Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 4, Volume 2 ahead.
Now that Stranger Things Season 4 has concluded and the stage has been set for Vecna to wage war in the show's final season, fans still have questions about the fate of one of the show's best characters.
Max Mayfield, played by young phenom Sadie Sink, was the surprise heart of the Netflix megahit's new season, as her grief and guilt after Billy's death placed the teen into Vecna's crosshairs. In Episode 4 of Volume 1, Max was the star of her own standout episode, which showcased her strength and bravery in the face of the Upside Down's ultimate Big Bad (and made us obsessed with Kate Bush).
In Volume 2, the redhead tapped into her well of bravery and her dangerous connection with Vecna during the Hawkins crew's big attempt to take the villain down. In an emotional finale scene, she finally opened up about her mixed feelings and guilt about Billy's death while baiting the monster. She also found a non-musical way to briefly hold the villain off, by thinking of her happiest memory, which was being with Lucas at Season 2's middle school dance.
Unfortunately, Max could only hold the villain off for so long. Even Eleven, who entered Max's mind to face Vecna herself, was not strong enough to keep the monster from completing his ritual. Even though Vecna succeeded at his master plan, El was able to save Max, with mixed results.
Did Max die in Episode 9?
Technically, yes. Max begins suffering the gory effects of Vecna's ritual—which include the victim's bones breaking and eyes bleeding—before Eleven taps into her power and blasts the monster away. As Eleven holds him off, Nancy's group flambés Vecna's physical body in the Upside Down (though the monster disappears and survives the attack). When Max is knocked out of the trend, she's already lost her eyesight and all her legs and arms are broken.
In an emotional scene, Max is still conscious as Lucas begs her to "stay with me," and she even says that she's not ready to die. But she does. As Lucas says later, Max's heart doesn't beat for a full minute, during which Vecna's fourth gate is created and the barrier between Hawkins and the Upside Down is ripped open.
Eleven is still with Max as she dies, staying by her side in the Void (the dark mental realm that El accesses when she uses the sensory deprivation tank). She's not ready to lose her friend, so she puts her hand on Max's chest and recalls their happiest moments together. When we next see Max, she's in a coma, in a Hawkins hospital room.
Is Max alive at the end of Season 4?
Physically, yes. Lucas tells his friends that Max is in a coma, and we see her wearing casts on her arms and legs. The Duffer brothers have also confirmed that at the end of Season 4, Max is alive yet "brain dead, blind, and all of her bones are broken."
The big mystery is where the redhead is mentally. When Eleven later enters the Void to find Max, all she sees is darkness. When she screams Max's name, there's no answer. We don't know whether El succeeded in bringing Max back from death, or whether she only restarted her body's heart. Whether or not Max's soul is alive is a question that will hopefully be answered next season.
Will Max be in Season 5?
Though the cast and crew are sticking to their no-spoilers policy, Max has to be in Season 5. She may not be an original member of the show, but she's now an integral part of the series. As of now, even Sink doesn't know her character's fate.
"I'm not sure where we're going and what Max's state is. It's definitely all up in the air right now," the actress told Entertainment Weekly. "I'm just as excited as everyone else to find out where Max is and how she's doing."
Sink shared her hopes for the character with Vulture, saying that if Max returns, she would have "a lot of fight in her."
"I think she's at a place where she now really wants to fight," she said. "In episode nine, when she gave that monologue, she was ready to go and she was ready to make that ultimate sacrifice. … She knew that there was no way she was going to make it out alive, but the fact that she was willing to make that sacrifice was brutal and heartbreaking."
She added, "If she's still out there, she definitely has a lot of rage and a lot of fight in her. So that's where my hope lies in Max for season five."