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Stranger Things season 4 theories, cast, release date and rumors

If you're like most fans of Netflix's hit series Stranger Things, you've probably either already finished the third season or are well on your way there. As with the first two seasons of the supernatural series, season 3 brings its main arc to a satisfying conclusion over the course of its eight episodes, while still leaving a few tantalizing threads dangling for the future. 

It would have been surprising if the show wasn't picked up for a fourth season of monster-filled adventure, given its immense popularity with viewers. In fact, many people, both affiliated with the show and not, talked about the next season as if a renewal was a foregone conclusion all along. In addition to the inevitable wave of fan theories that started spreading across the internet nearly as soon as Netflix dropped season 3, the show's creators and producers — as well as a few members of the cast — have already started talking about what lies ahead for the former members of the Hawkins Middle School AV Club, along with their friends and family. 

While we wait with bated breath for Netflix to release more news about Stranger Things season 4, we've collected some of the information we already do have — along with a few interesting theories — in order to help make the uncertainty a little more manageable. Spoilers for Stranger Things season 3 ahead!

The Stranger Things 4 teaser: "We're not in Hawkins anymore"

We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief, because Netflix has officially confirmed that we will indeed be getting a fourth season of Stranger Things. The announcement came in the form of a short video teaser, which displays the words "Stranger Things 4" in the show's glowing red title font, as its eerie synthesized theme music swells — before the dark vines of the Upside Down rise up to ominously choke out the red light of the words. 

The teaser finishes with a card announcing, "We're not in Hawkins anymore," which could either refer to the Upside Down, or to the expanded geography of the show. After all, the Byers family did move away from the Indiana town at the end of season 3, which also teased a new, Russia-based subplot. 

At the same time as the renewal announcement, the streaming giant also revealed that it has signed the Duffer brothers to a multi-year TV/film deal, with Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Chief Content Officer, saying, "We can't wait to see what The Duffer Brothers have in store when they step outside the world of The Upside Down." What this means for Stranger Things beyond season 4 is hard to say — although the Duffers will be staying at Netflix, they may quickly find their hands full with other projects. Still, no word was given on whether season 4 will be the last one for Stranger Things, so there's still hope that the show could continue beyond its next season. 

What's the release date for Stranger Things season 4 on Netflix?

Just a few weeks after Netflix announced that Stranger Things would indeed be receiving a fourth season, they followed it up with a production schedule. Stranger Things season four will be heading into production in January of 2020, and will shoot through the following August. Its seven-month shooting schedule is also similar to previous seasons, which can help give us an idea of when the new batch could drop on Netflix.

Unfortunately, if the next season of Stranger Things follows a similar release schedule to the show's first three seasons, we can expect a pretty significant wait. After wrapping season 2, it took four months for the episodes to hit Netflix, while a whopping eight months passed between the third season's wrap and its premiere on the streaming service. That means that the earliest we could see new episodes of Stranger Things would be December 2020, with the spring of 2021 probably being more likely. 

A spring release would fit well with the show's previous seasonal settings — the first season was set in winter, the second in fall, and the third in summer. If the fourth season is set during the spring, as many fans already suspect, then an eight-month gap between production and release would feel just about right. Even if it means a long wait, we're sure it'll be worth it.

The first footage of Stranger Things season 4 reveals a shocking return

Despite David Harbour telling The Wrap in January of 2020 that he's keeping his schedule open, but that he "doesn't know what's happening," and "[hasn't] heard a lot from [the Duffers]," it turns out that the actor had us all fooled when it comes to his role in the fourth season of Stranger Things. On February 14, 2020, Netflix gave the world its own spin on a Valentine, releasing a 50-second Stranger Things teaser captioned "From Russia with love." The footage pans over a snow-covered landscape as a Russian choir sings in the background, showing a group of people that are implied to be prisoners working on a frosty railroad as they're guarded by Russian soldiers carrying machine guns.

As the camera pans slowly down the line of men swinging away at the tracks with picks and hammers, the music builds in intensity as the shot focuses in on the back of a tall man in a blue coat and thick hat. While he had previously been working alongside the others, he pauses to take a break as the camera sweeps up and around his body, pulling off his hat to wipe the sweat off his brow, and revealing his identity as none other than... Jim Hopper!

The former Hawkins Sheriff's head is shaved and he appears to be thinner, but he's very much alive, albeit stuck in Russia. No other context is given in the teaser as to how Hopper survived, why he's in Russia, or how he wound up a ward of the Russian government, but we're sure those answers are forthcoming. What's most important is that Hopper isn't dead, which means our hopes for an eventual heartfelt Hopper-Eleven reunion are now firmly back on the table.

Is Jim Hopper alive in Stranger Things season 4?

