This world it... it beats you up again and again until eventually, I... Most people just... they just stop trying. But you’re not like that. You’re a fighter. You always have been.

–Karen Wheeler, July 3, 1985

Karen Wheeler, portrayed by Cara Buono, is a major character of Stranger Things. She is the loving but naive mother of Nancy, Mike, and Holly, and the wife of Ted.

In 1983, after her son's friend, Will Byers, goes missing, Karen enforces strict rules that no one goes out late. This causes friction between her children, particularly Nancy. She remains largely unaware of the events around her, especially her son keeping an escaped experiment in her basement and her daughter searching for a monster from another dimension. When a group of agents arrive at their house telling her and her husband that his son and friends might be hiding the experiment, Karen becomes extremely distraught. She eventually tearfully reunites with Mike at the local middle school and goes to the hospital where Will has been recovered.

In 1984, she remains the same, blissfully unaware of what her children are doing after they lie and say they're having a sleepover (when in reality Mike is tending to a possessed Will while Nancy teams up with Jonathan Byers to shut down Hawkins Lab). She does, however, become sexually attracted to Billy Hargrove, the older brother of Max, who reciprocates the feelings.

By the summer of 1985, Karen's desire for Billy has hit the ultimate peak, ogling him along with her friends at the local pool, where Billy works as a lifeguard. When Billy offers Karen "swimming lessons" at the local motel, Karen is about to leave for the night until she discovers Holly sleeping in Ted's lap on the chair. She realizes how selfish she is and ultimately decides to not go. The next day, Karen arrives at the pool to talk to Billy (who's been possessed by The Mind Flayer) and explain why she didn't come, but Billy, restraining himself from hurting her, simply tells her to stay away from him. She soon resides back to being a mother, offering Nancy advice after getting fired from her job, and three months later, comforting Mike after Will and El move out of Hawkins.



Karen Wheeler was born in the 1940's in Hawkins, Indiana somewhere in the early 60's she met and became engaged to a man named Ted Wheeler and they later got married.

It's believed Karen and Ted never truly loved each other, and that 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, according to Mike. Karen seemed surprised by this and told them to stop playing as it was getting late and it was a school night.

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.

Karen confronting Mike

Karen trying to reach out to Mike.

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 where Karen hushed Mike and his other friend, Dustin Henderson when they spotted a Jennifer Hayes crying for Will.

Ep8-Mike and Karen

Karen reunited with Mike.

Department of Energy agents arrived at the Wheeler house, looking for Eleven. When questioned, Karen answered that she did not know of any mysterious girl 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.


On October 29, 1984, Karen was seen in the kitchen with her husband and Holly, watching Nancy chase Mike for taking change from her piggy bank. On the next day, while eating at the dinner table, Ted and Karen tell Mike to put some of his toys in two boxes as punishment for taking some of Nancy's change.

Four days later, while eating breakfast with her family, Karen hears Nancy say she's planning to go have a sleepover at a friend's house for the weekend and asks if it's okay which Karen says yes (unaware that Nancy plans to expose the Hawkins Lab with Johnathan's help, in order to avenge Barbara's death).

On the next day, while Karen was on the phone, Ted answers the door, after hearing the doorbell rang, and meets Dustin who asks for Mike. Ted says Mike is over at Will's, but Dustin says he can't reach anybody at Will's so he asks for Nancy. When Ted asks Karen where Nancy is, she says Nancy's supposedly at Ally's, causing an irritated Dustin to leave.

Karen attracted to Billy

Karen smitten with Billy Hargrove.

Later, while reading a erotic novel in her bubble bath, she answers the doorbell, after Ted had fallen asleep on his couch, and meets Billy. After flirting, she gives him the address to the Byers house and he leaves the house, with Karen sensually staring at his bottom.

A month later, Karen attended Barb's funeral with Nancy and Ted. When Mike gets ready to go to the Snow Ball, Karen takes pictures of Mike, much to his annoyance as she keeps taking too many pictures of him.


