×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The ending of Stranger Things 3 explained

On July 4, the wait for more Stranger Things finally ended as new episodes of the hit supernatural series finally arrived on Netflix nearly two years after Season 2 ended. Stranger Things 3 saw our heroes, both kids and adults, growing and maturing as they faced new and unexpected threats, while also building new friendships and alliances along the way. It also, as expected, ending with plenty of interesting threads still dangling, leaving us lots of room to talk about how the season finale ended. 

So, now that everyone's had a chance to binge the eight new episodes that make up Stranger Things 3, let's talk about the show's most recent ending, from shocking character deaths to major shifts in the status quo to what exactly we might be able to expect from an inevitable fourth season. Toast yourself a big plate of Eggos, turn on the boombox, and watch out for the Mind Flayer, because this is the ending of Stranger Things 3, explained. 

Oh, and of course: SPOILERS AHEAD for the entire third season.

A new home for the Byers family

After a lengthy battle, Stranger Things 3 ends with an emotional departure, as the Byers family departs their little house in Hawkins for a new life somewhere else. Will has to say goodbye to his friends, Jonathan has to say goodbye to Nancy, and El has to say goodbye to Mike and the life she'd been building with Hopper. We don't know exactly where the now four-person family will settle, or what Joyce and Jonathan will do for work, but it's a tearful upheaval that changes the landscape of the show forever. 

What's particularly interesting in all of this, aside from Eleven's own mental state is the trauma Joyce Byers has endured over three seasons of this show. She almost lost her son not once, but twice through different Upside Down-driven means, she lost her boyfriend after finally letting him deep into her life, and then in Season 3 she lost Hopper right when she was beginning to feel she could move on. Now she's holding things together for her kids, but at what point will she get to heal? Perhaps Season 4 will show us her way forward.

Stranger Things 3 split the Party

This whole story began with four friends — Mike, Will, Dustin, and Lucas — as they were swept up in an otherworldly adventure after a night of playing Dungeons & Dragons. Now, at the end of Stranger Things 3, the landscape of "The Party" has changed in a major way. Will is moving away, Max and Erica are hanging around more, and Mike just lost El again, while everyone is growing up in some way or another. 

So, what does the future look like for The Party? Well, Erica seems ready to embrace her true nerdiness, as evidenced by her joy in discovering that Will left her his D&D books, while Max might end up spending more time with Lucas now that Billy's gone and she's in need of some real recuperation. Then there's Cerebro, Dustin's radio antenna that can connect with Suzie all the way in Utah. Chances are it can connect to Will too, so the remaining Hawkins gang might be spending plenty of afternoons out on a distant hillside chatting with their friend.

Nancy Wheeler's search for the truth

In the later episodes of Stranger Things 3, Nancy Wheeler learns an important lesson courtesy of both continued failure and a good talk with her mother: Authority figures be damned, she needs to get out there and tell the story she thinks people need to know. This leads her right into the heart of the Battle of Starcourt. But by the end of the season, we still don't know exactly what she's going to do with this newfound sense of courage and speaking truth to power. The show's epilogue shows her saying goodbye to Jonathan, but not much else, and before everything went to heck, she'd been fired from her internship at the Hawkins Post. So, where does Nancy go from here?

It's possible she embraces college, or that she uses her involvement in the Starcourt incident to leverage her way back to a position at the Post, or perhaps she goes and hangs out with Murray so she can learn a little more about telling the stories no one wants to talk about out loud. Whatever the case, we haven't seen the last of her, and she's not done digging for the truth.

Steve and Robin, BFFs

Steve and Robin spend almost all of their time onscreen together in Stranger Things 3. And their own relationship — along with a healthy dose of suggestions from the other characters — seems to suggest that they'll end up together in a very romantic sense by season's end. Obviously that doesn't happen thanks to Robin's coming out speech to Steve, and the two instead settle into a platonic relationship that makes them almost feel like siblings. 

Steve spends a lot of the third season of the show feeling like he's a bit lost, eventually coming to the conclusion that he's a loser who could have amounted to more. Robin, in helping him get the job at the video store, seems determined to help him change that. That help could go both ways, as Steve could prove particularly helpful in getting Robin to come out of her shell more, just as he did with Dustin. Together, they're an unstoppable friendship ready to conquer Hawkins — and perhaps the whole state of Indiana.

Welcome to Hawkins

The "Three Months Later" epilogue for the last episode of Stranger Things 3 begins with a clip from a news report which suggests that the dark and mysterious goings-on of Hawkins are becoming publicly known in some way. In the past, the government's been able to keep a relatively tight lid on things, keeping the true nature of what's happened there contained to just a few people — but not anymore. Now, with the town's mayor in handcuffs and reports of everything from chemical leaks to the tragedy at Starcourt making the rounds, Hawkins is gaining a reputation on a national level. 

