What Happens to Hopper at the End of Stranger Things Season 3?

Spoilers for Stranger Things Season 3 below. 🚨

Stranger Things 3 hit everyone’s screens on July 4, and within hours it was breaking hearts all over the globe. And one of the main reasons for the plethora of crying GIFs on social media is the the unexpected fate of everyone’s favorite resident adoptive father—Detective Jim Hopper.

Here, we take a look at what happened to Hopper at the end of Season 3, and whether David Harbour’s character is really… dead?

Hopper and Joyce worked together to save the world.

The main storyline in Season 3 reveolved around a group of Russians who had made a machine which could open up the gate to the Upside Down that lies beneath Hawkins. While the kids were on a quest to stop Billy, the Mind Flayer, and the flayed residents of Hawkins, Hopper and Joyce took on a quest of their own—to stop the Russians.

With the help of scientist Alexei (who we’re crushing on hard), and journalist-turned-conspiracy-theorist Murray Bauman, Hopper and Joyce figured out how to stop the gate to the Upside Down being reopened. However, they were also being stalked by a Terminator-like figure intent on killing them both—and who succeeded in fatally shooting Alexei (be still my beating heart).

After taking the Starcourt Mall elevator all the way down to the Russian’s underground Hawkins lair, Hopper killed a bunch of guards and stole their uniforms. Once inside the war room, and using Alexei’s intel, Joyce and Hopper figured out how to turn off the machine. However, the Terminator-like guy ruined their plans…

Hopper had a fist fight with the Terminator… and won.

While Joyce was left to try and stop the machine on her own, Hopper fought the Russian Terminator, dangerously close to the huge machine that was blasting into the Upside Down’s gate below Hawkins. However, Hopper miraculously won, throwing the Terminator into the machine’s rays, seemingly killing him in the process.

However, Joyce ended up having to hit the machine’s kill switches before Hopper could make it back to the safety of the war room. In a devastating, but pretty beautiful, moment, Hopper said goodbye to Joyce and to dedicated viewers. As Joyce stopped the machine, everything in its wake was destroyed, with hazmat-suited Russians literally evaporating into thin air. Hopper, too, disappeared, and is presumed dead.

But is Hopper really dead?

As this is Stranger Things, a character’s death isn’t necessarily final. And in Hopper’s case, there are several plausible explanations for what happened to him at the end of Season 3:

He’s dead.

Firstly, he could be dead. This is obviously the worst-case scenario for fans, who thought they were finally going to see romance blossom between Hopper and Joyce. All of the show’s characters presumed that Hopper was dead. After all, he literally disappeared into thin air, supposedly evaporated by the Russian’s powerful machinery, which explains why his body was never found.

Season 3 ended with an emotional letter from Hopper, which he’d originally written as an impassioned speech to Eleven and Mike about keeping the door open three inches when they were together. In the heartbreaking tome, Hopper also went into detail about all of the ways in which Eleven had opened him up to his feelings, and what a privilege it was to watch his adopted daughter grow up. Basically, it made Hopper’s disappearance even more final, and was the perfect sign-off for the character—he’d finally gotten to father a daughter, having lost his own, and Eleven got to experience having the reliable parent she’d desperately craved.

However, the post-credits sequence left viewers with some questions.

He’s in the post-credits Russian jail.

Another possibility is that Hopper isn’t dead, but he merely traveled between locations when the Russian machine exploded. The post-credits sequence added fuel to this fire when guards were choosing a prisoner to feed to a Demogorgon. At the first cell, one of the guards said, “No, not the American,” and instead picked a Russian prisoner. Could the American in that cell be Hopper?

Esquire discussed this particular theory, noting that scientist Alexei actually gave a detailed explanation of how the Russian’s machine worked. In Episode 7, Murray translated Alexei as having said:

Perhaps the machine can transport matter between separate locations, or keys, as well as between the real world and the Upside Down. If so, Hopper could’ve been zapped from Hawkins, and transported to the Russian location we saw at the start of the season. In which case, he’s very much alive, but in danger of being fed to a Demogorgon.

He’s in the Upside Down.

As Alexei revealed, the machine is a doorway between worlds, meaning that Hopper could be stuck in the Upside Down now. Considering the highly-suggestive post-credits sequence, it seems far more likely that Hopper is in the Russian jail, but it’s certainly not impossible that the detective was transported into the Upside Down when he evaporated in the machine’s rays.

Either way, there are so many possibilities for Season 4, most of which revolve around finding out the exact fate of Hopper. We’re all secretly hoping that Eleven’s new dad, and Joyce’s prospective love interest, isn’t really dead at all. Because what is Hawkins without Hopper?

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