The monthlong return of Stranger Things has finally come to a close. After dominating both the Netflix Top 10 and social media feeds near constantly since Volume 1's release last May, Season 4, Volume 2 has revealed the conclusion of the season was... pretty mid? Yes, what happened to [spoiler] and [spoiler] did have us shedding tears, but it wasn't the blood-soaked battle I expected from the streaming giant's marketing.
The season 4 finale was mostly a feature-length set up for the '80s-set paranormal hit to go all out in the fifth and final season, when fans will get the epic showdowns and high body counts we were expecting. It also answered our final few questions about Vecna/Henry Creel/One's connection to the Upside Down, while leveling Hawkins and making huge strides in bridging the gap between the surface world and the dark dimension.
Read on to learn the fates of our favorite characters, including who died and who survived.
Dead: Dr. Brenner/Papa
Half of the two-parter's body count is wracked up in episode 8, which brought the anti-Eleven military faction to Dr. Owens' desert bunker. Before they arrived, Dr. Brenner gave Eleven the full rundown of the aftermath of her Vecna fight. (It was as many fans guessed: she girl fell into a coma after over-extending her powers, and lost her memories.) El immediately wants to leave to go save her friends, but Papa refuses, and knocks her out just before the cavalry comes.
The power-hungry scientist will not let go of Eleven, believing that everything he's done has been to protect her. He even flees the bunker to carry her to safety, but before he gets far, he's shot down by awaiting snipers. As Brenner asks his "child" for forgiveness, El doesn't give that to him, staying silent and turning her head as he dies.
Alive: Will, Mike, Jonathan, and Argyle
Thanks to Argyle's tracking skills, the group makes it to the bunker just in time to give El a ride after she takes down the military helicopter (in the coolest show of her powers this season). She astral-projects to hear Max's plan to kill Vecna, and with the group stuck in Nevada, El makes her own plan to tap into Max's mind from afar, like she did with Billy at Starcourt. Then she can piggyback (hence the episode title) off her friend and face down Vecna.
The fivesome sets up shop in a nearby Surfer Boy franchise, turning the pizza dough freezer into a sensory depravation tank. (Another idea from Argyle, the stealth MVP of the finale). There's some emotional scenes, where Jonathan tells Will he'll always be there for them, and Mike comes closer to telling El that he loves her. He finally says it later while she's in the middle of the Vecna fight, thanks to Will prompting him to finally share his feelings during their emotional van talk in episode 8. Will may have given Mike that whole "you're the heart of the group" speech, but the bowl-cut aficionado has really been the one keeping the party together over four seasons.
Alive: Hopper, Joyce, and Murray
While the kids are preparing to face Vecna in episode 8, Hopper, Joyce, and Murray are escaping from the Russian prison, with former guard Dmitri and two-faced smuggler Yuri in tow. On the way out they find that Monsters of the Upside Down museum teased in the Volume 2 teasers, including a demodog splayed out mid-dissection and thrashing on the operating table. Instead of hanging out a bit and investigating (maybe getting some intel on what the hell the Russians have been up to all series), they find a hidden tunnel and flee in a stolen truck.
Yuri leads them to a barn that houses the smallest helicopter I've seen (named Katinka, apparently), along with a phone they can use to contact Owens (while assuming the KGB is listening to every word). Hopper and Joyce have a moment while they're changing clothes; she sees his scarred back and goes to comfort him. The former police chief brushes off his months of imprisonment and says the whole time he dreamed about their date, specifically the food they'll eat at Enzo's. He asks Joyce if there was something else he should've been dreaming about, and they finally kiss! ... before they're interrupted by Brenner's contact calling back.
Through their coded conversation, Hopper learns that Eleven and the Byers kids are planning to fight Vecna soon. They also need to get to Hawkins as soon as possible, but Yuri's stalling on fixing their ride in hopes his captors will get captured and he'll get the ransom. So Joyce and Hopper figure out how to fight the hive mind from Russia: by breaking back into the prison and killing the Russian's piece of the Mind Flayer with Yuri's super-convenient flamethrower. When they get there, the creatures have been reanimated and are loose in the prison, making their plan to flambé the Hive Mind a bit more complicated.
Dead: Eddie Munson
A quick rundown of Max and Nancy's four-phase plan to take down the most powerful monster in the Upside Down. One: Erica, Lucas, and Max go to the Creel House on the surface while Steve, Nancy, and Robin travel there in the Upside Down. Two: after Erica's ready signal, Max baits Vecna to put her in his trance, and leave his body vulnerable. Three: Dustin and Eddie draw away the bats that protect Vecna, and previously attacked Steve. Four: Steve, Nancy, and Robin kill Vecna while he's in the trance.
The plan makes it to phase three without many complications: Vecna lures Max in and Eddie lures away the bats by playing Metallica's "Master of Puppets" on his Upside Down guitar. Once hundreds of bats are heading their way, Eddie and Dustin take cover in Eddie's trailer. The bat-distraction plan goes well until the Upside Down hive mind senses danger, and heads back to the Creel House. Instead of running—like he did with Chrissy, which has haunted him—Eddie goes after the bats, making a brave last stand.
