Changes are afoot in Supernatural's eighth season. Led by new showrunner Jeremy Carver and airing on a new night, this season has also ushered in a new era of The CW series — one in which vampires can be trusted and demons could potentially be wiped out for good. But let's not kid ourselves — what we care about the most is how these changes affect the Winchester brothers.
Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean's (Jensen Ackles) relationship has always comprised the real heart of Supernatural, even spawning a rabid subset of fandom known as Wincest (a combination of "Winchester" and "incest"). But the new season finds the boys' polarized from one another, and while this isn't the first time the Winchesters have had to rebuild their relationship, have they changed too much to make the repairs?
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"I think Dad wants us to pick up where he left off. Saving people. Hunting things. The family business." Those were the fateful words that started it all when Dean came bursting back into Sam's life so many seasons ago. In a nostalgic turn of events, Season 8 began much in the same way, with Dean once again guilting Sammy into abandoning his normal life to follow in their father's footsteps.
But after being separated for a year, both brothers have returned changed men. And while Dean didn't seem to mind Purgatory — he even praised its purity — he could never leave Sammy behind, fighting tooth and dagger to return to his baby bro. Sadly, Dean was quick to learn his brother didn't share the same devotion. Instead of looking for Dean, Sam chose to hang up his hunting boots, get a dog, a girl and move on with his life. "I'm still the same guy, Dean," Sam pleaded to his disgruntled brother. "Well good for you. I'm not," Dean snapped.
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And boy, he wasn't kidding! Brooding, binge drinking and casual sex are no longer Dean's darkest vices. Purgatory hardened him, re-exposing the darkness within that he discovered during his stint in Hell. And though he seems to be keeping it together for the most part, there are times when Dean acts eerily similar to Soulless Sam from Season 6 (a very troubling fact since there may be a spell to restore a soul, but I doubt there's one to mend one so damaged). But while Dean did everything he could in Season 6 to save Sam's humanity, it's unclear how much Sammy's willing to fight for his brother at the moment or if Dean can even still be reached.
Rediscovering the brothers' relationship has become a hobby for fans of Supernatural, which loves to dabble in role play. (No, not that kind of role play.) The series constantly shifts the dynamic between Sam and Dean, changing the way they relate to each other nearly every season. And while it was fun to see Dean take the moral high road for a few seasons (settling down with Lisa and Ben, preaching the importance of humanity to Sam), it's both refreshing and comforting to see the brothers switch roles yet again. I only wish their new roles included a little more brotherly love and a lot less secrets.
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Thankfully, Season 8 isn't completely devoid of the bromance we've all come to count on. There's still the same delightful banter and hugs — oh, the hugs! — that made Supernatural a cult hit. And as always, a good cheeseburger will still return Dean to his cheery self (just as quickly as Sam's disrespect of Baby will still set off a temper tantrum). But despite the playful back-and-forths, the Winchesters' relationship remains very fragile. The dam of routine that currently keeps the tension at bay could burst at any second — and it's pretty clear what that catalyst will be.
A few seasons ago, Sam's relationship with the demon Ruby nearly split the duo apart. So how's Sam going to react when he discovers Dean has cozied up with his Purgatory pal — and vampire — Benny? Others have come between the brothers before (Dean's bromance with Cas trails behind Wincest by only a hair), but there's no way in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory that Sammy would let this betrayal slide. In fact, his new friendship with Benny might be the most ominous sign of the changes in Dean, who only last season refused to overlook his duties as a hunter in order to spare one of Sam's childhood friends. Has Dean gone so far into the darkside that he can no longer see the line between good and evil? And even if his heart is still in the right place, is his relationship with Sam strong enough to withstand another evil third-wheel?
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The scary thing is, probably not. But thankfully, these aren't just any brothers — this is the Winchester boys we're talking about! They've been to Hell and back for each other and no matter what, they're family. So while Dean might call the vampire "brother," at the end of the day, blood is blood. Benny might drink it, but he and Dean don't share it.
I can only hope that Carver shares this same philosophy, because while viewers might tune in for the gory mythology, we stay for the brotherly love. So get well soon, Wincest! We miss you already. (Oh, and while we're making suggestions: Cut your hair, Sammy. No one likes a moose with a Farrah flip.)
Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.