By the time we got through the third season of Stranger Things, we were left scratching our heads about a few things. For instance, why have Eleven's powers forsaken her? Are there any rats left in Hawkins? And how is Max going to explain Billy's bizarre death to her parents?! But above all those was a much more devastating question that we never thought we'd ask ourselves: is Sheriff Jim Hopper dead?
Well, on Feb. 14, Netflix answered that question with an intense teaser. Jim is, in fact, alive. (TBH, we figured he wasn't dead. The real shock is that he's now bald.) The quick clip shows him in Russia, working with fellow prisoners while armed authorities oversee them. Understandably, Jim looks really pressed, but before we get any more clues about what's happening, the camera cuts out. This obviously brings about even more questions, but at least we have a taste of what's to come. So until we're treated to another hint about season four, let's review what initially lead Hopper to his big life-or-death moment in the third installment.
Season three sees most of the characters operating in four separate groups: Will, Eleven, Max, Lucas, and Mike; Steve, Dustin, Robin, and Erica; Nancy and Jonathan; and Hopper and Joyce. The latter duo decides to figure out why the magnets on Joyce's fridge have suddenly stopped working. By the end of the season, all the groups finally reunite and relay their individual discoveries and are able to piece everything together. Essentially, a group of evil Russian scientists have been trying to reopen the gate to the Upside Down in a secret lab beneath the new mall in Hawkins. Yes, it's a lot.
Hopper, Joyce, and Murray the conspiracy theorist decide to go down to the lab to shut off the big laser beam that's opening the gate themselves. Just as Hopper and Joyce are about to turn the two keys that are required to shut off the laser, an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like supersoldier arrives and starts beating the sh*t out of everybody's favourite sheriff. Even though Hopper bests him, it's too late — the laser is about to open up the Upside Down, and Joyce has to make the decision to turn the keys, even though she knows it'll vaporise Hop in the process. Cue all the tears.
The next thing we know, it's three months later and Joyce is moving her sons (and Eleven!) to a brand new town for a fresh start. Hopper is presumed dead since his remains were never found, which makes sense since he was presumably turned into dust. What's important to note here is that we never actually saw Hop die since Joyce turned away at the last second and the explosion blocked our view. So, despite that incredibly heartfelt tribute to Hop in the final episode, that was clearly one point in his favour for still being alive.
What's more is the postcredits scene in episode eight all but confirmed that Sheriff Hopper was still kicking. The footage dropped us into a prison in a very snowy Russia (the same place we saw in the season four teaser), where two soldiers walk down a line of cell doors looking for a certain prisoner. One of them goes to open a door, and his partner says, "No, not the American," and then gestures to the next in line. They proceed to drag that poor prisoner down to the basement, where they lock him in a cage with the OG Demogorgon. Brutal.
What was most important about this scene, of course, was the mention of "the American." Sure, technically it could've been any old American citizen locked away in there. But the show made a point of highlighting that "the American" is what the Russian supersoldier who was tracking Hopper the entirety of the season always referred to him as — never by his actual name or by "the sheriff" or any other identifier. So Hop's survival was pretty much assumed, but it's nice to have confirmation.
Needless to say, season four can't come soon enough.