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Tear Jerker / Stranger Things

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Stranger Things has plenty of tearjerking moments, especially when awful things happen to the main characters.

Spoilers Off applies to Moments pages. You Have Been Warned!


    Season 1 
  • Just about every scene featuring Joyce having to cope with her son's disappearance.
  • The ending of "Holly Jolly" where the kids see the police pulling out what is at first believed to be Will's body. Mike snaps at Eleven and rides his bike home, then cries in his mother's arms. Their tearful embrace is Match Cut to Jonathan and his mother finding each other in the middle of the road and doing the same. The whole thing is scored to Peter Gabriel's heartbreaking cover of "Heroes."
    • The earlier scene of Nancy crying after Barb disappears.
    • Also in "Holly Jolly," the scene with Eleven exploring Mike's house initially starts off as cute, especially with Eleven humming along with the dial tone. Then comes a flashback of Eleven killing two orderlies trying to force her into an isolation room, since Eleven refused to use her powers on a cat. This is immediately paralleled to Eleven exploring Nancy's room, and upon looking at pictures of Nancy's childhood, you can see on Eleven's face that she knows she's been denied a happy childhood. (The fact that the music is reminiscent of Nancy's music box, except with a much more solemn tone, doesn't help matters).
  • Troy being physically abusive with Mike. There is a moment when he physically attacks him by making him stumble, resulting in a slight injury to the poor boy's chin.
  • When Lucas calls Eleven out for impeding the mission in "The Flea and the Acrobat", the look on Eleven's face is heartbreaking. It gets worse when she hurts Lucas with her powers and runs away in tears.
    • And the corresponding terror from Lucas' friends when he just won't wake up...
  • Jonathan's whole life is sad. In the midst of an already difficult adolescence, he's forced to arrange a funeral for his little brother because his mother appears to slowly be going completely insane. At one point, he has to purchase Will's casket immediately after fighting with his mom in public to keep it together and shooing away several nosy onlookers, and looks completely overwhelmed and lost.
  • In "The Upside Down", the flashbacks showing Hopper's daughter's illness and death are a kick in the gut for viewers. Sarah Hopper's illness is first hinted at when she starts hyperventilating while playing with her mom and dad. We then see her on a hospital bed with a shaved head and an oxygen tube, as Hopper reads out to her with a forced cheerfulness while his wife barely holds back her tears even as she tries to smile for her daughter. Right afterwards, Hopper is shown crying alone on a stairwell, revealing just how much it is costing him to put up a brave face through his daughter's illness. And lastly, Hopper and his wife are shown holding each other in pain while the doctors try and fail to revive their daughter.
  • Mike kissing Eleven in "The Upside Down" is certainly cute, but the utterly petrified look on his face as he waits for her reaction really drives it home how young and uncertain they are and the injustice of everything these poor children have been put through.
  • Eleven's Heroic Sacrifice. That is all.
    • When the boys are yelling for Eleven afterwards, Lucas's face can be clearly seen to be streaked with tears. After how hostile he was towards her throughout the season, it's a sign of how he truly did come to care for her.
  • Foregone Conclusion or not, seeing Barb's long-dead body is heartbreaking.
    • The fact that unlike with Will, almost no one besides Nancy was looking for or even seemed to care that she was gone. And unlike Joyce, Nancy had no way of knowing whether or not she was alive until Eleven confirms it.
  • The CPR scene from Episode 8 is one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the whole series, with some excellent acting from both Hopper and Joyce as we see Hopper growing more frantic and emotional as he flashes back and forth between reviving Will and watching his daughter die, eventually resorting to pounding on Will's chest because he's so desperate not to lose another kid, while Joyce tearfully begs her son to Please Wake Up. Thankfully, they succeed. The scene is appropriately (albeit anachronistically) scored to the Moby song "When It's Cold I'd Like To Die."
  • When Joyce tells Eleven that she is a very brave girl and to know that Joyce will be with her every step of the way she goes into the isolation tank, we can see Eleven begin to tear up. This is the first time an adult has tried to take care of her and protect her, as adults are supposed to. All her life, she is used to being deployed on missions like she is a feelingless machine, so that she probably never realised that her fear was natural and not a weakness until Joyce told her so.
