Since Stranger Things Season 3 gave us Dustin(Gaten Matarazzo) and Suzie’s duet of The Never Ending Story Song in the finale, I have come back again and again to this song. Why that song? Why then? The Duffer Brothers rarely just “do” things. Everything has so many layers and meanings you can miss major clues if you aren’t looking or thinking about every little Easter Egg. At first, so many of the ’80s-inspired love bombs seemed like pure nostalgia.
They felt like gifts from the Gen X Gods for all of us parents and our children who still remember fondly the days of synth-heavy music, Aqua Net, and pastel Polos with flipped collars. As we neared the beginning of the end(as Vecna put it) in the Stranger Things Season 4 Chapter 9 ending, I am once again drawn to the darkness of the Swamp of Sadness and Atreyu’s horse Artax’s death.
Music has always been so carefully chosen throughout the series that it is hard not to find meaning in even the most minute details or lyrics. The Duffers have always chosen music that conveys the right emotion at the right time. Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill(A Deal With God) not only captured the heartbreak of Max and the gangs’ plight but also the tenacity required to stick it out against all odds until the bitter end. Our group felt like they were fighting an impossible war. Why we were all focused on the running part, I think we might have missed the deal part. I think The Never Ending Story Song and Running Up That Hill are the keys to Stranger Things Season 5 and decoding the Upside Down and defeating Vecna once and for all.
Running Up That Hill(A Deal With God) decoded
While most of us, myself included, were focused on the bleak, often hopeless aspect of Bush’s haunting lyrics and emotion-laden melodic swells, there is something most of us missed. Bush originally named the song A Deal With God, but her label made her change it because of its overt religious tone. While the journey is essential, i.e., the whole constant uphill running part, the deal with God is the part that shouldn’t be ignored. We know Vecna uses people’s insecurities and negative thoughts against them. We also know when they are at their most vulnerable, he strikes and breaks all their bones, blinds them, and destroys their minds. Vecna has said he does that because it allowed him to open gates to the Upside Down. Once he killed four kids, he would break wide open the veil between our world and the Upside Down.
And if I only could I'd make a deal with God And I'd get him to swaop our places Be running up that road Be running up that hill Be running up that building With no problems
The finale of Stranger Things Season 4 showed he was successful because Max technically died for a few moments before Eleven seemed to bring her back from the dead. What happened to her while dead and where she is now is unknown, but clues are in Bush’s lyrics. Instead of focusing on the struggle, look at the deal. Max’s consciousness is missing. Eleven tried to communicate with her but found only an empty void. Likely this is because Max all along wanted to make a deal with God to protect her friends. More importantly, though, she has switched places and is now probably riding piggyback on Vecna’s consciousness. Whether he knows it or now, we don’t know, but switching places will play a significant role in Stranger Things Season 5.
Will’s time in the Upside Down makes him uniquely sensitive to Vecna, the Mind Flayer, and the hive mind particles. He can feel their nearness, and the key to everything may require him to switch places, with Vecna giving the group time to attack him. I predict when it is all said and done, Will will be left in the Upside Down as the new ruler of the hive. It will be a devastating and horrific end for this sweet character who is finally finding himself. It also brings the story full circle from season 1.
The Never Ending Story Song is the biggest clue
The Duffers have said the hilarious musical interlude in Season 4 almost didn’t happen. They have said they considered using the Ent song from Lord of the Rings, among others, but settled on The Never Ending Story Song because it perfectly captured the scene’s mood. The beloved ’80s kids’ classic is far from a cheery adventure story. Yes, there is the adorable luck dragon Falkor and some of the imagery is gorgeous fantasy fire, but in the Never Ending Story, there are real-life consequences. There is not a child who saw the movie that hasn’t had a nightmare about Artax drowning.
Although the song was presented as comic relief in Season 3, the importance of the song both in getting the information needed to defeat the Mind Flayer and also in the greater series arc is vital. In the Never Ending Story, Bastian, a boy bullied by three boys, reads a mysterious book that sucks him into a world of danger and delight. Night Hob, Teeny Weeny, and Rock Biter all go to the Ivory Tower to seek help from the Childlike Empress of Fantasia. Their world is being consumed by a mysterious force called the Nothing. They are told the Empress is sick and a warrior has been summoned. He is believed to hold the key to the Nothing’s destruction.
The Nothing has taken hold in Fantastia because humans have stopped dreaming about positive things. They have stopped imagining wonderful places and things, and the Nothing was allowed to grow in its place. Gmork is a servant of the Nothing, and Atreyu must fight him to save Fantasia. Vecna is similar to Gmork. He thinks he controls the hive mind because he has shaped the Mind Flayer out of the particles, but he is just another megalomaniac who thinks he is controlling a force greater than him. Now that Vecna has shredded the barrier between our world and the Upside Down, the monsters and the negativity will invade our world. The only thing that can stop it is a contradictory force.
I posit the Upside Down was once Fantasia. It was a place of wonder and imagination, but over time, neglect and negativity decayed the once-great place leaving behind the monsters and the hive mind particles. When Vecna was vanquished there, he filled the void of imagination and formed the Upside Down we now see. Essentially the more time Vecna spent there, the more the Nothing that is the soul-crushing evil of his brain took over. It’s also possible that this is the mirror of human fallibility. It is the place where all our hatefulness lives.
The Upside Down and the hive mind particles are the equivalents of the Nothing in Fantasia. Vecna feeds on misery. It is not enough for him to win; he must destroy his enemies before defeating them. The kids’ biggest weapon thus far has been Eleven and their almost endless supply of wits and courage.
Perhaps the biggest clue is in the finale of Never Ending Story. Atreyu is told he needed to go on the journey with the human child Bastian to defeat the Nothing. Duality plays a major role in Stranger Things as well. Vecna/One is mirrored by Eleven. The Upside Down is the mirror of our world, and Will very well could be our Bastian. In a recent interview with Collider, the Duffers confirmed that Will will play a major role in Season 5. If Mike is the Atreyu of our story, then Will is our Bastian.
The final moments will be his alone. He will use his newfound power from his time in the Upside Down and his connection to Vecna and the hive mind to take control. Just as Eddie sacrificed himself in Stranger Things Season 4, Will will do the same in the series finale. Eddie may have skillfully strummed the Master of Puppets, but Will will become the master of puppets. I’m also holding out hope our girl Max is in there somewhere, making life Hell for Vecna. I would love to think Vecna’s hubris will be his undoing.
Turn around Look at what you see In her face The mirror of your dreams Make believe I'm everywhere Given in the light Written on the pages Is the answer to a neverending story Reach the stars Fly a fantasy Dream a dream And what you see will be Show no fear For she may fade away In your hand The birth of a new day Rhymes that keep their secrets Will unfold behind the clouds And there upon a rainbow Is the answer to a neverending story
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.