With 16 main characters, at least a dozen new characters, and five major locations — including a prison in Soviet-era Russia and a converted underground missile silo somewhere in the American West — it’s frankly surprising that Season 4 of “Stranger Things” has any time to explore quiet moments of personal growth. But anyone tracking the journey of Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) over the course of the show has noticed that the kid who survived the Upside Down has struggled to reconnect with his old Dungeons and Dragons buddies for reasons that don’t seem to have much to do with being captured by a demogorgon from an alternate dimension.
Namely, Will seems like he’s gay and struggling to come out.
That impression has only grown stronger in Season 4. In the first episode, Will and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) have to give a presentation in their new California high school on a hero they look up to; Will chooses Alan Turing, the gay mathematician who was prosecuted in the 1950s for his sexuality and forced to undergo chemical castration. Will also physically recoils from a girl who shows interest in him. And when Mike (Finn Wolfhard) visits from Hawkins in Episode 2 over spring break, Will appears heartbroken that Mike has been so indifferent to him in favor of his girlfriend, Eleven.
Later, in Episode 4, when Mike confides in Will that he wishes he’d expressed his feelings for Eleven more plainly to her, Will offers insight that could easily apply to anyone working up the courage to come out to a best friend.
“Sometimes, I think it’s just scary, to open up like that — to say how you really feel, especially to people you care about the most,” Will says. “Because what if — what if they don’t like the truth?”
In an interview with Schnapp and Brown for Variety, however, Schnapp had a more ambiguous perspective on how the show’s writers, led by creators and executive producers Matt and Ross Duffer, have approached Will’s sexuality.
“I feel like they never really address it or blatantly say how Will is,” he says. “I think that’s the beauty of it, that it’s just up to the audience’s interpretation, if it’s Will kind of just refusing to grow up and growing up slower than his friends, or if he is really gay.”
At this point, Brown chimed in. “Can I just say, it’s 2022 and we don’t have to label things,” she said. “I think what’s really nice about Will’s character is that he’s just a human being going through his own personal demons and issues. So many kids out there don’t know, and that’s OK. That’s OK to not know. And that’s OK not to label things.”
Schnapp agreed. “I find that people do reach to put a label on him and just want to know, so badly, like, ‘Oh, and this is it,’” he said. “He’s just confused and growing up. And that’s what it is to be a kid.”
Other members of the “Stranger Things” cast appear to have a more definitive point of view about Will, however. In a promotional video for Netflix Mexico posted on May 23, Wolfhard and fellow cast members David Harbour, Winona Ryder and Caleb McLaughlin are asked about fan theories for the show, including one that Will and Eleven are in a secret relationship in California, and hiding it from Mike.
“If you’ve been watching the show, you should know that Will is not interested in El,” Harbour said. “He’s interested in someone else in the group.” Later, Harbour added, “Will wants to be in the basement with Mike playing D&D for the rest of his life.”
Wolfhard also said that Will and Eleven’s relationship is “like brother and sister” and suggested that audiences will “see soon” who Will is “interested” in — “very interested,” Harbour added. But that revelation, if it is coming, does not occur in Vol. 1 of Season 4, which ends with Episode 7. (The final two episodes of “Stranger Things” Season 4, aka Vol. 2, debut on July 1.)
For their part, Schnapp and Brown say they’re happy that Will’s sexuality has remained undefined.
“It’s such an amazing role for Noah to play,” Brown says. “And to be that role model for kids out there who don’t know what they’re going through growing up.”
“Will is kind of like a zebra in a field of horses,” Schnapp adds. “He kind of stands out. It’s just nice to see that and have that shown on ‘Stranger Things’ for fans to connect to and be able to relate to. Because so many of our viewers are young kids who are at that stage in their life.”