Stranger Things may be known for villains like Demogorgens, Mind Flayers, and, in general, big ol’ hunks of meat from the Upside Down seeking hosts or food. But Season 4 switches things up by giving us a villain who, yes, is from the Upside Down, but who’s also sentient and humanoid. His identity was a mystery until the last episode of Season 4 Part I, where all was revealed.
So who is Vecna? We break it all down below, but be careful! Tones of spoilers for the end of Part I are below.
In one fell swoop, Stranger Things answered two big questions: who is Vecna, and what happened to One? The answer: they’re one and the same! But before all of that, he was just a kid – and a Creel at that, the once-mysterious family introduced in Season 4. He was born Henry Creel (played by Raphael Luce as a child and Jamie Campbell Bower as an adult), and as his odd behavior worried his parents, the family moved to Hawkins for a fresh start. However, it’s at that new home – which we now know as the Creel House – where Henry developed a fascination with spiders, and honed a cynical view of the world and humankind, one that rejects the traditional societal structures.
It’s also at the Creel House that Henry realized the extent of his powers; not only does he have strong telekinetic abilities, like Eleven, but he can also see into the minds of others, giving him the ability to both tap into their memories and force hallucinations on them. Upon dipping into the minds of his parents, he saw that they had done “awful things” (it’s unclear exactly what he saw but, given that his father, Victor, previously fought in the war as we saw in Episode 4, it’s possible that he caught a glimpse of some of that violence), and began to give them horrible visions. While Victor (Robert Englund) thought it was a demon wreaking havoc, Henry’s mother, Virginia, somehow knew he was behind it.
Just as she was about to ship him off to Dr. Brenner – or “Papa” as Eleven knows him – Henry killed her and her sister, passing out from the strain that display of power took on his brain. Victor was arrested for the murders, but Henry still ended up in the care of Brenner.
Life After CreelHouse
Vecna’s origin plays into the origin of Brenner’s experiments on children at the Hawkins lab. In Henry’s words, Brenner tried to control him, and when he realized Henry was too powerful for that, Brenner instead tried to “recreate” him. We see 001 tattooed onto Henry’s arm (mirroring the numbered tattoos that Eleven and the rest of the children at Hawkins lab have), and that’s when Brenner started to bring other kids into the program.
Henry continued to live at Hawkins lab with his powers restrained and eventually started to befriend and manipulate Eleven, who, after being tricked and lied to by Henry, removed the device that kept his powers contained. He then went on a killing spree, causing “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab” that Episode 7 is named for.
No longer drinking Henry’s Kool-Aid, Eleven confronted him, launching into a telekinetic battle where she was almost killed. But in the end, Eleven won out, disintegrating him in a fashion that looks very similar to the way she defeated the Demogorgen at the end of Season 1, and unintentionally opening a gate to the Upside Down in the process. Henry proceeds to fall through that gate, going into the Upside Down, where he’s turned into the Vecna that we know today.
What Are Vecna’s Powers?
It’s not exactly clear why falling through the gate turned Henry into the gross vineyard monster that we see in Season 4, but it is evident that the fight with Eleven forged in Henry a deep connection with the Upside Down. Vecna seems to be the only being who can travel back and forth between the Upside Down and the normal world freely, and – although this may be unintentional – when he kills one of his victims, it opens a gate to the Upside Down.
Obviously, he was able to use telekinesis and mind manipulation as a child, and seems to have had even more mastery over his powers in his early days than Eleven did. As Vecna, he uses these mental abilities as a way to psychologically weaken and lure in his victims – much in a way that Pennywise, Freddie Kruger, and Pinhead do. (All of which have been cited by show creators the Duffer brothers as inspirations for the villain.) But he does have a surprising weakness: music. Max was drawn away from her grasp thanks to her favorite song by her, Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” and plays it on repeat as a sort of mental shield.
Vecna also appears to have a connection with his victims in their deaths. We see, in our glimpses of the Upside Down, that he keeps the dead bodies fully visible, even “on display” in Max’s words. Henry himself tells Eleven that his victims are “still with me” in his head, no matter vague that may be. However, the concept of a hivemind with a singular host is not a new one for Stranger Things. It was explored in Season 2, which saw a possessed Will with a tough-to-sever connection to the Upside Down, and even more in Season 3, where the Mind Flayer took control of a number of Hawkins residents.
How Does Vecna Choose His Victims and What Is He Doing With Them?
It seems like Vecna doesn’t choose just anyone to target. The first victim we see is Chrissy Cunningham, who appears to have plenty hiding just beneath the surface of her high school cheerleader veneer. The second victim we see in Season 4, Fred Bensen, was involved in a fatal car accident that clearly left him with some residual trauma and guilt. With that information, it’s no wonder why he targeted Max, who’s grieving the loss of Billy, and Nancy, who still feels guilt over Barb’s death all the way back in Season 1.
As for what he’s doing with them, it’s possible he’s simply leeching off their energy, but it could also be that he’s building an army (similar to, again, the Mind Flayer in Season 3). Some clues may lie in the Dungeons & Dragons creature for which he’s named, though.
Can D&D Tell Us Anything About Vecna’s Plans?
Vecna is one of the most famous villains in all of D&D, dating all the way back to First Edition, and is well known for how formidable he is (we even saw the Hellfire Club struggling with their in-game encounter with him in the first episode of Season 4). while he’s not literally the Vecna from the Wizards of the Coast books – the gang of D&D players just calls him that – there are some pretty undeniable similarities. From the Eye and Hand of Vecna entries in the Fifth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide:
“Vecna was, in his time, one of the mightiest of all wizards. Through dark magic and conquest, he forged a terrible empire. For all his power, Vecna couldn’t escape his own mortality. He began to fear death and take steps to prevent his end from ever coming about.
“Orcus, the demon prince of undeath, taught Vecna a ritual that would allow him to live on as a lich. Beyond death, he became the greatest of all liches. Even though his body gradually withered and decayed, Vecna continued to expand his evil dominion. So formidable and hideous was his temper that his subjects feared to speak his name. He was the Whispered One, the Master of the Spider Throne, the Undying King, and the Lord of the Rotted Tower.”
Withering and decayed? Check. Spider Throne? Check. Continuing to expand his evil dominion? Check. And given Henry’s disdain for humanity, it’s possible that he’s trying to get the Upside Down to overtake the real world as the dominant plane. But he’ll have to get through Eleven – who just regained her memory of the traumatizing incident at Hawkins lab – and the Hawkins crew first.