Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Marvel’s What if…? episode 9.
Marvel’s What If…? season 1 has come to an end, and the season finale ends with a curious post-credits scene that twists Captain America’s Avengers: Endgame ending for Captain Carter. The animated MCU has been primarily composed of isolated one-off stories set in different realities of the Marvel multiverse, but episode 9 unites a team of characters from across the season to battle Ultron as the Guardians of the Multiverse. The team includes What If…?’s Star-Lord T’Challa, Killmonger, Gamora, Party Thor, Strange Supreme, and of course, Captain Carter.
The character of Captain Carter is introduced in What If…? episode 1, which shows a universe where Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, received the original super soldier serum. In that timeline, Steve dons an Iron Man-style mech suit called the Hydra Stomper to help Peggy battle bad guys. Just like in the original Captain America movie, Captain Carter ends up getting stolen out of her time after defeating Hydra and relocated to the present day, where she joins SHIELD and continues her heroic efforts around the world.
After helping the Watcher defeat Ultron as part of the Guardians of the Multiverse, Captain Carter asks if she can go back to her original time period and be with Steve. But the Watcher denies her request. Instead, he puts her right back where she started the What If…? season 1 finale – on the ship from the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But after taking down the terrorists on board with Black Widow, Peggy discovers that Steve might actually be alive.
Clearly, the Watcher isn’t above breaking his oath of noninterference in the right situation. He intervenes to defeat Infinity Stone Ultron, and he places Black Widow in a different reality from the one she came from simply to make her happy. But when Peggy asks to go back in time, like how Steve does at the end of Avengers: Endgame, the Watcher says no. He states his reason pretty clearly – Captain Carter’s present-day universe still needs her, and it would likely be in big trouble if she were to leave. Sending her back to the 1940s would be too big of a change. By contrast, in Endgame, Captain America has reached the end of his starring role in his timeline. He’s given all he can, and his time as a hero is over, so it doesn’t have any major ramifications for him to leave. Plus, the Avengers’ time travel was part of their core reality, not a divergence from it, whereas a change enacted by the Watcher would have been a major Nexus event.
Though the Watcher opts not to send Captain Carter back to World War II, he surely knew what awaited her back in her present-day timeline – an implied reconnection with Steve. Natasha shows Peggy that the terrorists on the ship were after a particularly sturdy piece of cargo – a metal crate holding the original Hydra Stomper suit, which, according to Black Widow, still has someone inside. The clear implication is that Steve is somehow alive and active, allowing Captain Carter to have a different king of Avengers: Endgame ending by reuniting with her love in the present day. However, the What If…? episode 9 ending also points to darker twist – that in Captain Carter’s universe, Steve became the Winter Soldier.
While What If…? episode 9 may not confirm that Steve is the Winter Soldier, it’s heavily implied. The situation mirrors the second Captain America movie, which was all about the decades of torment and control visited on Bucky Barnes when he was the Winter Soldier. It seems unlikely that Steve and the Hydra Stomper would have still been active without SHIELD knowing about it unless he was being manipulated by some darker, more hidden faction. And since Hydra is likely still active in Captain Carter’s timeline, just as they were in the MCU’s Sacred Timeline, they could easily behind Steve’s return.
What a Steve Rogers Winter Soldier would look like, however, is a little less clear. Since the Hydra Stomper is still being used, it’s unlikely that Steve was modified with Hydra’s super soldier serum in the same way that Bucky was. A successful transformation would have made the Hydra Stomper irrelevant and better suited to a less superpowered operative. But if Steve wasn’t modified with super soldier serum, why would he have been kept around at all? Theoretically, anybody could learn to pilot the Hydra Stomper, and if it fell into the wrong hands, it surely would have been easier to teach someone on the side of evil to use it than to try to coerce Steve. There are a lot of unexplained mysteries tied to Steve’s apparent What If…? return, and they may be solved in What If…? season 2.
A good portion of Marvel’s What If…? season 2 will consist of entirely new realities and variants of characters, including some from MCU Phase 4. But there are also strong hints by the ending of What If…? season 1 that some of its characters could be revisited. The most obvious one to return to is Captain Carter, particularly because of the setup in the post-credits scene of What If…? episode 9. But will the show’s next season really reveal the truth about Steve Roger’s implied Winter Soldier transformation, or is it just a tease?
Captain Carter has been one of the most popular characters in What If…? season 1, so it would make a lot of sense to revisit her in season 2. Since she now knows that Hydra survives World War II thanks to her multiverse adventure with Black Widow, she could hypothetically stop the tragic events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier from ever even happening in her own universe. That in itself is an interesting story, and it would be even more compelling with a Winter Soldier storyline involving Steve Rogers. Is he really alive? Did he get the super soldier serum? Or is someone else using the Hydra Stomper? Hopefully, Marvel’s What If…? season 2 will provide some answers.