Without the likes of Game of Thrones dominating the daily discussion, Netflix’s nostalgia-soaked sci-fi hit Stranger Things has taken over as the most feverishly obsessed over series on TV.
Arguably Netflix’s biggest success to date, Stranger Things burst onto the scene back during Summer 2016 as an unheralded Stephen Spielberg and Stephen King-inspired throwback and has since developed into one of the television’s true behemoths.
Now, with the assuredly epic third season on the horizon, Stranger Things faces the same questions that have faced all of its heavyweight predecessors, from the supernatural shenanigans of LOST to the scientific perfection of Breaking Bad: how do you scale the story with sacrificing the quality?
While the Duffer brothers — the creators of Stranger Things — have earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to ignore that over the course of the first two seasons, they haven’t necessarily made any bold narrative choices.
The good guys (except Bob the Brain) always seem to win, the romances always seem to work out (also except for Bob the Brain), and everybody (well, except poor old Will Byers) seems to carry on happily ever after.
But as Stranger Things enters its third — and therefore, inherently biggest — season, it faces the reality of escalation, of plot progression, of building drama … of having to finally kill off a main character.
Tier 3 – Probably (Definitely) Safe
Karen & Ted Wheeler
If they kill Karen Wheeler, we riot. As for Ted, he’s literally too stupid to die. That’d just be mean.
Can you see Stranger Things killing off the mother of an innocent child? Me either. Next.
Similar to Joyce, killing Will Byers — after everything the poor kid’s been through — would just be downright bloodthirsty. And while Stranger Things has never shied away from darkness, they’ve also never exercised in pointless cruelty, which is exactly how killing Will would feel.
Lucas, Dustin, Mike, & Maxine
Otherwise known as the kids not to be haunted by an otherworldly shadow demon, Dustin, Mike, Lucas, and Maxine — while certainly main characters — rank near the bottom when it comes to actual importance. Therefore, sacrificing one of them would make little narrative sense and would come off as gratuitous violence.
Not only is Eleven the star of the series as its main antagonist, but the actress who plays her, Millie Bobby Brown, is arguably the biggest name on Stranger Things despite still being just a teenager — her talent is that immense.
And given that the Duffer brothers have already confirmed that Stranger Things will be at least four or five seasons, the Hawkins gang is definitely going to need Eleven’s telekinetic powers to survive the threats that come their way.
Fear not, Eleven is as safe as safe gets.
Tier 2 – Ehhhhh Who Knows? 50/50
Nancy Wheeler is a tricky one as she operates on the periphery of the show’s main heroes.
On one hand, she’s close enough to the action that she could easily get caught in the crossfire, but on the other hand, it’s tough to pin down exactly what narrative purpose sending Nancy Wheeler to the grave would have.
Sure, her death would reverberate throughout the rest of the characters, but she’s ultimately too unimportant in the conflict with both the human villains and the otherworldly monsters to warrant such a fate.
Also, similar to her lovely mother Karen, it’d just be a damn shame to see such a pretty face go.
Killing Jim Hopper would certainly be a bold storytelling choice, which therefore gives it a slight chance of actually happening should Stranger Things choose to drop a bomb like that.
But, this side of Eleven, Hopper is easily the show’s most popular character and therefore shielded by the ever-protective force known as plot armor.
The character that turned David Harbour into a household name, Chief Jim Hopper is essentially the audience avatar in the upside down world of Stranger Things, because at the end of the day, he’s just a regular, chain-smoking, out-of-shape dude who just tries to do the right thing.
While I wouldn’t put it past Stranger Things to off a major character this season, I have serious doubts that character will be Chief Hopper.
Tier 1 – Biiiigggg Time Screwed
Even before the final trailer for Stranger Things 3 dropped, Billy Hargrove was easily in my top 3 most killable characters heading into the season. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.
But with the final trailer all but confirming Billy’s role as the physical host of the Shadow Monster in this upcoming third season (similar to Will in season 2), his death now seems more likely than ever.
The only question that remains is whether or not he’ll get Steve Harrington levels of redemption before he goes.
Johnny B is in that sweet spot of the kill zone where his death would prove to be emotional but ultimately not affect the overarching plot of the show.
Killing Jonathan Byers — as he’s trying to save his younger brother Will or his girlfriend Nancy, perhaps? — would not only devastate the viewers, but it would also provide further storylines in future seasons as it relates to those who love him, i.e., how his death would impact Will, Joyce, and Nancy.
However, the series would ultimately be able to exist without him, which is not something that can be said about characters such as Hopper and Eleven.
Notice a theme here? The late teen bros of Hawkins are ultimately Stranger Things’ most vulnerable characters.
Easily the most “killable” on the show, they’re old enough where it doesn’t feel overtly cruel but influential enough characters that their deaths would register on an emotional level. And that notion could not be truer than when it comes to Steve Harrington, everyone’s favorite supportive mother.
Written as a prototypical douchebag in season 1, Steve eventually comes full circle by the end of the first season, and by season 2, evolves into a fan favorite through his bromance with Dustin. His character has come so far, in fact, that killing him now would make perfect sense as he’s at the peak of his likability, but is neither a family member nor in a relationship with any of the other characters — his death would shock viewers to the core but have little to no effect on the show’s narrative arc.
Hate to break it to you Stranger Things fans, but its doubtful Steve makes it to season 4.
‘Stranger Things 3’ will be released on Netflix on Thursday, July 4.