The Strangeness of Death
The hit Netflix show has established a pattern of introducing a supporting but beloved character only to have them meet a sometimes-heroic-but-almost-always-gruesome death by the season’s end. They’ve also demonstrated a habit of seemingly killing a character only to bring them back in later seasons. But even when the mourning is misplaced, there’s still a lesson in the grief.
When characters meet their untimely fate in Stranger Things, there are immediate responses and lasting ramifications. Usually, a friend is present to witness someone’s last moments, which are accompanied by pleading for more time, sadness over lost opportunities, and anger at the end. In season 4, Vecna seeks to capitalize on the shame and grief many of the characters feel over the deaths of others. They feel a responsibility for the loss of life, and it weighs on them, opening the door for evil exploitation.
But why is that the case? Why would they feel guilt about something that is as seemingly natural to this world as breathing? Why do those deaths bring out such raw emotions? Rationally, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about a life ending. In fact, at this point, the kids in Hawkins should be shocked when a friend actually makes it out of a harrowing situation alive. Yet they mourn for the loss of life, and they’re right to do so—and so are we when we encounter death.
As Vecna has unleashed monsters from the upside down into the idyllical 1980s world of Hawkins, Indiana, Satan has unleashed sin and death into this world. The show’s ferocious demogorgons, essentially giant petal-mouthed demon lizards, are obviously from another world. But, despite being an expected and all-too-frequent reality for us, death is also clearly an unwelcome invader.
Death doesn’t seem right, despite it being all we’ve ever experienced. Whether it comes tragic at a young age or expected after a long life, death is seemingly inevitable. Yet, in almost every instance we face it, we treat death as unnatural, as a stranger to our experience. Something in us rebels at the very existence of death, and that something is the image of God.
Regardless of one’s religious perspective, we view death as a violation of what should be. Our innate reaction reveals a deeply held, if suppressed truth: we were created for eternity. We were supposed to live forever. Death is not natural. It is the most unnatural aspect of our existence, and our reaction to it shows we know this to be true.
Yes, we may cry when we see our latest favorite character die on Stranger Things or another show. Yes, we will mourn when we encounter death in our world. We do not mourn as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), but, in the midst of our hope, we do mourn. We know that death has been defeated and that victory will be fully realized one day. But until then, we declare the reality of eternal life by our sorrow over the temporary existence of death. Our tears, whether they flow over a fictional character or a beloved family member, show death to be the strangest thing of all.