Stranger Things Season 4 ending explained: How the emotional final episode foretells Season 5
Episode 9 delivered a one-two punch to the heart with some bittersweet reunions.
Eleven and the Hawkins gang are still running up that hill.
The Stranger Things Season 4 finale is a whopping two-and-a-half-hour-long rollercoaster ride. Packed with monsters, mayhem, Metallica, and mush, the show delivered the most visually astounding and harrowing episode yet in the series.
WARNING! Major spoilers are ahead: Find out who wins and who loses in Episode 9.
While most of the Hawkins gang — both adults and teens— make it out alive by Episode 9’s conclusion, none are safe from the emotional and physical scars inflicted by the Big Bad of the Netflix horror mystery’s penultimate installment.
Before we dive into two of the most heart-wrenching and gruesome scenes so far in the entire series, let’s take a spin through nine fleeting — but vital — moments of happiness in Season 4 Episode 9, titled “Piggyback,” out of the way:
9. After years of will-they or won’t-they speculation, they... almost did! Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Jim Hopper (David Harbour) smooch before their escape from Kamchatka, making their private passion for each other public knowledge.
8. Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) reveals to Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer)his fantasy of having (no less than!) six kids with her and going camping with them every summer in a Winnebago.
7. Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) are basically boyfriend and girlfriend again after breaking up in the time between Seasons 3 and 4. An impressive feat, considering their movie date was postponed for an indefinite amount of time.
6. Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) essentially tells his brother Will (Noah Schnapp) that he’s okay with him being gay.
5. Max gets to hang out with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Even if it’s all happening in Max’s compromised head, it’s still a reunion the best friends have been waiting for too long.
4. Mike tells Eleven that she’s his superhero, delivering one of the most sincere and emotional monologues in the series. He really has been in love with her ever since their first fateful encounter in the woods — shaved hair and oversized Benny’s Burgers shirt included. His love gives Eleven the courage and the will to wound Vecna, escape its claws, patch-up Hawkins, and bring Max back from the dead.
3. Eleven, Mike, Jonathan, Will, and newcomer to the gang Argyle (Eduardo Franco), reunite with the Wheelers, Nancy, Steve, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Robin (Maya Hawke) in the town of Hawkins after a long and eventful road-trip from California.
2. Robin makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and finds time to flirt with Vickie (Amybeth McNulty) in an emergency shelter.
1. Eleven and her adoptive dad and personal hero, Jim, hug. He had been presumed dead by Eleven after the end of Season 3 — all the way up until the final moments of Season 4.
Now for the bad news.
It was a swan song unlike any other: Eddie Munson’s (Joseph Quinn) riveting, soul-stirring cover of Metallica’s “Metal Puppets” will go down in television history.
Eddie, an unforgettable new addition to the cast in Season 4, founded the Hellfire Club to avoid the inevitability of growing up and to enable him to spend his high-school days playing Dungeons & Dragons. But the punk loner wound up making a ton of friends — thanks and no thanks to Vecna’s serial teen-killing spree.
In Episode 9, Eddie and fellow Hellfire Club member Dustin team up to distract the Upside Down’s bats (Demobats?) and steer the cauldron of Vecna’s minions away from Creel House. But as the bats begin to swarm and overwhelm the boys, Eddie realizes that now is his chance to be the hero he has always dreamed of becoming.
First, he saves Dustin by cutting him off from the clutches of the Upside Down once he is safely in the Right-Side Up. Then, Eddie goes to help Nancy, Steve, and Robin.
Unfortunately, as Eddie plays Metallica to attract the bats to him and distract them from the others, they attack. Eddie does get to perform in the “most metal concert in the world,” but he does not survive for an encore.
In one of the darkest, most tragic moments in the entire show’s history, Eddie dies in Dustin’s arms, overcome by his injuries.
Remember the point about Eleven reviving Max? Well...
In Episode 9, Max makes herself Vecna-bait at Creel House, luring the psychopathic, monstrous Upside Down king by turning off her Walkman and swinging the door to her mind wide-open for possession.
And that’s exactly what happens — Max is transported to her “happy place,” the setting of Season 2’s Snow Ball where she had her first kiss with Lucas — and is trapped there until Vecna comes to take a fourth victim. In doing so, Vecna can open a fourth gate into Hawkins, thereby facilitating the domination and destruction of the town.
Eleven, channeling Max remotely from a makeshift sensory deprivation tank at a Surfer Boy Pizza franchise location, does manage to revive Max and beat Vecna during their first encounter since the Hawkins Lab massacre, but at a massive cost.
Vecna’s psychic damage not only blinds Max but also leaves her seemingly brain dead. We last see her in a coma at a hospital in Hawkins, with Lucas reading her Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman next to his sister, Erica Sinclair (Priah Ferguson).
Max’s exact status is left an open-ended question at the close of Season 4, potentially setting up a resolution in Season 5. It’s unlikely that Max, who has undoubtedly been one of the fourth installment’s scene-stealers, will be axed from the show.
But, then again, look what happened to Eddie.
The Right-Side Up
The Duffer Brothers must have something against Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Whether it is professing his love for his best friend, or getting away from the creepy crawlies of the Upside Down, Will is forever suffering.
As soon as he steps foot outside of Argyle’s Surfer Boy Pizza van in Hawkins, Will immediately senses Vecna, as his connection to the dark dimension beneath his childhood digs has never been truly severed.
In the last minutes of the explosive final episode of Season 4, Will explains to best friend Mike Wheeler that Vecna/One/Henry/Peter (etcetera, portrayed by Jamie Campbell Bower) isn’t dead. Vecna is hurting, but the desire to turn the Upside Down right-side-up, thus creating a rift between alternate planes, is steelier than ever.
Episode 9 concludes with ash falling from the sky and colorful flower fields withering to grey. The small, midwestern town of Hawkins has begun to bleed into the Upside Down, and Vecna’s contagion is spreading fast.
We have no idea what direction the Duffer Brothers will take Season 5 of Stranger Things in, the confirmed final installment. But we do know that Hawkins will never be the same again.
The complete Stranger Things Season 4 is available to stream now on Netflix.