  • In "The Body," where Joyce, finally finds Will alive in the wall, as the Demogorgon is approaching, yet she cannot do anything to help outside of telling him to run, due to a separation. Meanwhile, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are able to listen in due to Eleven's telepathy affecting the Ham radio, and their utter horror and despair, at the revelation of their friend's frightening and desperate experiences in the Upside-Down.
  • The very final scene of season 1 where Will coughs up a slug, and is briefly transported back to the Upside-Down. This poor, innocent kid's been through hell, and it isn't over for him yet.
  • Joyce tearfully pleading with Hopper to believe her when she tells him that Will is alive. All she wants is her friend to have her back instead of treating her like she's going crazy, like the rest of the town is.
  • Nancy's "The Reason You Suck" Speech to her mother. It's not in any way awesome or brutal: It's heartbreaking. Put in context: Mrs. Wheeler is scolding Nancy for lying to her and the fact she had actually slept with Steve. Nancy however reaches her breaking point and tells her mother off since she (and by some extension, the town) doesn't even bother to focus that her best friend has vanished and she doesn't know what to do. Mrs. Wheeler's reaction sells it, especially when Nancy tells her to leave her alone in frustration and tears.
  • By the time season 2 rolls around, El has been gone for a year. The final season 2 trailer implies that Hopper is still regularly leaving food for her in dead drops.

    Season 2 
  • In "Madmax," Nancy and Steve have dinner with the Hollands (Barb's parents). Nancy and Steve have kept Barb's death to themselves. At dinner, the Hollands mention that they have hired a private detective to find Barb... and that they are selling their house. Nancy excuses herself, goes to the washroom, and cries.
  • Mike uses his walkie-talkie in a vain attempt to talk with Eleven. It's been nearly a year, and he still holds hope that the girl he loves may come back.
  • When Will wakes up a bit early and is already in the bathroom when Joyce comes into his room, she briefly thinks the whole thing is happening all over again. Just a little reminder that the emotional scars from their experiences are going to be with these people for a long time.
  • There is a short scene in "Trick or Treat" where Nancy is staring at the back of a buxom red-haired girl in a long-sleeved top with ruffles and she is over sharpening her pencil while imagining what Barb's last words must have been. You just wanted to hold her.
  • After Nancy gets wasted, she tells Steve that what they're doing, acting like nothing's wrong is bullshit and that them pretending to be in love was bullshit. You can hear the moment Steve's heart breaks when he quietly asks Nancy if she didn't love him.
  • Eleven manages to get into the black and sees Mike as he "speaks" to her through the walkie-talkie. She makes to touch him, and it appears as if Mike realizes she is there. It is obvious Eleven misses Mike as much as Mike misses her, and she breaks down in anguish when she loses contact with Mike.
  • Max's situation is quite a depressing one. While she seems stand-offish and unreasonably curt to the people in her class, her home life is a mess as she's stuck living with an angry and abusive jerk of an older step-brother who seems to regularly shout at her and bully her. Whenever he's shown to rage at her or threaten her and her friends, you can see her trying so hard not to cry or show weakness to him, which is likely why she has such a tough-as-nails attitude. She hides how afraid she really is of him and how lonely she is.
  • Mrs. Henderson was quite desperate to find her cat Mews, who was (unbeknownst to her) eaten by D'Artagnan. Dustin feeds her a line to get her out of the house, but we know she will never find Mews and will never know what happened to her.
    • Mews' little Christmas stocking.
  • Hopper reading Anne of Green Gables to Eleven at bedtime. When he reads the part where Anne talks about her mother dying El asks Hopper if she has a mother. Hopper says of "Of course you have a mother. You wouldn't be born without one." When El asks where she is Hopper lies to her and says she's "gone" because the much harsher truth is she's alive but catatonic.
  • Eleven yelling at Hopper and asking him when she would be allowed to go outside to see her friends again. While Hopper justifies it by protecting her, Eleven recites all the days she's been in the cabin. Hopper asks if she thought she was a prisoner before turning away and trying to calm himself.
