Karen Wheeler, portrayed by Cara Buono, is a main character in the first and second seasons of Stranger Things



Karen is 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.  


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 the disappearance of Will Byers, Karen told her children that they could not leave the house until he was found, forbidding Mike to search for Will and Nancy to go "study" at Barbara Holland'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 and talk about anything that happened, but Nancy brushed her off.

The next day, Karen visited Joyce Byers at her house along with her daughter Holly, gifting her a casserole. Karen noticed that the house was decorated with Christmas lights, and 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 talking with Steve in his 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 the Wheeler 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 School 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, Karen exchanged festive greetings with them.


Karen is a background character this season. The only time she has a major scene is in The Gate. While reading a erotic novel in her bubble bath, she answers the doorbell and meets Billy. After flirting, she gives him the adress to the Byers house and he leaves the house, with Karen senusally staring at his bottom.


Shown to be a stereotypical overbearing mother, Karen is heavily concerned about the wellbeing of her two older children, Nancy and Mike, following the disappearance of Will Byers. She is dubious of Nancy upon discovering her relationship with Steve.

Her own relationship with Ted seems to be a loveless marriage as Ted is monotonous and one-note for the length of the series.


  • Ted Wheeler – Husband. Ted and Karen are married in a loveless marriage. They seem to argue frequently.
  • Nancy Wheeler – Daughter. Karen cares very much about Nancy but they can get mad at each other especially when Karen finds out Nancy slept with Steve.
  • Mike Wheeler – Son. Karen cares about Mike and is seen comforting him after Will's "body" is found. She also is worried for Mike when the government agents arrive looking for him.
  • Holly Wheeler – Daughter. Like with Nancy and Mike, Karen cares very much about Holly.
  • Billy Hargrove – Karen meets Billy when he is in search of Max. The two flirt together before Karen gives him the adress. It's unknown if Billy was simply manipulating Karen or really flirting with her but Karen does seem attracted to him, sexually staring at his butt when he leaves the house.


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
Season Two appearances
MADMAX Trick or Treat, Freak The Pollywog
Will the Wise Dig Dug The Spy
The Lost Sister The Mind Flayer The Gate

Family tree

Ted Wheeler Family Tree icon
Ted Wheeler
Karen Wheeler Family Tree icon 001
Karen Wheeler
Nancy Wheeler Family Tree icon 002
Nancy Wheeler
Screen Shot 2017-07-19 at 6.33.40 AM
Mike Wheeler
Holly Wheeler

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."


  • Karen has met most of the main characters, apart from Eleven, Max, Bob, Hopper and Dr. Owens.