Editor’s note: The below article contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4 Volume 2.In the epic two-and-a-half-hour finale of Stranger Things Season 4, the status quo of the show has been completely flipped upside down (overused pun intended). Our four groups of heroes scattered across California, Russia, and Hawkins finally collided for an epic battle against Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower). And like most epic battles, it did not pass without losses. Every character in this season finale had their lives on the line, making the victories feel triumphant and epic, but also the deaths and injuries even more tragic. No one in the group suffered more than Max (Sadie Sink), being the prime target Vecna was after to complete his wicked plan. But the question remains, after she was attacked … is Max really dead?
In short, the answer is technically no, but the reality of her situation is far more complicated. Throughout the season, Vecna was targeting people in Hawkins with unresolved intrusive thoughts from the horrors that went down at the mall back in Season 3. After targeting them, he would torture them for his own sick amusement. Breaking their limbs and contorting them out of their sockets, and viciously removing their eyeballs. This practice would open up more portals between Hawkins and the Upside Down. After opening four portals, the demonic entities from the Upside Down would be free to escape into our world: a literal apocalyptic scenario.
Because of Max’s conflicting feelings around her brother Billy’s (Dacre Montgomery) death in the previous season, she was exactly what Vecna was looking for. An easier mind to manipulate and corrupt. In their first encounter, Max was able to escape thanks to the musical help of Kate Bush and her song “Running Up That Hill.” But the second time, she purposely set herself up as bait to give her friends a chance to kill Vecna themselves while she distracted him.
This second haunting is much worse for Max, since Vecna anticipates her strategy to avoid his torture. For a brief while, she is able to take refuge, hiding in the happy memories that she shared with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). This ensures Vecna won’t be able to drag her back into her traumatic memories and kill her. But that safety does not last long. Vecna manages to find her and plague her with new sets of horrors. One of the ways he scares her is by having the balloons inside her memory of the school dance from Season 2 pop with a gnarly burst of blood, a sly reference to Stephen King‘s IT.
Of course this is Stranger Thingsso Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is able to find a way to reach her and help her fight the monster. But sadly, Eleven is not able to completely stop Vecna’s plan. Vecna still manages to open the fourth portal, Max has her limbs contorted, and her eyes start to bleed right before Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke), and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) finish their attack on Vecna’s physical form. Max goes through nearly the entire, painful process that Vecna made his other victims go through, save her eyes being gouged out.
After saying how she can no longer feel or hear things, Max’s heart stops and she dies in Lucas’s arms. Eleven is able to muster up enough power, in a move that can only be described as being similar to Force healing in Star Wars, to bring her back to life. While alive, Max is stuck in a coma with her arms and legs still broken. Lucas says that the doctors still do not know if she will ever wake up, but consider her being alive to be a miracle. It’s a small spark of hope in an utterly dire situation.
In the epilogue of the finale, taking place after Vecna rips a hole through Hawkins that nearly wipes the town off the map, Max’s fate still seems to weigh heavy on Eleven. Though she does not speak on the matter very much, her actions show that she blames herself for Max’s current state. If Max were really dead, the show would not put so much of an emphasis on how her coma is affecting everyone. It would be super anticlimactic to show all of this and then just have her die off-screen in between seasons.
As Eleven is clearly starting to think of ways to better Max’s condition, Lucas seems to be keeping a watchful eye on her in the hospital. This is a bittersweet moment since right before Max was attacked, her and Lucas reconciled their failed relationship from past seasons and admitted they wanted to give dating each other another shot. It’s heartwarming to see Lucas and his sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) be there for Max even when she is not able to know they’re there. It’s small choices like this that show just how much everyone in this show really cares for and loves each other.
All in all, despite the invasion of a hell dimension leaking into the real world, setting up a grander scope for the fifth and final season, the Hawkins gang were pretty successful. Our heroes were able to reunite and out of the main ensemble cast, only one character from the group of friends actually died (Rock in Peace, Eddie Munson). That’s not to say there wasn’t anything lost for these folks, but they did a pretty bang-up job in saving the world – that is, until we see the falling out of the events of this finale in the next season on Stranger Things. But no matter what happens, rest assured that Max will be back in action in some form for the next terrifying adventure the Duffer Brothers cook up.