    • This soon leads to a huge fight between the two, which culminates in Hopper flat-out exploding at Eleven, causing her to lock herself in her room and scream, causing all the windows to shatter.
      • That argument scene was just heartbreaking: Eleven comes back to Hopper's cabin after trying to find the others and then gets yelled at and fights with Hopper over being locked away and unable to see anyone. She even calls Hopper "Papa", comparing him to Dr. Brenner and leads to an agonizing fight that leads to Eleven's mental breakdown and destroys all the windows of the cabin.
      • Pretty much everything for Hopper after that scene is saddening, especially when he feels he had pushed Eleven too far, as seen when he tries to contact her via Morse Code again from his police truck only to break down in tears.
  • When Will is describing to his mother how he felt when the Shadow Monster was possessing him. It sounded chillingly close to the way a rape survivor would describe being sexually assaulted, and to hear it from a kid who's already been through so much...
  • Terry Ives (Eleven's mother) goes through an excruciatingly painful birthing process, only to have her baby (Eleven/ Jane) taken from her (which she actually witnessed, but nobody believes). Then when she goes to find her lost daughter and save her, she is captured, then strapped to a table and given electroshock therapy- to the extreme, and is then left brain-dead with nothing but the most painful memories of her life.
  • When Eleven finally meets her mother Terry, she's in no condition to acknowledge or even talk to her lost daughter Jane.
  • How about Eleven meeting her sister Kali, aka 008? She's finally found someone who is similar to her in psychic abilities and has gone through the same pain she went through, but it's obvious when almost killing a man who, despite being a reason Terry is in the state she is in, has a family (something Eleven found herself sympathizing with), she cannot agree with what Kali is doing. There's also the fact Eleven is forced to leave Kali mainly due to the fact she has to return to Mike, Hopper, and the others but also because of Kali's Pay Evil unto Evil mentality, leaving her sister in slow tears at the fact she "can't feel whole" again.
    • Everything about Kali really. Like Eleven, she went through such hell, but unlike Eleven, she never did find someone to support her mentality, and as a result, became a criminal with a Pay Evil unto Evil mentality. The worst part is Kali shows nothing but compassion and love to Eleven/Jane, from their first meeting and the two bonding after so many years to her rag-tag team of misfits making Eleven look more badass. Even when Eleven denies her chance to kill the man who hurt their mother, Kali shows more disappointment than anger and even tells Eleven she understands they have different paths. It makes Eleven's departure from her more heartbreaking, as seen with her mirage breaking apart when Eleven runs off.
      • It's even been stated by screenwriters that Eleven's departure makes Kali realize her quest for revenge is all for nothing as well, meaning all she's doing is senselessly killing.
  • Max's conversation with Lucas on top of the bus really highlights just how outcast she feels in her own family:
    Max: And things... are just worse now. My stepbrother's always been a dick, but now he's just... angry, all the time, and... well, he can't take it out on my mom, so...
  • Bob's death. After years of struggling as a single mother, Joyce finally met a man who treated her and her boys with all the love and affection of a real husband/father, and who after learning the full truth of everything that happened last year, doesn't run away from the situation but actually seems to double down on his offer to take Joyce (and presumably the boys) to Maine. Then he willingly puts himself in danger just to give them a chance to escape the laboratory when it becomes overrun with Demodogs, and mere steps from the finish line is wolfpacked by the extradimensional monsters. Joyce's visceral reaction really highlights her pain, and her flashback to her and Bob dancing on Halloween shows how much she truly loved him.
  • Although heartwarming, the scene where Joyce, Jonathan and Mike reach out to a corrupted Will by talking to him about very special memories of their time with him. Everybody is shaking as they recount their memories with Will while he looks back with a dazed expression, making it hard to tell if he's even listening. By the time it gets to Mike's story, Mike is in tears as he tries to reach his friend. All three of the stories show how much Will's family and friends love him and how scared they are to lose him.
