Warning: This article contains spoilers from Stranger Things season 4, Volume 2.
Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy directed the episode from season 3 that fueled a major fan theory about Noah Schnapp‘s Will Byers. After a heated Dungeons & Dragons session, during which Will felt neglected by his best friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) yells at him in frustration: “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls.” He meant it more as Will refusing to grow up, but maybe his statement was more on the nose than that.
“Mike is referring to them being at different stages of just pubescent development. It’s not specific to sexual orientation or anything,” Levy had told EW of that moment. “But ever since then, a lot of these questions have come up.”
All signs seemed to point to Will having some kind of coming-out moment in the Stranger Things season 4 finale when the two Volume 2 episodes dropped on Netflix Friday. That release never came, but there were a few more teases that strongly suggested he’s gay.
The first comes in the back of the Surfer Boy Pizza van in episode 8, “Papa.” Mike is awfulizing about how his girlfriend, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), won’t need him anymore. That’s when Will finally shows his friend what the heck he painted. It’s an image of their D&D crew as their characters fighting a three-headed dragon, and Mike is leading the troupe.
Mike (oh, simple Mike) thinks he’s hearing a pep talk from Will to make him feel better, but again, it feels more like a veiled admission. He says Eleven is “so lost without you. She’s so different from other people, and when you’re different, sometimes you feel like a mistake.” He then says that if she was pushing Mike away, it was probably out of fear of losing him. “If she was going to lose you, I think she’d rather just get it over with quick, like ripping off a Band-Aid,” he says. It’s a lot like what Will was doing to Mike.
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp) have a heart-to-heart in ‘Stranger Things’ season 4.
All the while, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is watching this moment play out in his rearview mirror, including the part when Will has to turn to look out the window or else Mike will see him weeping into his hand.
The second, far more touching moment, comes later when Jonathan goes to his brother’s side in Super Boy Pizza in episode 9, “The Piggyback.” “I feel like you used to come to me more for help or to just talk,” he tells Will. “I miss talking to you. I, like, really miss it.” He tells Will exactly what he needs to hear at that moment: “I don’t want you to forget that I’m here, and I’ll always be here, and I love you. And there is nothing in this world — absolutely nothing — that will ever change that.” A teary-eyed embrace follows.
These nuggets come after viewers saw other major hints at Will’s true self bubbling to the surface earlier in the penultimate season. “Sometimes I think it’s just scary to open up like that, to say how you really feel, especially to people you care about the most,” Will had told Mike in episode 5, “because what if they don’t like the truth?”
Prior to the release of Volume 2, Levy told EW, “Without getting into where we go later in season 4, I guess I’ll just say that there aren’t many accidents on Stranger Things. There is clear intention and strategy and real thought given to each and every character. So, if you came away from Volume 1 feeling those bread crumbs of plot and character, it’s probably no accident.”
The Duffers were equally teasing some kind of “big character emotional reveals and payoffs” when asked about the subject in a separate interview with EW. “What we’re excited about in those final two [episodes is] that it’s not just the story coming full circle, but all of this character stuff is going to come to a head because there’s a lot dangling that we’re going to try to resolve in those last four hours,” Ross Duffer said.
Did they resolve it? Kind of. At the very least, they did with the Will-Jonathan brotherly relationship. But it can still go further. In fact, it needs to go further.
Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix Noah Schnapp stars as Will Byers in ‘Stranger Things’ season 4.
At first, it was just a fan theory that goes back to the first season. Schnapp, responding to this theory of Will’s sexuality at the time, addressed it on social media.
“For me, Will being gay or not is besides the point,” he wrote at the time on Instagram. “Stranger Things is a show about a bunch of kids who are outsiders and find each other because they have been bullied in some way or are different. Does being sensitive, or a loner, or a teenager who likes photography, or a girl with red hair and big glasses, make you gay? I’m only 12 but I do know we all relate to being different. And that’s why I think the Duffers wrote the show the way they did. So you can ask all these questions. I hope the real answer never comes out!”
Even if this wasn’t the intent from the get-go, the matter has since evolved. When season 3 hit, Schnapp slightly changed his tune. “
“It’s really up to interpretation,” the actor told The Wrap. “While all the characters were out developing and growing up, Will was in the Upside Down and he was alone there, not interacting with or connected to his friends or the rest of the world. And when he got back, he expected everything to just go back to how it was before, how it was when he was normal and when he was a kid and he wanted to go back to the basement and play D&D.”
He reiterated this general sentiment after Volume 1 of season 4 dropped. “I feel like they never really address it or blatantly say how Will is,” he told Variety. “I think that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just up to the audience’s interpretation, if it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
At this point, it would behoove the show to blatantly address it, given the latest comments from the Duffers and Levy about the true intent here. And to their credit, maybe the producers already know this. Perhaps they plan to skip over the standard coming-out moment in Stranger Things season 5. (The final season!) Maybe it’s been played out one too many times. If that’s the plan, let’s do it; let’s time jump forward to when Robin (Maya Hawke) has already taken Will under her queer wing and they are just blasting Cyndi Lauper and Bonnie Tyler. But after years of teasing this character thread out, let’s hope Will is finally given the time to make peace with it.
Stranger Things season 4 is now streaming in its entirety on Netflix.
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