Eddie Munson is a hero. He did not, however, become a hero in the last minutes of his life. He did not, as Stranger Things 4 implies, suddenly turn away from cowardice to find bravery when he chose to lure away the Demobats. Eddie’s death on Stranger Things does not enshrine him with anything. His heroism is much deeper and more nuanced than fighting the monsters of the Upside Down. Eddie has, in fact, been fighting monsters much more terrifying his entire life. And although Stranger Things built this narrative for him, it simply does not comprehend the full meaning of what it created.
In the last episode of Stranger Things 4, the show reveals it completely fails to understand Eddie, the importance of his position as an Othered character, or how to appropriately conclude his story. Eddie’s death in Stranger Things 4 is neither noble nor necessary. Instead, it falls into the harmful tradition of ultimately punishing Othered characters for their Otherness and denying them the life and catharsis they deserve.
In media, Othered characters are often disposable. Whether this is because certain creators don’t know how to write them, because prevailing sentiment doesn’t approve of them, or because society pervades so strongly into mass media that many think death is the deserved ending, it’s a tradition that impacts marginalized communities across the board.
It’s such a common practice that terms like “Bury Your Gays” are well-known colloquialisms. In Stranger Things 4, Eddie may not be, strictly speaking, gay, although to be not of the norm is to be queer, but his clear narrative position is that of “The Other.” His very existence threatens anyone who subscribes to the safety of societal norms even before they get to accuse him of murder. As such, Eddie becomes a proxy for anyone who feels queer, unconventional, or unwelcome, for anyone who has ever feared for being themselves. And given this important role in the story of Stranger Things, his death comes as a bleak blow.
The framing of Eddie’s death makes it clear that the show believes it an appropriate bookend to his arc. As Stranger Things plays back all the times that Eddie labeled himself a coward or “ran away,” it is painfully obvious that the creators feel they are showing us an example of full-circle character growth. In the eyes of Stranger Things, this death is a fitting and heroic conclusion to Eddie’s season-long refrain about always being the one who runs. And not only is it clear the audience should believe this, but it’s evident Eddie believes it about himself. As he dies he says to Dustin, “I didn’t run away this time.” Like he’s finally proud of who he’s become. But, all of that, excuse my language, is bullshit.
The idea that to finally be “brave” or “heroic,” Eddie needs to sacrifice himself could not be more utterly ridiculous. Eddie Munson has been braver than almost anyone all along. He has been brave every step of the way. In being himself in a small, conservative town, he has been brave. In enduring bullying and being labeled as “the Freak” and undoubtedly more, he has been brave. And more than anything else, in withstanding everything his Otherness brings, but fighting to create a place where anyone who doesn’t belong can thrive, he has been not only brave but heroic.
In the first episode of season four, Eddie tells Dustin and Mike, “You boys are the future of Hellfire. I knew it the moment I saw you. You sat on that table, right there, looking like two lost little sheep… And we showed you that school didn’t have to be the worst years of your life, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that there are other lost little sheepies out there who need help. Who need you.”
In a town that does not take kindly to difference, Eddie builds a safe harbor for those who need him. He refuses to retreat and instead creates a community on poisonous ground. He uses the labels stuck on him to be a beacon for those even more lost and brings them all together so they can find hard-won joy in their lives. And what could be nobler or braver than that? But somehow Stranger Things fails to credit these feats of courage.
Instead, the show seems to think Eddie’s death enshrined him with something he didn’t already have. But there is nothing good about Eddie’s end, nothing noble or brave that wasn’t otherwise there before. Glorifying it like he finally found meaning when meaning was pouring out of him all along leaves a very bad taste behind.
Did Eddie ever really “run away?” No, not once. He protected himself. He did what he had to do and he was right. When he left Chrissy’s body in the trailer, when he hid in the woods, that wasn’t running away. And implying that in any way, shape or form is downright insulting. Eddie knew the score. Any Othered person knows the score. If Eddie had stayed with Chrissy’s body, there wouldn’t have been any questions asked, he would have been arrested and sent to prison to rot. Is it really running away when survival is on the line? Is it really cowardice to feel scared and to hide when you know no one will believe you, and more so, that they would rather not?
Stranger Things 4 seems to view the answer as yes. It seems to view Eddie’s fear when the group finds him, or when Jason attacked him, as some kind of weakness. One that Eddie needs to overcome and correct. But it makes sense to be scared when something is scary. It makes sense to feel vulnerable when you know almost everyone is against you. These are Eddie’s best qualities and they do not pale in comparison to feeling compelled to stand and fight. What Eddie chooses survival throughout his journey.
