While Dacre Montgomery’s Billy definitely died in the Season 3 finale, we’re a little more dubious about the fate of Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), who was supposedly killed by the explosion of the machine that the Russians were using to reopen the gate to the Upside Down.
But we’re pretty confident that Hopper is alive and will return in Stranger Things Season 4, for several reasons:
- We never see Hopper’s body. It may be a cliche, but going by standard TV rules, if the other protagonists never find a body, the character is probably still alive.
- The Duffer brothers clearly want us to think that Hopper is “the American” the Russians mention in the post-credits scene, because there’s really no other reason for two guards to be so vague about a prisoner’s identity immediately after a main character’s shocking “death.” (For the record, we don’t think the American in Russian custody is Hopper, but that still doesn’t mean he’s dead.)
- We see Hopper looking back towards the gate (and therefore towards the open rift to the Upside Down) several times before Joyce turns both keys to shut off the machine. There’s no way off the gantry in front of him with the way the energy is sparking, but this is a subtle way of indicating that there technically is a way out behind, even if it might incinerate him. If Hopper is already fairly certain he’s going to die, what’s the harm in making one last potentially fatal leap, on the off chance it might save him?
- Not only do we not see Hopper’s body, if you’re quick enough at pausing, you’ll see that there’s no sign of him beside the machine right before it explodes:
Hopper should be visible to the left of the machine in these shots, but there’s no sign of him anywhere – curiouser and curiouser.
But he was visible just a few moments before, when Joyce’s realization set in:
Our best guess is that Hopper jumped (or was thrown by the explosion, if you want to discount those shots before the machine blew) and ended up trapped in the Upside Down. Perhaps he’ll be the new host for the Mind Flayer in Season 4, just as a way of really twisting the knife for Eleven and Joyce, or perhaps he’ll find a way to escape when someone else opens another gate (maybe the Russians could actually be useful and grab him, if they don’t already have him captive?).
Of course, the only downside of this theory is that it might lessen the emotional impact of Hopper’s poignant “heart-to-heart” letter to El, which served as a powerful farewell to the beloved character even if he didn’t write it with his death in mind. But honestly, if it brings David Harbour back for more snark and helicopter parenting, that’s a price we’re willing to pay.
Do you think Hopper survived the explosion, or do you think he’s dead and should stay that way after his tearjerking sendoff? Share your reaction in the comments, and check out our reviews of every episode of Stranger Things Season 3 and the 10 best ’80s references from the first two seasons.