What Really Happened at the End of Stranger Things Season Three?
Over the course of its first seven episodes, Stranger Things 3 unfolds much like the two previous seasons. The kids are doing normal kid things, then weird things start happening, then they're the only ones who take responsibility for the lives of everyone in Hawkins, then they get together to fight some scary inter-dimensional beast (which is always done thanks to Eleven's powers). There are pop culture references. There are cool clothes. There's the hair. There are so many vintage '80s products that it feels like a lengthy throwback commercial. There's the spooky and cool synth soundtrack. It's like living in an echo chamber of trends and shows and movies and songs, and it doesn't help that most of this season could be copy and pasted into either two of the seasons before it.
Then, at the very end of the final episode of Stranger Things 3, something completely unexpected happens.
Please stop reading now if you haven't watched the entirety of Stranger Things 3, because this is a major spoiler.
During the climactic battle, David Harbour's Jim Hopper and Winona Ryder's Joyce Byers are underneath the mall where the Russians are attempting to open a portal to the Upside Down and harness its energy. Hopper and Joyce are trying to destroy the machine and stop the Russians from opening the door before and letting out the beasts among the Upside Down.
Hopper is fighting the Big Bad Russian Terminator-type guy next to the machine while Dustin Henderson is urging them to quickly close the portal. Joyce is inside, safely at the controls, and she shares a long, tragic, knowing glance with Hopper and turns the keys.
The machine explodes. We see a number of Russians get vaporized in the explosion. The vaginal-looking portal closes. The monster dies and the kids have once again saved the day. The next time we see Hopper it's in a newspaper clipping from an epilogue three months later. There's a picture of his face with the headline: "Hero Chief Dies in Fire."
There's a tragic scene of everyone mourning Hopper. The Byers family moves out of town along with Eleven. But before they go, Joyce finds a sweet note that Hopper had written for Eleven.
Cue the tears. Hopper seems pretty dead and gone. RIP the internets favorite daddy.
But then, there is a quick post-credit scene that teases the next season of Stranger Things. It takes place somewhere in Russia, where two Russian guards bring a prisoner to a cage that's containing a Demogorgon from Season Two.
So, what did actually happen to Hopper?
When the Russian machine explodes, we clearly see a few Russian soldiers explode, but Hopper's actual fate is only implied in this scene. It helps to go back to Episode Seven, where the captured Russian scientist Alexei explains what they were doing with the machine:
He calls it the key and this key emits a great energy. It requires much strength and power. Those houses like the ones they found they're stealing from your town's energy supply. There are many of these keys before in Russia, but they turned out wrong ... They're using this energy to break through a barrier to open a doorway between worlds. But it seems this key was only half the equation. Location was the other half. In Hawkins this door had been opened once, it was still healing. It is opening.
Now, this description is interesting, implying that things can travel in and out of this door. Is it possible, given his proximity to the machine that Hopper was actually sent into the Upside Down? Or if he wasn't sent into the Upside Down, is it possible to travel between these doors?
That's what brings us to the post-credit scene, which has one brief but interesting moment. The two guards are walking to get their prisoner, who gets fed to the Demogorgon. They stop at one door, and a soldier says, "No not the American." Then they move on to the next door to the doomed Russian prisoner.
So, why would they make a point to add this line into this post-credit scene? Assuming it's possible to travel between these doors—one in Hawkins, one in Russia—did Hopper somehow get sent to Russia and get taken prisoner?
We certainly won't have an answer until the next season of Stranger Things, but the chances of Hopper returning—considering he's one of the show's biggest stars—are definitely pretty high. But, for now, it's safe to continue mourning.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.