In the lead-up to Avengers: Endgame, there were a ton of theories about how the remaining heroes could defeat Thanos. Most of them turned out to be wrong, but a huge swathe of fan theories focused on Doctor Strange and the Time Stone may have actually been proven right by one line from Endgame. It turns out, the green Infinity Stone really was as important as everyone thought, just not in the exact way we’d imagined.
Warning: Big ol’ Avengers: Endgame spoilers ahead.
First, a quick refresher. Doctor Stephen Strange spent almost all of Avengers: Infinity War determined not to hand the Time Stone over to anyone else, regardless of what they had planned for it. Then, in a twist that shocked Marvel fans around the world, he calmly handed the stone over to Thanos at the end of the movie to save Tony Stark’s life. “We’re in the endgame now,” he told Stark before turning to dust.
Fans obsessed over that moment (along with the earlier scene where Strange views millions of possible outcomes) for proof at some bigger scheme. Why was the Time Stone shining in that final scene? Did Strange send it into the future or the past before handing it over to Thanos? Was that even the real Time Stone? Was Strange secretly working with Loki?
Avengers: Endgame never answers any of these questions directly, but it does give a strong indication that Doctor Strange’s decision to give up the Time Stone was part of a bigger plan. Surprisingly, it turns out Strange wasn’t tricking Thanos at all. Instead, he was simply planting an important seed that would make it possible for the Avengers to undo the Snap later on.
This all becomes clear during Endgame’s second act when the Avengers travel back in time to collect the Infinity Stones. Bruce Banner (aka, the Hulk) is tasked with getting the Time Stone in 2012. He runs into the Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), who initially refuses to give up the stone, warning Banner that removing any Infinity Stones from their place in time would send that timeline into total chaos and darkness.
Banner’s only able to change her mind when he reveals that in the future during Infinity War, Strange gave up the Time Stone. The Ancient One responds in shock. You can see the gears turning in her mind. Clearly, Strange had a reason for what he did, and perhaps it was as simple as paving the way for the Ancient One to make a similar choice in Endgame.
Of course, Strange didn’t let the Time Stone leave his timeline, he just handed it over to Thanos. So it’s not a perfect parallel to the Ancient One’s predicament in Avengers: Endgame, but it’s still enough to suddenly change her mind.
It turns out that Doctor Strange was plotting something all along, it was just a whole lot simpler (or maybe a whole lot more complicated) than we ever guessed.
Avengers: Endgame is in theaters now.