Warning: This article contains spoilers from Stranger Things season 4, Volume 2.
A year ago in June, a group of press, including EW, gathered (virtually) to observe filming on season 4 of Stranger Things. Logging into a password-encrypted website that housed a live feed from the set, journalists caught a peek at a scene involving Sadie Sink's Max Mayfield on a stage similar to the Snow Ball school dance back in season 2. The room was empty sans the then-19-year-old actress, who sat at a table beneath the streamers and glistening disco ball waiting for... something. Sink performed take after take of Max jolting up from her seat in various ways.
"I remember that day," Sink, now 20, tells EW over the phone on Friday, as Volume 2 of season 4 premieres on Netflix. "They told me there was gonna be some virtual press and I remember thinking, 'Wow, they will have no idea what's going on in this scene.'"
It all makes sense now that the episodes are out in the world. Max, is a target of the astral-projecting mind stalker Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower), who is trying to make the teen his latest victim. She's able to keep him at bay by escaping into her happiest memories, her most joyful one being that season 2 moment when Max first kissed Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) at the Snow Ball.
"I hadn't been back in that setting since I was 14 years old," Sink recalls of her first season on Stranger Things as the new girl in town. "To be transported to that moment in time was wild for both me and the character."
netflix Max (Sadie Sink) and Robin (Maya Hawke) hunt for clues in 'Stranger Things' season 4.
It was difficult to know in the summer of 2021, given the mere glimpse press received, but Sink's performance over the course of season 4 would earn the rising star of Fear Street and Taylor Swift's "All Too Well" short film one of the MVP spots amongst the ensemble cast. Shawn Levy, an executive producer on Stranger Things who directed Sink through the pivotal fourth episode this year, "Dear Billy," calls season 4 at large "an anthemic" one for the actress. "I knew that Sadie and I had to do some of our best work, and I was thrilled to see her step up so impressively," Levy remarks separately over Zoom.
Sink is still wrapping her head around such high praise. Merely pointing out the positive feedback to her work trips her up. "I always had a little voice in my head saying 'you're still the new kid,'" Sink explains. "Even while we were filming season 4, I think I was so used to just playing a character that was a little bit newer and I, as Sadie, was still finding my footing. So when the scripts came out [for season 4], it was a shock to see the storyline that they had planned for Max."
Volume 2 closes out Max's crucial story arc in season 4, which saw her marked for death by Vecna. Revealing himself to be Henry Creel, a.k.a. One, the first psychic kid from Dr. Martin Brenner's experiments, Vecna has been the secret puppet master pulling the strings in Hawkins since the beginning of Stranger Things. He was also behind the Mind Flayer, which he created to transcend his form and become the predator he always knew he was. His main mission for some time has been to destroy the barrier between the Upside Down and the world of Hawkins. He just needed to take the lives of four individuals. Max was one of them.
Max tempts Vecna to astral project out of his body and attack her again, giving her friends a chance to sneak into the Upside Down and destroy Vecna's defenseless body. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), having telepathically piggybacked onto Max's mind, tries to protect her by waging a psychic battle against Vecna. But she's unable to stop him from technically killing Max before she can take him down.
Netflix Will Max (Sadie Sink) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) reconcile?
The young girl lies mangled in the arms of her love, Lucas, before taking what seem to be her final breaths. "It really is just so sad," Sink says of this tense ending. "When you're putting yourself in that moment and then you're with someone like Caleb, who I've known since I was very little, sometimes things can feel very real on that set. It was very emotional."
Sink delivers a speech as Max to Vecna, explaining how she was once so depressed that she wanted to disappear but in her final moments comes to realize it's not her time. "It's just so heartbreaking," the starlet adds of the scene.
The moment is made more gut-wrenching thanks to a familiar needle drop on Stranger Things. Moby's somber 1995 piece "When It's Cold I'd Like to Die" first played on the show's season 1 finale when Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) desperately try to resuscitate Will (Noah Schnapp) in the Upside Down. The melody returns as Lucas weeps over a fast-fading Max.
Courtesy of Netflix Max (Sadie Sink) reads a letter to her dead brother Billy in 'Stranger Things' season 4
"[Series creators] the Duffers definitely love using that song," she says. "I feel like it was even playing on one of the [takes] on the day. Not the actual death scene, but when Eleven is pulling from all of Max's memories and trying to revive her. When we were filming that, the Duffers had that song playing. I knew that they were going to use that song and they knew that they were gonna use that song because it is tied to the Stranger Things world in a way. It usually signals that something wrong is happening. It definitely stirs up a lot of emotions in me, personally."
Ultimately, Eleven is able to bring Max back to life, but she remains in a coma. Attempts to reach Max in her mind result in El wandering the black psychic void. "I'm not sure where we're going and what Max's state is. It's definitely all up in the air right now," Sink says, though she acknowledges Max does have a pulse and isn't completely gone as she lies recovering in a hospital bed. "I'm just as excited as everyone else to find out where Max is and how she's doing."
Sink remains grateful to Matt and Ross Duffer for entrusting her with such a meaty storyline this season. It's "the biggest battle Max has ever had to face," she says. Because of that, the actress is getting a lot more visibility these days. Well, partly because of that. Swift's 10-minute "All Too Well" short did shine a profound spotlight on the young star. Sink is still dumbstruck by the fact Swift, one of the celebrity Stranger Things fans, saw her younger self in season 3 and kept her in mind for a starring role opposite Dylan O'Brien (The Maze Runner, Teen Wolf). ("It was an automatic yes, of course," Sink confirms.)
Still, it doesn't feel as though much has changed in her day-to-day, even though some things have. For one, Sink's TikTok feed is now dominated by memes of her Kate Bush moment. For another, she says the challenging season 4 was what she, as an actress, had been looking for: "It was the ultimate push that I needed to really find my footing on this show and finally stop feeling like the new kid."
EW's Ultimate Guide to Stranger Things is available online or wherever magazines are sold.