  • As Joyce turns up the temperature on the heaters, Will begins screaming to let him go. Jonathan is almost in tears and has to turn away and hold Nancy just so he wouldn't untie his brother.
  • Dustin saying goodbye to D'Artagnan. Sure, D'Artagnan is a monster from another dimension that ate his mother's cat, but Dustin has had him since he was a "tadpole" and clearly is still quite attached. Yet he knows that D'Artagnan has to die so that their world can be saved from the Mind Flayer. What's worse is that this happens right after D'Artagnan actually declines to attack him, showing that it might feel a bond with him too.
  • Mike lashing out at Hopper for not telling him that Eleven was with him. That is 353 days of near constant fear that the girl he loves is missing, possibly dead, all being let out in one awful moment. Mike's only thirteen years old, but that is legitimate Adult Fear he was feeling for the entire time he didn't know where Eleven was, and the poor boy becomes so overwhelmed he actually starts attacking Hopper in rage. If Mike had been older, Hopper might honestly have been in danger of being legitimately hurt.
    • Hopper had spent the entire season (and probably a good chunk of the 353 days) telling Eleven that Mike would be fine without her. At this moment, Hopper finally realizes just how much Mike needed to know that Eleven was okay. Hopper now understands just what he put Mike through by trying to hid Eleven, to the point that he can only let Mike wail on him in rage.
    • Meta: Someone actually wrote that "This scene becomes more emotional when you realize Hopper probably hugged Mike tighter than Ted Wheeler ever has" which drives home how Ted's non-chalant and distant attitude really affects his family.
  • Mike and Eleven saying goodbye to each other before she leaves to close the gate. Eleven reassures him she'll be fine but his face as she and Hopper drive off shows he's terrified he'll lose her again for good.
  • Poor Steve is really put through the wringer in season 2: on top of his legitimate worries about not getting into college and another kid sweeping in and dethroning him as the Big Man on Campus, Nancy (while drunk, admittedly) calls their relationship bullshit and even after sobering up still doesn't admit it was a drunken mistake. His attempts to make up with her are constantly torpedoed by the Shadow Monster situation and Nancy being out of town with Jonathan until he finally gives up to the point where he even calls himself a "shitty boyfriend." Nancy could only respond with silent guilt.
  • While on the way to the Hawkins National Lab, Hopper admits to Eleven (and himself) that the reason he has been so harsh on her is because he's scared of losing her, even going so far as to compare himself to a black hole that swallows up everything that's good. He mentions Sarah, and El innocently asks "Who's Sarah?" Hop's face shatters in that moment, not just for being reminded of his little girl, but because he realizes he's been living with El for a year, being her surrogate father, and has never mentioned his daughter to her once. He tragically comes to understand that he's so used to bottling up his feelings that he doesn't even realize he's doing it anymore.
  • Dustin finds himself ending up as the Romantic Runner-Up with Max, since she likes Lucas. Not deterred, at the school dance, Dustin tries to take the advice Steve gave him and ask another girl to dance with him, who promptly laughs in his face. He shakes that off and tries to ask another girl to dance, and she completely ignores him and walks right past him. Although Nancy ends up cheering him up by dancing with him, it is still rough to see him get shot down so many times.
    • Gaten Matarazzo sold the "sitting alone on the bleachers at the dance" scene so well that he made the cameraman filming him cry.
  • Barb's funeral. You can see her bereft father comforting her mother and her relatives amongst Nancy, Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, Steve, and Jonathan. There are some crying kids, likely Barb's cousins or younger siblings. A family that has been put through hell for a year because of the Hawkins laboratory. If nothing else, Barb's parents finally have closure.
  • Crossing over with Heartwarming, sharp-eyed viewers would notice Eleven is wearing Sarah Hopper's hair tie as a bracelet, which Hopper himself did after his daughter's cancer diagnosis and death.

    Season 3 
  • Dustin returning home and believing that only his pet turtle missed him. Quickly turned around into heartwarming when it turns out the Party planned a surprise party for him.
  • Hopper asks Joyce out on a date, but she gets distracted by her fridge magnets suddenly losing their magnetism and spends the whole night asking the science teacher what could have caused that, accidentally standing up Hopper.