S03E01 - Billy Hargrove trying to seduce Karen Wheeler

Billy attempting to seduce Karen Wheeler

At the Hawkins Community Pool, Karen Wheeler and three other mature women are waiting for Heather Holloway, the lifeguard on duty, to step down so that Billy Hargrove can come forward, each woman ogling him. Billy compliments Karen’s swimsuit, and later after watching her swim, compliments her again and tells her she has perfect "form". After some prodding, Billy manages to convince her to come with him to Motel 6 for "swimming lessons", where it is "very private". That night, Karen beautifies herself and takes off her wedding ring, preparing to go to Billy, but notices her husband Ted Wheeler asleep with their daughter Holly, and decides to be faithful instead.

The next morning Karen takes a call from El to her son Mike Wheeler, staying on the line and becoming shocked when Mike lies about his nana being gravely ill. Hearing his mom on the other end of the line, Mike tells Karen to get off the phone so he can finish his conversation with his girlfriend, which Karen does. Later, Karen returns to the Hawkins Community Pool and apologizes to Billy about standing him up the night before. Billy however, was not present, and has been Flayed. He manages to control his unnatural urge to attack Karen, but only just, and instead tells Karen to stay away from him.

Karen’s daughter Nancy later returns home from being fired from The Hawkins Post, going to her room. She eventually comes out however and confides in Karen her concerns that Jonathan Byers might be right, that she just insists on being right even if she isn’t. Karen supports Nancy, saying that the journalists at The Post are "shitheads", and encourages Nancy to finish her story, that she might get picked up by a national outlet and go right over The Post’s heads.

With Ted and Holly, Karen later goes to the Fun Fair and bribes the operator of a Ferris wheel to stop the ride while she and her family are at its apex, enabling them to better view the Fourth of July fireworks. Holly however, is distracted by the trees moving seemingly of their own volition; signs of the Mind Flayer’s passage. Hopper and Joyce later find Karen on an amusement park ride, asking where the kids are, but Karen doesn’t know where exactly they are as she has trouble keeping track. After the ride, Karen notices Joyce running off with Jim Hopper (unaware they're being pursued by Russian hitman Grigori), remarking they make an odd couple. Ted remarks there's always one for somebody and puts his hand on Karen's shoulder, much to her annoyance.

Three months later, after her son Mike says goodbye to El and Will, Mike returns home when Karen is cooking. She notices how depressed her son is so she gives him a hug to comfort him.


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 most of the time. She almost cheats on Ted with Billy Hargrove as she's grown tireless of Ted's laziness. However, when she sees Ted sleeping with their youngest daughter, Holly, Karen realizes that Ted does care for their children and that she's missing out on that by being Billy. So, she decides to remain faithful to Ted, even though his attitude still annoys her.


  • 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 address. 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 booty when he leaves the house.
  • Joyce Byers - Joyce and Karen have a friendly relationship. Karen brings Joyce over a casserole when Will disappears and comforts her. They had limited interaction in Season Two. In Season Three, Karen and Joyce run into each other at the 4th of July fair. Karen acts pleasantly surprised to see Joyce and compliments her, saying she looks well.


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
Season Three appearances
Suzie, Do You Copy? The Mall Rats The Case of the Missing Lifeguard The Sauna Test
The Flayed* E Pluribus Unum The Bite The Battle of Starcourt
  • Marks a voice only appearance.

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."


View Gallery For this subject's gallery, see Karen Wheeler/Gallery.


  • Karen has met most of the main characters, apart from Max, Bob, Dr. Owens, Robin, and Erica. However, it is possible that she has met Max as in Season Three, Eleven and Max put her name down on a spin-the-bottle wheel and both girls comment that Ted is boring, making it likely that Max has met Ted and possibly Karen.
  • Despite being part of the main cast, Karen has no knowledge of the Upside Down and its inhabitants. It's also unknown if she realizes that Eleven is the same girl Mike hid in the basement of her house.
  • In Season One, Karen's hair was brown, but her hair started to have some highlights in Season Two. By Season Three, her hair is completely dyed blonde.
  • In the Montauk pilot script, Karen was to supposed have blonde hair in Season 1 but in Season 1, she had Brown Hair.
  • Season 1 is the only season in which Karen has appeared in every episode.

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