Major spoilers for season three of Stranger Things ahead!
By the time you get through the third season of Stranger Things, you'll likely be left scratching your head 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 is a much more devastating question that we never thought we'd be asking ourselves: is Sheriff Jim Hopper dead? We're betting no, but before we get into that, let's review what leads Hopper to his big life-or-death moment.
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 favorite 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 vaporize 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 see Hop die since Joyce turns away at the last second and the explosion blocks our view. So, despite that incredibly heartfelt tribute to Hop in the final episode, that's one point in his favor for still being alive.
What's more is the postcredits scene in episode eight, which all but confirms that Sheriff Hopper is still kicking. The footage drops us into a prison in a very snowy Russia, where two soldiers are walking down a line of cell doors (you can't see inside the cells, because of course) 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's most important about this scene, of course, is the mention of "the American." Sure, technically it could be 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. It has to be Hop, right?
Needless to say, season four can't come soon enough.