Stranger Things Season 5 Needs to Remember Jonathan Byers Exists

Will Byers' beloved older brother has been the odd man out on Stranger Things for too long.

STRANGER THINGS. Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers in STRANGER THINGS.
Photo: Netflix

An uncanny understanding of character dynamics and superior cast chemistry have made Stranger Things the defining science fiction drama of the last decade. Although fans love the special effects and evil enemies omnipresent in the series, showrunners the Duffer brothers have always grounded the story in character development. Mike’s (Finn Wolfhard) and Will’s (Noah Schnapp) potential romance, Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) backstory as a lab rat, and Hopper’s quest for fatherhood have all amalgamated into an irresistible mix of plotting that feels novelistic and addicting for viewers. 

As the seasons have gone on, new characters have been introduced and pushed older favorites into the background. Steve Harrington started as a frenemy-style side character until Joe Keery’s banter with Gaten Matarazzo (who plays Dustin Henderson) forced him into the spotlight, even when other characters had to be sacrificed in his honor. Robin (Maya Hawke) was a season three addition who added a reserved quick-wit that played off the other older teenage characters with ease. Even one-off additions like Jason Carver (Mason Dye) received ample opportunity to add to the story in season 4.

While the grandeur and scale of the most recent campaign vaulted Stranger Things into a whole new level of TV lore, the more intimate settings and screen time for OG characters in seasons 1 and 2 made the early episodes a treasured experience for longtime fans. Allow us to step back into the nostalgic yearnings of Stranger Things’ early years and shine a spotlight on a character who has nearly vanished from the Duffers’ storyboard: Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton).

Will, Jonathan, and Joyce Formed a Special Trio

If Eleven is the main character in Stranger Things, the Byers family is the conduit through which she flickers. Will’s disappearance in the first season spurred the Hawkins community to rush to his aid. His absence foreshadowed all the scary sights and mysteries in the fictional Indiana town, and it put immense stress on his kind-hearted mother and older brother. 

Ad – content continues below

The tight-knit camaraderie between Will, Jonathan, and Joyce juxtaposes the stereotypical family composed of kids and teenagers. Parents and children are supposed to fight and bicker in television and other media, often to build the main conflict of the story, but the Byers family already underwent that trauma offscreen. 

Lonnie Byers (Ross Partridge) makes a brief cameo in the first season, flexing his standoffish demeanor and abusive nature. It’s clear that the Byers patriarch doesn’t possess much empathy for his ex-wife or his sons. Jonathan valiantly steps into the father, husband, and big brother role, amalgamating into a combination of responsibilities that no other character on the show could dream of emulating. 

Jonathan Binds the Byers Family Together

Jonathan’s multifaceted arc in the first two seasons made him one of the series’ most easily dissectable characters. Stranger Things often differentiates itself from other shows by keeping the antagonists separate from the main characters. There are no Walter White or Tony Soprano-style antiheroes in which fans must compromise one part of their moral compass to appreciate the character.

One might think this makes the series boring, but it’s the opposite. Jonathan was proof that a nearly perfect brother and son can still be fascinating to watch. After Will was found in season 1’s climax, he was taken over by the Mind Flayer in season 2. Jonathan again stood by Will’s side as his little brother felt outcasted by friends and society at large. Schnapp and Heaton’s chemistry often leads to tender, humorous exchanges like this one in which the boys remind the audience that being weird can be a human superpower in its own right. 

These moments became few and far between in seasons 3 and 4. Will and Jonathan were relegated to minor supporting characters as the aforementioned new additions took center stage. Will at least gets to tag along with Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and the other younger friends. Jonathan often only appears in a few small scenes with his girlfriend Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and the writers even flirted with pushing Nancy back into Steve’s arms in the most recent season. Jonathan spent the majority of season 4 high on marijuana and frolicking around in a faux buddy-comedy routine with the one-off character Argyle (Eduardo Franco)

The decision to waste Heaton’s work from the first two seasons with a 180-degree personality change made no sense. Jonathan suddenly seemed careless, distant, and uninspired, but not in a dense way that could be unlocked by further character development. Little-to-no time was spent on him. While some fans might concur it is a necessary evil to take screen time away from older characters when expanding the world of Hawkins, it certainly transforms Stranger Things from a show about family into a show just about monsters and romances. 

Ad – content continues below

Jonathan’s Enhanced Role in Season 5?

Many theories point to Will being one of the critical pieces to defeating Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) in the fifth and final season. His connection to the Upside Down and the evils underneath the surface should open up opportunities for Jonathan to lend his ears and counseling once again. Jonathan grows on an individual level when he aids others. When locked out of his family’s life, it stunts his ability to shine as a listener and an empathizer. 

Jonathan’s best scene from season 4 again features a tear-jerking moment with Will. On the cusp of coming out of the closet, Will needs Jonathan more than ever before, and his brother responds supremely to the task at hand. The poignant conversation validates that the Duffers haven’t completely forgotten how to flesh out the Byers family. When the world gets too enormous for the characters and the audience, Jonathan serves as a connector to the most human elements of the series’ thematic thesis. 

He may not be as funny as Steve or as neurotic as Robin, but Jonathan symbolizes the good in all of us. In a show shrouded in darkness, Jonathan’s presence will be instrumental to forming a satisfying, optimistic conclusion in Hawkins, Indiana.