Eddie's last scene shows the strength of his and Dustin's bond, making us all think of the metalhead sweetly telling Dustin to "never change" in Episode 8. Dustin promises him that he'll look after the rest of the gang, and with his last words Eddie smiles about his chances at graduating this year, before telling Dustin, "I love you man."
The second snags in the group's plan is due to the basketball team bullies, who really need to take a seat and chill somewhere; none of this is about them. After a tense run-in at the gun store (where all these minors can freely buy guns because the '80s, I guess?), Jason and co. track Erica to the playground, and Jason finds Lucas in the Creel attic and pulls a gun on him, thinking Max's trance is some kind of satanic ritual. Lucas eventually knocks Jason out, but in their fight, Jason steps on the Walkman at a very crucial moment.
Episode 9, "Piggyback," is another standout episode for Sadie Sink, as Max bravely faces Vecna and faces her complicated feelings behind Billy's death. After Vecna is initially slow to put Max in a trance, she opens up about wishing that something had happened to her brother before his death, since he was horrible to her for most of their sibling-hood. Once Vecna does reveal himself (in a super-cool horror effect where he imitates Lucas), Max uses a trick she deduced in the previous episode, using her happiest thought (her and Lucas at the season 2 dance) to hide from Vecna for a while.
Unfortunately, the diversion doesn't last forever, and Vecna finds her in her memory, bringing the decay of the Upside Down to the gym and attacking her. That's when Eleven finds them, after piggybacking off the skater's childhood memories, but she doesn't attack Vecna. She's still getting used to her reclaimed powers, and Vecna overpowers her, restraining her with his tentacles and taking her and Max to his red-soaked Mind Palace for a classic villain monologue (which, rude, but at least we get more Vecna backstory!).
As it looks like the good guys might just lose this one—Eddie's bitten by the bats, Hopper's facing down a demodog, and Max's bones start snapping while blood pours out of her eyes—Eleven hears Mike's "I love you" speech and taps into her power, pushing the monster off of Max and holding him off until Steve's group can ignite his physical body. By that time, though, Max has gone through the goriest effects of Vecna's killing, and Lucas is calling for help as she dies. However, El's still with them, and she recalls her fondest memories of their friendship as she tells Max, "No. You're not going."
Alive: Eleven (and the rest of the Hawkins crew)
In the flash-forward to two days after the battle—at which point I checked the run time and saw there's 30 more minutes left(!)— Eleven and the van travelers finally arrive back in Hawkins, which is reeling from the effects of Vecna's plan. Vecna may have been interrupted during his ritual, but in the moment when Max died before Eleven brought her back, his plan was completed. With four chimes of the clock, the fourth door portal opened in Hawkins. In a horrifying shot, all four of Vecna's portals extended through the town, tearing through houses and intersecting in the town square.
(The fourth portal also tore through Jason's abdomen as he laid passed out on the Creel attic floor. Not a tear was shed.)
Hundreds of Hawkins residents were injured in the event, which was logged as a 7.4-magnitude earthquake. Steve, Robin, and Dustin volunteer at the emergency station set up in the school gym, where Dustin finds Eddie's dad and gives him the teen's guitar-pick necklace in a heart-wrenching scene. (Dustin also now sports an homage to Eddie's perm). Max lays in a coma at the town hospital, where the Sinclair siblings stay with her and Lucas reads her Stephen King (odd choice, but it's probably an Easter egg courtesy of the Duffer Brothers).
Now that El's home, she needs a place to lay low, so Nancy leads a group to Hopper's old cabin, where they get to cleaning the neglected home. The scenes aren't entirely sweet. There's trouble in paradise as Nancy compliments Steve to Jonathan, and Will tells Mike that he can still feel Vecna's presence. Eleven goes searching for Max's consciousness, and calls out for her friend in a quiet void. Luckily, we then get a scene of pure joy, as the adults make it home and Hopper finally reunites with Eleven. She tells him that she never stopped believing, that she "always kept the door open three inches," and the father, the daughter, and the audience all sob relieved tears.
The ultimate battle of season 4, after all that hype and all those theories, doesn't end in a victory. A new favorite is now gone, my personal favorite character hangs on by a thread, and the border between the Upside Down and Hawkins is gone. The final shot shows the ever-present ashes of the mirror dimension raining down on Hawkins, as the vegetation dies and smoke rises out from the cracks in the earth.
Vecna's still out there. Though Steve, Nancy, and Robin did set him on fire and blast him with a sawed-off shotgun, his body disappeared, in a direct homage to another '80s villain, Freddy Krueger in Halloween. He's gravely injured, but even Will can still feel him. We also now have confirmation that Vecna controlled the demo-creatures' hive mind. (Cue the Wandavision soundtrack: IT WAS VECNA ALL ALONG!)
As soon as the Big Bad has recovered, there will likely be an army of dogs, bats, and any other demo-creatures heading through those cracks to take over the world. All the characters, and audience, of Stranger Things can do is wait and prepare.
Quinci LeGardye is an LA-based freelance writer who covers culture, politics, and mental health through a Black feminist lens. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.