Warning, massive spoilers for Stranger Things below!
Season three of Stranger Things packs in a lot in just eight episodes, and so much passes by unsaid that it may leave you wondering exactly what you missed by the end of it all. But throughout it all, we always knew things were going to be all right as long as everyone came back together in the end. Of course, that was until the eighth episode of season three where Hopper is presumably dead and Joyce Byers packs up her boys (along with the newly orphaned Eleven) and puts Hawkins in their rearview mirror for good.
But let's rewind things a little and see how this huge decision came to be. To refresh your memory, Will Byers has been a victim of the Upside Down and all of its evils since the very first episode of season one. He's been trapped in the dark dimension, been a meat puppet for the Mind Flayer, and basically gotten the short end of the stick all around. Jonathan Byers may have Nancy Wheeler as his smart and stunning girlfriend, but considering how often the two get themselves into some dangerous situations, he's not exactly winning either. And Joyce had to lose the sweetest cinnamon roll that ever lived in Hawkins, so it's safe to say that the Byers have had a rough go in their sweet little hometown.
When season three opens, we learn three key facts about each Byers: Will is still connected to the Mind Flayer and can sense when he's around, Jonathan has a new job, and Joyce has been thinking about moving the kids out of Hawkins. The third tidbit is revealed by Sheriff Jim Hopper, who has been struggling with his temper this season and attempting to connect with the woman on a more intimate level. When the two start investigating why the magnets on various fridges have suddenly stopped working, they discover a group of Russian scientists have been working to reopen the gate to the Upside Down in a secret lab beneath the new mall in Hawkins. Like we said, there's a lot going on.
When things start getting real deadly, most of the characters — who have mainly been working in four separate groups — end up on different levels of the Starcourt Mall to handle the two big threats: the Mindflayer on the main floor and the scientists trying to open the door to the Upside Down, underground. Hopper, Joyce, and Murray the conspiracy theorist are trying to shut off the big laser beam that's opening the gate, when the Arnold Schwarzenegger-like supersoldier who has been following them around appears and goes head-to-head with Hopper. Even though Hopper bests him, it's too late for him to run for safety — the laser is about to open up the Upside Down and Joyce has to make the decision to turn the keys, even though she knows it'll vaporize him in the process. Bye-bye, Sheriff.
Flash-forward three months and Joyce has moved forward with her plan and is moving her kids (with the new addition of Eleven) to a new town for a fresh start. No one ever mentions exactly where the new family of four is heading off to, but it's probably pretty far from Hawkins since the only mention of visiting is reserved for the holidays. Jonathan, Will, and Eleven say goodbye to their friends and loved ones — with El having an incredibly heartwrenching moment when she finds a letter from Hopper that he never had the chance to give her — before joining Joyce in leaving behind their weird little town.
Even though it's a super sad farewell, their exit leaves us with a million questions. If season four happens — and we know it has to, considering the very big loose end they left behind — will it still take place in Hawkins? Will we be divided between the home of the Byers and their former small town? Or will it take place over a holiday when everyone is together again? Or — and this might be a little tinfoily but bear with me — what if the fourth season takes place after a time jump and everyone has graduated junior high? After years away, the Byers return to Hawkins for a big occasion and everyone reunites just in time for Hopper to return and the Upside Down to prove that it isn't out of tricks just yet!
OK, that probably won't happen, but until season four is announced, we'll be working on some theories.