Stranger Things is officially getting a second season, because sometimes the universe is a good and fair place. And also because it was fantastic and everyone and their monkey watched it over the summer, burying themselves in nostalgia and memories as dense and tangy as the dust on the pages of old dog eared paperbacks. And of course also because Netflix literally doesn’t know that it’s allowed to cancel shows.
Word is that the second season will take place with the same core characters, occur in 1984, and further explore the Upside Down (though the creators are being cagey about whether Eleven will be in it at all, which just feels annoyingly Walking Deadish of them to start playing those games).
On the other hand, they have already released the titles of the episodes of the second season:
1. Mad Max
2. The Boy Who Came Back to Life
3. The Pumpkin Patch
4. The Palace
5. The Storm
6. The Pollywog
7. The Secret Cabin
8. The Brain
9. The Lost Brother
But to the most important question that should linger in the wake of the final scenes of the first season finale. Just what the hell is a thessalhydra? Here’s the scene that gives us everything we’ve got so far:
So let’s dig back into the origins of this beast shall we? The hydra (not the thessalhydra specifically) originated in Greek mythology as a creature that resembled a giant snake with a whole bunch of different heads. Different mythological accounts vary on how many heads the things had: varying from six upwards of fifty. But that’s largely because it grows the damned things back if they’re cut off. The one that Hercules slew during his legendary labors grew back two heads for every one removed. The creature was unkillable so long as one head remained.
Of course Hercules’ nephew figured out the solution: burn the neck stumps before the head could grow back. This led to some important team work in that Hercules did the slicing, and Iolaus did the searing.
The creature also was legendary for having terribly poisonous breath, and blood so venomous that Hercules dipped his arrows in it after the battle was done.
So that’s the mythological end of things, but what about the specific Dungeons and Dragons angle that is so important to the show? First of all, in D&D the hydra reproduces by infecting hosts with larvae. Which sounds like awfully bad news for Will given the liveliness of the phlegm he coughed up into the sink at the end.
But the thessalhydra is a Dungeons and Dragons original, not something out of mythology at all. It first showed up in the old school Monster Manual II back in 1983. The Thessal creatures (there were several) were all hybrid creatures, with unknown origins. Though in later works, it was rumored that the original Thessalmonster was not natural, but was designed.
In simplest terms, the thessalhydra looked pretty much like a hydra (eight snakeheads that regenerate if cut off) but with the addition of a nasty pincer at the end of its tail, and a gaping circular maw at the center of the eight snake heads.
This is what it looked like in 1983’s book:
And this is a different version (with a central snake head instead of just a circular maw) that appeared in Pathfinder’s adventure Sanctum of the Serpent God in 2011:
The thessalhydra’s spawn were hybrids of itself and whatever it infected, which led to all sorts of odd mixes with chimeras, gorgons, and cockatrices.
Before taking all of this information literally though, recall exactly how the demogorgon was used in the first season. The creature itself bore very little direct resemblance to the D&D creature. But it drew upon the metaphorical meaning of the demogorgon both to D&D players and students of mythology: the unstoppable creature of chaos that dwelt in the shadow places.
So how would the thessalhydra be thus reflected as an antagonist? I posit the following:
First, I think that the thessalhydra’s origins as a designed monster will be relevant, else they would have just called it the hydra in the first place. It will not merely be something found in the Upside Down, but something built by the dark sorcerer of our story:
Second, I think that we’re going to see hybrid creatures, things that take on the features of whoever they emerge from. That sink scene? Something about it just reminded me so much of The Thing, even though I can’t recall a specific scene in particular, which speaks volumes in a show that has drawn on so many other elements of eighties movies.
Third, and this is absolutely the most important one, the choice of this adversary is meant to emphasize the power of teamwork. Which sounds like a painful after school special, but the hydra is unbeatable by a single person. Not even Hercules could do it. And in D&D in particular, that’s what the hydra meant tactically: no matter how powerful and strong a particular character, it required someone else to help. Someone had to burn the stumps, no matter how apocalyptically much punishment a single player could dish out to the creature.
And it’s the sensible next story step that needs taken even with Eleven turning up her dial, well, to eleven. She can’t do it alone. And that just fits Stranger Things so perfectly, doesn’t it? It’s about the friends you had when you were twelve, the ones who would die on the same hill with you. The ones who would stand with you before the darkness and face monsters and worse.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods.