Major spoilers for Stranger Things 4 vol. 1 below. Beware!
After three seasons of Stranger Things, you’d think you’ve seen it all—demogorgons, exploding rats, a secret Russian operation under the local mall—but to that the fourth season says, not so fast. Enter Vecna, a new villain from the Upside Down come to wreak havoc on Hawkins in Stranger Things 4. Inspired by famous ‘80s and ‘90s movie villains like Freddie Kruger, Pinhead, and Pennywise, show creators Matt and Ross Duffer have introduced a threat unlike any other Eleven and co. have ever seen.
To start, Vecna is, frankly, gross: a towering skeleton-like being covered in dark gooey vines that move and project from his back. His hands are eerily large with claws that he uses to pierce his victims’ faces. He’s a gnarly sight to behold (which just speaks to the impressive efforts of the prosthetics and visual effects team). And his low, gravely voice only adds to his creepy presence.
Meet Vecna, Stranger Things’ new big bad.
Courtesy of Netflix
Like the demogorgon, Vecna gets his name from Dungeons & Dragons, of which our lead kiddos are avid players. The first episode of the new season has Mike, Dustin, and Lucas’ sister Erica (Will is in California and Lucas is trying to be a basketball jock now) playing the famous board game with the Hellfire Club, which consists of a few nerdy upperclassmen and head “freak” in charge, Eddie. Vecna is one of the most formidable villains in the game, said to be a powerful wizard who became a lich—a sort of undead creature—after he was destroyed, with only his left hand and left eye remaining. (Liches are usually depicted with skull-like features, which could explain the inspiration for onscreen Vecna’s appearance.) According to D&D lore, his hand and eye are valuable relics in the game that others can seek out and use for special protections and abilities. But that’s not necessarily the case with Upside Down Vecna; also like the demogorgon, he isn’t a direct replica of his D&D counterpart. Is he just as frightening, though? Perhaps!
This Vecna is a certain kind of evil, feeding on people—especially teenagers—with insecurities and past traumas. He can sense them in his mind, select a target, then start to taunt them; first with voices then with visions, which usually involve a grandfather clock. Early in ST4, we see him target Chrissy, a cheerleader struggling with body image issues, and Fred, who blames himself for a friend’s death in a car accident. When Vecna goes in for the kill, his victims become entranced, their eyes whiten, and they levitate before all their limbs snap and their eyes get gouged out. Awful.
What did Vecna do to the Creel House?
According to local records, a so-called demon invaded Victor Creel’s house in Hawkins in the ‘50s and put it under a curse. Victor tried to stage an exorcism but it only further angered the demon, who murdered Victor’s wife and children, Henry and Alice, leaving their bodies broken and their eyes removed. Victor was blinded but survived the attack; though he believes he was spared as punishment. He was blamed for killing his family and imprisoned for the crime. But everything about the attacks has Vecna’s name on it.
When Nancy, Steve, Dustin, Robin, Lucas, and Max later break into the abandoned Creel house, they discover that Vecna is residing in the attic—but in the Upside Down version.
Victor Creel (Robert Englund) survived a demonic attack on his home that killed his wife and kids.
Courtesy of Netflix
Can Vecna be defeated?
It’s still unclear by the end of the episodes (though we’re hoping Eleven could be the key), but the kids have found a way to at least keep him at bay. During Max’s encounter with Vecna, and through Robin and Nancy’s research, we learn that one way to break Vecna’s spell is with some sort of musical therapy. Victor Creel said that he was almost taken by Vecna but heard the voice of an “angel” and followed it, which led him to safety. That voice was actually a song playing on the radio. The same tactic works for Max, who is tight in Vecna’s clutches until her friends play her favorite Kate Bush song, “Running Up That Hill,” on her headphones, snapping her back into reality. She spends the rest of the episodes playing the song on loop to protect herself from Vecna.
What does Vecna want, exactly?
Dustin figures it out: Vecna is trying to open more gates to the Upside Down to help the Mind Flayer, the biggest bad of the Upside Down, take over the world. It appears Vecna has more power than a typical demogorgon.
Each place where Vecna kills someone, he leaves behind a gate to the Upside Down, hence the “Watergate” under Lover’s Lake, where basketball player Patrick was taken, and the gate in the ceiling of Eddie’s trailer, where Chrissy was killed. It seems a gate forms when there’s a psychic connection between someone from the real world and a being from the Upside Down, like when Eleven contacted a demogorgon using her psychic powers. That’s exactly what Vecna is doing with his victims, as he infiltrates their minds before he kills them.
The gates could also explain why there’s a surge of energy when Vecna kills, like when the kids’ flashlights burst in the Creel house when Patrick was murdered. As we’ve seen in the past, these gates hone powerful energy.
Max (Sadie Sink) is one of Vecna’s victims but survives with the help of some music and her friends. Also pictured: Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas, Joe Keery as Steve, and Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin.
Courtesy of Netflix
What is Vecna’s origin story? And how does Eleven tie into all of this?
Warning, bigger spoilers ahead.
Throughout most of the later episodes, Eleven revisits repressed memories from her past in hopes of regaining her telekinetic powers. She does this using a NINA sensory deprivation tank in a secret lab out West, under the jurisdiction of Dr. Brenner, aka “Papa,” and accompanied by Dr. Owens. While she’s under, she revisits her time at Hawkins Lab, leading up to a bloody massacre at the facility, which left kids and attendants brutally killed in a mysterious rampage—which she believed was her own fault. In the time leading up to the tragedy, Eleven relives her memories of learning how to use her powers, doing exercises with other kids, and even being bullied by some of the stronger ones. She befriends an orderly (an attendant) at the facility who secretly lends her support and even tells her that she reminds him of “One,” the first child to be tested at the lab. Papa says One doesn’t exist, Eleven insists, but the orderly tells her she’s being lied to.
Inspired by Eleven’s determination and abilities, the orderly tries to help her escape through a secret tunnel in the lab, but he can’t join her because he has a tracker installed in his neck. Touched by his generosity, Eleven offers to help him and uses her powers to dislodge the device from under the attendant’s skin. This frees him to do more things than just flee the lab: When they are chased and cornered by guards, the attendant reveals he, too, has psychic abilities and takes down all the guards with his powers. Turns out, he is One.
However, One is not the ally Eleven hoped he’d be. Left alone in a utility closet, Eleven hears screams in the distance and emerges to find the infamous massacre has taken place. She realizes: She didn’t kill all those people, One did. Perhaps embittered by the mistreatment he endured at the facility (in an earlier scene we saw him getting tasered and tortured under Papa’s command for helping Eleven), One took out his anger on everyone in the lab. Eleven confronts him in the Rainbow Room and learns something else about One’s history.
Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) revisits her memories from Hawkins Lab.
Courtesy of Netflix
Even more spoilers for the end of episode 7 below!
Who is One?
One opens up to Eleven about his childhood alongside a montage of Nancy walking through a vision of the Creels at home. The reveal? One is actually Henry Creel, Victor Creel’s son. (The years kind of check out; the Creel killings took place in the ‘50s while the events in Stranger Things 4 are in 1986. Specifically, the memory Eleven is reliving could be around or before 1983, which is the year Will disappeared and by then she had escaped the lab. Henry would’ve been around 30 years old.)
Henry was a “different” kid with strange powers, but teachers and doctors told him he was broken. So his family moved to Hawkins hoping a fresh start would cure him. In their new home, he became fond of black widow spiders living in the bathroom vent (remember Steve found this compartment when he and the gang looked through the house). Henry felt akin to them; they were solitary, misunderstood, and fed on weak things to bring balance to their ecosystem—but the human world was disrupting that balance. He felt oppressed by human structure, the routine and monotony of human life and the rigidity of time and schedules. (This explains the clock visions.)
Henry didn’t want to close off his mind and assimilate to this way of life, so he began using his powers. He practiced reaching into the minds and memories of animals, which explains why Victor saw dead rabbits and other slain creatures on their property. He resented his parents and began to haunt them around the house. Victor believed these were the doings of a demon, but his wife knew Henry was behind them and despised him for it. She even called a doctor to have him taken away and get “fixed.” Fed up, Henry killed his mother in a familiar way: She levitates, her bones snap, and her eyes are gouged out. He did the same with his sister. With each kill, he became stronger and his victims became a part of him, but without knowing his limits, the murders nearly killed him and he collapsed and fell into a coma. But Henry didn’t die like Victor thought. When he woke up, Henry found himself under the care of Dr. Brenner, who began running an experimental program with him as the first subject.
