make the children Hell’s evil soldiers.

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Soon, Sam and Azazel’s other children are trapped in an abandoned town, forced to kill one another by Azazel to determine the “chosen one.” Sam is fatally stabbed in the back by Jake Talley just as Dean and Bobby arrive, dying in his brother’s arms. Dean makes a crossroads deal for Sam’s resurrection. They shut the Devil’s gate Jake opened, but the damage is done.

After Dean makes his deal, Sam scrambles to find a way to keep Dean topside. During this endeavor, he falls under the spell of the demon Ruby, who informs him that many demons still revere him as the “Boy-King” of Hell or “Anti-Christ.” As Sam becomes increasingly desperate, Ruby pushes Sam to accept his powers. The infamous “Mystery Spot” incident pushes Sam even harder, no matter how morally questionable.

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Despite Sam and Bobby’s efforts, Dean gets dragged to Hell. Sam, devastated, goes off the deep end, drinking and generally being reckless with his life — that is until Ruby (version 2.0!) makes a reappearance.

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Ruby pulls Sam out of his depression, becoming Sam’s lover and helping him exorcise demons with his powers. When Dean claws his way out the grave, Sam is overjoyed. However, Ruby’s influence begins pulling the two brothers apart. Sam refuses to heed Dean’s warnings about his powers, becoming a nearly unrecognizable cold and calculated character instead of the sassy, gentle Winchester of old.

Things begin to make sense when we learn Sam is addicted to demon blood — a habit encouraged by Ruby to fuel his powers. When Dean and Cas realize the extent of Sam’s problem, they lock him in Bobby’s panic room for an extremely heartbreaking detox. Sam escapes right back to Ruby. Thinking he was preventing the final seal from breaking, Ruby manipulates Sam into killing Lilith, setting Lucifer free.

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Sam, wracked by guilt at his egregious mistake, throws himself into trying to stop Lucifer, desperate for redemption. The Winchesters temporarily part until Sam is approached by Lucifer. The encounter brings them back together and the two attempt to mend their relationship as they try to ward off the end of days. It seems as if the apocalypse is destined, compounded by Sam learning that he has been surrounded and manipulated by demons his entire life. Sam’s barely controlled anger constantly boils below the surface as his sense of hopelessness builds.

As a last resort, Sam surrenders to Lucifer, who overpowers him, wreaking havoc across the world and gearing up for the final showdown. At Stull cemetery, Lucifer brutally murders Cas and Bobby and beats Dean. While Dean is stoically accepting his fate in what’s sure to be the brothers’ final moments, the Impala’s glint catches Lucifer’s eye.

It’s okay, Dean. It’s gonna be okay. I’ve got him.

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The connection to Baby and the barrage of brotherly memories she spurs allow Sam to briefly take control, gather his nerve, and fall into the pit.

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A year later, Sam is mysteriously well and alive… or not; he’s soulless. Rather than the empathetic character we’ve known, Sam becomes ruthless. Despite Sam’s extreme attempts to prevent his flayed soul’s reappearance, it’s returned and a wall is erected in his mind to protect him from memories of The Cage. He wakes with no memory of the last year. Soon, the wall begins disintegrating and Sam suffers convulsive/hallucinative episodes. Cas brings down Sam’s psychological block after his treachery is discovered. Sam chooses to absorb his memories of Hell to wake up and help stop Cas, but he’s too late. Sam’s hallucinations continue. Managing to get through to Cas, Purgatory’s souls are returned, but Cas disappears, releasing the Leviathan. “Lucifer” almost manipulates Sam into killing himself, but Dean finds him and helps him keep the hallucinations at bay.

The Leviathan problem grows along with the rift between Sam and Dean. They separate again, but like always are pulled back together by hunting. The Leviathan’s endgame is realized and Bobby is shot in the head by Dick Roman. He dies with the Winchesters at his side. The brothers mourn before getting back to the job. After Sam engages Lucifer’s hallucination to help rescue Dean on a case, he crumbles, being institutionalized and becoming catatonic before Cas heals him. The three take down Dick, but Cas and Dean are sucked into Purgatory as a byproduct, leaving Sam alone.

To the chagrin of fans, Sam didn’t look for Dean after he disappeared. No, in season 8, Sam takes another crack at the apple pie life, fixing up the Impala, drifting around the country, and hitting a dog — which is how he meets Amelia.

