Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles

"Sorry, Sam, you are well and truly alone."

That taunt at the end of last year's Supernatural finale sets up the psychological drama for Season 8, which kicks off Wednesday (9/8c, The CW). Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) reunite in the premiere, but all is not as it once was. It's been a year since they've fought evil together, and each of the brothers have spent that time in very different, life-altering ways.

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Without a family member with which to hunt demons, Sam was left alone to pursue a relatively more mundane lifestyle, including romance with a veterinarian named Amelia (Liane Balaban). In contrast, Dean has spent the last year in the kill-or-be-killed environment of Purgatory and has only escaped with the help of a vampire named Benny (Ty Olsson). Now that the Winchesters are together, neither is exactly forthcoming about these respective relationships, but viewers will learn exactly what happened via flashbacks throughout the season.

Check out what's up with Sam and Dean, their new quest and more of what to expect from Season 8:

Citizen Sam: The taller Winchester sibling has gotten so domestic, he even owns a dog. "The jumping-off point for coming back to the show ... was 'you are truly alone,'" showrunner Jeremy Carver says. "We went into the idea of 'What does that mean? And what kind of impact does that have on somebody?' ... Sam is keeping thoughts of this woman and this relationship to himself because it greatly informs where he is now at the beginning of the season. It represents essentially another way, another life." And don't worry, Supernatural fans: The dog really is a dog and not a demon or trapped soul in disguise.

Dangerous Dean: Director Bob Singer confirms that Dean is "more brutal" after his time in Purgatory. And while he's thrilled to be back on Earth, enjoying the bounty of burger, fries, beer and pie, part of him is having a hard time adjusting to the mindset of a more regular life. "Dean as he came out of Purgatory [had] something of... a surprising reaction," Carver says. "[There's] this idea that it was 'pure' down there. I think one of the last things you might expect going to a place that is so horrible is that someone might have actually considered it somewhat of a happy experience. You have to ask yourself: Why do you think it's happy? What is this thing inside of himself that he connected to, this primal side of himself? How will he deal with that topside?"

The problem with Benny: Last season, Dean got flak for killing Sam's childhood friend. Sure, she was a brain-eating demon, but she was reformed and only backslid to feed her child. How can Dean reconcile his hardline attitude with letting Benny live, even if he did help him? "The idea of Benny hangs over our brothers pretty heavily, certainly as the year goes along," Carver says. "He's a really interesting wrinkle into our brothers' relationship this year, how they deal with something like this."

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Where's Castiel? Dean was stuck in Purgatory with the angel, but now that he's back, where's Castiel (Misha Collins)? "We'll be telling that story of Purgatory [through flashbacks] pretty steadily through the first seven or eight episodes," Carver says. "You'll start to get a really good understanding what happened in Purgatory to Cas."

The flashbacks and the furious: The flashbacks revealing the Winchesters' past year will play out the heaviest in the first 13 episodes and have two distinctly different looks. "Sam's flashbacks are diffused and have filters and are a little more dreamy, so you get a sense that Sam's past year is kind of nice and warm," Singer says. "We wanted Dean's to be a stark contrast to Sam's flashbacks, so what we decided was that that there would be a real lack of color and high contrast, [a] desaturated look to help with the harshness of the place. ... There's no good place to lay your head down, no soft pillow of green leaves."

Kevin the prophet: Kevin (Osric Chau) has returned (with a haircut!) and is joining the boys on a mission to close the gates of Hell. "We'll see more about how he personally feels about being the prophet, being involved on this mission, the personal cost it has for him and how his willingness or desire to do the job... rubs off on the boys," Carver says. "They're all playing off of each other and they're inextricably linked here."

Wait, does that mean no more demons? "It would be overly sweeping to think that no demons means no hunt," Carver says. "There are so many other monsters in this universe." He adds that "the questions that come up in this quest and the series of reveals and the series of discoveries are meant to start giving us underpinnings for questions and secrets and things that will be explored in future seasons."

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The return of Garth: Our favorite hug-happy hunter will be back to work another case with the boys. "DJ Qualls hits it out of the park per usual," Carver says.

More "fun" episodes: "We're doing one a little bit later that is dealing with what happens when you find yourself living in a cartoon universe," Carver teases. "It will not be animated, but it deals more with cartoon physics in a real world. Also, we will be doing an episode that deals pretty heavily.... with the LARP-ing universe differently from how we've dealt with it in the past."

The "found footage" episode: In the standalone episode "Bitten," Sam and Dean will bracket the action from the found footage portion, which will comprise about 95 percent of the episode. The plot involves college kids (Leigh Parker, Brit Sheridan, Brandon W. Jones) dealing with a situation that goes "pretty horribly awry," Carver says. "They're really carrying the episode. You're really engaged with these kids." But don't expect it to feel like the spoofy "Ghost Facers." Singer says that tonally, it's "180 degrees away."

The new "tablet"-y title card: "The title is meant to be something of a nod to the Word of God hieroglyphics that are on the tablets," says Carver.  "It's absolutely a nod to that in terms of what's generating our season-long quest."

Supernatural airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.