The fourth season of the American science fiction horror drama television series Stranger Things was released worldwide on the streaming service Netflix in two volumes. The first set of seven episodes was released on May 27, 2022, while the second set of two episodes was released on July 1, 2022. The season was produced by the show’s creators the Duffer Brothers, along with Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen, Iain Paterson and Curtis Gwinn.
Returning as series regulars are Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Maya Hawke, Priah Ferguson, Matthew Modine and Paul Reiser, while Brett Gelman was promoted to series regular after recurring in the previous two seasons. Jamie Campbell Bower, Joseph Quinn, Eduardo Franco and Cara Buono also star. Tom Wlaschiha, Nikola Đuričko, and Mason Dye appear in recurring roles.
The season was met with positive reviews, with critics praising the performances of the cast (particularly those of Brown, Sink, Harbour, McLaughlin, Bower, and Quinn), the visuals, action sequences, realistic themes, emotional weight, and the darker, more mature tone, though some criticized it for being overstuffed due to the lengthier episode runtimes. The first volume of the season received 13 nominations for the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, including Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series.
As with seasons past, planning for the fourth season of Stranger Things began before the preceding season’s release. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly that ran shortly after the third season’s release, series creators Matt and Ross Duffer revealed the series’ creative team had already met on several occasions to discuss the show’s future. On September 30, 2019, Netflix announced it had signed the Duffer Brothers for a new multi-year television and film deal that was reportedly worth nine figures. To coincide with the production deal announcement, Netflix also announced the renewal of Stranger Things for a fourth season by releasing a brief, minute-long teaser on YouTube.
Commenting on the previous season’s ending, Ross Duffer divulged the process of connecting story arcs between seasons:
We don’t want to write ourselves in a corner so we try to have these early discussions with the writers just to make sure that we’re setting ourselves up to go in the right direction. We don’t know a lot, but we do know a lot of the big broad strokes. At the end of season two, we knew about Billy. We knew that the Russians were going to come in. We didn’t know the mall and stuff, but again, we know these big broad strokes. That’s sort of where we are in season four. We have the big broad strokes. It’s just now about filling in those lines in the details. We’re pretty excited about where it’s potentially going to go. Again, like we said, it’s going to feel very different than this season. But I think that’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be exciting.
Matt Duffer indicated one of the plot’s “broad strokes” is the main center of action being moved out of Hawkins, Indiana, for the majority of the season, a series first. He also indicated the several loose ends left by the ending of season three, such as Hopper’s perceived death and Eleven being adopted by Joyce Byers and relocating with her new family out of state, will all be explored sometime during the fourth season. The Duffers later expanded on their previous comments, saying that “epic” triptych structure of the fourth season was one of the main contributing factors to its exaggerated length. They likened it to the HBO series Game of Thrones in terms of its sheer scale, runtime, and newer, more mature tonal shift, as well as having split their characters across multiple distant locations.
Another contributing factor to the show’s newfound extended length was the expressed goal of the Duffers to finally provide answers to uncertainties regarding the series’ long-simmering mythology, which they have been slowly revealing like “layers of [an] onion” over the past three seasons. Halfway through writing the fourth season, Matthew and Ross realized they were going to need a ninth episode to include all of their desired plot points, which Netflix in turn “quickly approved”. During production on the first season, the duo prepared a twenty-page document for Netflix that explained the show’s universe, including what the Upside Down is, in clear detail. In turn, material from the document dictated certain plots while writing the season. The Duffers wanted to spend more time within the Upside Down in this season, as the narrative of the third season gave them little opportunity to explore it further.
Since the fourth season is the longest-running season produced so far, the Duffers and Netflix opted for a two-volume release plan. In a letter from the Duffer Brothers posted by Netflix, the duo revealed they wrote nine scripts spanning over 800 pages, and that the fourth season is nearly double the length of any of the previously released seasons.
In an interview on the Netflix podcast Present Company with Krista Smith, Ross Duffer discussed season four’s much more mature tone, which he indicated will be at least partially achieved by “[leaning] into” the horror genre:
When we pitched it to Netflix all those years ago, we pitched it as the kids are… The Goonies in E.T. That’s their storyline. And the adults are in Jaws and Close Encounters [sic] and then the teens are in Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween. But, this year, we don’t have the kids. We can’t do The Goonies anymore. And so, suddenly, we’re leaning much harder into that horror movie territory that we love. It was fun to make that change.
In a May 2022 interview with Entertainment Weekly on their Around the Table series, Finn Wolfhard stated that this season feels like “five movies into one”, comparing it to “Scooby-Doo-meets-Zodiac-killer” while also being a “stoner action-comedy” and a “Russian prison movie”.
