The Ending of 'Stranger Things' Season 4 Volume 1, Explained

How fast can the gang get back to Hawkins?

stranger things season 4 vol 1 ending broken down
(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

The first volume of Stranger Things season 4 ended with a bang that has reverberated through the entire Internet (what's a Vecna and why are people calling him hot?). The Netflix hit left fans with several cliffhangers to go over while waiting for the show's return in July. Here's where the Volume 1 ending left each member of the Hawkins gang.

Eleven

Season 4 finds Eleven struggling with her self-image, and questioning whether she is a hero or a monster capable of gruesome acts (something teased in the opening flashback of the season). She also gets an important solo adventure, as she teams up with/is tricked by scientists Dr. Owens and Dr. Brenner to relive her time in Hawkins lab. The goal of immersing herself in her past as one of "Papa's" subjects is to relearn how to use her powers to take on the season's villain Vecna; the loss was due to an injury during the season 3 Battle of Starcourt that was similar to a stroke, which made her brain forget how to access her powers.

Throughout the new experiment, El became friends with an orderly who told her some of the secrets Brenner kept from her, including the existence of the experiment's first ever test subject, Number One. The orderly, who befriended Eleven because she was the most powerful subject, tricks her into removing a chip in his skin. It turns out that the orderly is the mysterious Number One, a man named Henry Creel who came under Brenner's care after killing his parents. He's the one who massacred the kids and attendants at the lab out of revenge.

One believes himself an apex predator who wants to wipe out humanity because it upsets the balance of the world. He asks El to join him, but she refuses, and defeats him in a psychic vs. psychic standoff. Answering a world-building question for the entire show itself, El casts One into the Upside Down, opening the very first gate in Hawkins. In the present, One/Henry Creel is now Vecna, who is opening gates around Hawkins to unleash the monsters of the Upside Down and destroy the world.

The showdown is the last we see of El, as she remains in the past-reliving experiment. We'll learn in Volume 2 whether remembering the fight and learning the truth about Vecna will help her regain her powers in the real world. We're also expecting a huge battle between the two powerhouses in Volume 2's finale.

stranger things season 4 volume 1 ending breakdown

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argylle

Mike, the Byers brothers, and Jonathan's new (hilarious) friend Argylle get caught in the crossfire of the government faction who believes El is actually the one killing teens in Hawkins. After they escape a shootout with the help of an agent, the dying man gives them a hint to direct them to El in the underground bunker. The boys are on the run and need a computer, so they road trip to Salt Lake City to enlist Dustin's girlfriend and "Neverending Story" fan (opens in new tab) Suzie. She finds out that the bunker is in Nevada, and the last shot of this group shows them heading off to find Eleven and hopefully get her back to Hawkins. Also, Mike and El had a big fight and he wants to apologize and maybe actually tell her he loves her (a refreshing teen-level problem for the show).

stranger things season 4 volume 1 ending breakdown

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Steve, Nancy, Robin, and Eddie

Throughout the season, the remaining members of the Hawkins Gang in Hawkins have been investigating Vecna and trying to keep D&D leader Eddie Munson (opens in new tab) from being wrongfully arrested for the town's murders. The mission lands the group's teen contingent, plus Eddie, in the Upside Down, after they get sucked into one of Vecna's new gates under Lover's Lake.

We learn tons of new details about the mysterious dimension while the teens are searching for a way out. There are copies of everything from the real world in the Upside Down, but when Nancy searches the mirror of her room for her weapons cache, they aren't there. The room also has old wallpaper, an old stuffed animal she's since given away, and her diary doesn't have any entries past November 6, 1983. That exact date could have been when Eleven first made contact with the dimension, and it's now stuck in the past in some way.

The foursome eventually uses Will's light manipulation trick to signal the younger kids in the real world, with Dustin using a lite brite to let them spell out letters. He directs them to the first gate Vecna created when the monster killed cheerleader Chrissy in Eddie's trailer. Robin and Eddie go through the gate, but before Nancy can, she falls into a trance. Vecna targets her, channeling her guilt for Barb's death.

Volume 1 ends with Nancy still in Vecna's trance and Steve still with her body in the Upside Down. For anyone afraid that our super-sleuth might not make it out alive, there's actually a great theory going around that Robin will save her, after seeing Nancy's favorite cassette tapes while snooping around her room in episode 4. Once Nancy snaps out of the trance, she'll be able to tell the crew all about Vecna being Henry Creel, as she saw the whole backstory after she entered Vecna's mind (the red smoke area) through the same back door that Max used.

stranger things season 4 volume 1 ending breakdown

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Max, Lucas, Dustin, and Erica

While the older kids are stuck in the Upside Down, Max, Lucas, and Dustin are on the surface dealing with the cops (and their finally-attentive parents). After Erica figures out they're obviously lying, they fill her in and gain another extremely-smart mind's help, which prompts them to the realization that Vecna's been making strong psychic connections with teens and killing them to rip holes between the dimensions and open more gates. The big discovery, plus helping the others find another gate out of the Upside Down, are the kids' big episode 7 moments.

(Also, though she didn't do much in the finale, shout out to Max for being the season's MVP. Sadie Sink's performance was incredible, and Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" has been topping streaming charts. All great things!)

stranger things season 4 volume 1 ending breakdown

(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Hopper, Joyce, and Murray

The one faction who hasn't been dealing with some element of Vecna's plan in season 4 is the adults, who've been focused on getting Hopper out of the secret Russian jail. Joyce and Murray deal with a lot in Volume 1, from coming up with a $40,000 ransom somehow, to meeting a smuggler in Alaska, to being betrayed by said smuggler and taking him down in a moving plane and surviving the subsequent crash. They finally make it to the prison just in time to catch Hopper and other prisoners being fed to a demogorgon.

Luckily, Hopper has plenty of monster-bashing experience, and he ignites a spear with some alcohol and a lighter. While he's holding off the demogorgon, Murray and Joyce overtake the prison's control room and open a door so Hopper and former guard Enzo can escape. Their last scene shows an emotional reunion between Hopper and Joyce.

There's not a whole lot to theorize for their storyline in Volume 2, besides wondering how the heck they're going to get out of the Soviet Union and back to Hawkins. However, the Russians' involvement in the story is still a giant question mark, especially what else they plan to do with captured demogorgons besides prison fights. The teaser at the end of Volume 1 does show Hopper in front of one tank with a strange creature inside, and another with what looks like a mini-tornado, so we may discover just what the Russians are up to.

Quinci LeGardye is a Contributing Culture Editor who covers TV, movies, Korean entertainment, books, and pop culture. When she isn’t writing or checking Twitter, she’s probably watching the latest K-drama or giving a concert performance in her car.