When Stranger Things season 4 concluded its feature-length final episode in July 2022, the show’s characters seemed ready to roll right into the their fifth and final season.
The newly-revealed big bad Vecna a.k.a. Henry Creel a.k.a. Number One (Jamie Campbell Bower) had been stopped but not fully defeated. The ultimate battle for Hawkins, Indiana and the world at large was just on the horizon and our heroes Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), and their many allies were prepared to wage it.
Of course, that was over a year ago now and Stranger Things season 5 still isn’t making its way to our respective Netflix streams any time soon. Part of that was expected – this is a very big show that takes a long time for creators The Duffer Brothers and their team to write and then even longer for them to shoot and edit. Then, when filming was set to finally begin, something unexpected happened: the writers’ strike.
Even before the Screen Actors Guild went on strike in July 2023, production on Stranger Things had already been shut down. To their credit, the Duffer Brothers made it clear that it would be impossible to film the fifth season without writers on set to continue to fine-tune the product.
The fact that the actors would eventually join their WGA brethren in picketing the AMPTP was just an added formality. Stranger Things season 5 will not resume production until both strikes are resolved. While this a necessary maneuver to ensure that creative professionals are properly compensated for their work, it also means that the wait for Stranger Things‘ final batch of episodes will be a long one.
Even if both strikes ended tomorrow, Stranger Things season 5 would still take a very long time to complete filming. The early reports gleaned from production listings estimated that the series was looking at a June 2023 through June 2024 production timeline. That already would point to a late 2024 release and should the strike delays persist, 2025 seems like the earliest the season would be able to premiere. With that grim scheduling reality in mind, it’s now officially time for Stranger Things to entertain the prospect of one of television’s favorite tropes: a time jump.
One of the joys in watching Stranger Things over the past four seasons is getting to see its young cast grow up and blossom before our very eyes. The series’ original five young leads (in addition to Sadie Sink’s Max Mayfield) have developed both physically and creatively onscreen. And due to the show’s ambitious production schedule thus far, they’ve been able to do in a fairly logical manner alongside their characters.
That’s not to say the actors’ ages and their characters’ ages have correlated in a perfect 1:1 ratio but they’ve always been close enough to not matter too much. The oldest of the bunch, Caleb McLaughlin, was still only a few years older than his character while filming season 4 (he was 18-19 while Lucas was 15) and was able to believably embody an ’80s Midwestern high school student. It’s also not like television shows have historically cared too much about age gaps between its actors and their high school-aged characters. The cast of Riverdale are all probably in their early 50s at this point.
Still, it’s one thing to cast an older actor as a high schooler and it’s another thing entirely to hire an age-appropriate child and then let everyone watch them grow into actual adults. In Variety‘s lovely profile of Noah Schnapp, in which the young actor celebrates coming out of the closet, it’s mentioned that he just started college at The University of Pennsylvania. That’s right: little Will Byers is now walking the hallowed halls of Penn. It’s a real “wow, the timeline has gotten away from us here” moment.
And that’s just Schnapp. Let’s set an arbitrary end date to the strikes as January 2024 (though they could end sooner … or much later), and get Stranger Things back to filming by February of that same year. By the time filming concludes the following February the lead cast’s ages will be: 20 (Schnapp), 21 (Brown), 22 (Matarazzo, Wolfhard, Sink), and 24 (McLaughlin). That’s not entirely outrageous but it’s also far from ideal. If the show could avoid the awkwardness of it all with a strategically-deployed time jump, wouldn’t it want to do so?
We won’t presume to know what the Duffers have planned for Stranger Things season 5. Should they already have an ending in place solid enough to overcome the questions raised by the lead characters’ ages, then by all means go for it. But a time jump doesn’t just have to be a logistical maneuver for Stranger Things – it could work out creatively as well. Imagine Hawkins four to seven years in the future as the insidious effects of The Upside Down begin to seep through Main Street. Characters like Hopper (David Harbour), Joyce (Winona Ryder), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and others will be more battle-hardened than ever while Max’s mysterious medical condition will have lasted for half a decade. The kids we’ve followed since 2016 could be every bit the monster-killing masters as their Dungeons & Dragons characters.
That’s not a bad starting point for the end of all things.