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Karen Wheeler

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Karen Wheeler, portrayed by Cara Buono, is a main character in the first season of Stranger Things.



Karen was the wife of Ted Wheeler and the mother to Nancy, Mike, and Holly. Together the family lived at their home in Hawkins, Indiana.

Nancy believed Karen and Ted never truly loved each other, saying they only got married because she was young and Ted had a well-paying job. Karen herself appeared to be at least somewhat frustrated with her marriage.  

Season One

On November 6, 1983, Mike and his friends played a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in the basement for ten hours straight. Karen told them to stop playing as it was getting late.

After Will's disappearance, Karen said no one else could leave the house until he was found, forbidding Mike to search for Will and Nancy to go "study" at Barb's house.

On November 8, Karen allowed Mike to skip school, believing he was distraught over Will's disappearance, At the dinner table, Nancy lied that she was going to a special assembly at school to support Will and his family - this was a cover story so that she could hang out with Steve. After some reluctance, Karen gave her permission to go - as long as she was back by 10.

After Nancy returned from Steve's party, Karen furiously questioned why she was out so late. When Karen asked about the sweatshirt Nancy was wearing, she responded that she borrowed it from Steve. Karen tried to tell Nancy that she could trust her, or talk about anything that happened, but Nancy brushed her off.

The next day, Karen visited Joyce at her house along with her daughter Holly, gifting her a casserole. Seeing the Christmas lights, Joyce gave the excuse that she hung them for Will, because he loved Christmas. Noticing Holly had walked off from the dinner table, she and Joyce found her in Will's room. Joyce thanked Karen for the casserole but insisted that they leave the house. Later, Nancy revealed to Karen she was worried about Barb's disappearance. Later that night, Mike returned home with the news that Will's body was found, crying in her arms.

Before leaving the next day, Karen asked Mike if he wanted to come with her to rent a movie, even an R-rated one. Mike declined for fear of leaving Eleven alone in his house. Karen went off on her own to check up on Barb's parents.

After being questioned by the police about Barb's disappearance, Karen insisted Nancy was lying to the police about just "talking" with Steve in the bedroom. Nancy finally admitted to Karen that she slept with him.

Karen, Ted, Nancy and Mike all attended Will's funeral.

Department of Energy agents arrived at her house, looking for Eleven. When questioned, Karen answered that she did not know of any girls living in the house, and that if she had, she would know. She and Ted were eventually allowed to leave their house; they arrived at Hawkins Middle in their car, reuniting with their son. They were present at the hospital, waiting for news on Will's status following his recovery.

On Christmas Eve, Jonathan picked up Will from another Dungeons & Dragons campaign at the Wheelers'. As they left, they and Karen exchanged festive greetings.



Season One appearances
The Vanishing of Will Byers The Weirdo on Maple Street Holly, Jolly The Body
The Flea and the Acrobat The Monster The Bathtub The Upside Down

Memorable Quotes

  • "I hope you're enjoying your chicken, Ted."
  • "I want you to feel like you can talk to me."
  • "You are not crazy."


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