It's no secret that Netflix's hit series lovingly (and frequently) cribs from plenty of '80s pop culture touchstones — Spielbergian coming-of-age stories and blockbuster sci-fi trilogies. It's also no secret that the stakes are always higher than ever in a franchise's third installment, so fans may be wondering if Hopper will die in Stranger Things 3. What better (or worse, depending on your perspective) way to demonstrate that the threat has leveled up than to kill off the hero's lovable father figure?
In Return Of The Jedi, Luke's father Anakin dies just after completing his redemption arc. In Rocky III, the titular boxer suddenly loses his beloved trainer to a heart attack. In Back To The Future Part III, Marty McFly learns that his mentor, Doc Brown, has been killed in the past. (Although, thanks to time travel, that last death doesn't stick for long.) Basically what I'm saying is, father figures didn't last for long in '80s trilogy cappers… so maybe it's time to start preparing for another painful loss.
"Hopper is very killable," star David Harbour worryingly admitted of his character in an interview with Mashable. "I will be the first to tell you, Hopper is not safe." Although the show has teased the audience with the possibility of killing off the Hawkins Police Department chief before, but he's always managed to scrape through with his life and limbs intact. This time around, it's more likely than ever that the show goes through with it for real.
"[Hopper] doesn't always make the best decisions, like going into tunnels without backup, things like that," Harbour explained to Mashable. "The fundamental aspect of Hopper's personality is that he's not about self-preservation, he's about justice. He's not even about personal happiness, he's about justice. So he's willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good and so that is something that… he is definitely killable. I don't want him to get killed, but that's all up to the Duffer brothers, you know?"
So, will creators Matt and Ross Duffer decide to kill off one of their own show's most major characters, or is this all just more teasing to get fans' blood pressure up before the new batch of episodes drops? Is there any real reason to be concerned, other than the occasional tendency of '80s trilogies to kill off their mentors in the third installment? Actually, yes.
In interviews, Harbour has already commented that Stranger Things 3 will bring Hopper full circle in two big ways: his relationship with Joyce and his grief over his daughter's death. "I think they're built for each other," the actor said of Hopper and Winona Ryder's Joyce at a Season 2 screening in 2018. "These are two tortured, messed up, beautiful people who are like puzzle pieces that can't stand each other but actually need each other." Harbour himself "ships" the couple: "I would love to see them get together."
As for his dead daughter, Hopper may finally be able to stop punishing himself, thanks to his healing relationship with Eleven. "He is forgiving himself, and his ghosts are forgiving him slowly as well. But he still has a ways to go," Harbour told Esquire in an interview. "The Hopper arc has always been an arc of redemption. He's redeemed as a man with purpose or justice in Season 1, redeemed as a father, mostly, in Season 2, and in Season 3 we'll get another aspect of the redemption he needs."
Any fan of fiction knows the rules: as soon as a character reaches romantic fulfillment and/or spiritual redemption, they're eligible for the chopping block. Never hope for happiness for your favorite characters, because it's essentially the kiss of death. Happy characters don't tend to live long in worlds where monsters are creeping through inter-dimensional portals to prey on their loved ones. A noble self-sacrifice is usually the next order of business when that happens.
Darth Vader finally redeemed himself, then died while saving his son from the Big Bad villain. In Stranger Things 3, all signs are pointing to Hopper finally redeeming himself, then dying to save his surrogate daughter from the Big Bad villain. The larger arc of Stranger Things has always been about the kids of Hawkins, Indiana learning how to grow up; what better way to push them into maturity in Stranger Things 4 than to remove the comfort and security of the show's most reliable father figure?