**Warning – this article contains spoilers for Stranger Things 3**
Hearts across the world broke when Sean Astin's lovable Bob Newby was brutally killed by a pack of demodogs back in Stranger Things 2, and there's been speculation ever since that The Duffer Brothers had another shock death up their sleeves for Stranger Things 3.
Well, turns out, viewers were proved correct – at least until the final post-credits scene...
It goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that there are major spoilers ahead, so don't read on unless you've watched the post-credits scene following episode eight of Stranger Things 3. Don't say we didn't warn you.
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The finale for Stranger Things 3 was chock-full of shock twists: Billy's dramatic change of heart and grisly death at the hands (sorry, fleshy-fanged-tentacles) of the Mind Flayer; Eleven losing her powers; and the Byers' tearful move out of Hawkins with Eleven in tow. But the biggest shock of all (although the appearance of Dustin's girlfriend Suzie surely comes a close second) was of course the death of Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour).
Hopper had had a somewhat difficult ride throughout the season. He struggled to come to terms with Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) burgeoning romance with Mike (Finn Wolfhard), and he just couldn't get over the fact that Joyce (Winona Ryder) had stood him up on their not-a-date-but-totally-a-date. He also later struggled to shake The Terminator — sorry, sorry, the persistent, leather-clad 'Russki' assassin — who was determined to hunt down "the American".
But by episode eight, Hopper was finally finding his groove (despite — or perhaps because of — the Magnum, P.I.-esque Hawaiian shirt). He'd been reunited with his adoptive daughter Eleven at Starcourt Mall, and Joyce had agreed to go on a real-life date with him after closing the new gate to the Upside Down.
Ah, so close Hopper. Just as he and Joyce were about to turn the keys to shut down the gate-opening machine, The Russian Terminator showed up fists first. His and Hopper's ensuing fight led the two men outside of the control room and next to the machine, created by the Russians. The Russian Terminator was shredded by the machine (ouch...or should that be 'oy'?) and Hopper was trapped by a fizzing blue wall of energy, unable to rejoin Joyce in the control room.
With Dustin's yells ("DO IT! SHUT IT DOWN!") echoing over the radios, Joyce was forced to sacrifice Hopper, shutting down the machine as the chief of police apparently met a pretty unpleasant end and disintegrated.
Or did he?
The final post-credits scene took the viewer to a covert base in Kamchatka, Russia, where we saw a row of cells. As two guards stalked past, one made to open a door, but the other held him back. “No. Not the American,” he said in Russian, before choosing an alternate prisoner to feed to a captured demogorgon (yet another twist).
Much like Captain America's hammer-lift in Avengers: Endgame, the "Not the American" line will likely result in viewers jumping off their seats and screaming "I KNEW IT," because come on, who else could "the American" be but Hopper, who was also referred to as such by the Russian Terminator guy for much of the season? While exactly how he ended up in Russia remains a mystery, one thing seems clear: somehow, Hopper survived.
Of course, that's exactly what The Duffer Brothers will want us to believe, and this could all be a cruel trick — but it seems unlikely that they would renege on that kind of reveal. If the storylines of both Steve "The Hair" Harrington and Erica (both bumped up to regulars following acclaim from viewers) have taught us anything, it's that Stranger Things has a unique, reciprocal relationship with its fans.
The twist also makes narrative sense. After all, if Eleven's powers are gone (at least temporarily) she's unable to telepathically "find" Hopper in the same way she spied on Billy, Mike and Lucas during the season. His "death" also frees up Eleven to move in with the Byers, taking her outside of Hawkins and into a brand new environment, where she may even be able to start school.
Still, something tells us that a meagre underground fortress in snowy Russia won't be able to contain Hopper for long — and the same goes for the demogorgon...
Stranger Things is available to stream on Netflix from 4th July