The Kills In Stranger Things Season 4 Are More Brutal Than Ever

This post contains spoilers for "Stranger Things" season 4.

"'Stranger Things' isn't scary." 

This has been my refrain for the past six years and I try to get all my most beloved scaredy-cat friends to watch it. That part where Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) gets snatched off his bike in the pilot episode? It's not reflective of the whole show, don't worry about it! The possession subplot of season 2? It's just a metaphor for PTSD! Plus, those rats in season 3 are more gross than actually scary, right? And then season 4 happened. Specifically, the shocking last moments of the new season's premiere.

In the scene in question, local metalhead Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) rifles around his mobile home in hopes of finding something to help cheerleader Chrissy (Grace Van Dien) take the edge off. Chrissy's been having visions, mostly of her verbally abusive mom, but with a weird distortion that makes it clear she's actually at the mercy of something supernatural. As viewers, we may not anticipate Chrissy making it through the season, but with a hint of an unlikely romance or kinship brewing between her and Eddie, she seems like a character we'll follow for a while.

But then she dies. Only, Chrissy doesn't die in the bloodless way we've come to expect from our popcorn entertainment these days, nor even in the way we'd expect based on the gooey, sci-fi world of "Stranger Things." No, Chrissy's death is horrific. Her bones twist inward and backward, her limbs broken and jutting at odd, wince-inducing angles. Her eyes, which are rolled back so only the whites are visible, begin to bleed. Then, in a scene that serves as one of the series' most intense cuts to black ever, they implode with a sickly squishing sound. Okay. Yeah. "Stranger Things" might be scary.

The show is growing up with its audience

"Stranger Things" season 4 is a brutal step up for a show whose first season was basically "what if E.T. but a human girl?" It's not just Chrissy that dies like this, either. We also see geek Fred (Logan Riley Bruner), basketball player Patrick (Myles Truitt), and Victor Creel's wife bite the dust the same way. The season even opens on a bit of shocking violence, with Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) surveying the aftermath of a massacre of children at Hawkins Lab. That last part is especially difficult to take in, as the sight of the small, crumpled bodies without any fantastical context feels all too real.

Although some of the violence in "Stranger Things 4" may be tough to stomach, it's a sign that the show is doing something too few stories are willing to do: grow up with its audience. Great teen adventure sagas like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Harry Potter" have done the same, growing darker and more complex as their main characters approached adulthood. Despite its blockbuster sheen, "Stranger Things" is emerging as a more creative and bold counterbalance to anesthetized major franchises that seem trapped in amber, unwilling to grow alongside their viewers.

Though some of the death scenes in "Stranger Things" season 4 seem designed to be relished in the same way horror fans would relish a great slasher movie kill, they also stand in for something meaningful. The Upside Down has always represented a sort of otherness: the people who end up in it are almost always outcasts, loners, or in some way marginalized. This year, with the reveal that Vecna preys on those who hold secrets and deep insecurities, the metaphor is clearer than ever. These kills are a crushing weight made visible, the pain of enduring abuse or grief or trauma turned outward. It's a graphic sight to behold, but a surprisingly powerful one too.