Warning: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s “What If...?” episode “What If...Zombies!?”
Marvel woke up and chose to show us a world where the Avengers became zombies.
Based on a comic book storyline, the newest “What If...?” episode — titled “What If...Zombies!?” — showed us what would have happened if a zombie apocalypse erupted on Earth before the events of “Avengers: Infinity War.” In short, most of the Avengers become zombies. So when Bruce Banner returns to Earth (as he did at the beginning of “Infinity War”), he finds a world overtaken by zombies. A few remaining Avengers save him, as they begin their search for a cure to the disease that turned everyone.
The newest episode had total “Infinity War” vibes, mostly because it kicked off where “Infinity War” begins. We spend a lot of time with Spider-Man, so fans of Tom Holland will love this episode. The episode is a journey that puts our characters in an entirely new light. And we get a lot of time with side characters. We spend so much time with Hulk, Hope from “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and Okoye from “Black Panther.” It’s a fun break from last week’s devastating episode, too, which saw Doctor Strange put an end to the universe.
But, in some ways, the most recent episode connects directly to last week’s darker theme, and it might be a sign of what this entire show may be about in the end.
The end of the universe?
The latest episode had a darker ending than you might expect from an MCU project. In most of the early Marvel projects, the endings were often positive. The enemy was defeated. The hero moved on with a new life and a change in character. But the most recent episode of “What If...?” about zombies, as well as last weeks’ about Doctor Strange, suggest that there’s a darker shift in tone here.
Last week’s episode ended with Doctor Strange ending the universe in search of a cure to save the love of his life, Christine (Rachael McAdams). This most recent episode — which takes place in a separate timeline/universe than the Doctor Strange episode — ended with zombie Thanos arriving on Earth to bring about the end of the universe, as the Watcher explains. This is a clear indication that the recent “What If...?” episodes are heading toward the end of the universe/multiverse no matter what happens in the episode. No matter what the heroes do, the universe ends.
That’s an interesting perspective for the show to have. The universe we all know about — where the Avengers don’t become zombies, or where Doctor Strange severely injures his hands — doesn’t always end in distastes. These universes do. They end in complete disaster and darkness.
So far, “What If...?” has been a series of bottleneck episodes that don’t connect to each other. They’re individual stories of events taking place in multiple universes. But as we move deeper in, a potential link has become clear. Maybe what’s linking all of these episodes together is, well, the end of the universe. I know that’s dark. But it’s what appears to be the case. The universe keeps finding itself in dire straits, especially in these last two episodes.
It doesn’t help that the Watcher — the show’s narrator who views much of the events — continues to see the end of the different universes. Does this mean that the end of show will see the Watcher stopping the end of the universe? Will the Watcher interfere in the end of a universe, something he has vowed now to do?
We don’t know where any of this is heading. But the truth remains clear — “What If...?” has become a show less about showing us what other universes look like, and more about how different universes end.