The 5 Biggest Theories Going into 'Stranger Things' Season 2

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This post contains massive spoilers for Stranger Things Season 1 and promotional material for Season 2.

Stranger Things 2 debuts on Netflix at the end of this week and, amazingly, it's been well over a year since we first met the cast of characters and ventured into the Upside Down for the first time. There are few stated facts about Stranger Things 2: the tone will be darker, time has progressed so the series takes place in 1984, and thanks to the trailers, we know Will is seeing some sort of large monster in the clouds as he has... visions? Premonitions? There's room for guesswork.

With scant new information and over a year to pour over the first eight episodes, there has been constant theorizing about just what Stranger Things is going to deliver in Season 2. There have been a couple of trailers, multiple graphic advertisements, and cagey remarks from the cast that have tried to point us in the correct direction. Here are the important theories to remember before this Friday's release (and possibly beyond).

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The most important thing to remember is that the portal to the Upside Down that was open by experimenting on Eleven is not closed, even after the Demogorgon is defeated. What comes through that gate to another dimension and how it breaches the passage seems to be the key driving force behind Stranger Things 2.

Hopper’s scenes and lines indicate that he’s the one pushing the theory that all the events of Season 2 are emanating from Hawkins National Laboratory; he even has a map with concentric circles suggesting "emanating" is the correct word. Something came out of the Labs’ portal, and flamethrowers didn’t work to contain it. If Will’s visions and seizures are connected to the Upside Down, something less tangible could be oozing through and only Byers can see it.

Whatever Eleven did to open the portal can’t be easily undone. Audio ripped from Netflix's "Countdown to Stranger Things" site revealed hidden morse code: ". _ . _ . C . _ . . L _ _ _ O . . . S . E _ _ . G . _ A _ T . E" This same kind of morse code was usually included as a secondary function on old school walkie talkies, like the ones used in the first season by Eleven to communicate with another dimension.

The danger in Hawkins isn’t a psychic child. The danger in Hawkins the other, darker, dimension that refuses to stay on one side of the door. Will Byers is seen drawing tunnels or tendrils in a mad collage, later we see him being changed down the hallways of the school as shadow spreads like veins of evil reaching out towards him. We don’t know if the Upside Down wants Will specifically or if the cloud monster is trying to enter our world. What we know for sure is that Hawkins won’t be rid of its supernatural issues until the portal is shut tight.

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The importance of Dungeons and Dragons

One of the original theories about Stranger Things 2 involved the monster the group faced at the end of season one’s D&D session from the finale. With Will finally back from the Upside Down, the group is playing Dungeons and Dragons, with Mike in the Dungeon Master spot. Mike warns "It’s almost here" before plopping down the Thessalhydra. The trailers for Stranger Things 2 have included the same line but from Will, lending even more credence to a Pajiba post from 2016 delving deeper into the roleplaying creature.

The Thessalhydra is a variant of the mythological Hydra which appeared in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual II in 1983. The creature has mysterious origins and could even have been created or manufactured by some dark force. The Thessalhydra reproduced by spawning a hybrid of whatever it infected, like a certain slug that Will Byers puked up into the bathroom sink maybe?

The giant shape in the clouds doesn’t seem to have multiple heads, but the Demogorgon and Petals from season one didn’t share the exact same characteristics either.  What the D&D encounters have in common is that Will the Wise should have used his fireball spell. The teasers for Stranger Things 2 have played up fire being used as a weapon. We see a flame thrower torch what looks like a large tentacle down in the labs in the second trailer, and there is an episode called "Will the Wise." All the coincidences have many calling the shadow monster from the season two trailers the Thessalhydra and it’s easy to see why.

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We don’t really know what happened to Hopper’s daughter

The first season of Stranger Things gave us a few hints. In one scene, we see Sara Hopper become suddenly frightened while playing with her parents outside. Then we see her presumably after chemotherapy while Hopper reads to her. We’re told she died of cancer but… did she really? David Harbour who plays Hopper (and will be the new Hellboy in an upcoming reboot!) told TV Guide:

"Hopper's daughter will be the primary focus of Season 2, but not in the way that you think it will be. Hopper's understanding of that relationship and Hopper's understanding of being a father and of being a man grows deeper and deeper in Season 2, and we get a lot of time to explore what that is, but it won't be in the literal way that you think it is. I don't want to tell you any more than that because it's good stuff."

