This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things Season 3 and was originally published in July 2019. This story has been updated following the release of a new Stranger Things 4 teaser trailer in February 2020.
Update, 2/14: A new teaser for Stranger Things Season 4 has confirmed that Hopper is alive and that he is “the American” that the Russians referred to in the Season 3 post-credits scene.
In a teaser titled “From Russia with love,” we see Hopper (with a shaved head, no less) working in a desolate Russian labor camp, building a train track. The teaser ends with the unmistakable chittering sound of a Demogorgon, which makes sense, since the end of Season 3 also revealed that the Russians have a Demogorgon in their possession. Watch the teaser below:
From Russia with love… pic.twitter.com/ZWEMgy63Et
— Stranger Things (@Stranger_Things) February 14, 2020
Netflix released the teaser to announce that production has started on Stranger Things Season 4, with the Duffer brothers offering this hint about the plot of Season 4:
“We’re excited to officially confirm that production on Stranger Things 4 is now underway — and even more excited to announce the return of Hopper! Although it’s not all good news for our ‘American’; he is imprisoned far from home in the snowy wasteland of Kamchatka, where he will face dangers both human…and other. Meanwhile, back in the states, a new horror is beginning to surface, something long buried, something that connects everything… Season 4 is shaping up to be the biggest and most frightening season yet, and we cannot wait for everyone to see more. In the meantime — pray for the American.”
Original story continues below…
Stranger Things hasn’t had a particularly high body count among its regular cast members throughout its first two seasons (sorry, Barb and Bob), which led many fans to speculate that one or more main characters might die in Season 3 – but after the Season 3 finale, we’ve got a lot of questions about one of our heroes in particular…
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 may actually be trapped in a Russian prison, judging by the post-credits scene.
David Harbour weighed in on whether Hopper is dead or alive in a new interview with EW – and unsurprisingly, he was fairly coy: “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.”
Speaking to Entertainment Tonight about whether Hopper could be “the American” in the post-credits scene, Harbor teased, “I have no idea! I mean that, of course, is my hope too. It seems pretty crazy though. You know, that machine went off and blew up and Hopper seemed to be trapped there. He did glance around a little bit, but he seemed to be trapped and the machine exploded. And then you cut to, what was it? It starts with a ‘K’ or something – some town in Russia, right? Where there’s some American and there’s some other prisoner. I don’t know, I mean, it seems strange…”
But the Duffer Brothers cautioned that things might not be as obvious as they seem: “You definitely should not assume anything,” Matt Duffer told EW. “The line that Russian guard said is purposely intended to spark debate. We need people to ask the very questions that you’re asking.”
“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,” added Ross Duffer. “We try to tee up some Season 4.”
Regardless of what the Duffers say, 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 assume 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.”
- As a number of fans have noted, after Eleven finishes reading Hopper’s note, “Heroes” by Peter Gabriel starts playing – the same song the Duffer brothers chose as the soundtrack when police found a fake version of Will’s body in the lake when he was actually still alive and trapped in the Upside Down. The show doesn’t often repeat musical cues, so this feels like a blatant clue that this could be another death fakeout.
- It’s also fairly convenient that Eleven’s powers aren’t working at the end of the season, since the show established last season that she’s capable of finding people if she’s inclined to look (which she hasn’t been in terms of locating her papa, Dr. Brenner), and would probably be able to sense that Hopper is still alive somewhere if she was operating at full strength.
- As Harbour noted, 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.
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