Or is it? The Cutting Edge TV program that's teased within the show looks to be at least a little sketchy, in part because it theorizes that D&D-fueled Satanism is partially responsible for the troubles in Hawkins. It seems like the kind of show that people would watch out of morbid curiosity, then dismiss as hogwash. Hawkins is at least known far and wide as a weird place, perhaps even a dangerous one. But even in light of what happened at Starcourt, it's unlikely anyone who didn't live through the adventure will ever know the whole truth.

Eleven's long recharge

Shortly before Stranger Things 3's final battle at Starcourt, Eleven poured every drop of telekinetic energy she had into ripping the last shred of the Mind Flayer out of her. In the wake of that effort, she was unable to even crush an empty soda can with her mind. At the time she seemed to think she just need to recharge, as she always has, but then the season's epilogue revealed that she still didn't have her powers back after three months. 

Does this mean her powers are gone forever? It's possible, but unlikely. The series gets far too much mileage out of El's ability to not just move things with her mind — something she's gotten progressively better at as the show has gone on — but also to locate people across long distances with just a blindfold and an open TV or radio signal. 

So, while we may end up waiting a good long while for Eleven to find her mojo again, her powerless era may in fact just be one long recharge in which she can take some time to learn a little more about being a regular teenager.

Stranger Things 3's Upside Down Russians

It took the Russians a while, but they eventually developed a Key that would allow them to pierce the gate between dimensions and access the Upside Down on some level. Yes, it took them journeying all the way to Hawkins to do it, but they got it done.Even though they seem to be back home licking their wounds by the end of Stranger Things 3, they definitely made progress. 

We know this because the season's post-credits sequence reveals that the Soviets have managed to capture a Demogorgon, and they're keeping it alive in a cell by feeding it a steady diet of prisoners. What exactly they plan to do with it is anyone's guess at this point, but it can't be anything good. 

This is all made even creepier by the fact that we still don't know exactly what the Russians hoped to do with the knowledge gained by opening the gate, or how they managed to figure out so much about how to get into it in the first place. Are there more Russian spies working on this exact problem embedded in Hawkins right now? Is their tech strong enough to open a new gate now that they've had time to work on it? Can that corrosive green liquid be used to power anything else? Can the Demogorgon become a trained killer? There are so many questions here, and none of them have happy answers.

A hotter Cold War

As the Battle of Starcourt was winding down, Stranger Things 3 got a little boost in the form of an unexpected cameo appearance from Sam Owens (Paul Reiser), the guy who came in to clean up the government's mess after the Hawkins Lab fiasco in Season 2, and who got El legally adopted by Hopper in the process. Sam's been proven to be one of the good guys, but he's also one of the government guys, which means the U.S. government is now aware that the Russians were up to something very nefarious in their hidden facility beneath Hawkins. 

That means that, even if it's on an entirely clandestine level, the Cold War is about to get hotter, particularly when you take into account what the Russians managed to learn and obtain thanks to their time in Indiana. Owens and company might just be trying to contain the damage, but this is now an international incident, and those have a tendency to get worse before they get better. And if that's not enough to spark the fire, remember this: Murray's still out there with a lot of knowledge about what really went down.

Hopper lives? Stay tuned for Stranger Things 4

For a little while there, it seemed like Stranger Things 3 really did kill off one of its most popular and enduring characters. Chief Jim Hopper survived a lot on the show, but he couldn't really survive the explosion of the Key at the end of the season. He knew it was necessary for Joyce to blow it up as quickly as possible. It was a noble sacrifice, and a fitting end for a great character. 

Or was it? The post-credits scene makes it clear that the Russians have someone else in their cells, someone they refer to only as "the American." Could that be Hopper? 

Yes, they could have some other, unknown American hidden deep in the heart of Siberia, but consider this: the show goes to great pains to show us how destructive the Key explosion is. It shows us several Russian scientists who are flat-our vaporized by its power — but it never shows the same thing happening to Hopper. This show has shown us the corpses of everyone from Bob to Barb to Billy over the course of three seasons to make sure we knew those characters were dead, but we never see Hopper's body. Is that because there isn't one? If it's really true, he's going to have a hell of a story to tell when he gets back to the States.

Looking past Stranger Things 3

Stranger Things 3 does not end in a self-contained way. Its many dangling plot threads, from the future of the Byers family to what exactly might be going on in Russia, all suggest a sense of a continuing story, and that is indeed the plan. According to an Entertainment Weekly interview with executive producer Shawn Levy, the current plan for the series is for creators Matt and Ross Duffer to tell a story that lasts at least four seasons, if not five.

"Hearts were heard breaking in Netflix headquarters when the brothers made four seasons sound like an official end, and I was suddenly getting phone calls from our actors' agents," Levy said. "The truth is we're definitely going four seasons and there's very much the possibility of a fifth. Beyond that, it becomes I think very unlikely."

So, we should definitely expect more from the Hawkins gang. The real question now isn't if, but when. We waited nearly two years for the arrival of Season 3 after Season 2, so how long will we wait for Season 4? With any luck, Netflix will let us know soon. Hopefully we'll get to binge watch the next season over another long holiday weekend, too.