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'Stranger Things 4' Ending Explained, All Your Questions Answered

Stranger Things season 4 had a gangbusters ending. Here's what you need to know.

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Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies. Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
3 min read

Stranger Things, season 4, is out now. If you're done binge-watching it, it's time to dive into that ending. The entire season so far, especially the seventh episode, was packed with details, explaining the story behind El's flashbacks to a bloody massacre, and somehow tying in the creepy Creel family murder that happened in Hawkins in 1959. 

It's a lot to take in, so viewers can be forgiven if they're a bit confused. Here's a look at what happened in that heart-pounding ending. It's all one big spoiler from here on out. (btw, if you're feeling extra retro, check out our roundup of Stranger Things 4's '80s Easter eggs.)

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Netflix

Creel family murders

So in 1959, the Creel family was horribly murdered in their Hawkins mansion. The police thought the father of the family, Victor Creel (played by Nightmare on Elm Street's Robert Englund), killed his wife, son and daughter. Nancy and Robin go to the asylum where a now elderly Victor is being held, and realize he didn't kill his family, the season's Big Bad, Vecna, did. But there's more to the story.

011 and 001

Eleven has been having flashbacks to a bloody massacre among the other numbered, telekinetic kids who were in the lab with her. In some unnerving scenes that moved Netflix to add a warning to the show after the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, Eleven remembers seeing the other kids dead -- and she's convinced she's the monster who is responsible.

But of course, it's more complicated than that. Peter Ballard, a man who seemed to be a kind orderly at the lab, turned out to have been the lab's very first child patient, bearing the tattoo of 001, aka One. And who is this man, you may ask? He's Henry Creel, Victor's son. Turns out he not only survived the family massacre, he caused it. Henry was put into psychiatric care after his family was killed and Dr. Brenner, alert to Henry's powers, made him 001, the very first of the kids experimented on.

Vecna's origin story

When Henry/One became an adult, Dr. Brenner kept his terrifying powers under control with a chip implanted under his skin. As an orderly, Henry/One befriended Eleven and convinced her to remove the chip, saying it was a way Brenner could track and control him. Eleven used her powers to yank out the chip, and whoops, One's terrifying powers were now unleashed again. 

One and Eleven battled, and One ended up in the Upside Down, taking the form of the creepy demonic creature we now know as Vecna -- but still with his 001 tattoo. This is how the first portal to the Upside Down was opened.

Vecna's goal

Vecna seems to be seeking out guilt-wracked people who've gone through trauma, including Max, who watched Billy die in front of her, and Nancy, who feels responsible for Barb's horrific Upside Down pool death.

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Vecna was once a very disturbed little boy named Henry Creel.

Netflix

Unanswered questions

There are two more season 4 episodes, and a full season 5 yet to come. And that's good, because man, do we have questions.

What made Henry Creel who he was? We don't know very much about why his family fled to Hawkins. Henry seems to make friends with black widow spiders, and after that, developed a power he used to kill sweet backyard bunnies. But it seems like there was something unusual about Henry before he ever moved to Hawkins, something that made his parents think they had to get a fresh start. The parents look like fresh-faced 1950s perfection, but Henry hints they have secrets. Were they abusers, or is he just saying that to excuse what he did?

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What is Vecna's end game? Why is he going after kids with traumatic events in their past? Is he trying to make an army of undead teens? 

Can Eleven's powers possibly be enough to stop him and lock the gates to the Upside Down for good? Robin and Eddie were able to crawl out of the Upside Down in the final scenes, but Steve is still down there, and Nancy fell into what seemed like a worse universe, Vecna's domain.

But perhaps the biggest unanswered question: How are fans going to make it to July 1? And then, what unanswered questions will ride along until the final season, season 5, eventually comes out? Buckle up, there are lots of strange things yet to come.

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