    • What's sadder is Hopper spends the rest of the season angry at Joyce over this one rejection, only managing to forgive her right before he's killed by the Russian collider's destruction.
      • The real clincher? Joyce was the one to destroy it and she only did so when Hopper told her to. Then she sees Eleven calling out for Hopper and she breaks down.
  • While Starcourt Mall is welcomed by the teenagers and kids of Hawkins, a shot of a protest against it shows that the local businesses may be in danger. Even worse, that actually happened in Real Life: downtown areas in many places went bankrupt when malls took business away. And it’s still happening now, albeit with online shopping.
    • Joyce's store is just one of those affected and the season ends with her having to sell the house.
    • Making it more poignant is the fact that the mall scenes were made with parts of a dying mall.
  • Nancy gets an internship at the local paper, but is treated like crap due to her age and gender. Even when she provides newsworthy leads, she's just mocked for trying to play with the big boys.
    • Karen's talk with her about how tough this world is on young women, when you look at her face and listen to her voice, you feel that at one point Karen had a lot of dreams and ambitions to make her own mark in the world, be something other than a wife and mom, but along the way she was told she was not smart enough to succeed.
    Karen: It's not easy out there, Nance...People are always saying you can't. That you shouldn't. That you're not smart enough, good enough. This world, it...it beats you up again and again until eventually, I...Most people, they just, they just stop trying.
  • After Mike and El break up, Will tries to get his mind off things by staging an over the top D&D campaign. Feeling overwhelmed at Lucas and Mike's obvious disinterest, Will snaps and is about to leave Mike's home. Mike tries to apologize and but Will rebuffs, saying that all the former wants to do is hang out with a "stupid girl" (El), Mike angrily retorts that El isn't stupid and it's not his fault Will doesn't like girls. Mike then tries to calmly explain to Will that their days of hanging together was just kids' stuff and that they would eventually get girlfriends. Given Will's apparent lack of interest in girls (and the homophobic bullying he's received both in school and from his abusive father), Mike's statement obviously hits a nerve. If you buy into the theory that Will is in love with Mike, it's only more heart-wrenching.
    • Even sadder is Will trashing his clubhouse afterwards. Castle Byers was clearly a place of safety and comfort for Will, and the fact that he destroys it along with a photo of the party shows just how much he thinks Growing Up Sucks.
    • Will wanting to play D&D is also him trying to keep the party together and hold on to the childhood that was stolen from him by the events of the first two seasons. Mike refusing to play along (and more or less openly suggesting Will is gay in the process) is not only Will being rebuffed by his best friend/possible crush, it's Will watching his best friend treat him the same way his bullies and father always have at a moment when he needs Mike's support.
    • And even if one doesn't see it as that...it can just be seen as a poor, poor kid who's had such trauma throughout the entire show that he wishes to return to what made him so happy only for things to change.
    • Will's reaction to Mike saying, "It's not my fault you don't like girls!" also deserves special mention. Through the rest of the fight, Will is quick with retorts and Armor-Piercing Questions, but as soon as Mike says that line? Will just goes silent, stepping back with a horrified expression that looks like he's had the wind knocked out of him. It's clear that the moment majorly crosses a line that (judging by Mike's own shocked look and the noticeably gentler voice he switches to afterwards) both Mike and Will are aware of.
  • While in the sauna, Billy seemingly momentarily breaks free of the Mind Flayer’s hold and appears to be genuinely, tearfully pleading with Max to let him out. Then he grabs a broken shard of tiling, smashes the window and threatens to "fucking gut" her.
    • The worst part is that it's very likely that the tearful pleading was sincere on Billy's part, but the Mind Flayer managing to simply control his arm to move underneath the shade of a bench was enough for the monster to regain full control over him.
  • Steve gives Robin a heartfelt love confession, which she rebuffs because it turns out she was interested in a girl who only had eyes for him and that Robin hated Steve for that.
    • The way Robin curls in on herself during Steve's confession is heartbreaking; she's a lesbian living in a far less accepting era in a small town, and in that moment she's terrified of how Steve is going to react when she comes out to him.