Which sounds like Sara Hopper could be important in a plot way, or that Sara Hopper is just important in a thematic way. In Season 1, Hopper used the pain of the loss of his child to motivate his search for Will Byers, and his Eggo-stashing relationship with Eleven at the end of the first season had some people questioning if Eleven was secretly Hopper’s daughter somehow (unlikely). It seems more like the doctors observing Will Byers might be more sinister than they appear, perhaps like the doctors that treated Sara Hopper? If we went back to that first introduction in Season 1 and the reverse angle of the shocked little girl’s perspective, would there be a giant shadow monster in the clouds?

At the end of Season 1, Hopper’s loyalty remains in question: We saw him get in an unmarked car at the end, presumably having come to some deal with Hawkins National Lab to allow Joyce and himself access to the Upside Down portal. Investigating that portal and what came out of it could still be Hopper’s job, but it is just unclear where his loyalties lie beyond him feeling protective of children. Did Hawkins Lab know something about Sara that has kept him there? Was she One, Seven, or Ten?

A Gremlins connection

In case you missed it, Stranger Things 2 underwent a very sneaky change of episode titles. Very quickly after the show was picked up for a second season, Netflix released a teaser that appeared to reveal the titles for the next season’s episodes. They were: "Madmax," "The Boy Who Came Back To Life," "The Pumpkin Patch," "The Palace," "The Storm," "The Pollywog," "The Secret Cabin," "The Brain," and "The Lost Brother." Jump cut to October 9th of this year when the following teaser hit Twitter:

The new episode titles are "Madmax," "Trick Or Treat Freak," "The Pollywog," "Will The Wise," "Dig Dug," "The Spy," and three mystery chapters - which may or may not be the same (see below). The interesting absence during the change is "The Pumpkin Patch" with several references to the actual pumpkin patch location popping up in promotional material and the Stranger Things mobile game, plus a shot of hatched (?) or eaten (?) pumpkins in the trailer that match the ones in the posters.

stranger things 2 pumpkin patch poster

New art for "The Pollywog" has the title hidden inside a trash can and the final trailer has Dustin approaching a trash can with his Ghostbusters wand drawn, as if there’s something inside. A new episode title "Dig Dug," references a video game where you have to destroy underground tunneling monsters. The Stranger Things 2 teasers are rotten with tunnels.

The basic theory goes: we’re seeing the steps of something evolve. Perhaps it’s a slug or slugs produced by Will between the seasons (The sewers are also a location in the new mobile game), or maybe it’s something else, but it appears to hatch from or feed on pumpkins. The name "Pollywog" (a tadpole, a young iteration of an amphibian) plus Hopper’s line from the final trailer ("It’s not like it’s before. It’s grown.") probably means Season 2’s monster evolves by feeding, like the movie Gremlins (released June 1984).

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The implications of the other abandoned titles

Back to the old episode titles: "Madmax" and "The Pollywog" are the only two to survive the episode re-titling, unless there’s something we don’t know about the final three episodes. "The Secret Cabin," "The Brain," and "The Lost Brother" could still be the titles, we won’t know until the series goes up. Luckily, there has been ample time for discussion.

In the final teaser trailer, we see Eleven with curly dark hair use her powers to lift up a chain lock on a door. The door swings open and we get a wider shot of the hallway that can be matched to the Ives household from Season 1. In that house Becky Ives watches over her sister Terry Ives, Eleven’s biological mother.  It’s not clear what brings Eleven to where her catatonic mother is or why she looks so pissed off while it’s happening, but there is one more hint in the final trailer that we’re not done exploring what really happened to Terry in the MK Ultra program: a shot of what looks like Terri undergoing shock therapy, nestled amongst some quick cuts. If Eleven is investigating her origins, is it just to reconnect with her mother, or could the old "The Lost Brother" refer to another numbered, superpowered child?

In the first trailer to have new footage, we can see Hopper in an empty room and the windows blow out. Some have speculated this is The Secret Cabin from the lost episode titles. If Eleven actually does escape the Upside Down before regrowing her hair, how does Hopper know how to find her in the woods? Could the collision of multiple storylines save El’s secret hiding place until the final third of the series?

"The Brain" is the most ominous of the titles left out now that the shadow monster has been shown multiple times and shots of tentacles or shadow veins in the school chasing Will has been shown. The Brain suggests a central hub for some sort of activity, which could be… anything! The Gate at Hawkins Lab? The master of some hive-mind creature? The literal brain of Will Byers?
Get your guesses in now.

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Dave Gonzales is a pop-culture writer and podcaster who is fully invested in the prairie dog statue theory. Follow him @da7e.