Mystery aficionados know all too well that if they never see a body, there's a chance a presumed-dead character may still be alive. So it comes as no surprise that the bulk of the theories about Hopper's fate on Stranger Things contend that the beloved Hawkins chief of police (played by David Harbour) didn't actually meet his demise following the Russian lab explosion. Sure, the show wants you to believe that Hopper died in the Season 3 finale, but eagle-eyed fans have spotted enough clues to the contrary for fans to have plenty of hope for a potential Season 4.
Even Noah Schnapp (aka Will Byers) isn't exactly mourning Hopper just yet. "I hope Hopper isn’t fully gone, but I feel like he’ll be coming back," he recently admitted to Entertainment Tonight. "I don't think he’s gone forever."
Exactly why are so many people questioning whether or not Hopper actually died? One observation points to a minute detail that many who marathoned Stranger Things on Netflix could have easily missed. As pointed out by several Reddit users, just prior to the explosion that allegedly claimed Hopper's life, there was a conveniently placed ladder that, in all likelihood, could have led to some sort of last-minute escape route for Hopper. Many believe that the set designers wouldn't have just included a ladder for no reason — even if just to fuel fan theories, perhaps.
Where could he have gone, though? Well, according to some other viewers, Hopper's letter to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) was riddled with clues. The first is that his use of a dark cave metaphor to describe his life before he met El points to the fact he may actually be in the Upside Down. Fans have surmised that he was able to, well, hop in the portal before it closed.
There's also Hopper’s “three inches” quote to support that hypothesis. In the aforementioned note for El, he wrote, “For the sake of your poor old dad, keep the door open three inches.” Initially, "three inches" referred to his rule for how far open his adopted daughter had to keep her bedroom door when hanging with her boyfriend Mike (Finn Wolfhard). But maybe, just maybe, the door has a double meaning, i.e. it could also refer to the door to the Upside Down.
“There’s a reason those are the final words from Jim Hopper in Season 3. Taken literally it means keeping a door cracked. The gate was closing, but open enough to make the escape,” wrote Reddit user @HouseHeisenb3rg. “And the figurative meaning is an unintended message to Eleven, a reminder to Hopper as he’s trapped in the Upside Down, and a reminder to us — don’t shut the door; keep hope alive.”
Harbour echoed those sentiments himself in an interview with ET. "I mean, we should always hold onto hope. We should never let go of hope," he teased.
Then there's that Stranger Things post-credit scene. Set in a Russian military base, the clip shows soldiers attempting to find a snack for the Demogorgon. "No, not the American," one man says to the other. Could Hopper be the American in question? Some fans certainly believe so — but don't ask Harbour for the answer.
"I have no idea! I mean that, of course, is my hope too," he also divulged to ET. "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. I don’t know how though.”
Finally, there's another tiny detail that many sleuthing fans picked up on in the final scene. The song that's playing at Stranger Things 3's conclusion is Peter Gabriel's cover of David Bowie's "Heroes." What does that have to do anything? It's been a couple years, but, as many viewers with memories like steel traps remember that, back in Stranger Things Season 1, the same track played when Will was presumed dead. The repetition very well could be further evidence that Hopper, like Will, isn't quite as dead as people may have believed.
Even if Hopper did sacrifice himself for his loved ones, he still could make a comeback next season. Many also seem to believe that Stranger Things 4 could include time travel. Creators Ross and Matt Duffer revealed to Entertainment Weekly that the not-yet-confirmed next season will be "very different" and "open up in terms of allowing plotlines into areas outside of Hawkins."
What exactly that means, as well as whether or not Hopper actually died in Season 3 will have to remain a mystery until Season 4 premieres. Fans certainly have plenty to think about in the meantime, however.