What really happened to Barb in ‘Stranger Things?’

Image via Netflix

Stranger Things became a worldwide phenomenon when it premiered in 2016, but its popularity wasn’t the only phenomenon. Nancy Wheeler’s best friend, Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser), affectionately known as just Barb, did more than provide context and plot for the first season. She also stole the hearts of viewers around the world. To this day, Barb remains one of the most beloved fan favorite characters in the series, long after her death.

Since the moment we met her, Barb has provided endless reasons to love her. Her innocence, her dedication to her friendship with Nancy, her classic 1980s outfits — each detail made her more relatable and charming. Even the Television Academy loved her: Shannon Purser earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. 

For that reason, Barb’s death at the hands of the Demogorgon and the Upside Down set off a seismic event of complaints from Stranger Things fans, declaring that Barb deserved the same time and attention Will Byers received from the town of Hawkins. 

We know — even though the show is only in its fourth season, it’s been six years and 29 episodes since Barb’s lost her life. Her re-appearance in chapter seven of season four rightfully conjured up memories of her storyline from season one, but the series of events feel a little hazy after all these years. How exactly did she meet her end? Here’s what you need to know. 

What really happened to Barb?

Back in season one, Barb and Nancy were best friends. Nancy, by way of dating Steve Harrington, was fast on her way to the popular crowd, however, which meant Barb was slowly getting elbowed to the sidelines. 

One night, Nancy convinced Barb to go with her to Steve’s house for a party. Reluctantly, Barb obliged and it was clear she felt uncomfortable the whole night, especially when she was urged to shotgun a beer — about the last thing Barb would voluntarily do. In the process of trying to be cool, Barb accidentally sliced open her hand with a knife. After the party died down and everyone went their own way, Barb was still bleeding. Nancy told her to go home, even though they were supposed to have a sleep over that night, so Barb dejectedly shuffled her feet through Steve’s backyard and sat on the diving board by herself, absentmindedly dangling her feet over the pool. Drops of blood dripped from her still-fresh wound into the tranquil pool beneath her feet. Then the nearby lights flickered and went out. A menacing shadow slowly crept over her shoulder and, right when Barb looked up at the camera, we saw a Demogorgon and the screen went black.

If there was any question as to whether Barb survived the Demogorgon attack, the next episode began with her fighting for her life in the Upside Down. As this was happening, Nancy was getting it on with Steve Harrington in his bedroom — a fact that still haunts Nancy to this day, and serves as a major plot point in season four.

Throughout the season, Nancy and Jonathan worked to find out what happened to Barb and Will. Eventually Will’s body turned up, but Barb’s never did. It’s only when Eleven psychically traveled to the Upside Down via a sensory deprivation tank that she saw Barb’s decayed body and knew she was dead. It’s the same decayed body Nancy saw when Vecna lured her into his psychic trance in season four. 

Cries for Barb’s return have echoed through the Stranger Things fandom for years, but unless a new Upside Down entity has the ability to conjure the dead, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see her again. That is, unless it’s in the form of a flashback. We’d much prefer that to some zombie-like reappearance. We love Barb too much to see her as anything other than innocent and happy. It’s truly a testament to both the character and the actress that we still think fondly on her time on the show all these years later.