In the penultimate episode of Marvel’s What If…?, the Watcher told us a story that “breaks his heart”, but that story isn’t over just yet. With the Ultron/Vision combo tearing everything asunder, our favourite giant bald almighty being has finally decided to break his oath and enlist a team of the multiverse’s best heroes to help save us all (including Killmonger for reasons which are difficult to fathom at first).
These Guardians of the Multiverse — “Not you, Stark” — represent the Watcher’s “last hope” to stop Vultron™, so do they pull it off in the final episode of season 1? Or are we left pondering the question: What If…? all our new faves died before season 2 arrives next year? Join us as we lift back the cosmic curtain and take a look at how Marvel’s latest Disney+ show sets up the MCU’s future moving forward.
Marvel’s What If…? ending explained
Episode nine kicks off with Captain Carter fighting Batroc, a villain whose “super-power” is that he kicks real good. But before Peggy can kick his ass in this reimagining of Captain America: Winter Soldier, the Watcher pops in to enlist her in the fight against Vultron.
Captain Carter is soon joined by Rager Thor, Dark Strange, Killmonger’s Black Panther, T’Challa’s Star-Lord (in Chadwick Boseman’s final MCU appearance), and a new Gamora who happens to be wearing the armour of Daddy Thanos. The Watcher believes this unique combination of “heroes” possess the skills needed to stop Vultron while further perpetuating the show’s hate of Tony Stark in the process. At least he didn’t die this time round, right?
After some cute meet-and-greet hijinks, the Guardians of the Multiverse are thrown into a battle with Vultron. But not even multiple hammers, a pile of zombies, and the battle cry “Viva Las Vegas!” are enough to take down this monstrosity.
The version of Black Widow we met last week throws her hat in the ring too, which was pretty brave considering that someone as powerful as Zombie Wanda is taken out in seconds. If it weren’t for Strange’s protection spells — not to mention a timely intervention from Captain Carter’s old buddy, Shuma-Gorath — the Guardians would be toast by now.
It also doesn’t help that Gamora’s convenient Infinity Stone Crusher — where’s that been hiding? — doesn’t work because it was only designed to destroy the gems from her reality. Thankfully,
girlfriends BFFs Black Widow and Captain Carter are on the case. Taking advantage of the Dark Strange pile-on, they team up to infect Vultron with the Arnim Zola virus we saw last week.
That works to a point, but then Killmonger’s gonna Killmonger, so he decides to try and steal Vultron’s power for himself. In doing so, the infinity stones are briefly separated from these 2 villains long enough for Strange to encase them in a pocket dimension for safe keeping. So that’s why the Watcher enlisted someone so untrustworthy. Turns out he knew all along how this was all going to play out.
The Guardians don’t have long to celebrate though, because the Watcher is pretty quick to send them on their way, returning them to their worlds at the precise moment they left. But before Black Widow leaves, she calls out the Watcher for standing on the sidelines so long. “We’re just stories to you. We’re not real… Did you make popcorn while Ultron killed my friends?”
To make amends, the Watcher doesn’t return Natasha to her apocalyptic home. Instead, he sends her to a new reality, one where the Black Widow was dead, but still sorely needed. “You’re not my Natasha,” says alt-Nick Fury. “But something tells me you have her spirit.”
How Marvel’s What If…? season 1 finale sets up season 2 (and the MCU’s future)
“I am the Watcher,” Jeffrey Wright’s character says at the end of season one. “The multiverse, every single world, every story, is my home. And I will protect it to the end.”
When you also take into account that the Watcher just broke his solemn oath, it sure does sound like he’s going to play a more active role in the already-confirmed second season of What If…? But even if that does end up being true, it doesn’t sound like the Watcher will need to get involved as much moving forward anyway.