In the season 3 finale, police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) finds himself dangerously close to the machine the Russian scientists constructed to open a gate to the Upside Down — right as Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) prepares to destroy it. Both Hopper and Joyce realize what she has to do, and seconds later, the machine explodes, killing the nearby Russian scientists and presumably Hopper as well.

However, we never see Hopper's body, either during or after the explosion. When Joyce goes to look at what's left of the machine, there's no trace of him. This led a number of fans to speculate that he could still be alive — a theory that has since been confirmed by the season 4 teaser — although we're still not sure exactly how he survived. Perhaps Hopper jumped through the gate at the last second, right before it was destroyed, and somehow wound up transported to Russia.

In a post-credits scene following the season 3 finale, we got a glimpse of a facility in Russia, and a closed door sealing off a character referred to only as "the American." And of course we now know that Hopper is, in fact, in Russia, working on a railroad in the bitter cold. We don't yet have definitive confirmation that he is the specific "American" the Russians were referring to, although it seems like a pretty safe bet. 

Even before Netflix confirmed Hopper's return, there were subtle clues within the show itself that he'd be back. Reddit user embattle noticed that the scene in which Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) reads Hopper's letter is accompanied by David Bowie's "Heroes," the same song that played when Will's "body" — later revealed to be a fake — was discovered in the lake during season 1. Perhaps reusing a song that already played over one misleading "death" was meant to clue in the audience that Hopper wasn't really dead either.

Stranger Things season 4 will get an extra episode

Although it was originally reported that the fourth season of the reality-bending drama would run for eight episodes (similar to the first and third seasons), it's now likely that the season may actually run just a bit longer. According to TV Line, rumor has it that Stranger Things season 4 will actually consist of nine episodes, as opposed to eight, tying with the second season in its extended runtime.

Of course, season two spent its extra time on a poorly received bottle episode, which told the story of Eight, Eleven's superpowered sister who also escaped Papa's lab. The episode followed Eleven as she caught up with Eight and her band of teenage misfits, who were intent on tracking down the people who had wronged them and holding them accountable. Overall, fans weren't thrilled with the episode, complaining that it took too much time away from the show's main narrative.

With another potential nine-episode season, fans may worry that we're in for another disjointed filler episode, but it sounds like the fourth season's extended runt may be for a much more welcome reason. TV Line reports that "a fan-favorite character may have his/her origin story told in one (or more) of those nine episodes." Considering most of the characters on Stranger Things are children, it'll be intriguing to find out exactly which remaining character's backstory we still don't know, yet is worth exploring.

Are the Russians planning a demogorgon invasion in Stranger Things season 4?

The same end-credits scene that teases "the American" also introduces a fascinating and terrifying new development to the world of Stranger Things — the Russians have a demogorgon. The final shots of season 3 show the Russian guards tossing a terrified prisoner into a large metal cage before turning a crank that releases the beast from its pen, indicating that they've been keeping at least one of the creatures in captivity. 

This may explain why the Russians were working to open gates to the Upside Down in the first place. Perhaps they've been collecting demogorgons, although for what purpose we can't be sure (although the fact that they're feeding them humans suggests that their motivations are far from benevolent). Perhaps the Russians are planning to weaponize the demogorgons to invade America, using the Upside Down as a stealthy way to enter the borders of the country without anyone noticing until it's too late. 

Will Stranger Things season 4 include a real-life tragedy?

With the first season of Stranger Things taking place in the winter of 1983, the second in the fall of 1984, and the third in the summer of 1985, some fans are speculating that the fourth season will be set in the spring of 1986. If it is, there's a possibility that the fourth season will somehow tie into the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986. Additionally, the Russian presence in season 3 lends weight to the theory that we might be spending more time in the USSR in season 4. 

While incorporating a deadly real-life disaster into a series about alternate dimensions and monsters feels like precarious ground, there's one disturbing theory that takes the Chernobyl speculation a step further, proposing that it may actually be Eleven who causes the disaster. Either she'll get her powers back and somehow cause the nuclear reaction herself, or her battle with the creatures from the Upside Down will have catastrophic repercussions, which will then be swept under the rug with a story about a nuclear accident. 

However, although Stranger Things has already introduced the idea that the public is sometimes fed false stories about things like chemical spills to cover up supernatural disasters, we really hope the show doesn't go this route. While Chernobyl is back at the forefront of people's minds thanks to the recent HBO miniseries, implying that the disaster was a cover-up to hide some sort of superpowered showdown seems in extremely poor taste.  

Will Doctor Brenner return in Stranger Things season 4?

Despite Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine), whom Eleven chillingly referred to as "Papa," seeming to die at the end of season 1, season 2 revealed that Brenner survived the bloody finale of the previous season, and is still out there somewhere. However, Brenner was nowhere to be found in season 3, leading fans to wonder what's become of him.

