Stranger Things has a lot left a lot of questions unanswered over the years, but one theory explains why the Demogorgon killed Barb but left Will alive back in season 1. Debuting to rave reviews in 2016, Stranger Things has since become a runaway success for creators the Duffer brothers and a massive franchise for Netflix. With a strong multi-generational cast, an involving central mystery, and a truckload of 80s nostalgia, it’s no surprise viewers have grown to love the show so much
The show follows a group of kids, their older siblings, and their parents/father figures in Hawkins Indiana, a seemingly quiet small town where all manner of sci-fi horror shenanigans are taking place beneath the picturesque surface. However, while Stranger Things has struck a chord with viewers and critics alike, the series isn’t without its problematic plot holes.
For example, some viewers have noted that the inciting incident of Stranger Things season 1, the titular “vanishing of Will Byers,” hasn’t really been explained in-series with the show never clearing up why the Demogorgon tracked down and trapped Will. That’s not the only plot hole to crop up in Stranger Things season 1, as some have argued that Will survived his Demogorgon attack where Barb (infamously) died due to a grand plan from the series villain, the Mind Flayer.
In the opening moments of Stranger Things season 1, Will is attacked and captured by the Demogorgon. His vanishing kicks off the plot of the whole show and he survives for a long, lonely week in the mysterious Upside-Down after being snatched by the toothy-mawed monster. Will eventually escapes with the help of his friends, but when Nancy’s short-lived friend Barb is snatched by the same monster, she appears to be brutally killed almost instantly. This is because – at least according to one Stranger Things fan theory – the creature that captured Will is being controlled by future baddie the Mind Flayer. This (literally) more cerebral monster is looking for a human host, whereas the Demogorgon that grabbed Barb was just been looking for food or may have screwed up his attempt at appeasing the Mind Flayer.
According to some devotees of Stranger Things, the monstrous villain/bane of Hawkins Lab the Demogorgon isn’t just a mindless monster eating his way through the younger inhabitants of the town. Instead, this fan theory posits that the Demogorgon’s actions throughout season 1 prove the Stranger Things antagonist is instead a puppet of season 2’s Mind Flayer. The proof of this comes in the form not only of Will’s unlikely survival throughout a week in the Upside-Down but also the monster’s inconsistent behavior. Although the Demogorgon’s attack on Barb remains unseen, her screams indicate the monster did more than merely drag her away and inflicted at least some bodily harm. When viewers later see her remains she’s long dead, but whether this was another Demogorgon hunting for food or the same monster acting under the guidance of the Mind Flayer, the theory still holds up.
If Stranger Things viewers assume – judging by the creepy slug that emerges from the mouth of Barb’s corpse – that the Demogorgon attacking her is the same monster that kidnapped Will in the first place, the villain’s plan starts to make sense. Since the same sort of slug is later seen slipping out of Will’s mouth at the end of Stranger Things season 1, this could be proof the Flayer tried to control her mind and behavior the same way it successfully took over Will’s body and mind during season 2. Her death implies that it didn’t take, so the Mind Flayer may need a younger host to control its mind or Barb may have simply died while the Demogorgon was attempting to infect her.
However, as satisfyingly clear as this theory is, there are some holes in the explanation of Stranger Things’ villain hierarchy. One subplot in Stranger Things season 2 sees the slug that Will coughed up turn into Dart, the Demodog, who in turn eventually grows into a Demogorgon. However, Dart the Demogorgon is a mindless killing machine that eats a cat, attempts to kill numerous humans and seems to have no clear connection to any of the Mind Flayer’s hive-mind higher power. It would be odd if the offspring of season 1’s Demogorgon wouldn’t be controlled by the Mind Flayer too, since the beast wouldn’t gain anything from letting a lone Demogorgon create more of its kind out of human hosts.
As such, there may be no connection between the Demogorgon’s use of Will and Barb as human incubators and the overall machinations of the Mind Flayer. That said, season 3 of Stranger Things sees the Mind Flayer successfully use the brain and body of Billy as a conduit for taking over Hawkins’ human population, so it’s possible the monster simply gave up on relying on Demogorgons and – after being expelled by Will – took over another human directly instead.
All this theorizing may clear up the events of Stranger Things season 1, but how does it pay off later in the show’s continuity? In season 3, a Mind Flayer attack saw something slipped underneath Eleven’s skin during the chaos of a brutal battle. In a wince-inducing moment Jonathan Byers managed to peel back the heroine’s skin and tear this tiny parasite from her leg, but could this have been another mind-controlling slug that would eventually turn El herself into a Mind Flayer-controlled villain? This twist would offer the triple whammy of revealing El to be the villain of Stranger Things 4, giving her plausible deniability when defeated at the end of the season since she couldn’t control her behavior during the possession. Stranger Things has dismissed some fan theories before, however, so the true nature of the Mind Flayer’s connection to the Demogorgon may never be fully known.