Warning: A LOT of spoilers for season three of Stranger Things ahead!
Stranger Things season three did the unthinkable: it killed off Jim Hopper. Maybe. The truth is that end credits scene heavily suggests that everyone's favorite police chief is currently in a Russian prison waiting for Eleven to rescue him. But just in case the show has really said goodbye to Hopper for good, there's no denying they gave him a worthy sendoff. In the pantheon of Stranger Things deaths, Hopper's is understated, devastating, and quietly heroic in a way that's befitting the man he's become over the course of three seasons.
His death isn't flashy. A fight with the Terminator-esque Russian operative strands Hopper on the platform as Joyce turns the keys to destroy the machine before it can reopen the gateway to the Upside Down. He knows it's a now or never moment for Hawkins and the world. If the gate is allowed to reopen, Eleven, Will, and everyone Hopper cares about will be put in immediate danger. There's no way for him to get back through, because the machine is going haywire after he shoved the operative into it. He has no choice, but he makes one all the same. With a nod of his head and a teary smile, he tells Joyce to turn the keys, because even though he knows he'll die, the people he loves will have a fighting chance at a normal life. It's beautiful, especially when we remember how far Hopper has come.
We get to see this man who starts out not caring about anyone grapple with being the father of a teenage girl, while also opening himself up to the possibility of having a romantic life again, as well.
When we first meet Hop, he's a pill-popping, beer-guzzling shell of man who doesn't care about anyone or anything. Since his daughter's death and the end of his marriage, his only goal is to numb his pain. He doesn't want to feel anything, not even when his old high school classmate Joyce Byers tells him her son is missing. Hopper is a man broken and marred by a trauma that he's unwilling to confront. Then Joyce comes back into his life, and he finds himself on a mission to save Will. He gets a bit of his sense of purpose back during that journey, but the thing that really pulls him out of that dark cave he writes to Eleven about is leaving some Eggos in the woods for a kid who is just as shattered and in need of hope as he is.
By the time season three rolls around, Hopper has gone from feeling nothing to feeling all too much. In fact, he doesn't know how to process the sheer amount of love and fear having Eleven and Joyce in his life brings. We get to see this man who starts out not caring about anyone grapple with being the father of a teenage girl, while also opening himself up to the possibility of having a romantic life again, as well. In season three, Hopper has everything to lose, and that terrifies him, but he asks Joyce out on a date anyway, he assures Eleven that she's the best fighter out of all of them with or without her powers, and he leaves behind a note reminding his daughter not to follow in her father's footsteps when it comes to blocking out pain when life knocks her down.
Hopper isn't a perfect man by a long shot. He acts out in anger more than he should, he still runs scared from talking about his feelings, and his emotional intelligence is a work in progress. But he's found a way to love ferociously, and he pours all of that love onto the page in the letter he writes for Eleven. If his last acts in this world were to sacrifice himself in order to keep the Upside Down closed and to leave Eleven with the tools she needs to understand the beauty and heartbreak of life via his letter, then his legacy will be a remarkable one for a man who thought he would never leave that dark cave he crawled into after he lost his family.
No one wants Hopper to be dead. But if he truly is, then he went out as the burly, big-hearted hero we always knew he could be, and that's reason enough to raise an Eggo to series creators the Duffer Brothers for giving him the poignant sendoff he deserves.