Since Eleven ended season 3 seemingly powerless, some fans speculate that Dr. Brenner will be the one to help her get her abilities back. After all, he's the person who guided her through developing and honing them in the first place, so it makes a twisted sort of sense that he might be the key to regaining them.

Another theory suggests that Brenner, not Hopper, might actually be "the American" being held in the Russian cell. Of course, we now know Hopper is alive in Russia, but it's always possible that Brenner is there too. That wouldn't necessarily preclude him from assisting Eleven in rediscovering her powers, although they'd need to retrieve him from Russia first, which seems easier said than done.

Could Billy still be alive in Stranger Things season 4?

After being possessed by the Mind Flayer for most of season 3, the antagonistic Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery) was finally able to resist the creature's mind control long enough to protect Eleven from being flayed. Unfortunately, he was no match for the giant, multi-armed monster, and was impaled multiple times before seeming to die in his stepsister Max's (Sadie Sink) arms. 

However, one theory suggests that Billy may have survived after all, and may yet return in season 4. Not only did Billy manage to hold on to his own body — most of the Mind Flayer's victims melted into a puddle of gelatinous goo before merging into a single giant monster — but we don't see what becomes of him after Max goes to his side at the mall. It's possible that someone could have arrived to save his life just in the nick of time. 

If Billy is alive, he could also be yet another candidate for the mysterious "American" in Russia. Perhaps a team of Russian doctors disguised as American paramedics managed to sneak off with a barely-clinging-to-life Billy, in order to stabilize him and then study the effects of the Mind Flayer on his body. While this seems like a long shot, it makes sense that the Russians would take an interest in Billy, since their research would surely benefit from studying one of the few people who has been taken over by the Mind Flayer and (maybe) lived to tell the tale. 

Four new characters will join the cast of Stranger Things season 4

As Stranger Things gears up to move into production on its fourth season, the Duffer Brothers are already on the hunt for a few fresh new faces to join their ensemble cast. TVLine reports that the show is seeking four actors to appear in recurring roles during its upcoming season. Three of the new characters will be teenagers — although based on their descriptions, we doubt they'll get invited to join the core group's Party any time soon. These new teens are all male, and will consist of a metalhead, an entitled jock, and a stoner that reportedly channels Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) from the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Given the Byers family's move at the end of season 3, we wouldn't be surprised if this new trio plays into Will and Eleven's storylines at their new school... wherever that is.

The fourth new character is a man who, according to TVLine, "possesses characteristics that suggest that he will figure prominently in a certain storyline set far, far away from Hawkins." Although this description is deliberately vague, the most likely interpretation is that he somehow figures into the Russian storyline. Perhaps he's a sympathetic scientist who will help "the American," stepping into the void left by Alec Utgoff's third season character (R.I.P. Alexei), or maybe he'll be a new antagonist — a Soviet soldier, perhaps, or the Russian version of the first season's sinister Dr. Brenner. Whoever they are, we can't wait to see these new characters interact with the Hawkins (and ex-Hawkins) crew in season 4. 

Will Stranger Things season 4 take us back to the future?

The 1985 film Back to the Future was a major pop culture touchstone for season 3, playing in the movie theater that the Stranger Things kids frequent and even providing amusing conversation fodder for a drugged-with-truth-serum Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke). But perhaps the appearance of a movie about a time-traveling teenager was about more than providing a nostalgic Easter egg for the audience, and was actually hinting at future storylines.

In a show that has already normalized concepts like alternate dimensions, monsters, possession, and telekinesis, time travel doesn't feel entirely outside the realm of possibilities for season 4. In fact, it could make a lot of sense, as laid out in this theory by Rachel Paige for TV Guide. Not only was time travel part of the original concept of the show, but we still understand very little about the properties of the Upside Down, or the extent of Eleven's powers. It wouldn't be totally unreasonable to discover that, between the two of them, characters may be able to move back and forth through time, possibly even changing some of the darker events of the past.

This opens up a world of both story possibilities and returning guest stars. Maybe we could still witness the return of season 1's Barb (Shannon Purser), or season 2's Bob Newby (Sean Astin). Or, if Billy really is dead, time travel may be the perfect solution to go back and see him again.

Expect most of the main Stranger Things cast to return in season 4

While official casting information hasn't yet been released, it's a safe bet to assume that all of the surviving main characters will be coming back for season 4. The Byers family may have moved, but considering they took Eleven with them and she's the central character of the show — not to mention the only one with superpowers — it seems highly unlikely that they wouldn't return. As a matter of fact, the Byers' move could be a way to open up the storytelling possibilities for the series. Showrunner Matt Duffer told Entertainment Weekly that season 4 would contain "plotlines into areas outside of Hawkins," and while this could indicate the Russia-based storyline teased in the opening and closing scenes of the season, it could just as easily refer to something happening in the Byers' new hometown. 

