Shapeshifters are a supernatural species of humans born with the ability to physically assume the form of any animal. On the HBO original series True Blood, they are a branch of the Were variety, which includes werewolves and werepanthers. Unlike vampires, the existence of shapeshifters is not public knowledge.
Shapeshifters are usually referred to as just "shifters," despite the fact that both werewolves and werepanthers also shift into their alternate forms.
A shapeshifter has the ability to take the form of any animal. To do so, the shifter must first mentally observe the animal's form in specific detail, a process known as imprinting. Apparently, a shifter needs to do this only once, and that animal's form can be assumed at will without the need to repeat the imprinting process.
Shifters typically find some animals easier to shift into than others. They usually have one particular animal that requires little effort or thought for shifting, which is known as a "go-to shift." Shifters tend to assume characteristics of their go-to shifts in their human form. For example, Sam Merlotte's go-to shift is a collie; as a result, he has a heightened sense of smell in his human form, and sometimes barks in his sleep.
Shapeshifters cannot assume the form of other humanoids unless they have caused the death of another shapeshifter. The ability to shift into humanoids is called skinwalking, and the imprinting process is so complex and taxing on their bodies that it can ravage their internal organs to the point of vomiting or even death.
Shapeshifters generally keep their identities secret and fear exposure from the human public. Biologically and socially, they are practically indistinguishable from regular humans. They are not immortal, and their rate of aging and expected life span is the same as humans. They have the same needs and weaknesses as humans. One particular characteristic of shifters is the urge to run and play in open, isolated places with other shifters or animals while assuming animal form. As with all Weres, shapeshifting is hereditary. An individual must be born a shifter, inheriting his or her status from one or both parents. They are able to reproduce with humans and other Weres; the species of the offspring of these disparate couplings occurs randomly. Shapeshifters do not posses the ability to shift from birth; this generally occurs spontaneously at some point in their youth under the force of a full moon.
As with all Weres, shapeshifters can shift at will, except during the nights of the full moon, the force of which causes them to shift against their will, usually to their "go to shift". However, if they fall asleep, become unconscious in animal form or, on nights of the full moon, the full moon faze passes, they will shift back into human form. In the Were hierarchy, they are considered to be the more intelligent and humane than "vicious" Weres. They are however physically weaker than Werewolves with their strength being equivalent with regular humans.
Known Shifters (and their go-to shifts)
- Sam Merlotte - Collie
- Daphne Landry - Pig (deceased)
- Emory Broome - Horse (deceased)
- Luna Garza - Bat (also Skinwalker) (deceased)
- Melinda Mickens - Mastiff (deceased)
- Suzanne McKittrick - Horse (deceased)
- Tommy Mickens - Pit Bull (also Skinwalker) (deceased)
- Though shapeshifters in the True Blood series are considered to be superhumans, with the ability to change form into any animal they choose exclusively, their counterparts in other supernatural/sci-fi dramas are seen to possess the ability to transform or change shape into basically anything; living or non-living.
- Skinwalkers are viewed suspiciously by other shifters, because of their ability to become doppelgangers, and because of the requirement of killing another shifter.
- Shape-shifting is not limited to shapeshifters as other supernatural creatures such as fairies have also been known to change their shape.
- In season one of True Blood, Bill mentions that some vampires can shape-shift, presumably this is because the vampires were turned from Shifters, however this is never seen in the show, and the only example of a supernatural creature being turned into a vampire is Warlow. Jessica also believes that she can turn the dying Alcide, though whether or not she would have been successful in doing so remains to be seen. It is also possible that Bill was simply lying to Sookie.