What, exactly, do we know about Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), the bowl-haired focal point of most of the action during both seasons of Netflix's hit Stranger Things? We know that he probably has an extremely chafed throat after burping up a slug and a smoke monster in the Season 1 and 2 finales, respectively. We know he's nicknamed Will the Wise. And we've heard a lot of stories about his past from his friends and family.
But over the course of two seasons and 17 episodes, we haven't really met Will Byers which is something that has to change in Season 3.
Let's review, for those who aren't totally initiated in the Upside Down, or binged Stranger Things so quickly that the plot is blurrier than a Mind Flayer. In season 1, Will kicked off the plot by disappearing through a gate to alternate dimension, where he was stalked by a monster called the Demogorgon and eventually rescued by the psionic powered Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Though he showed up a bit in the premiere and finale, he was only sporadically seen/heard throughout the freshman season's eight episodes as his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder), friends and family tried to track him down. He even spent a large chunk of time tied up in Alien-esque goop, unconscious until retrieved by Joyce and the town's sheriff, Hopper (David Harbour).
We knew Will was important to everyone on the show, but other than a fun scene at an introductory Dungeons and Dragons game, we found out more about his friends Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) than Will himself. Heck, fans of the first season even latched onto to Mike's sister's best friend Barb (Shannon Purser) before Will, and she had approximately 30 seconds of screen time (give or take a few minutes). Will was the MacGuffin, the plot device our heroes were trying to find, rather than any sort of character.
Season 2 gave Schnapp more to work with, but arguably even less of Will. Still reeling from his time in the Upside Down, Will was a shakey bunch of nerves, a child literally possessed by unseen forces as he first blips back and forth through visions of an evil realm, and eventually evolved into a vessel inhabited by the villainous smoke monster called The Mind Flayer. Will was no longer a MacGuffin, but he was still a plot device.
Again in Season 2, we learned more about all of the other characters... Lucas got far more screen time, and a whole, hilarious family to deal with. Newcomers Max (Sadie Sink) and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) filled out the town of Hawkins as a new love interest and human antagonist, respectively. An entire episode was spent on Eleven's similarly psychically gifted sister, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) and her gang of misfits.
Meanwhile, Will was reduced at one point to communicating in Morse Code. Knocking Will unconscious wasn't relegated to one episode; his enforced silence was a major plot in order to cut off his connection to the Mind Flayer. And in a closing dance sequence, he was asked to dance by a rando girl (Who called him zombie boy? Not cute.) we had zero connection with, while Mike, Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, Joyce, Hopper and more all got to pair off in emotionally satisfying endings.
At the end of Season 2, we were left asking the same question as Season 1: Who is Will Byers? There's an extended sequence in the second to last episode where every character talks to the possessed Will, attempting to break through the Mind Flayer's control by telling stories of their time together. Mike talks about how Will immediately accepted his offer of friendship in kindergarten — so we know Will is kind. Joyce talks about his art, and we have seen him (again, possessed) draw an extensive map of vines that ran under the town of Hawkins, Indiana, a device used by the Mind Flayer's minions for travel throughout the town. His brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) recalls connecting with him over mixtapes. We find out more details about Will, but from the actions and words of other characters which is telling, not showing, and breaks one of the cardinal rules of drama.
Unless Stranger Things 3 unfairly sidelines Will — again — by, I don't know, trapping him down a well, or saying he's gone to a farm in Connecticut where he can run and play and always be happy, showrunners the Duffer Brothers are going to have to figure out a way to actually, really introduce us to Will Byers. It's an interesting prospect, because — despite the widening cast — adding Will into the mix will radically change the dynamics of the core kids. Dustin, Lucas and Mike (and now Max) have a rhythm. You can see it in sequences where they're investigating weirdness from the Upside Down, or when they're trying to kill monsters together. Will's purpose in those scenes (in Season 2, at least) always seemed to be to get distracted, wander outside, and get sucked into a vision of the Upside Down. Developing Will as a character and not a plot device will mean he needs to actually participate in those discussions, rather than simply being the catalyst.
Given the Duffers have established that Will, Mike, Lucas and Dustin have been friends for years, returning Will to the fold means the rhythms of those conversations will by necessity change. It also means that the plot will have to revolve around something — and someone — new, or risk making the plot feel stale by devolving Will into a supernaturally afflicted vessel for a third time.
So here's hoping they bite the bullet and make it work. Schnapp showed off phenomenal chops in his possession scenes in Season 2. And the few scenes he got relating to Mike, in particular, were sweet and powerful. Fingers crossed that when we finally meet Will Byers — the real Will Byers — in Season 3, it'll be less as Will the victim, and more as Will the Wise.
As long as he burps up something weird, of course.
Stranger Things 2 is now streaming on Netflix.