Major spoilers for Stranger Things 3 follow below.
The Stranger Things 3 finale is one of the best and most emotional episodes in the series’ history, and for good reason. Seemingly, the show kills off one of its most beloved characters: David Harbour’s Hopper. After a season’s worth of struggling to be a good father and tiptoeing around his feelings for Joyce (Winona Ryder), Hopper essentially sacrifices himself in the season’s final moments, allowing Joyce to close the gate to the Upside Down by blowing up the Russians’ cheaply made gate-opener.
This then leads to a terrifically emotional epilogue in which Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) reads a heartbreaking note from Hopper and the Byers—with Eleven in tow—move out of Hawkins once and for all.
But is Hopper dead? Like, for real? It’s worth noting that when the device exploded, we saw it turn the Russian scientists to dust, but not Hopper. What reason could there possibly be for not showing Hopper’s death? Unless he’s actually still alive…
EW put the question to Harbour himself, who basically gave a non-answer:
“What can I tell you? What can’t I tell you? I mean I don’t really know but we will have to see together. It’s a pretty serious situation that he gets himself into there at the end and it’s a pretty moving arc in terms of the way this all plays out. So I think we’ll sort of leave it at that and see if there is a life beyond, but I’m not sure yet.”
It’s worth noting that in the Stranger Things 3 credits scene, we’re taken to a Russian prison that houses an unnamed American. According to co-creator Ross Duffer, fans shouldn’t necessarily assume that’s Hopper:
“You definitely should not assume anything. That line that Russian guard said is purposely intended to spark debate. We need people to ask the very questions that you’re asking.”
However, it appears Harbour may have already spilled the beans. In a separate interview with /Film, the actor confirms that he is indeed “the American” referred to in the credits scene:
“This is the question I’m going to have to dance around–” I began, only for Harbour to interrupt me and ask, “The ending?” “Right,” I said. “Is there a way you can talk about the future of Hopper without…” I trailed off here, only for Harbour to ask: “Well, did you see the post-credits scene?” I had, of course. And so I straight-up asked: is that Hopper behind the door? According to Harbour, yes.
Now it’s also important to understand that the process of making Stranger Things is fluid, and the Duffer Brothers have left themselves some wiggle room here to adjust things if new inspiration sparks. Since we haven’t seen the American, they could change his identity. Indeed, another possibility is that Hopper jumped into the Upside Down right before Joyce blew up the device, which would set up a Stranger Things 4 storyline in which the kids have to open the gate in order to get Hopper back.
Speaking of which, co-creator Ross Duffer told EW that while Stranger Things 4 has yet to be officially announced, that credits scene was meant to tee up the next season:
“Assuming there’s a season 4, obviously the question of who that American is in that cell and then also what they’re doing with the Demogorgon, that is a tease,” says co-creator Ross Duffer. “We try to tee up some season 4.”
The loss of Eleven’s powers was also meant to not only set up Season 4, but also ensure that Stranger Things 3 didn’t feel repetitive:
“We didn’t want an ending again this year where Eleven comes in the last second and holds out her hand and saves the day,” says Ross. “Moving into season 4, how much more vulnerable does that make our characters in a group? Inevitably, evil resurfaces that they can’t just lean on Eleven to come in and save the day. We think it ups the scare factor in a big way.”
There’s clearly a lot of story ahead—or at least enough for one more season—so fans can probably rest assured that our story is not yet done. And as for Hopper’s fate, given that his death wasn’t explicitly shown onscreen and given Harbour’s comments here, it’s pretty safe to say he’ll probably be back. Phew.
For more on Stranger Things 3, peruse the links to our recent coverage below:
- Here Are All the 80s Movies References by ‘Stranger Things’ in Season 3
- ‘Stranger Things 3’: Millie Bobby Brown on Filming That Letter Scene
- ‘Stranger Things 3’: Maya Hawke & The Duffer Brothers on Robin’s “John Hughes” Moment
- ‘Stranger Things 3’: Let’s Talk About That Credits Scene