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The brothers reunite after Dean escapes Purgatory and tensions arise due to Sam’s abandonment. Despite the growing rift, the two team up to permanently close the Gates of Hell — again, Sam must give up his normalcy. Soon, Sam and Dean learn of the Men of Letters (and the bunker) from grandpa Henry, and Abaddon, Knight of Hell, is released. Kevin informs the Winchesters of the three trials to close the Gates of Hell, firstly bathing in a hellhound’s blood. The trials negatively affect Sam’s health. Sam completes the second trial by slipping in through Purgatory, and rescuing Bobby from Hell, subsequently becoming sicker.

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The brothers encounter Metatron who reveals the third trial, curing a demon, which ends up being Crowley. Sam, committed to finishing the trials though it will kill him, is stopped by Dean who cites, “there ain’t no me if there ain’t no you.” Sam collapses and the two stumble outside just in time to see the angels fall.

Sam, damaged from the trials, falls into a coma. To save him, Dean tricks Sam into accepting the angel “Ezekiel” who agrees to heal him. Zeke occasionally takes over, leaving Sam with memory lapses, arousing his suspicion. After Ezekiel is exposed as Gadreel, he kills Kevin on Metatron’s orders (something Sam later harbors extreme guilt over) and disappears in Sam’s body. After Gadreel is expelled, Sam is furious at Dean’s manipulation. The two briefly part before reuniting in a strictly business capacity; Sam realizes the toxicity of their codependency. After Abaddon is killed, Sam recognizes the extent of Dean’s problem with the Mark of Cain. In a fight, Metatron gets the jump on Dean, killing him. Dean dies in Sam’s arms, leaving him heartbroken.

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Dean’s descent into demonism leaves Sam scrambling with a terrifying single-minded focus to get his brother back. In his search, Sam is kidnapped and tortured by Cole Trenton as a bargaining chip to find Dean but escapes, capturing Dean and bringing him home. Dean resists, almost murdering Sam, but is eventually cured.

Sam throws himself into finding a way to remove the Mark. Sam enlists Charlie and Rowena to search the Book of the Damned for a cure despite its ties to the evil Styne family, who eventually murder Charlie. This affects Sam deeply, as he blames himself. Dean worsens and Sam presses on. He discovers Dean making a deal with Death to kill him, as he won’t stop searching for a cure which endangers the world. Sam accepts his fate but begs Dean to remember who he is in the future. Instead of Sam, Dean kills Death and the brothers truly forgive one another. The Mark is removed, releasing The Darkness.

The Darkness wreaks havoc, intent on destroying all of God’s creation. The Winchesters track the rapidly growing Amara who is eating people’s souls. Sam begins having visions, which he initially believed were from God but were actually from Lucifer. They talk to him in hopes of getting his help to defeat Amara. Sam becomes trapped in the Cage with Lucifer once again, who tries to manipulate him into being his vessel. He’s rescued, but things continue to get worse with Amara until Chuck reveals himself as God.

Dean's Amulet | Supernatural Wiki | Fandom
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To re-trap Amara, Sam volunteers to take the Mark. This fails and Chuck is severely injured, causing the Sun to start dying. After Dean “dies,” Sam and Cas, unaware that Dean is alive after the Sun reappears, return to the bunker and are confronted by Lady Bevell, a British Man of Letters, who captures and tortures Sam for information on the American hunters, but Sam refuses to give in.

I’ve been tortured by the devil himself so you, you’re just an accent in a pantsuit. What can you do to me?

He’s eventually rescued by Dean, Cas, and the newly resurrected Mary. Sam connects with Mary, helping her adjust, citing that he relates to what she’s feeling. Mary leaves the bunker, leaving her sons distraught. After their desolate stint in a government blackout site in their pursuit of Lucifer, the Winchesters are almost reaped by Billie before Cas kills her. Sam joins the BMoL with Mary and soon ropes in Dean.