As Eleven looks around at the children One/Henry killed in the Rainbow Room, they all have similar wounds to Vecna’s victims: broken limbs and empty, bloody eye sockets. Which brings us to the next reveal…
Is One Vecna?!
Yes. And here’s why: At the lab, Eleven refuses to join forces with One/Henry. They fight using their supernatural powers and she wins—not only by channeling a memory that triggers anger and sadness (which is what he told her to do), but also by remembering one that’s filled with love (her mother holding her in the hospital when she was born and telling her she loves her). Her victory sends One/Henry into the Upside Down and leaves behind a gate in the wall in the lab where he stood. As he’s flung through the alternate dimension, One/Henry is struck by lightning, mangling his appearance. The final shot shows One/Henry in his present form—Vecna—with a tattoo reading 001 on his wrist.
Vecna is One, who is Henry Creel.
One, previously known as Henry Creel, ultimately became Vecna after Eleven defeated him at Hawkins Lab.
Courtesy of Netflix
That also explains a few other things, like Henry’s fascination with spiders and Vecna’s web-like, vine-y appearance. (The D&D Vecna is also said to sit on a Spider Throne.) And Vecna’s feeding on “weak,” traumatized teens mirrors the spiders’ appetite for weak creatures in their ecosystems. Henry was also seen spending a lot of time in the attic, which explains Vecna’s home base. It all ties together.
Yet, despite the major reveal, that ending still leaves us with a few unanswered questions:
What will happen to Nancy? Also, will she and Steve get back together? Nancy is Vecna’s latest victim, targeted for her guilt over Barb’s death. She falls under his spell just as she, Robin, Eddie, and Steve are escaping the Upside Down. Vecna shows Nancy visions of the pool where Barb died and reminds her that she was hooking up with Steve when Barb was taken back in season 1. When volume 1 ends, Nancy is still under Vecna’s trance, and she and Steve have not yet left the Upside Down. And speaking of Steve, he and Nancy seem to be exchanging a lot of sparks this season, especially with Nancy upset that her current boyfriend Jonathan didn’t visit her for spring break. There were plenty of longing stares (and a shirtless scene) which could imply a reunion between these two exes.Will Mike, Will, Jonathan, and Argyle find Eleven? After Eleven is taken, these road trippers get a tip from a dying secret agent to call “Nina” in order to find El. The number they’re given leads to a computer, so they drive up to see Suzy (Dustin’s hacker girlfriend) in Salt Lake City to find its location. With some convincing, Suzy obliges and discovers “Nina”—which she doesn’t realize is the NINA machine Eleven is under—is in Nevada. We assume the boys are now en route to save their friend.What will happen to Eddie? Vecna’s recent killings in Hawkins have been blamed on Eddie, who is now accused of being a conduit for the devil. Though he’s in the company of Robin, Nancy, Steve, Dustin, Lucas, and Erica now, he’s still a wanted man. The police are still after him and so is the rest of the town, after some goading from basketball team captain Jason, who was Chrissy’s boyfriend. They’re after the rest of the Hellfire Club too, which means Dustin, Lucas, and Mike aren’t safe either. Will Hopper return home to save the kids? It took quite a journey, but Joyce and Murray finally reach Hopper after sneaking into the secret Russian prison keeping him behind bars. By then, Hopper is facing death as he and other inmates are tasked with fighting a mysterious “monster”—a demogorgon. With past demo-fighting experience under his belt, Hopper is able to keep the beast away by lighting his spear on fire with a smuggled bottle of vodka and a lighter, but that doesn’t last long. He and his new friend Dimtri eventually reach safety after Joyce and Murray overtake the jail control room and conveniently open a door for their escape. Joyce and Hopper embrace when they reunite. Are they headed to Hawkins next?What will Eleven do next, now that she knows what she did to One? She’s defeated One/Henry (an earlier form of Vecna) before, can she do it again?
Steve, Eddie (Joseph Quinn), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Robin (Maya Hawke) end up in the Upside Down—but will all of them make it out?
Courtesy of Netflix
The answers will hopefully arrive in Stranger Things 4 vol. 2, which premieres on July 1. In the meantime, we’ll start cooking up our theories.
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage on TV, movies, music, books, and more.
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