As an Othered person there is no greater bravery than to survive. To continue to live in the face of those who wish you to cease to exist, to continue to be one’s self, that is the true heroism. And Eddie did survive. Eddie Munson survived being punished by the story, again and again. He suffered the mundane hatred of the crowd, he suffered their accusations, he suffered being hunted, but he survived. He withstood so much… only to die. And somehow all of that survival is put down as cowardice, but his sacrificial death, that’s brave.
But for those of us watching with whom Eddie’s story really resonates, those real Othered people living in a scary time where more and more mobs like the one in Hawkins are forming every day, where rights are being stripped from us and evil becomes more emboldened, we don’t want to see Eddie die a martyr. We want him to continue to survive, we want him to transcend. We want him, most of all, to get to live, and to know with certainty that he’s been brave all along.
This brings us to the nauseating conversation that Dustin has with Eddie’s uncle in Stranger Things’ last mention of Eddie after his death. Dustin says, “I wish everyone had gotten to know him. Really know him. Because they would have loved him… Even in the end, he never stopped being Eddie. Despite everything. I never even saw him get mad. He could have run. He could have saved himself. But he fought. He fought and died to protect this town. This town that hated him. He isn’t just innocent… He’s a hero.”
Again, the framing here is all wrong. Eddie is not good because he didn’t get mad at the town, not noble because he fought to protect the place that hated him. In fact, the idea that ultimately, Eddie died driven by the imagery of Hawkins burning is somewhat stomach-churning. Eddie is good and he is a hero, but it has nothing to do with turning the other cheek where Hawkins is concerned. Eddie deserves to be mad. He deserves to leave the town to burn. It’s no measure of worth to seek to understand the people that would annihilate you.
This conversation is too real at this moment. In an age where people are constantly “both sides-ing” arguments and insisting that marginalized people listen, respect, and maintain empathy for those who simply wish them dead, this conversation affirms dangerous rhetoric. And ultimately, it gives Hawkins too much credit, all wrapped up in Eddie Munson’s final mentions on Stranger Things.
Dustin wishes that everyone had gotten to know Eddie, as though the idea is something that could have actually happened. But the town could have gotten to know Eddie, but they didn’t. They saw only his Otherness and condemned him. And now that he’s dead, they don’t even have to examine that sentiment believing themselves to be comfortably correct.
Ultimately, Hawkins surviving while Eddie ends undercuts Stranger Things 4’s strongest idea. For a minute in Volume One, it seemed like the narrative was shifting to reveal that humans are truly the most nefarious evil. That small-town conservatism and hatred is the real enemy, one scarier than anything from the Upside Down. A villain that Kate Bush’s music cannot be chase away nor will experience full defeat. But that story arc simply melted away, reframed into more of a “Bad Apples” plotline centered around Jason Carver and his jock friends.
The town itself morphs back into something precious, something that needs protecting, that the destruction of which should make us feel sad. But anyone who is Otherered has not forgotten how quickly everyone rose up to band against Eddie and Hellfire. That hate was there and it is still there. And, in a sense, it triumphs. The town gets what they wanted. Eddie is dead at the end of Stranger Things 4. And they go on.
But Eddie gets no resolution to the story arc specifically centered around him. He does not get to reckon with the hate levied his way. He does not get to triumph over it. An exploration of the aftermath of the town’s panic through Eddie’s eyes could have been a truly crucial arc. One that remains crucial today, as the rhetoric from the Satanic Panic continues to destroy the lives of marginalized people. Eddie deserves to exist as the hero in that story. And he deserves to win. And, we deserved to see the Othered character have agency in that narrative. But Eddie Munson, who survived so much, who was so, so good, does not get to finish his story.
Instead, Eddie simply ends. He never gets to understand his own long-standing bravery. He never gets the love, companionship, and shades of peace we see our other heroes achieve as Stranger Things 4 reaches its end. It feels like the story feels he was simply not entrenched enough to deserve it. Although that end for Eddie would have been the true triumph. But, save for a hint of sadness, everyone drifts onward. Eddie’s legacy is the Munson Murders. The only thing Stranger Things has for him is death.
In the end, soft, good, brave, proud-to-be-Other Eddie Munson dies in hell, exactly where those who hate him believe he belongs. And that sucks.
(Bring Eddie back, you cowards.)