This article obviously contains enormous spoilers for Stranger Things season 4.
Pop culture has trained us well to expect some corpses in the season finales of our favorite television shows. When it comes to Stranger Things season 4, however, it was particularly clear that a cast culling was in store.
Not only has Stranger Things not been shy about callously murdering its characters in the past (R.I.P. Barb, Bob Newby, and countless other Hawkins citizens) but season 4 almost had to kill off some folks as a matter of pure logistics. It’s well-covered territory that this is the longest Stranger Things season by far with each episode running in excess of 70 minutes and the final two episodes going for an hour and a half and two and a half hours, respectively. A lot of that narrative bloat can be attributed to the show’s overwhelmingly large cast size and the disparate journeys they all go on.
Suffice it to say, fans were prepared to witness some death in Stranger Things season 4 episodes 8 and 9…and death they indeed received. Let’s break down who bites the dust in these final two episodes, why they’re dispatched, and what it means for Stranger Things season 5.
Please note that this list covers only major characters. I’m sure the countless Soviet soldiers devoured by the Demogorgon and the 22 Hawkins residents who died in the town “earthquake” all had families but we don’t care about them for the purposes of this article.
Dr. Martin Brenner
We’ve been down this road with Eleven’s “Papa,” Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), before. We all thought he was dead following the events of season 1. Of course, Stranger Things was more than happy to abide by that old TV adage of “no body, no death” and brought the enigmatic character back. This time, however, the dude is most definitively dead.
In episode 8, fittingly titled “Papa,” Brenner finally steps up for the little girl he supposedly loves as a daughter. When the military arrives to Dr. Owens’ underground facility to take Eleven out, Brenner scoops her up in his arms and carries her to safety. Once they make it out into the Nevadan desert, the duo comes under fire from some goons in a nearby helicopter. Brenner shields Eleven from the gunshots and in the process takes more than enough lead to be lethal.
Brenner dies in the desert, but not before he remotely unlocks Eleven’s power-suppressing collar in one final act of contrition.
Going into this episode, most fans expected that one or both of Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) or Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) was a goner. The final episode, written and directed by The Duffer Brothers, seemingly has some fun with those expectations. Just about every line that Steve and Eddie utter feels like it could be their last.
Steve waxes poetically about how he wants a future where he’s very much alive and on a road trip with Nancy and their six children. Eddie meanwhile goes out of his way to make clear that his self designation as a coward is bothering him and he’s absolutely itching to go out in a blaze of glory. In the end, Stranger Things season 4 gives Eddie exactly what he wants.
After Eddie and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) successfully distract the Demobats away from the Creel House and towards Eddie’s trailer, they quickly become overwhelmed. Dustin makes the wise decision to bail out of the Upside Down and make it back to the real world. Eddie elects to stay behind to continue to distract the bats and give Steve and co. some more time. Eddie is able to further distract the bats but at the cost of his own life.
The real tragedy here isn’t just that Eddie dies but that he dies without the town of Hawkins knowing that he’s a hero and not a satanic murderer. At least Dustin is able to share that information with Eddie’s uncle.
The appropriately-named Jason Carver (Mason Dye) has the quickest and most darkly funny death in Stranger Things season 4. This basketball-playing uber dickhead remains convinced that Eddie Munson ritualistically killed his girlfriend Chrissy Cunningham (Grace Van Dien). One can forgive Jason for thinking that theory is vindicated when he arrives at the Creel House only to discover Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) engaged in what very clearly looks to be a Satanic ritual with Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink).
Lucas is able to summon up the power of love and burgeoning post-pubescent muscles to knock Jason out. Later on, Jason is ripped (or carved) in half when the metaphorical dam separating the Upside Down and the real world breaks and Creel House is violently split in two.
Max Mayfield (Sort Of)
This one is cheating a little bit. Max Mayfield ends the season technically alive – bound to a hospital bed in a coma with her future unknown – but still biologically alive all the same. The thing is though that she definitely, literally dies prior to this. Lucas makes a note to tell everybody that her heart stopped for a minute. And the name of this article includes “who dies” after all, so she must be included.
Max is killed in the same manner that Vecna’s other victims are. Once she no longer has the safe haven of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” thanks to jackass Jason stepping on her Walkman, Vecna is able to ensnare her mind. Ultimately, Vecna gets through the nearly the whole process of his usual kill ritual. Max’s bones are snapped and her eyes are rendered useless and bloody. She doesn’t receive the full Chrissy, however, as her eyes aren’t completely sunken in. Still, she is technically killed and her death is enough for Vecna to open up his fourth gate and break the “dam” separating the Upside Down and our world.
Max very much did die. The question now, however, is why didn’t she remain dead? On a plot-level we know that Eleven likely had something to do with keeping her alive, if only just barely. While in Max’s headspace, Eleven assures her that she’s “not going.” Later on in the hospital, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp) share a furtive look when Lucas says the doctors call her survival miraculous. Unfortunately, when Eleven tries to re-enter Max’s mind to find her old friend, Max’s consciousness is nowhere to be seen.
Where could Max’s mind have gone? Why does she need to kept alive for now? I suppose we’ll find out those answers in Stranger Things season 5.