Marvel’s What If…? introduces a gargantuan new figure to the MCU: The Watcher. In the show’s trailer, this unseen character (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) introduces us to the multiverse, to the idea that our universe is not unique and exists parallel to infinite other realities.
“I observe all that transpires here, but I do not, cannot, will not interfere,” The Watcher declares. Over the course of the series, our mysterious narrator will introduce us to a world where Peggy Carter took the super soldier serum, T’Challa becomes Star Lord, and numerous other Avengers cross and join paths in ways we never imagined.
So who is The Watcher?
One of many
Marvel Comics readers might be familiar with the Watchers, plural, a race of old and powerful beings that observe but do not interrupt the universe — not to be confused with the Celestials from Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (who, if you recall, interfered quite a bit).
The Watchers appear in multiple existing Marvel universes, but What If…? is at least positioned in relation to Earth-199999, the world of the established MCU. In early episodes The Watcher references how things happened and how they could have, using what we’ve already seen as a reference.
The Earth-199999 Watchers were only seen once in the MCU, when Yondu, Kraglin, and Rocket speed past them in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Three mysterious figures are seen listening to Stan Lee’s cameo character as he talks about his days as a Federal Express man (which we actually saw him as in Captain America: Civil War). At the time this was more of an Easter egg than anything, because Marvel fans don’t miss a trick.
There are also the Earth-1117 Watchers who worked directly with Celestials, and the Earth-1610 Watchers, who are supercomputers (a clever wink from Loki). There are dozens of Watchers, but the most prominent is Uatu-Tu, who broke the cardinal rule of interfering with events in the universe by helping out the Fantastic Four. Our Watcher might be him as a very convoluted way of bringing the Fantastic Four into the MCU… but given What If…?‘s standalone nature, probably not.
A universe unraveling
The Watcher doing what they do best. Credit: Courtesy Of Marvel Studios
The Watchers didn’t really have a place in the MCU until recently, when a certain God of Mischief cracked open the multiverse. Loki also brought the Watchers to the forefront of fan speculation when the omniscient Time Keepers turned out to be a ruse. In fact, timing the What If…? trailer to the week before Loki‘s finale only stoke the flames of the Watcher-theory fire, and they might not be behind the TVA but they’re still top of mind.
Now that the universe is not, in fact, uni, mortal superheroes from every timeline are going to need all the help they can get in keeping some semblance of order. The superhuman Eternals are stepping in while the Avengers lack leadership. If the Avengers were Earth’s managers, the Eternals are the next level of leadership, followed by the Celestials in cahoots with the Watchers.
We don’t know where or when the events of Eternals line up with Loki‘s cataclysmic finale, or if they will at all. Everything seems to be leading up to Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, premiering in spring of 2022, which means we might be in for many more multiverse cliffhangers until the good Doctor can clean up this mess. In addition to Loki‘s finale, let’s not forget the WandaVision stinger where Scarlet Witch heard the distant voices of her children, who are supposed to not exist. Spider-Man: No Way Home may or may not be uniting an all-star cast from multiple Spider-Man franchises.
All of this to say that the multiversal problem looks to be a bit much for any one Sorcerer Supreme, superpowered Sakovian, Asgardian frost giant, or Eternal to handle. The Time Variants Authority was pruning and manipulating the timeline long before Loki, which means that the Watchers let that happen. If the Watchers exist in Marvel Phase 4, it means they sat by and…well, watched… while everything we’ve seen so far came to pass.
More than a voice
If all of this sounds vague and speculative, it’s because that’s really all we’ve got. The existing Marvel shows on Disney+ show that while it offers an exciting starting point, the comics are by no means a character template for Phase 4. The Watcher in What If…? might not have anything in common with Watchers from the comics, or any overlap with the Celestials or Eternals. If What If…? stands alone entirely, so too might The Watcher — never seen or heard from again, as he was meant to.
What If…? New episodes airs on Wednesday on Disney+
By Proma Khosla