Warning: This article contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 3.
Stranger Things season 3 apparently changed the show forever with the death of Jim Hopper - but is he really dead? Hawkins' police chief has become one of the most fascinating and complex characters in Stranger Things. Hopper is tormented by his past, suffering from PTSD after his tour in Vietnam and struggling to believe he deserves a second chance at life after the collapse of his marriage. That made his assumed death in Stranger Things season 3 all the more tragic.
In the final episode, Hopper and Joyce successfully infiltrated the Russian lab beneath Hawkins and made their way to the control room. Their mission was to overload the Russian Gate generator, closing the Gate to the Upside Down once again; but unfortunately, a brawl between Hopper and a security guard led to Hopper becoming trapped in the Gate room. Realizing that time was running out to save Eleven from the Mind Flayer, Hopper gave Joyce a last, lingering look, and nodded his head for her to turn the keys and overload the generator. Alexei had warned Hopper that anyone in that room would be turned to dust, and when the explosion was over, there was no sign of his body.
The end of Stranger Things season 3 makes it pretty clear that Hopper expected to die. As far as he was concerned, there was only one way out of the Gate generator, and it was already blocked by flares of energy. He didn't even look for another way out, instead resigning himself to his death and choosing to watch with satisfaction as Joyce saved their children - no matter the cost. As Stranger Things wants you to believe, Hopper is dead.
But there's already evidence that Hopper survived. He was clearly wrong to believe that there was only one way out of the Gate room: Stranger Things carefully established that there's a ladder at the end of the gantry going down to a lower area, where Hopper would have been shielded from any explosions or energy flares. It's reasonable to assume that safety feature was added because of the Russians' ill-fated experiments in their Kamchatka lab in Stranger Things season 3, episode 1. While Hopper didn't know about it, and didn't even look for that kind of way out, that ladder does add a touch of hope. It's possible that the initial release of kinetic energy threw Hopper off the gantry and down to safety, protecting him from the flares of energy that would have killed him.
The interesting thing about Hopper's death is that Alexei warned there would be no body if he was killed in the Gate room; Hopper would have been reduced to dust. That feels more than a little convenient, especially given Stranger Things is a mash-up of everything from horror to superhero tropes, genres that are well known for their fake deaths. That naturally makes viewers wonder whether or not Hopper could still be alive. If he is, then he may have been taken by the Russians during their hurried evacuation, making him the American prisoner mentioned in the Stranger Things post-credits scene. For now, though, that's just a theory, one that can't be tested until Stranger Things season 4.