Sam Merlotte is a major character in the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth seasons of True Blood. He is played by starring cast member Sam Trammell and debuts in "Strange Love". He is a shapeshifter and the owner of the bar/restaurant Merlotte's Bar and Grill in Bon Temps, Louisiana. In his early 30's, he is of average height and strong build, with gray eyes and shaggy brown hair, much in line with his alternate form. While he can change into any animal (so long as there is a suitable 'template' animal around for him to use as a basis), Sam's preferred alternate shape is that of a light-colored border collie.
Like all shapeshifters, Sam feels a strong urge to change shape on the nights of a full moon. The rest of the time he can do so at will. He often will go for runs in dog form through the local woods with his canine friends.
Although not usually an angry person, Sam has shown that he has a bad temper, shown to even be capable of killing. ("I Smell a Rat") He appears to dislike vampires, and has an even deeper hatred for werewolves and werepanthers; he nearly beats Calvin Norris to death in Season 3 and when Sookie compares him to a werewolf, he resents the thought.
Sam is first shown as human and displayed no special abilities, however he was later revealed to be a shapeshifter, able to change into many animals, such as birds, dogs, bulls, horses, rabbits and even flies. Sam can not shift into a different human form, the reason given is that humans are too complex, although (as with all shapeshifters) if they kill a member of their family they will become a skinwalker, shapeshifters with the ability to shift into humans. A dog is his go-to shift, which means it is the easiest animal for him to become and he also shares some traits with a dog such as a keen sense of smell which he used to identify Rene as Dawn's killer and finding his and Luna's assassins. Sam's sense of smell is so strong that whilst in his human form, he is able to smell fear and also smell people go into "survival mode" ("Hopeless"). While it is difficult to say if Sam has enhanced strength or speed, he has the abilities of whatever he shifts into, he will be very strong if he was for example, a rhino and very fast if he were a cheetah and if he shifts into a certain animal often, he retains said animal's abilities. He was able to defeat Marcus, a werewolf and former packmaster, in a 1-on-1 fight. ("Soul of Fire")
Sam has also shown the ability to communicate with animals, successfully ordering a dog in a dog fighting ring to leave.
Sam: [stopping Lafayette before he reaches the rednecks] Whoa, whoa, whoa. Im paying you to cook, not beat on customers. Lafayette: [deadpan] Then I want a motherfuckin raise. Sam: Ill think about it. Till then, no trouble. Sam: You know who I really would want in Martherville? Buffy or Blade, or any other of these cool vampire killer who can take care of Bill.