      • This is even more acute when you look back at history into the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, where Ryan White, an Indiana native who was infected due to a necessary blood transfusion and faced open discrimination in his hometown. He was even kicked out of school, add to that, he was a heterosexual boy and was treated this crappily. Hate crimes against openly gay people weren't taken seriously at the least in that era.
  • Billy's memories. When he was very young he wanted to be a surfer and his mother would cheer him on. Then his homophobic father forced him to take up something more manly (i.e. violent). Billy's mother stood up for him, only to get beaten so badly she had to leave. All this turned Billy into the violent brute we're familiar with. Knowing that he could have been a better person if only he'd had a better father will break your heart.
  • Billy cries while the Mind-Flayer is taunting Eleven through him near the end. Regardless of how twisted Billy is, its hard to comprehend how much despair he must be be feeling in that moment.
    • When Eleven uses these memories to reason with Billy, he nearly breaks down in tears of self-loathing then sacrifices himself against the Mind-Flayer to protect Eleven and Max, his final words being "I'm sorry".
  • Hopper's sacrifice. Just...all of it: After Hopper finally kills the Russian Assassin, he's caught between the new Gate and the energy pouring out of the Key that could kill him...and he just looks at Joyce and gives a tearful nod, giving her the go to close the Gate even if it means he dies. With no dialogue, it comes off as not only Hopper and Joyce saying goodbye, but finally affirming that they did indeed love each other.
    • Also Eleven looking for him in what appears to be a mix between hope and worry, only to realize he didn't make it.
  • Max's reaction to Billy's sacrifice. Sure, he was an abusive asshole towards her, but in the end, he let himself get killed by the Mind Flayer to save his stepsister and the whole world.
  • The letter Hopper wrote to Eleven. To add more tears, it's read over a montage of Will and his family (now including Eleven) moving away.
    • Said montage is also tearjerking because of how many of the characters are openly sobbing as they say goodbye. Will and El are still in tears afterwards as they drive away. Not to mention the whole scene is scored to Peter Gabriel's cover of "Heroes", which was previously used in one of the other saddest moments of the entire series: the discovery of Will's (fake) body in the quarry.
    • There's some lingering shots of Hopper's house, having fallen further into disrepair and collecting dust, with several of Hopper's and Eleven's possessions lying around. Eleven never went back.
    • When Mike comes home and hugs his mother, he just looks numb.
    • The letter in question is just painful: Instead of it being the talk about the boundaries Hopper wanted Eleven and Mike to set up...it was him admitting he doesn't wish for her to grow up, admitting he struggles to admit his feelings, and most importantly...how he simply wants Eleven to still see him as her dear old dad. Eleven really doesn't take it well...
  • Alexei's death. Having bonded with Murray in the process of being held captive by Hopper and Joyce, he takes the time to enjoy the July 4th fair, even winning a stuffed Woody Woodpecker at a game, which he happily shows off to Murray... and then he's suddenly fatally shot by the Russian assassin.
    • Made even worse by Murray's despair and guilt afterwards.
    Murray: I left for five minutes to get a corn dog. A stupid corn dog.
  • Heather and Billy abducting her parents under the influence of the Mind Flayer. One minute they were enjoying a nice family dinner, only to be drugged, beaten, and fed to a horrifying monster by their own daughter and her "boyfriend". The fear and disbelief in her father's face when he realizes what's happening is utterly heartbreaking. There was every indication that they were a loving, supportive family, and they were all corrupted and destroyed by forces beyond their understanding and control.
  • The scene where all the flayed citizens collapse into sludge and surrender what's left of them to the Mind Flayer at the steelworks is as tragic as it is horrifying. Both Heather and Mrs. Driscoll are among the unfortunate townspeople who meet their grisly fates at the hands of the monster.
    • In the scene leading up to this moment, many of the flayed are shown leaving the Fourth of July fair to meet with their master, much to the confusion of their friends and family. We then see a young boy call out to his flayed friend to tell him that he's gonna miss the fireworks, completely unaware that he's never going to see his buddy ever again.

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