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The Ending Of Stranger Things Explained

The Netflix series Stranger Things turned audiences completely upside down (pun intended) with a meticulous homage to '80s cinema favorites. It ended in a way that resolves the story set up in the initial, ultra-bingeable eight-episode arc, but one that still leaves the door (or the slimy gateway, as the case may be) open for more. So what exactly happened at the end of the first season? Let's review. Spoilers ahead.

Barb is dead

For a character who appeared so briefly in the series, poor Barb (Shannon Purser) turned out to be a fan favorite. Whether because of her good-head-on-her-shoulders demeanor, the fact that she stuck around even after being dissed and dismissed by her best friend, or her hipsterific glasses, Barb's ending was decidedly dour. A lot of viewers held out hope that the town's most criminally under-investigated child disappearance would result in her rescue, too. But sadly, Barb is most definitely dead. Sorry.

So is Dr. Brenner (probably)

The guy was a kidnapper, emotionally abusive to children, an actual megalomaniac, and part of a wicked division of the military-industrial complex. So it was nothing short of a huzzah moment when he was taken down by the Demogorgon he helped unleash. Considering the way Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) came by her name, there are presumably at least 10 more children in the program, so the fight with "the bad people" is likely far from over. The season finale hints that Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) might be mixed up with the agency after making a deal to help Joyce rescue Will, but whatever their plans might be, they probably won't include Brenner—it's hard to imagine he survived his close-up encounter with the beast.

But Eleven might not be

Okay, so she totally vanished after incinerating the Demogorgon during the big classroom showdown, leaving only an echo of her final words ("Bye, Mike")." But there's a reason actress Millie Bobby Brown so enthusiastically crossed her fingers at the mere mention of a second season for the series: there's no way her story is done just yet.

The finale hinted as much in the final moments when Hopper went into the woods to deliver food (including Eggo waffles, which are El's very favorite) and a smile to whatever is inside a storage box. The show's co-creators, the Duffer Brothers, admitted to leaving her fate "purposefully ambiguous" and explained that, because the show has sci-fi rules and another plane of existence is in play, they're "not boxed in, narratively" when it comes to the character's potential future.

Will is definitely alive, but still in trouble

The safe return of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) was a major win for the town's brigade of believers, but his journey into the not-so-great beyond was not without consequences. As Sheriff Hopper and Will's mom Joyce (Winona Ryder) were told before they embarked on their fateful trek through the tunnel of ick and doom to spring him from certain death, the Upside Down is filled with noxious air, among other horrors. Will didn't have the benefit of a gas mask during his stay there, so he's probably been poisoned with something. (He also had a tentacle-like branch thing shoved down his throat, and it probably wasn't meant to shield him from the atmosphere.)

That could be explain why he's suddenly experiencing hallucinations (or flashbacks?) of the dark depths after returning to the surface. But there's also the chance the kid's entire concept of reality has been marred by his trauma–in which case, Joyce needs to take out another advance from her boss and get the kid to a shrink, pronto. Door No. 3, though, is a drearier one, and probably the best route for the sake of storytelling: Will has been physically and/or mentally incepted by what laid beneath, and the manifestations of that are starting to emerge (like puke slugs, yech) in secret.

The Duffer Brothers have declared that Season 2 of the show would time-jump a year to grapple with the repercussions ahead for all the show's characters and confirmed that Will is, unquestionably, not okay right now. (The fact that they referenced the suicide scene in Stephen King's IT when talking about the subject, coupled with Will's fascination with the Clash song, "Should I Stay or Should I Go," is absolutely shudder-inducing.)

Nancy and Steve are an item again

In one instance of the show actually subverting a common trope of its inspiration generation, Stranger Things reunited its teen queen du jour Nancy (Natalia Dyer) with her "cool kid" boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery) instead of having her free the quiet misanthrope Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) from the friend zone (thank the execs' affinity for the actor portraying him for that plot point). For those still 'shipping Nancy and Jonathan, there's a small glimmer of hope to be had: She makes a pretty grand (albeit Steve-approved) gesture by giving the budding photographer a fancy camera for Christmas which was, in his words, "pretty cool."

Joyce is good again

Joyce's mental state was called into question on many occasions, especially when she downright refused to believe her son was dead. Even when faced with a body and a coroner's report, she believed Will was communicating with her. She was right, of course—but still, she was kind of losing it there for a while. After Will's return, though, Joyce seems to be getting her life back together. Will it last? Probably not. But for now, she's got her boy back in one piece—as far as she knows, anyway.

The other kids are mostly all right

While Eleven is off who knows where and Will is quite literally dealing with some gunk, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas seem to be back to normal, debating whether a fireball is the best move against a thessala hydra in Dungeons & Dragons. Mike is obviously a little sad about the absence of El (and just when they were becoming an item), but for the most part, the boys look like they're almost back where they were when we found them.