The character of Eddie Munson is based on Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three who was wrongly convicted in 1994 of the deaths of three boys due to his appearance, which residents tied to being part of a satanic cult. The writers drew from Paradise Lost, a documentary covering Echols, for Eddie’s story.
As they had done with the Demogorgon from the first season, the Duffers opted to use the Dungeons & Dragons character of Vecna as the basis of this season’s antagonist, something that the child characters would recognize and understand the dangers due to their familiarity through the role-playing game. While Vecna was not fully introduced in Dungeons & Dragons materials until 1990 through the module Vecna Lives!, and only had been alluded to in the lore prior to that, the Duffers believed that Eddie was an advanced gamemaster that was able to extrapolate how Vecna would behave for purposes of the show.
By November 1, 2019, casting had begun to add four new male characters to the fourth season’s lineup, with three of the roles being teenagers and one of them being an adult. The teenaged roles were characterized as ranging “from a metalhead to an entitled jock to a character that sounds an awful lot like the twin of Fast Times at Ridgemont High stoner Jeff Spicoli”, while the adult character was tied to the Russian storyline introduced during the third season.
On December 3, 2019, it was confirmed by the show’s writers’ room that Maya Hawke’s character Robin would be returning for the fourth season. On February 14, 2020, Netflix confirmed David Harbour would return as Jim Hopper and that Tom Wlaschiha had been cast as a Russian malefactor. Priah Ferguson’s return to the series was confirmed in February 2020. That March, Brett Gelman’s promotion to series regular was also confirmed. On October 27, 2020, it was reported that Maya Hawke’s brother, Levon Thurman-Hawke, was cast in an undisclosed role.
On November 20, 2020, Jamie Campbell Bower, Eduardo Franco, and Joseph Quinn were cast as series regulars while Sherman Augustus, Mason Dye, Nikola Đuričko, and Robert Englund joined the cast in recurring roles for the fourth season; Englund, best known for portraying Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films, had approached the Duffers for a role in Stranger Things, which fit well with the direction they wanted to take this season. On June 9, 2021, Amybeth McNulty, Myles Truitt, Regina Ting Chen, and Grace Van Dien joined the cast in recurring roles for the fourth season.
In the case of Bower, he was initially announced as “Peter Ballard”, and credits for his role in the first six episodes were listed as “Friendly Orderly”. This was to hide the reveal that his character was the grown-up Henry Creel, who was the first test subject for Dr. Brenner and thus named “One”, and that he would become Vecna following his battle with Eleven.
The fourth season was released on the streaming platform Netflix in two volumes, the first volume with seven episodes was released on May 27, 2022, while the second volume with two episodes was released five weeks later on July 1, 2022.
The season’s release occurred three days after a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman fatally shot 21 people. In the aftermath of the tragedy, and considering that the first episode’s cold open a scene that had been released as an online tease one week before the premiere features graphic images of dead bodies including those of children’s, Netflix added a warning card before the prior season recap that automatically plays before the episode. The card, which is shown only to viewers in the United States, reads as follows:
“We filmed this season of Stranger Things a year ago. But given the recent tragic shooting at a school in Texas, viewers may find the opening scene of episode 1 distressing. We are deeply saddened by this unspeakable violence, and our hearts go out to every family mourning a loved one.”
Shortly after the season’s release, viewers reported that Will’s friends did not acknowledge his birthday in an episode of the season that took place on that day. The Duffers said in an interview that they could rectify the matter by changing its month, which they called “George Lucas-ing the situation”, in reference to the canon changes that George Lucas had made to the original Star Wars trilogy to match what the prequel trilogy had added. Some viewers took this to imply that scenes from earlier seasons were also being edited, including one scene where Jonathan takes discreet pictures of a pool party that Steve, Nancy, and Barbara are holding. The writers stated that “no scenes from previous seasons have ever been cut or re-edited”, including this scene.
On July 1, 2022, after the second volume of the season was released, Netflix’s website reportedly crashed due to server overload as vast numbers of users logged on to stream the new episodes, overwhelming the service.
- S02E01 – “Chapter One: The Hellfire Club“
- S02E02 – “Chapter Two: Vecna’s Curse”
- S02E03 – “Chapter Three: The Monster and the Superhero”
- S02E04 – “Chapter Four: Dear Billy“
- S02E05 – “Chapter Five: The Nina Project”
- S02E06 – “Chapter Six: The Dive”
- S02E07 – “Chapter Seven: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”
- S02E08 – “Chapter Eight: Papa”
- S02E09 – “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback”
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