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Jim Hopper (David Harbour) saying goodbye

The Duffer Brothers dropped a bombshell of a teaser on Valentine’s Day when they released a brief trailer for Season 4 of the Netflix science fiction horror and 80s love-athon Stranger Things. The teaser, although short, provided everyone with some clarification for the events of Season 3 finale where Jim Hopper (David Harbour) was seemingly killed when Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) shut down the machine the Russians were using to gain access to the Upside Down. Plenty of fans had already theorized that Hopper was the mysterious “America” mentioned in the post-credits scene of the finale, and that there seems to be confirmed with this new teaser trailer.

For those who haven’t seen the trailer, or have forgotten in a fit of pure excitement, the teaser shows some kind of work camp somewhere in Russia where prisoners are building a railroad while armed guards watch over. As the camera zooms in on the workers, we catch a glimpse of everyone’s favorite police chief, just minus the hair, beard, and some of the weight he was carrying around the last time we saw him. Before we can see what has caught Hopper’s eye, the trailer cuts to black.

It left all of us to wonder, how did Jim Hopper survive what seemed to be certain death at the fateful Season 3 finale? And now that we know that Hopper is in fact alive (in one way or another), it’s time to theorize how the chief of the Hawkins Police Department survived when so many Russians turned to goo and ash in a similar incident earlier in the season.

Here are just five theories of how Jim Hopper survived in Stranger Things Season 3.

Jim Hopper's possible escape route?

Hopper Escaped The Bunker

There is a strong possibility that Jim Hopper was able to escape the section of the bunker was the machine was being held before Joyce Byers could blow it up. With the bunker being a cavernous complex with corridors and rooms splintering off in every which direction, there surely could have been some way for Hopper to find a way to escape the room before it was too late. When you think about it, everyone else who had been in the room on the Russian side in the beginning of the season turned to a pile of goo and ash. If that were to be the case here, how did Hopper end up in a prison camp in the frigid north of Russia?

Looking back on the last time we see Hopper (not including the “American” stinger at the end of the episode), he’s standing in the room with the machine as it’s being destroyed. In that room is a ladder. We don’t know where that ladder leads or if Hopper could have reached the ladder without being hit by the beam of energy, but that might explain how and why he survived and was captured by the Russians before being taken to a prison camp somewhere in the Soviet Union.

Jim Hopper (David Harbour) when we catch up with him

Hopper Was Transported To Russia Through The Gate

Season 3 of Stranger Things opens with Russian scientists attempting to open the gate to the Upside Down and failing in spectacular fashion. In a scene that’s not for the faint of heart or those of us who can’t handle small amounts of gore, we see the failed attempt of reaching the Upside Down literally blow up in the scientists’ faces. This whole scene is what puts the gears in motion for the show’s third season and is what eventually leads to Hopper ending up in Russia, where everything started in the first place.

In the Season 3 finale, just before Joyce shuts down the machine, it looks like the gate to the Upside Down (at least on the Hawkins side) is about to open. What if (work with me here) by opening the gate under the Starcourt Mall, the Russians managed to open the gate on the Russian side, allowing Hopper to jump through the gate and end up in Soviet Russia? It’s a stretch, but it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. And this would explain how Hopper ended up in Russia in the first place.

Jim Hopper (David Harbour) before entering the Upside Down

Hopper Entered The Upside Down Through The Gate

There is also a strong possibility that Hopper managed to enter the Upside Down and find his way out, only to end up in Russia. This wouldn’t be the first time the police chief found his way into the Upside Down as he and Joyce Byers entered via the gate in Hawkins to rescue Will Byers in Season 1. Perhaps he knew that he could enter through the gate this time around in an attempt to save his own life. With this knowledge of the Upside Down, it’s very well possible that Hopper was able to navigate the mysterious and deadly alternate dimension to find safety.

You could argue that the Russians were never able to open the gate on their end, which would mean that Hopper is trapped in the Upside Down, a place no one wants to be. There is a solution for this, however, as it’s entirely possible that by opening the gate on one end (Hawkins), the reaction helped lead to the opening on the other end (Russia). This would help explain how Hopper ended up in a Russian prison when we last saw him giving Joyce a look of pure desperation as she shut down the machine.

Jim Hopper (David Harbour) before the change in appearance

Hopper Was Sent To The Future

You could also argue that Hopper was sent to the future when the machine was destroyed at the end of Season 3. We don’t know for sure the year in which we see Hopper in the Stranger Things Season 4 teaser trailer, which could mean that he’s no longer in 1985. Judging by the uniforms worn by the soldiers in the 45-second trailer, it’s safe to say that the Soviet Union is still a thing, meaning it could take place anywhere up until 1991 (the year the Soviet Union dissolved).

We also don’t know how time works in the Upside Down (if we’re going that route), so what could have been moments for Hopper could be days, weeks, months, or even years in time in the regular world.

A possessed Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery)

What If Hopper Was Possessed By The Mind Flayer

When we last saw Hopper, he was a little chunky, had a head full of hair, and a bushy mustache and beard. All of that is gone when we see him again in the latest teaser trailer. The hair, the weight, even the spark in his eyes are all absent, and we’re left with a shell of a man. This could be because he’s stuck in a Russian prison camp where food is scarce and everyone has the same haircut. However, it could be something else.

In addition to traveling through the Upside Down and meeting random kids with powers like those possessed by Eleven, we’ve also seen characters become possessed by the power of the Mind Flayer. This was primarily seen throughout Season 3 when Billy Hargrove became possessed after entering the Upside Down. Throughout the season, Billy (Dacre Montgomery) kidnapped victims to help feed the Mind Flayer as the entity grew stronger. What if the Mind Flayer didn’t die at the end of the season and took hold of Hopper when he went through the gate? He could be using Hopper as a way to build strength as he prepares to take another physical form and take down Eleven once and for all.

What do you think of these theories? Do any of them hold water? I guess we’ll have to wait and see when Stranger Things eventually returns to Netflix. And remember, stranger things have happened.