6 “Stranger Things” Characters Who Died, But Not Really
Every horror fan knows death is inevitable in their favourite franchises. Whether it’s the knife-wielding maniac in a classic slasher flick like Michael Myers in “Halloween” or a supernatural entity taking people out via a curse like “The Ring,” a staple of the horror genre is the kill count.
“Stranger Things,” despite being a show centred around a cast of young children (at least in the earlier seasons, before the pandemic caused a three-year-long hiatus), is no exception. “Stranger Things” might be a bit more tactful with its deaths than your average slasher, but it still proves one crucial point of horror: no one is safe.
Death might be one of the highlights of the genre, but as quickly as a character can die, the very same character can be brought back to life in some capacity, and again, “Stranger Things” is no exception. Let’s take a deep dive into those characters who weren’t quite as dead as they seemed.
This list wouldn’t be complete without Will Byers, the youngest son of Joyce Byers. Will is the main target of the Mind Flayer for the first two seasons of “Stranger Things.” In the very first episode of the series, Will’s fate is foreshadowed when he “dies” by the hands of the Demogorgon in an innocent game of Dungeons & Dragons. Shortly thereafter, Will is abducted by the Upside Down’s Demogorgon counterpart. Forced into the Upside Down, Will is trapped away from his friends and family with no way out.
In episode four, ominously titled “The Body,” Will’s “body” is found, seemingly confirming his death. While Joyce refuses to accept the reality of her son’s death, she’s framed to look absolutely unhinged. The circumstances of the body’s discovery are suspicious, but it’s hard to argue with the authorities. But it’s later uncovered that the body is a fake, confirming Joyce’s suspicions that her son is still alive and communicating with her from wherever he’s trapped.
By the end of the season, Will’s saved from the Upside Down and reunited with his family, but not without consequences. Despite being alive and back in his own world, he’s still connected to and influenced by the Mind Flayer throughout season two.
Believe it or not, there was a brief period where we all thought Eleven died in season one. During the final showdown at Hawkins Middle School, Eleven confronts the Demogorgon one final time to protect her friends. Weak from all that transpires up to that point, it seems like a losing battle. Fortunately, she succeeds in killing the Demogorgon, disintegrating it with her abilities. As the Demogorgon fades away, though, so does she, leaving her friends and the audience to wonder if stretching her abilities that far actually killed her.
Eleven’s fakeout death wasn’t drawn out terribly long, as we quickly find out that she’s been transported to the Upside Down, still very much alive. We even see glimpses of Hopper leaving food out for her because he knows that she’s still alive somewhere.
Fan-favourite overprotective dad, Jim Hooper, seemingly dies in the season three finale, “The Battle of Starcourt.” Joining Joyce in the secret Russian base hidden beneath Starcourt mall, the pair are tasked with shutting down and destroying a machine the Russians were using to reopen the fissure between Hawkins and the Upside Down. The reactor requires a two-key turn to destroy it, and anyone caught too close to the explosion would be instantly vaporized.
Fans were left distraught when Joyce makes the hard decision to close the gate while Hooper is still standing next to the reactor, seemingly leaving him caught in the explosion. Fortunately, season four came out the gate swinging with confirmation that Hooper is still alive. In episode two, we learn Hooper hit the deck just in time to avoid the explosion and was then abducted by the Russians.
Dr. Brenner’s is presumed dead after the season one finale when the Demogorgon is drawn to Hawkins Lab and attacks Dr. Brenner almost immediately. Fans believe it’s the end of the man who could arguably be called a mad scientist. Though, considering the importance of Brenner’s role at Hawkins Lab, it did seem a little too anticlimactic of a death. Dr. Brenner is the sole reason for the project that created Eleven and other gifted children like her. All the children called him ‘Papa,’ and while he does seem to genuinely care for these children, it doesn’t stop him from experimenting on them.
Well, it turns out his death was a fakeout after all. While we’ve seen Dr. Brenner in flashbacks before, he finally makes a full-fledged return in “Stranger Things” season four. Returning to aid Eleven in regaining her lost abilities, Dr. Brenner plays a key role in assisting Eleven to revisit memories of the past that she’d rather forget: the massacre at Hawkins Lab that killed the rest of the gifted children, the incident that only Eleven survived. She’s understandably suppressed the trauma of the massacre, but in order to unlock her power again, she must confront the reality of what happened that day.
Billy may be one of the more tragic characters on this list. Like Will, Billy is subject to a season-long cycle of torment from the Mind Flayer. Billy is first introduced to us in season two, when he and his stepsister, Max, move to Hawkins. Billy has a hard time integrating and, on the surface, he comes off as aggressive, angry, abusive, and all-around frightening. Billy doesn’t get much character development until season three, when he has an unfortunate run-in with the Mind Flayer. Like Will acted as his agent in Hawkins in the previous season, that honour goes to Billy this time around.
Throughout the season, we see Billy corrupting the citizens of Hawkins to help the Mind Flayer build itself a body in our world, but we also see the tragic truth behind his character. His loving mother left him with his father when he was quite young, and his father grew incredibly abusive. His anger towards Max and her friends starts to make sense when you realise that he’s emulating his own abuse, making him the perfect host for the Mind Flayer. Billy does get his redemption in the final episode of season three when he finally stands up to his tormentor to save his little sister and her friends from the monster he helped create.
Sadly, Billy doesn’t survive the face-off with the Mind Flayer, but it isn’t the last we see of him. Billy continues to be a pawn of the Upside Down, appearing in front of Max in flashbacks of the day he died, as well as through season four’s antagonist, Vecna. Vecna takes the form of Billy while trying to add Max to his list of victims. It nearly works, as Max’s guilt over Billy is hard for her to let go of. Billy may not be “alive,” but his memory is enough for the overwhelming power that is the Upside Down.
Barbara (Barb), sadly, doesn’t survive the “Stranger Things” universe for very long. Abandoned by her best friend, Nancy, so she can go off with her then-boyfriend, Steve, Barb is attacked in the pool outside Steve’s house. After bleeding into the pool from a minor injury she sustains during the party, the Demogorgon drags her into the Upside Down.
One of the subplots of season one follows Nancy’s attempt to find her friend. Because Will, the Demogorgon’s first victim, is still communicating with his mother from the Upside Down, fans are hopeful throughout the season that Barb will also emerge alive. Sadly, that is not the case, as her death is confirmed when her body is found in the Upside Down.
While Barb isn’t technically alive, her presence is still deeply felt because she makes frequent appearances in flashbacks, an image that haunts Nancy to this day in season four due to her guilt over leaving her friend behind.