As the flagship series for Netflix, Stranger Things has taken on a wider cultural footprint than most of the other shows on the streaming service. There are Stranger Things comics, novels, and video games. There’s also a broader mythology surrounding the series, putting it on the level of Star Wars or Game of Thrones in terms of lore. That also means there are a lot of details to keep track of, and when Stranger Things seemingly forgot Will’s birthday in Season 4, fans were uncertain if it was a deliberate slight or an actual error.
Warning: Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4, Vol. 1 follow. When Mike comes out to California at the beginning of Season 4 to visit the Byers and see Eleven, things are a bit awkward. For one thing, El has been lying about her social life, pretending in her letters to be part of the popular crowd. But it’s not just the fantasy El spins for Mike about their lives in California that really upsets Will. It’s that Mike hasn’t bothered reaching out to him at all. If he had, Mike would know the truth of El’s situation — that she’s the most bullied kid in their school.
Will’s hurt reaction and his argument with Mike that follows over his lack of keeping in touch had fans wondering if Will might also harbor a crush on Mike. But eagle-eyed fans also picked up a second possibility. During the scene at the roller rink, where Mike witnesses El bullied by the kids she claimed were her “friends,” part of the scene is shown via the home video footage one of the bullies is taking of El’s breakdown. The date on the video reads “March 22, 1986.”
Major fans of the series know that date. In Season 2, when Joyce tried to bring Will back to himself and out of the clutches of the Mind Flayer, she started telling him stories about some of his happiest memories — Christmas, birthdays, etc. Like a concussion patient, she tries to get him to remember important dates he should know, like his birthday, “March 22.”
Because of this detail, many fans thought perhaps Will’s actual problem wasn’t about being the third wheel on Mike and El’s date; it was everybody forgetting his 15th birthday. Even his mother, who was too focused on lying about going to rescue Hopper, seemed to have forgotten. (At least Jonathan had an excuse; he was too stoned to remember.) But it turns out it’s not that the characters forgot; the creators did.
Speaking to Variety in an interview about the timeline of the overall season and several of the plot holes fans noticed, the Duffer Brothers admitted they had plumb forgotten about Will’s birthday. As Matt Duffer put it, “The honest response is, clearly, like the characters in the show, we also forgot about Will’s birthday. So the debate now is whether we adjust Will’s birthday or we just let it be really sad.” Ouch!
Matt Duffer pointed out to Variety that all authors have trouble trying to build a giant universe. “You know how George R.R. Martin has somebody — I mean, his story is more vast — and Stephen King has someone who just keeps track of this stuff? We need that. We don’t have that,” he said. “We love Will and I don’t want people to think we don’t love Will because we forgot — we do!”
Ross Duffer argued they should just go in, and wholesale alter Season 2, changing Will’s birthday in a re-release. “Here’s what I think. I think what we’re going to do is we’ll go and George Lucas it.” He argued they could fix the scene with overdubbing, so Joyce says Will’s birthday is May 22 instead. After all, if they don’t, “that would mean his mom forgot his birthday!” Ross didn’t seem to be able to deal with that. “It was obviously a mistake,” he said. “We’re sorry. We apologize to the fans.”
Stranger Things Seasons 1 through 3 and Season 4, Vol. 1 are streaming on Netflix. Season 4, Vol. 2 arrives on Friday, July 1, 2022.