In the climactic scenes of Stranger Things' third season finale, the unthinkable happened: everyone's favorite Chief of Police, the grump with a heart of gold Jim Hopper, apparently met a totally heartbreaking end when he sacrificed himself to close the gate to the Upside Down - hopefully, for good this time. David Harbour has always been one of the most enigmatic actors in the series, and through his utterly winning performance, he has transformed Hopper into one of the most series' valuable assets.
It's not at all a shock, then, that the internet has been running wild with theories about how Hopper could have potentially survived the catastrophic blast. Any possible answers to this shocking turn of events are certainly a long way off, given Netflix's production schedule. We've gone ahead and rounded up some of the reasons that Hopper might be alive after all... but also some of the reasons that we might need to come to terms with the fact that he might actually be gone.
10 Alive: We never saw a body
It's more or less become an unwritten rule in the world of television, especially for series with supernatural or science fiction elements: if the show doesn't show a body, or someone meeting their end, it's entirely likely that those characters will return in some for or another. Stranger Things was very deliberate in showing the Russian scientists near the gate in the secret lab quickly being turned into goo by the explosion.
But no such treatment was given to Hopper's character. Before Joyce used the key to close the gate to the Upside Down, she closed her eyes for quite some time, potentially allowing Hopper time to slip away unnoticed. We have every right to believe, therefore, that he's perfectly fine.
9 Not: David Harbour's career is on the rise
Okay, fine, maybe Hellboy wasn't exactly the success that some people were hoping it would be. But that doesn't mean David Harbour's career has cooled off in the slightest. Projects that are currently on his slate of upcoming work include the film Dhaka with Chris Hemsworth, and a little film you may have heard of called Black Widow. He's also produced a mockumentary with Netflix, and has been routinely working in film and television both in recent years.
Harbour isn't slowing down any time soon, and while his contract with Netflix does include the option for a fourth season, that doesn't necessarily mean that he will be brought back for a potential Stranger Things 4.
8 Alive: His journey doesn't feel like it's over
From the very beginning of the series, Hopper has been one of Stranger Things' most compelling characters. When the show started, he was totally closed off to the world, full of self-loathing and alcohol and bitterness. Over time, however, he has softened up, forming meaningful friendships and adopting Eleven as his own daughter.
He has opened up about the trauma he's endured, and asked for help in situations where he would never have done so before. When Stranger Things 3 ends, Hopper is about to make another big step forward in his emotional development, by going out on a date with Joyce. His arc, therefore, is nowhere near completed. In many ways, it's only just getting started.
7 Not: The series made the finale epilogue seem pretty final
Before the mid-credits scene that's been driving the internet wild with theorizing about what the truth is regarding Hopper's status, the season three finale featured an epilogue scene that felt like a truly final ending to this chapter of the story. The Byers family - arguably the center of the whole series - have packed up and moved out of Hawkins, taking Eleven with them.
The group of friends is dismantling. Eleven's powers are missing. Joyce and Eleven are both carrying Hopper's legacy onward, bringing his things with them and paying tribute to him in their clothing styles. The finale even concludes with a moving montage of scenes set to the narration of Hopper's own passionate emotion letter. So many things felt pretty final here. It's hard to imagine some of them being a fake out.
6 Alive: "The American" theory
The mid-credits scene at the end of Stranger Things 3's finale episode has been the subject of much discussion since the season was released on July 4 - and for good reason. The scene, entirely in Russian, depicts Russian guards feeding a prisoner to the demogorgon they are keeping in captivity and monitoring.
While it's shocking enough that the Russians have acquired a demogorgon of their own, one of the biggest shocks in the scene is a blink and miss it line of dialogue. Before they choose the prisoner to feed to the monster, one of the guards cautions the other, "No. Not the American." Earlier in the season, Hopper had been ominously referred to as "the American" by other Russian characters. It's pretty easy, therefore, to draw the logical conclusion from that.
5 Not: The situation was pretty impossible to escape
As we've already said, the show made no mistake of showing just what happened to anyone who was within range of the gate and the key's blasts. Russian scientists were immediately turned into nothing but gory remains, so it's hard to imagine how Hopper could have avoided the intensity of the heat and explosion.
Even if he'd somehow gotten down off the platform he was standing on, how can we assume that anywhere below the key was safe from the intense range of its destruction? It's wishful thinking, in that regard, to think that he was able to get away just because he managed to climb down a ladder or a staircase, as some fans have suggested.
4 Alive: David Harbour basically confirmed it
We've already explored the details of "the American" theory that fans all over the internet are obsessing over and clinging to, when it comes to Hopper's fate. But according to a recent post-season three interview with David Harbour himself, the theory might not even really be a theory: it might just be the simple truth.
In an interview with /Film, Harbour explicitly references the mid-credits scene as an answer to Hopper's fate. As the interviewer, Chris Evangelista, reports, "I straight-up asked: is that Hopper behind the door? According to Harbour, that’s the most likely scenario. Throughout the season, the main Russian baddie refers to Hopper as 'the American,' and having another Russian refer to the mysterious prisoner in the same way was the big giveaway."
3 Not: The series hasn't had a real major loss yet
As with any series with horror elements, Stranger Things has featured plenty of characters being eaten or killed by monsters, but none of the losses so far - whether Benny Hammond, Barb Holland, Billy Hargrove, Alexei, or even poor old Bob Newby - could really count as a major loss for the series. These character deaths also served meaningful purposes for the series, but none of them have really changed the stakes of the show.
Until now, that is. Hopper is the first true main character that the series has lost, and it's almost impossible to envision what the show will look like without him. Hard as it may be to deal with, it's also important to consider the fact that undoing this massive change might cheapen the stakes of the series on the whole.
2 Alive: The Duffer Brothers may have confirmed it, too
We don't know much of anything about Stranger Things 4. Heck, at this point, we don't even know for certain that Stranger Things 4 is happening, since Netflix has yet to officially announce a renewal. But the Duffer brothers have already started to make it clear that they have some ideas of what's coming in terms of the scope of a potential fourth season - and there's a big reveal embedded within it.
Matt Duffer has been quoted as saying, "I think the biggest thing that's going to happen is it's going to open up a little bit, not necessarily in terms of scale, in terms of special effects, but open up in terms of allowing portals into areas outside of Hawkins." Reports are conflicting about whether that should say "portals" or "plotlines" - but in either case, it's clear we're heading out of Hawkins for a bit. And maybe, just maybe, on a rescue mission to Russia.
1 Not: He got to go out like a hero
In the grand scheme of things, Hopper really couldn't have asked for a more fitting end to his journey, even if it came much too soon. As the Chief of Police in Hawkins, he's devoted his life to protecting the community in the once boring little town. He's also newly devoted himself to protecting his daughter, Eleven, and doing everything in his power to ensure her safety, even if it means overstepping.
At the end of the day, then, Hopper got to go out exactly in a way that he should: by protecting everyone he cares about, and those he loves, especially. So yes, maybe his death was a big shock, and maybe it happened far too early in the series' run. But maybe this was the end of his journey all along.