The third season of Stranger Things brings back an old foe, introduces us to some new ones, and turns the intensity dial up to 11 in Hawkins, IN. It also takes a long look at some of the relationships between our favorite main characters and gives them a hard shake, in ways that reveal new things about each of them. From Dustin’s frustration with feeling like the lone wolf within the group, to Mike and Max’s head-butting over how the former treats Eleven, each confrontation gives insight into the complexity of the relationships within the group. But it’s the argument between Mike and Will that brings up a long-ago discussion about the latter.
Warning, spoilers for season three of Stranger Things ahead!
When we rejoin the gang in season three, things have changed a bit since we left them in season two. Dustin is off at sleep-away camp, Mike and Eleven are in full honeymoon phase of their new relationship, and the rest are pretty much taking things as they are. When Dustin returns, he quickly realizes that things are not the same, which is especially obvious when Mike and Eleven ditch everyone to adhere to “curfew,” aka head back to Eleven and Sheriff Hopper’s cabin to make out.
The group’s division becomes more obvious as time progresses and things get more chaotic. After Eleven breaks up with Mike – largely due to some interference from Hopper in their relationship – Will attempts to interest Lucas and Mike in a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign, but it’s obvious that he’s the only one really into the game. The other two boys laugh off his enthusiasm and derail the game with conversation about their respective girlfriends, frustrating the already disheartened Will. Fed up, Will calls an end to the campaign and rushes out of Mike’s basement, though both Mike and Lucas attempt to call him back.
Mike rushes out after his friend, telling him that his campaign is cool, but they’re just “not in the mood right now.” Will fires back that this is exactly the issue and accuses Mike of ruining their party. He points out that Mike and Lucas don’t even know where Dustin is right now and how none of them even care because they’d rather “swap spit” with their respective stupid girls. (Will is obviously very emotional, so we’re going to let him slide for insulting the girls when none of this is either of their faults.) Rising to the defense of his girlfriend, Mike hits back at Will, saying, “It’s not my fault you don’t like girls.”
Now, obviously this could just be an angry comment thrown out during an argument, but the charged silence and the look of stunned betrayal on Will’s face suggest that Mike’s words have a bit more weight than suggesting that Will just doesn’t like girls yet. Mike apologizes, swearing he’s not trying to be a jerk and goes on about how everyone’s growing up, but Will still leaves, even more upset with his friends.
While it’s never discussed or even hinted at again, we can’t help but consider if this is the Duffer Brothers’ way of alluding to Will’s sexuality. Unlike Robin’s coming out scene, the idea that Will might be gay doesn’t lead to an intimate conversation or touching moment between friends. But the implication does bring back a conversation that began in season one when Stranger Things fans were questioning the young boy’s sexuality. In the freshman season, Will is continuously referenced by the group’s bullies using homophobic slurs and his story of being dragged into the Upside Down and left for dead was likened to how queer characters are often treated as “other” or thrown in the closet.
In response to the conversation, actor Noah Schnapp wrote a now-deleted Instagram post noting that he felt people were missing the point. “An author called Gary Schmidt came to speak at our school this week and he said that good stories aren’t supposed to leave you with answers because then you never question yourself and you forget about it,” he wrote. “A good book, or a good show leaves a lot of unanswered questions but makes you think. Which is what you are all doing. For me, Will being gay or not is beside the point. 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!”
Of course, this was two years ago, so Schnapp could have different feelings about whether or not his character’s sexual orientation matters to the series. Regardless, season three ends with Will and his fellow Byers (and Eleven!) moving out of Hawkins and looking for a clean start in a new town. If season four gets the green light, we could get a more nuanced look at Will and his relationships in the future.
Maybe the stress of being the Upside Down’s favorite chew-toy is the reason Will has never been romantically involved and he hasn’t met anyone who’s piqued his interest. Or maybe the distance from the traumatizing town will allow him to finally flourish and feel comfortable enough in his identity to share with his friends. Or maybe, like Schnapp hoped, we’ll never find out!