Regardless of where season 4 is set, we expect the whole gang to return for another season of creepy paranormal adventures, no matter where they live. This includes Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Noah Schnapp as Will Byers, Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers, Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler, Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler, Sadie Sink, Millie Bobby Brown, Joe Keery, Winona Ryder, and hopefully Maya Hawke and Priah Ferguson, who plays Lucas' little sister Erica, as well. And while Hopper was presumed dead at the end of season 3, the season 4 teaser confirms that he'll be back too.

We will definitely find out who "the American" is in Stranger Things season 4

Even though we've already received confirmation that Jim Hopper is, in fact, alive and in Russia in season 4 of Stranger Things, we still don't actually know if he's "the American" that the Russians were talking about in the season 3 stinger. Knowing that the Duffers are planning to spend a significant amount of time in locations outside of Hawkins in season 4, we wouldn't be entirely surprised to find out that there are actually multiple Americans over in Russia, possibly all transported via the Upside Down.

If they weren't referring to Hopper, there are still a number of candidates who could be "the American," including Dr. Brenner, Billy, or dark horses like Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) or a character we haven't yet met. Whoever it is, we'll find out for sure in Stranger Things season 4. Ross Duffer said in his interview with EW that the identity of "the American," along with the truth of what the Russians are doing with their demogorgon, will play a "huge role" in season 4.

Whether or not Hopper is officially "the American," he's still a prisoner on the other side of the world, and no one knows about it. Without her powers, Eleven can't look for him, even if she knew he was alive. So as thrilled as we are to have the return of the beloved Hawkins Chief of Police confirmed, we kind of hope "the American" is referring to someone else, so that Hopper might have some help escaping his bleak surroundings.

Stranger Things might be around for longer than we thought

While the Duffer Brothers and Netflix have been consistently vague about the fate of the show beyond season four, prompting rumors that the upcoming season could well be the show's final bow, rumor now has it that Stranger Things may be sticking around past its previously assumed expiration date. According to rumor site We Got This Covered, Netflix is seriously considering splitting the fourth season of the show into two parts, to be released separately. So while we're still expecting at least the first half of season four to drop in either late 2020 or early 2021, it could be significantly longer until we discover how the season winds up.

Of course, these rumors are as-yet unsubstantiated, and We Got This Covered often makes predictions that don't wind up panning out. On the other hand, the site claims that their Stranger Things sources are the same ones who predicted Han's return in F9: The Fast Saga and that the upcoming Transformers would be a reboot, both of which turned out to be very true. If the rumor does turn out to be accurate, we can look forward to new episodes of Stranger Things well past when we'd thought we might have to say goodbye.

The Duffers aren't leaving Stranger Things

Nearly a year before season 3 appeared on Netflix, rumors started circulating that the third season of Stranger Things would be the last for the Duffer brothers as showrunners. While it was thought that the creative duo might still stay on with the show in some capacity, their input into its overall direction would be greatly reduced. This came as a blow to fans of the show, since the Duffers were the ones who came up with the world of Stranger Things in the first place. While another showrunner would've taken up the reins, shepherding the show through its final chapters, losing the Duffers at this point would've robbed the audience of the opportunity to see the conclusion the original creators had envisioned.  

However, Netflix squashed that rumor as definitively as the time Hopper stomped on a skittering piece of Mind Flayer at the Starcourt Mall. In a tweet in February of 2018, the streaming service said, "Don't drop your Eggos. Rumors that the Duffer Bros are leaving Stranger Things after season 3 are false," setting the minds of fans at ease. Whenever Stranger Things does eventually draw to a close, it will be with the Duffers at the helm. 

Changes are coming in Stranger Things season 4

While the first three seasons of Stranger Things have taken place mostly within the borders of the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, the Duffers have said season 4 will venture into other parts of the world. In their interview with Entertainment Weekly about season 4, Matt Duffer said, "I think the biggest thing that's going to happen is it's going to open up a little bit, not necessarily in terms of scale, in terms of special effects, but open up in terms of allowing plotlines into areas outside of Hawkins."

Although the Duffers didn't say much about which outside areas they meant, based on season 3, we can take a couple educated guesses. The first is obviously Russia, where the third season both began and ended. Perhaps whatever strange things happen in the fourth season will take the Hawkins crew on an adventure abroad. Another strong possibility is the as-yet undisclosed town that the Byers crew now calls home. Although Joyce talked a lot in season 3 about her family's need for a fresh start, the location of their new home was conspicuously omitted from any of the dialogue, leaving every possibility open.  

Wherever season 4 takes us, Ross Duffer says we should expect it to feel "very different" from what's come before. "But I think that's the right thing to do," he told EW, "and I think it'll be exciting."