On November 6th, 1983, Will Byers disappeared. This is how Stranger Things, the genre-blending, supernatural horror period drama from production duo Matt and Ross Duffer, begins. Noah Schnapp plays the sensitive and sweet Dungeons & Dragons player, who winds up in The Upside Down and somehow survives not only that ghoulish experience in Season 1, but also The Shadow Monster’s possession and subsequent exorcism in Season 2.
But, by Season 3, Will’s role dwindled to make room for Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) riveting journey as an über powerful telekinetic teen and to give additional screen-time to fan-favorites Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery).
Though Will delivered a memorable emotional monologue to his best friend — and potential crush — Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) in the penultimate season, Stranger Things gave Will the short-end of the stick in its fourth installment, sidelining his plot along with the other California road-trippers.
That may soon change.
Will’s chance at being the hero
Will, a “damsel in distress” for the first half of the show and a forlorn third-wheel for the past two seasons, will have a more pivotal role in Season 5. The Duffer Brothers confirmed to Collider in an interview that Will would be a “big part and focus” of the highly-anticipated final season, and that his coming of age, which was challenged by all of the trauma he has endured in The Upside Down and The Right-Side Up, will come full-circle.
Will’s elevated importance in Season 5 was foreshadowed at the tail-end of Season 4, when he— and only he alone —was able to sense Biggest Bad Vecna’s (Jamie Campbell Bower) return, and the rift between Hawkins and his dark, alternate realm.
Will’s ability to feel Vecna in ways that nobody else in the group can (not even Eleven) stem from his Season 1 days spent hiding in the Upside Down, and the connection formed between him and The Shadow Monster in Season 2 (also referred to as The Mind Flayer in Season 3). We learn in a flashback sequence that when Eleven exiles Henry Creel/One to The Upside Down, he stumbles upon The Shadow Monster and becomes one with it, and merges with every other malevolent creature in Hawkins’ parallel plane, forming a “hive mind.” As such, Will has a part of that “hive mind” within him.
Fans are theorizing what Will’s return as a central character will mean for the final season of Stranger Things. Most are convinced that Will is going to wield his strengths for good, aiding Eleven and co. in returning order to Hawkins and defeating Vecna.
Reddit user GimerStick stated in a thread on the Stranger Things forum that the first thing that Will does on the show is take an attack in Dungeons & Dragons for the sake of his party. “If hurting any part of the hive mind weakens the whole thing, I think Will would choose to sacrifice himself if it would give them an opportunity to finish things once and for all.” User purplegc added that they think Will could “be the mastermind behind their attack on Vecna. As he said in the final moments of Season 4 V2, he can feel Vecna’s presence, so I think he will direct the attacks.”
There’s another brave thing that Will can do in the series finale— come out. The show has been hinting at Will’s sexuality since the pilot episode in Season 1, when his mom, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) told Jim Hopper (David Harbour) that Will was constantly bullied and taunted with homophobic slurs by either his peers or his own father. He nearly reveals he is gay to Mike in the back of the Surfer Boy Pizza van, but the conversation is cut short and left purposefully ambiguous. There is already one out character in the series (Robin Buckley, as portrayed by Maya Hawke), but she is only out to one other character in the gang (Steve Harrington). Perhaps they both find the strength within themselves to come out to their mutual friends in Season 5.
Will could also, potentially, use his connection to Vecna to do evil. It seems unlikely that the character’s good-naturedness and his resolve amid incomprehensible trauma will somehow sour in Season 5. But, Bad Will would be a fascinating twist that most wouldn’t see coming.
We’ll have to wait until at least 2024 for Stranger Things to wow us with Will’s arc, but, as Reddit user weed_blazepot puts it:
“I'm just tired of Will being constantly shit on his whole life by this. I want to see Will the Wise do some epic shit and be happy for once. Mama, Steve, and Robin need to help Will find peace with who he is, and Duffers need to not fall into the trap of the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope.”
In other words: “Save the day, Will.”
Stranger Things Seasons 1-4 can be streamed now on Netflix.