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The BMoL trap the Winchesters in the bunker, leaving them to die. Sam admits that he followed them because he was afraid to lead. The Winchesters manage to break out of the bunker (go grenade launcher). If there was a tangible moment that the audience could pinpoint Sam’s transformation, it’s when he recruits the remaining hunters and leads a successful storm on the BMoL HQ. Sam’s tactfulness, strength, and leadership extinguish the BMoL’s presence in America. Jack’s birth nears, opening a rift into Apocalypse world (AW). Lucifer comes to claim his son, but the Winchesters trap him in AW. They manage to return, but Lucifer kills Cas and Mary is trapped. Distraught, the boys return to see Jack has arrived.

The brothers track down Jack and at Sam’s behest, take him under their wing. Sam believes that Jack could help them save Mary and takes on the role of surrogate parent to Jack. Jack, with Kaia’s help, accidentally traps himself in AW and the Winchesters in another AU looking for Mary. Sam and Dean manage to escape but Kaia is killed, leaving Sam depressed, as they have no way to get their family back. Sam’s ever-present hope diminishes, leaving Dean to be the optimist as they search for a way to reopen the rift. Gabriel reappears, and he and Rowena join the quest. Dean tries to sideline Sam, to no avail.

Dean, we’re going to that place, and we’re gonna save Jack and Mom. Together. And if something happens, we will deal with it together. And if we die? We’ll do that together, too.

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Eventually, the boys manage to reach AW. Sam dies but is resurrected by Lucifer, who’s seeking an in with Jack. The Winchesters evacuate the AW residents to the bunker, trapping AW Michael and Lucifer in AW. Sam creates a hunting network with the AW residents. Things are going well until the angels return. Lucifer steals Jack’s power; Dean says yes to Michael to kill Lucifer. Dean succeeds but is overpowered by Michael and disappears.

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Sam is tirelessly searching for his brother and running the hunter network, running himself ragged (grief beard). The hits keep coming as demons vie for King of Hell — which Sam promptly shuts down.

There will be no new King of Hell. Not today. Not ever. And if anybody wants the job, you can come through me.

Dean mysteriously reappears; Sam is relieved to have his brother back. He attempts to pull Dean out of his Michael-induced depression by taking him on hunts. Jack dies, devastating Sam, Dean, and Cas. They resurrect him and discovering Dark Kaia’s spear can kill Michael. TFW storms Michael’s HQ but Dean is repossessed and destroys their weapons. Sam and Cas enter Dean’s mind and help him restrain Michael.

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Sam, tipped off by Dean’s odd behavior (hugs are bad omens on SPN), emotionally confronts Dean about his Ma’lak Box plan, convincing him to continue looking for solutions to contain Michael. John’s brief reappearance brings Sam some much-needed closure and inner-peace. Shortly after, Michael escapes on a hunt gone wrong, slaughtering AW’s hunters. Sam is deeply grief-stricken by the loss. Nick nearly kills Sam and Jack’s accidental erasure of Mary while soulless nearly leads the Winchesters to kill Jack at Chuck’s behest. When they refuse and Chuck does the deed, Sam realizes TFW is entertainment to him and shoots him in the shoulder, angering Chuck into starting “the end.”

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That brings us to the first half of season 15. Sam kills a willing Rowena, closing the Hell rift. He begins having nightmares about him and Dean killing each other. Sam becomes depressed, fixated on their losses, unable to deal with what’s become of their lives. TFW scrambles to find a way to kill Chuck. Chasing a lead, Sam gets Chucknapped. The plan fails and Sam gives up hope, restoring Chuck to full power. However, all is not lost: Jack and his soul return. Will the Winchesters manage to defeat Chuck in the second part of season 15? We’re about to find out.

The things that Sam went through, though tragic, showed him his place in the world. In comparison to his youth, the Sam we know and love today is a secure, confident leader who knows his place is by his brother’s side, saving people and hunting things (the family business) — and he wouldn’t want it any other way. While it’s unknown what the future will hold for the Winchesters as they face the biggest bad they’ve ever had (besides pain), we can’t wait to see how Sam Winchester’s 15-year arc closes out at the end of this story. Then again, nothing really ends in Supernatural, does it?

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By Kenedi
Kenedi is a college student with her sights set on attending medical school. When she isn't hard at work, Kenedi enjoys reading, watching her favorite shows, and listening to music. Some of her favorite fandoms include Supernatural, One Tree Hill, Bones, Abbott Elementary, Percy Jackson, and Scrubs.
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