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The 10 most important moments in Stranger Things

You can quibble with plenty of the details of Stranger Things, but it’s hard to deny what the show is capable of. When it’s at its best, the series builds to stunning moments that feel worthy of the biggest blockbusters — which may be why some episodes in the new season are essentially movie-length.

Through its first three seasons, there have been plenty of chill-inducing moments or plot points, but these are the 10 that are most worthy of a revisit as you prepare for the new episodes to debut.

The boys play Dungeons & Dragons

The cast of Stranger Things plays D&D.

This is the scene that kicked off the entire series. Part of the core appeal of Stranger Things is that these characters are genuine nerds — and genuine friends. The opening D&D game is also the season in miniature, a remarkable feat that spoke to the confidence the Duffers had in the story they were telling from the start.

It’s telling that, as things get more insane over the course of the show’s run, at least one character is always longing to return to the simple days of D&D. These nerds bond over a triumphing over evil in a fantastical world, which is something that they will do repeatedly throughout the show’s four season run.

Barb dies

Shannon Purser leaning on a locker in Stranger Things.

It was the death heard ’round the world. Barb being sucked into that backyard pool was the thing that, beyond everything else the show had done up to that point, indicated that the threats in this world were very real.

Was Barb’s death handled well? That’s a question we’ll be debating for years to come. What is undoubtedly true, though, is that Barb’s death took Stranger Things to the next level and shifted the stakes of what we thought we were watching. Anyone can die — even an innocent like Barb.

Joyce talks to Will using Christmas lights

Winona Ryder surrounded by Christmas Lights in Stranger Things.

One of the more iconic scenes in the entire series, Joyce talking to Will through the Christmas lights, is the kind of euphoric moment that few shows are capable of creating. It’s ecstatic and instantly iconic, even as it only opens the door to more questions.

Stranger Things has had a number of smart storytelling devices over the course of its run, but none have been smarter than this early example, which also suggested that virtually anything could be possible in the world of the show.

Eleven goes into the sensory deprivation tank

Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour in a gym in Stranger Things.

The first season of Stranger Things is anchored, above all else, by an exceptionally strong performance from Millie Bobby Brown, and that’s never more evident than during this sequence, which may also be the show’s most stylish work to date.

After Eleven enters the sensory deprivation tank, it’s just her and the Demogorgon, and we get to see exactly what she’s made of. It’s prodigious work, and it felt like the culmination of the entire season.

Hopper adopts Eleven

The cast of Stranger Things in the lab.

Eleven disappears at the end of season 1, but when she reappears in season 2, we see that she develops a pseudo-father-daughter relationship with Hopper. That relationship becomes core to the show’s second and third seasons, and what’s great about it is how normal it often is.

Eleven’s desires are those of a normal teenager who wants some space to herself, and Hopper’s instincts are to be overprotective and keep her isolated. That conflict drives their relationship, but it’s also what transforms Hopper into Eleven’s dad — whether she likes it or not.

Bob makes a sacrifice

Bob lies dead on the ground in Stranger Things.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Okay, strictly speaking, Bob’s death is more of a tragedy than an intentional sacrifice. In the moments before his death, though, Bob volunteers to restore power to the lab and tells Hopper that he shouldn’t wait for him to get everyone else to safety. Just when it seems like Bob may finally be safe, though, he gets mauled to death by a pack of demodogs.

Thanks in large part to the work of Sean Astin, Bob is an indelible character, even though he’s only in one season of the show.

The kids go shopping

Sadie Sink and Millie Bobby Brown at the mall in Stranger Things.

One of the main projects of season 3 was to re-establish a baseline of normal life for the kids at the center of Stranger Things. In season 3, we get to see them trying to readjust to normal life, only to have their tranquil existence interrupted by forces from the Upside Down.

Perhaps the best indication of this return to normality is a trip to the mall that Eleven and Max take together. It’s a chance for the two girls on the show to bond without being bothered by the dorky boys whom they spend so much of their time hanging out with.

Robin comes out

Maya Hawke in Stranger Things.

Robin may be the single best new character to be introduced in the entire series. Her tender moment of coming out is a highlight of the show’s third season. Robin and Steve have a connection, but what’s so wonderful about this moment is that Steve prioritizes Robin’s emotions and immediately shifts any romantic feelings he may have had for her into a deeper, friendship-based love. Stranger Things is best when it gives itself time to be small and intimate, and this scene is a prime example of that.

Billy sacrifices himself

Dacre Montgomery in Stranger Things.

Billy was not always a character who felt like he had a clear purpose. The Duffers managed to find a way to use him well in season 3, though, by making him the embodiment of that season’s big bad. Although Billy spends much of the season corrupted, he manages to break free in the end and fight off the Mind Flayer, which was trying to swallow Eleven whole. It’s a moment of genuine heroism from a character who could be pretty terrible and a great example of the major moments that Stranger Things is capable of producing.

Hopper’s letter

Hopper's letter in Stranger Things.

We know that Hopper is not actually dead, but the letter he writes to Eleven still packs a pretty potent punch. The letter, which comes as many of the show’s central characters are preparing to leave Hawkins, feels like it comes at a moment of change for what Stranger Things is.

It’s also a touching tribute to what has emerged in the show’s later seasons as its most important relationship: The love that exists between Eleven and Hopper. It’s a letter about embracing the inevitability of change, even if you want things to stay the same.

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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