Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Stranger Things season 3.
Thanks to Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp) Hopper, (David Harbour), Joyce (Winona Ryder) and the rest of the Stranger Things gang, the people of Hawkins — and really, the entire world — can once again rest easy now that the gate to the Upside Down is shut.
But this season, the group’s victory over the forces of the Upside Down came at a higher cost than ever before. Not only did Hopper and Billy (Dacre Montgomery) both seemingly sacrifice themselves in order to defeat the Mind Flayer, but the rest of Hawkins’ flayed citizens were also lost in the fight.
With Joyce, Will, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and El leaving Hawkins in search of greener pastures, the season 3 ending was definitely an emotional one for fans. But before we deal with that heartbreaking goodbye scene, let’s unpack everything in the finale that led up to it.
The final moments of episode 7 had already revealed that El’s wound was more serious than the group initially thought. And when El was forced to use her powers to remove the piece of the Mind Flayer that had invaded her when it took a bite out of her leg, her telekinetic tank was clearly left on empty.
Luckily, Hopper, Joyce and Murray (Brett Gelman) showed up just in time to lend the kids a much-needed assist in the battle against both the Mind Flayer and the Russians.
Griswold Family, Scoop Troop and Bald Eagle
After quickly sharing everything they had learned with one another, the group decided to split into three different factions: Scoop Troop — Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Steve (Joe Keery), Robin (Maya Hawke) and Erica (Priah Ferguson) — Griswold Family — Eleven, Mike, Will, Lucas, Max (Sadie Sink), Jonathan and Nancy (Natalia Dyer) — and Bald Eagle — Murray, Joyce and Hopper.
The plan was that Scoop Troop would drive to Dustin’s radio tower where the walkie talkie signal was strong enough for Dustin and Erica to provide guidance to Murray, Joyce and Hopper as they infiltrated the underground Russian base. Meanwhile, Griswold Family would head to safety.
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But when Griswold Family discovered that Billy — who was waiting outside in his car — had cut Nancy’s ignition cable, they had no choice but to retreat back inside Starcourt Mall. And that’s when the Mind Flayer monster showed up.
The Final Battle of Starcourt
With El unable to use her powers to defend herself or her friends against the Mind Flayer, Griswold Family was in a tight spot — especially after El, Mike and Max were separated from the rest of the group.
Will, Lucas, Jonathan and Nancy eventually managed to make it back outside and — thanks to Steve showing up just in time to ram Billy’s car — drive away. The Mind Flayer monster followed, giving El, Mike and Max a chance to try to make their own escape. Unfortunately, Billy spotted them trying to make a run for it and forced them back inside.
Meanwhile, after agreeing that they would finally go on an actual date, Hopper and Joyce hit a snag when the vault code that Murray had given them turned out to be incorrect. Luckily, Dustin was able to get in touch with his previously elusive Camp Know Where girlfriend Suzie, who helpfully provided the number that correlates with Planck’s Constant — a.k.a. the vault code — following a rousing rendition of the NeverEnding Story theme song. Joyce and Hopper then headed to the observation room and were moments away from successfully using the key to close the gate when the Russian assassin attacked.
Elsewhere in the mall, Billy caught up with El, Mike and Max and kidnapped El after knocking Mike and Max out. He then carried her out to the food court, where the Mind Flayer monster was waiting. The monster was briefly distracted when Lucas, Will, Jonathan, Nancy, Steve and Robin began pelting it with the fireworks that Lucas stole from the grocery store. But it still seemed like all hope may be lost for El when Billy pinned her down to prevent her from escaping.
In a last ditch attempt to bring Billy back to himself, El began describing the memory she had seen of him surfing on the beach while his mother watched. El’s recollection of Billy’s happiest memory somehow broke through the Mind Flayer’s hold on him and his true self reemerged long enough for him to sacrifice himself to save El.
Underground, Hopper managed to defeat the Russian assassin, but was left inside the room with the exploding key when Joyce closed the gate to the Upside Down. Closing the gate successfully cut off the Mind Flayer’s mind from its body and killed the Mind Flayer monster that had been terrorizing Hawkins.
Three Months Later
With Hopper gone, Joyce took custody of El and the Byers family was ready to get a fresh start outside of Hawkins. Unfortunately, this meant that El and Mike, Jonathan and Nancy, and Will and all his friends had to say goodbye to one another — a scene that was especially painful after El had just told Mike that she loved him. And while El’s powers were still tapped out, reading the speech that Hopper had written to give to her and Mike at the beginning of the summer at least seemed to give her some closure.
End Credits Scene
The Stranger Things season 3 mid-credits scene transported fans to what appeared to be a top-secret prison in Kamchatka, Russia. Inside, a guard was instructed to leave “the American” inside his cell before dragging the Russian that had been working alongside Alexei in the Hess house down to an underground cage. A guard then opened a hatch inside the cage to release a Demogorgon. The nightmare of the Upside Down apparently isn’t over yet.
But the real question is, is Hopper really dead? Since we never actually saw Hop get vaporized after Joyce exploded the key, is it possible that he somehow escaped, was captured by the Russians and is the American prisoner that the guards were referring to? There are certainly plenty of fantheories out there that suggest the Chief isn’t really gone. We’ll just have to wait until season 4 to find out.