“Going into the second season, we’re sticking with anthology form,” says head writer AC Bradley (via EW). “It’s going to be all-new stories, lots of fun, new heroes, and pulling more from Phase Four than we were obviously able to this season. Hopefully,” she continues, “We’ll see hints of Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Black Widow characters…”
This means that season 2 will mostly avoid the “big, let’s end the world, let’s kill everyone” arcs in favour of “more on the character stories and these heroes and showing a different side of them that people don’t expect and hopefully they can relate to”.
“We’re not a show that’s designed to set up Avengers 5,” she added. But that doesn’t mean What If…? exists entirely in a bubble either. As director Bryan Andrews points out in that same interview, “When we’re done with our episode, those universes continue. It’s an ongoing cinematic universe; there is stuff that happens yet to come that maybe we will see and maybe we will not see. But we don’t necessarily want to have it all tied up in a perfect bow.”
This certainly implies that the events of this show can impact the wider Marvel universe, even if it’s not clear how at this point. In a recent interview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Loki’s Tom Hiddleston even said What If…?“sets up a bunch of stuff in the MCU”, echoing that time showrunner Brad Winderbaum said What If…? is “just as important as Loki” in that regard.
Because of this, many fans expected to see the finale directly tie in with one of Marvel’s many upcoming multiverse stories, including Doctor Strange 2, Loki season 2 and Spider-Man: No Way Home. While that didn’t happen, it’s entirely possible that events from the finale could still play into one of these projects at a later date.
For example, Loki’s alternate TVA led by Kang will have undoubtedly noticed beings like Vultron and the Watcher mess around with the timeline. And then there are the rumours that What If…?’s Dark Strange could be masquerading as our Doctor Strange in the Spider-Man sequel. There’s definitely something
strange odd about his behaviour in the clips we’ve seen so far.
In No Way Home, the walls that separate each world in the multiverse are breaking down, which means that characters like Dark Strange and even the Watcher could easily break through here into live-action. Whether that’s just as a cameo or something far more integral remains to be seen. But whatever happens, expect to see these multiversal hijinks bleed over into the Doctor Strange sequel, Multiverse of Madness, which is perhaps even more likely to bring back some beloved What If…? characters. Zombie Wanda Vs our Nexus Wanda, anyone?
How Marvel’s What If…? post-credits scene sets up season 2
One character who we know will return for certain in What If…? season 2 (and beyond) is Captain Carter, the hero who kickstarted this whole story in the first place.
At the end of the finale, Carter takes one last look at a picture of Steve Rogers before the Watcher sends her back home. “Haven’t I earned my happy ending?” she asked. She certainly has, and the Watcher knows that too. But of course, he’s as cryptic as ever in the moment, simply telling Peggy, “That world, that time, needs Captain Carter” before sending her back to face Batroc in a world without Steve.
Seems a tad harsh, no? Well, if you stuck around for the post-credits scene, you’ll know that Captain Carter actually got her wish, after all. Black Widow tells Peggy to brace herself and then reveals that Steve’s Hydra Stomper armour from episode one has been discovered. And crucially, “there’s someone inside”.
The credits roll back in at this point, but it’s clear that this means Steve survived his apparent death and is about to be reunited with Peggy at last. It’s a full-circle moment for Captain Carter who lost Steve right at the start of this season, and it’s a beautiful resolution for fans watching back home too.
But that doesn’t mean Peggy’s story is over. Whether she pops up in one of the multiverse films or not, Winderbaum has already confirmed to i09 that Hayley Atwell’s character is going to appear in season 2 of What If…? regardless.
“We realized as we started developing the second season that Captain Carter was going to be the character we would revisit in every season, and continue that adventure. Obviously, we’re telling a story on a giant multiversal canvas. So you never really know who’s going to pop up where and when. It’s very much an anthology, but there’s always opportunity for fun connections to be made.”
That’s good news for fans who might have felt robbed by missing out on Peggy and skinny Steve’s reunion. And that’s good news for the Watcher too, because there’s only so much heartbreak that big old softie can take.
By David Opie