n 2016, a small, eight-episode science fiction horror show dropped on Netflix. Seven years later, Stranger Things has gone on to win numerous awards and break several records in viewership. Nowadays, the show is nearly synonymous with the term “Netflix original.” From what felt like a show that would gain a small cult following — if any following at all — to a worldwide phenomenon with fans, merchandise, and its own expanded universe, the story of Stranger Things is soon coming to an end. After production delays due to the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, Season 5 of Stranger Things began filming in January 2024. 

Without spoilers, this guide will explore how this show — once expected to be a limited series after its relatively quiet debut — went on to change the trajectory of Netflix Originals, why it became such a big deal, and see what’s next after Stranger Things 5. 

Image Credit: Netflix

Strange Things Afoot

When Stranger Things came to fruition, the Duffer Brothers weren’t exactly strangers to the film industry, but that didn’t make navigating the industry easy. The brothers were inspired by the large, cinematic television shows for which platforms such as HBO had become known. Instead of writing a story within the confines of two hours, the duo wrote as if it were a long-form movie.  

Originally titled Montauk, the Duffer Brothers prepared a pilot episode script and a pitch book that highlighted story beats and their approach to cinematography. They even spliced together a faux trailer to further convey the aesthetic. After several rejections, Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen of 21 Laps Entertainment found the script, and Netflix picked it up from there. 

Image Credit: The Duffer Brothers

Major Plot Points, Locations, and Characters


On November 6, 1983, in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, a young boy named Will Byers vanishes on his way home from playing Dungeons & Dragons at a friend’s house. When his mom, Joyce, and brother, Jonathan, aren’t able to find him, Joyce enlists the help of Police Chief Jim Hopper. Meanwhile, Will’s friends — Mike, Lucas, and Dustin — have also noticed his absence, and after learning he may be in danger, they’re determined to set out on their own search for him.  

Will’s disappearance coincides with the appearance of a strange girl, Eleven. Her nontraditional appearance and lack of social skills aren’t nearly as strange as her telekinetic powers—a byproduct of experiments linked to MKUltra and performed by Hawkins National Laboratory (HNL). 

With these powers, she connects with Will through a place she only refers to as The Upside Down. In this dangerous alternate dimension, the xenomorph from Alien might feel right at home.

On their own, Joyce and Hopper also find leads pointing toward the lab, particularly Dr. Martin Brenner, the lead scientist at HNL. 

While the groups pair off, Will’s brother, Jonathan, conducts his own investigation into Will’s disappearance. Searching for clues in a wooded area near the suburbs, Jonathan stumbles across a gathering of teens, including Nancy Wheeler, Mike’s sister, and Steve Harrington, a popular boy whom Nancy has a crush on. Though he doesn’t make his presence known at the time, eventually, the teens come together after fending off a particularly terrifying, plane-shifting monster that may or may not be linked to other disappearances, including Will’s

Each piece comes together to reveal a dark threat to the once-peaceful town of Hawkins that only grows larger in subsequent seasons.

Image Credit: Netflix


Due to logistical reasons, the Duffer Brothers rewrote the story of Montauk, and Hawkins was born instead. Given that the small town is attached to an entire second dimension, we’ll dive into its significance.

Hawkins, Indiana

Hawkins, Indiana, is essentially Anywhere, USA. A small Midwest town of middle-class nuclear families, it’s a setting more familiar to The Duffers than New England and recognizable enough to many viewers across the country. It is, in fact, canonical that the most exciting thing that has happened in recent memory, according to Police Chief Jim Hopper, was when an owl mistook Eleanor Gillespie’s head for a nest.

With the show filmed in Georgia, most of Hawkins is grounded in reality as parts of the show use locations in Atlanta and surrounding cities. When deciding to add visual effects and CGI, the Duffers preferred practical effects, opting to use real-world sets and props whenever possible. For example, Hawkins Main Street is a real strip of shops in Jackson, GA. Hawkins National Laboratory is the now-defunct Georgia Mental Health Institute owned by Emory College. The quarry is the same real-world Bellwood Quarry that appears in The Walking Dead

Hawkins National Laboratory

“The lab,” as it is colloquially known, is a cover for secret government projects and nefarious experiments. Lead scientist Dr. Martin Brenner rules the grounds with a seemingly calm demeanor, analytical mind, and iron fist. Eleven refers to him as “Papa,” though her choice to run away from the lab begs the question, what is going on over there?

The Upside Down

The Upside Down is both a location and a living, breathing character in its own right — and that’s not a metaphor. Home to interdimensional monsters, The Upside Down is the literal flipside of our known world, a byproduct of various experiments and operations performed by Hawkins National Laboratory. Its analog in Dungeons & Dragons would be The Realm of Shadows. Thick, slimy, hive-minded vines tangle a darkened and foreboding version of Hawkins. It’s unclear to viewers just how far The Upside Down stretches, and we may never know for sure. The Duffers have gone on record to state that a document exists that explains the origins, secrets, and science of the alternate dimension, but not everything is promised to appear in the show.

