Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 3.
Among all the weird and wonderful things that occurred in Hawkins, Indiana during the third season of Stranger Things, some of the more heartfelt and compelling moments of the show revolved around the characters sharing their innermost thoughts with one another.
When newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) comes out as gay to Steve (Joe Keery) following the pair's escapades in a movie theater bathroom, it's a tender, realistic scene that makes your heart positively swell for lovelorn Steve and his plucky new confidant. After a bout of confusion, he realizes the girl he's slowly been falling in love with will never reciprocate those feelings. He quickly accepts this, and thus one of Hawkins' most epic friendships is solidified.
It's the show's first official introduction of a canonically queer character, which is a victory for diversity and a fantastic step for Stranger Things, a show set in the '80s. But the season also hinted at another character's sexual identity journey: Will Byers (Noah Schnapp).
The popular fan theory stems from a moment that you may not even have noticed in the larger scheme of things — a tense, rain-soaked conversation between Will and his best friend Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) in the third episode of Season 3.
As Will grows frustrated with how his friends are concerning themselves more with girls and less with their friendship, he experiences the very same growing pains we've all gone through at one point or another. He's content to stay in the basement with his guy friends and hang out, playing Dungeons and Dragons just like they all used to. But Mike and Lucas are especially gaga for their girlfriends, Eleven and Max.
Will doesn't seem to understand what's so special about the relationships his friends have formed with the opposite sex, and one day his frustration comes to a head. He makes a hasty exit from Mike's basement, the Party's hallowed hangout spot, and walks out into the rain to head home. It's not like his friends aren't sympathetic — Mike goes out after him and makes an attempt at calming his friend down. For a moment, it seems like they might reach an understanding, but in the heat of the moment, Mike exclaims, "It's not my fault you don't like girls."
Will is immediately taken aback, obviously reeling from the hurtful remark. The hurt expression on his face is impossible to miss. For a moment, he has no idea what to say. He feels trapped — but to what end?
It's unclear at first blush whether he's offended at Mike's insinuation that he just doesn't like girls "yet" or if he doesn't like them period, meaning he could be queer — a slip on Mike's part that he apologizes for in the moment. Fans have interpreted it both ways, and while it could be a simple, innocuous comment, it's caused quite an uproar in the Stranger Things fan community. Is Will gay? Are we hurtling toward a coming-out story line for him in the near future?
There are a few ways to take this statement. One, Mike could be asserting that Will just hasn't grown out of the stage where playing with his friends isn't as important to him anymore. It can take a while for children to fully blossom into teenagers, and with it, find a sense of their sexuality. Will could be what's colloquially referred to as a "late bloomer," and could indeed find himself in the middle of a relationship in a later season.
After being trapped in the Upside Down and possessed by the Mind Flayer, Will has undergone some of the most traumatic events of the series, and these stressful situations could have affected his emotional growth — making him cling to the people and experiences that bring him comfort.
But it's possible that this line also foreshadowed Will's Season 4 journey, as he enters high school away from Hawkins and the comfort of The Party. It's possible the Duffer Brothers have began building the foundation for a coming-out story line for Will since the beginning. In the creators' original treatment for the series, they described Will as a "sweet, sensitive kid with sexual identity issues" who "doesn't fit in with the 1980s definition of 'normal.'" This initial character description codifies Will's queerness. Of course, things change from page to screen, and neither the Duffers nor Schnapp have canonically confirmed Will's sexuality, preferring to leave it up for interpretation.
Speaking to The Wrap, Schnapp explained that he believed the line was meant more along the lines of not being ready to grow up.
"All his friends have girlfriends and they're out dating, and he just wants to have fun with his friends," he explained "You see in Episode 3, he just wants to play D&D in the basement, and now all of his friends have girlfriends and they are dating. And it’s kind of, when you hear Mike say that line, it's really up to the audience to interpret it. I kind of just interpret it like he’s not ready to grow up and he doesn't really want to move on to dating and relationships yet. He still wants to be a kid and play in the basement like he did in old times."
Meanwhile, according to Finn Wolfhard, the scene wasn't always meant to play out the way it did. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, he noted there were "a lot of different versions."
"We tried, 'It's not my fault you don't like girls yet.' I don't even know if it had to do with Will’s sexuality; I think Mike was just mad and listing off a genuine fact that he's not interested," he explained, though ultimately acknowledged that it was "all up to the Duffers and what they want to do" when it comes to how the story will ultimately end up playing out.
While it would certainly be a transformative part of the series if Will were to come out, how do fans feel about that direction for the boy who vanished to the Upside Down?
"I'm happy they introduced Robin as a queer character but seeing Will have his big 'moment' is kind of what I've been waiting for this whole time," Stranger Things fan Tony Mattingly told MTV News. "He hasn't really ever had a big, triumphant win or anything like that, and it's like, 'Come on!' He deserves happiness too, and I think a queer storyline for him makes total sense."
Others, like Sacqua Campbell, believe Robin's coming-out moment only previewed what's to come with Will.
"They decided to test the waters [with Robin,]" she said. "They wanted to see how people would respond to a queer character before committing to making one of the main characters gay, and now they've done it, so it's time to see if the positive reaction gives them the 'go-ahead,' of sorts to go in the same direction with Will."
All of the fan speculation around Will's sexuality only further heightens the need for more queer characters on our screens. But positioning Will as a character with an impending queer "reveal" would make total sense for Stranger Things, a story about a group of kids coming of age and experiencing uncertain things like first love while saving humanity from certain evil. By the end of the third season, all of the members of The Party have found that special someone — Dustin and Suzy; Lucas and Max; and Mike and Eleven.
But just because Will may not be "interested in girls," that doesn't mean he has to be interested in anyone at all. Sexuality is a spectrum, and there's no one way to be queer — nor is there a set timeline for these kinds of revelations. He's 13 and about to enter his freshman year of high school. He's moving at his own pace, and going into Season 4, he has someone new by his side: his surrogate sister of sorts, Eleven. There's so much to explore with this pairing; after all, they're the only people who understand each other's trauma. Not to mention, they're both outsiders. It's possible that Eleven will be a significant part of Will's coming-of-age journey.
Whether that journey brings him to a certain realization, we'll have to wait and see. But Will Byers doesn't have to come out to resonate with queer fans who so desperately see themselves in him, a kid who doesn't quite fit in a heteronormative society. After all, he's a David Bowie in a room full of Kenny Rogers.