Death and Consequences: Those Selfish/Selfless Winchesters
We’ve all been giving Dean a rather hard time this season for the decision he made to trick Sam into allowing an angel to possess him. Much has been made by fans and Sam in “Road Trip” that he was willing to die. He was ready to die, he said.
Consider Dean’s speech in “Trial and Error”:
And you told me yourself that you see a way out. You see a light at the end of this ugly-ass tunnel. I don’t. But I tell you what I do know — it’s that I’m gonna die with a gun in my hand. ‘Cause that’s what I have waiting for me — that’s all I have waiting for me. I want you to get out. I want you to have a life — become a man of Letters, whatever. You, with a wife and kids and — and — and grandkids, living till you’re fat and bald and chugging Viagra — that is my perfect ending, and it’s the only one that I’m gonna get. So I’m gonna do these trials. I’m gonna do them alone — end of story. You’re staying here. I’m going out there. If landshark comes knocking, you call me. If you try to follow me, I’m gonna put a bullet in your damn leg.
Dean was willing to die. He was ready to die fighting the Hellhound or completing the trials, and Sam took that choice away from him because he saw something better for Dean.
Sam: I want to slam hell shut, too, okay? But I want to survive it. I want to live, and so should you. You have friends up here, family. I mean, hell, you even got your own room now. You were right, okay? I see light at the end of this tunnel. And I’m sorry you don’t — I am. But it’s there. And if you come with me, I can take you to it.
I’m not saying that Sam leaving the house after Dean told him to stay there, killing the Hellhound and then insisting that he be the one to finish the trials is equal to Dean tricking Sam into possession, but I think there’s a parallel here.
A lot of fans characterize what Dean did as nothing but selfish, but I don’t think that’s the case any more than Sam taking on the trials was. Sam saw something more for Dean in S8 than dying bloody. He saw a light at the end of the tunnel that he thought he could lead them both to. When the trials and Dean’s own behavior wore Sam down so badly that he was willing to die, Dean saw that Sam had been cheated of that chance. His desire to prevent Sam’s death and heal him was an attempt to give Sam that chance to reach that light at the end of the tunnel and have all those things that he’d imagined for him and that Sam himself had indicated he wanted (other than kids, I don’t know where that came from).
Clearly allowing an angel to possess Sam was wrong and not in the same league with thwarting Dean’s attempt to take on the trials. However, if we believe that Dean should have respected Sam’s right to choose death, then I think we have to give Dean the same right. I don’t think that there’s evidence that Sam never intended to let Dean take on the trials, but it has always been my feeling. Sam couldn’t save Dean from the Hellhounds in Season 3, and I think it was his intention from the moment he found out that the trials included killing one that he would do it. This was his moment to make up for all the times he’d let Dean down. It isn’t until “Sacrifice” that it’s revealed just how important that was to Sam.
So as Sam lay there dying, Dean naturally didn’t want to let his little brother go, but I think also believed that he had cheated Sam of the life that Sam deserved. He wanted to give Sam a chance at that life. That doesn’t justify what he did, but I don’t think that Dean’s motives are solely selfish in the sense that he just wanted to keep Sam’s body alive as he’s been accused.
And by the way, much has been made of Sam’s lack of agency, but that wasn’t the case in the second half of season 8. Amelia and Dean gave him ultimatums in “Torn and Frayed,” and after thoughtful consideration, Sam made the choice to continue the tablet quest with Dean. He could have presumably walked away from both of them. Again, in killing the Hellhound and insisting on continuing the trials, Sam exercised agency. We can bemoan his reasons for making those choices or not, but no one forced his hand in either decision.
I can’t help but think that all this plays into Sam’s last comments to Dean in “Road Trip.” Dean said that he was “poison” to the people around him, and Sam replied,” Go. I’m not going to stop you. But don’t go thinking that’s the problem because it’s not.” One problem is that they keep messing with the natural order. Death has mentioned it, and he tried to teach Dean a lesson about it when he made the deal with Dean to be a reaper for a day. The lesson clearly didn’t take.
Sam was meant to die in AHBL2. It can be argued that whether Sam was stabbed or whether Dean sold his soul to bring him back, it was Sam’s fate to be Lucifer’s vessel and the angel and demons would have arranged it anyway. Be that as it may, Sam’s resurrection the and again in S9 had consequences. Dean isn’t just poison. It was Sam’s decision to take on the trials, and his decision to stop them that led to him nearly going with Death and Dean’s decision to trick him into agreeing to the angel possession. Of course, the chain of events goes back even further than that.
Time and again, they make choices for one another. Selfish or selfless, those decisions have consequences that are deadly for other people.