Image Credit: Netflix


Each character is well-developed, and many evolved during the writing process to better fit their casting. This collaboration makes the characters more realistic than archetypal, which makes it all the easier to become invested in them. 

Showrunners and fans have split the main characters into three groups: kids, teens, and adults. In subsequent seasons, these lines blur as characters split up and team up, but for the purposes of an introduction, here are the key players from Season 1. 


  • Mike Wheeler: The party’s loyal leader. Though prone to emotional outbursts, he will do anything for his friends and has no problem telling a few lies or breaking a few rules along the way.
  • Will Byers: Will the Wise is the unfortunate victim of the aforementioned vanishing. A quiet, sensitive child, Will’s disappearance is just one element of the cataclysm of events that overtake Hawkins and truly symbolizes the loss of innocence. 
  • Lucas Sinclair: Lucas is the tactician — the bandana-wearing Rambo of the group. Analytical and protective, he’s loyal in such a way that he is suspicious of outsiders.
  • Dustin Henderson: A positive force in these trying times, Dustin is probably the most book-smart of the group, but that doesn’t make him any less goofy or lovable.
  • Eleven: The girl with the powers who becomes so much more to characters and fans alike.


  • Jonathan Byers: Thrown in with an entire cast of freaks and geeks, being an outcast is Jonathan’s personality, preferring to observe the world from afar through his camera lens. His quiet, caring nature speaks to his connection with Will– both sensitive and perceived by others as “weirdos.”
  • Steve Harrington: The most popular boy in Hawkins, Steve has taken notice of Nancy Wheeler. Initially a stereotypical jock character, the Duffers developed Steve into a multi-faceted character as charismatic as actor Joe Keery. 
  • Nancy Wheeler: Mike Wheeler’s older sister is more than the “girl next door” one may first assume she is. Nancy is intelligent, driven, and prone to believing the unbelievable, especially once she sees it with her own eyes.
  • Barbara Holland: Nancy Wheeler’s best friend became as iconic as her costuming with her giant plastic glasses frames, snark, but also her genuine care for Nancy.


  • Dr. Brenner (Papa): An important figure at Hawkins National Laboratory, Dr. Brenner is just one antagonist in the series.
  • Joyce Byers: The mother of Jonathan and Will, she is fiercely independent and absolutely not here to put up with anyone’s shenanigans, be it from the kids, the teens, or shady government agencies.
  • Chief Jim Hopper: A burnt-out police chief recovering from his own trauma, his “big city detective” days are behind him, but the edge and instincts remain.
Image Credit: Netflix

Expanded Universe

Much like other franchises we know and love, Stranger Things hasn’t stopped with the episodes on Netflix.

Beyond Stranger Things

With the release of the show’s second season, Stranger Things 2, came the aftershow Beyond Stranger Things. Host Jim Rash conducts a roundtable with select cast members to discuss elements of the season, character arcs, and all of the fun bonus content nerds love. 

The Printed Word

Starting in 2018, Stranger Things took up residency on the written page. Penguin Random House began by publishing several non-fiction books that allow fans to dive deeper into the creation and world of Stranger Things. Then, to expand on the characters we know and love (and, in some cases, hate), Stranger Things paid homage to the comics the Stranger Things kids themselves are fans of by publishing several graphic novels that have also been collected into volumes.

Full-length novels have also been released for both teens and adults. The titles generally follow specific characters outside of the main show’s timeline, so they’re great choices for when you want to read past the cinematic canon or have a favorite character you want to read more about outside of fanfiction.


By 2017, branded board games, a limited edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign set, mobile games, and more had also entered the market. At one point, Telltale Games even began work on a video game. However, this project unfortunately never saw the light of day. 

Stranger Things: The First Shadow

If you follow Netflix’s social media or adjacent accounts, you’ve likely seen something about a stage play called Stranger Things: The First Shadow. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I won’t say what the play’s narrative focuses on. It’s set in Hawkins during the 1950s, and that’s that.

Image Credit: Netflix

What’s Next?

The showrunners have been extremely active on social media while filming season 5. Their openness to sharing behind-the-scenes elements has changed dramatically since the series began, which is curious. Production has still been more secretive than in other properties, but compared to the radio silence that occurred between seasons one and two, fans have plenty of content to start building theories. 

The Duffers have said from the beginning that they know how, when, and where the story of Stranger Things ends. When they announced their production company, Upside Down Pictures, in 2022, speculation erupted as to what this meant for the franchise. We know there’s an animated television show on the way. There are also rumors of another spin-off series to follow. I can’t imagine what they have in store for us. Each season, the threat of The Upside Down grows larger beyond my wildest imagination. Beyond that? Who’s to say?

Come share your theories, or simply celebrate your enjoyment of Stranger Things, in Youtini's vibrant Discord!

Sam is a librarian by day and writer by night. Though he can no longer recite the original trilogy verbatim, Star Wars has remained a steadfast companion in his life and loves sharing his exploration of the Extended Universe with others. When Sam is procrastinating non-Youtini projects, he enjoys reading, playing video games, and spending time with his pug, Eleven.