Steve Rogers’ exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains one of the franchise’s most bittersweet moments, but it was a necessary heartbreak. At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Captain America completed an important mission: he returned each Infinity Stones to their respective points in time, making good on Bruce Banner’s earlier promise not to disrupt the timeline.
Ever since Endgame, fans have wondered exactly how Captain America managed to get all those Infinity Stones back where they belonged, with one stone being particularly difficult due to a certain skull-faced villain. Now, a new theory reveals the truth behind Steve Rogers’ final mission, and how he could have avoided that awkward encounter entirely.
A fan theory put forward by Redditor u/Doobledump suggests that, though the Infinity Stones had to be returned to their respective points in time, they didn’t necessarily need to be returned to the exact location they’d left to restore order to the time-space continuum. This wasn’t really an issue for most of the stones. The Time Stone, for example, could be returned directly to the Ancient One, while the Tesseract (and the Space Stone within it) was likely dropped off without much issue back in 1970.
But the orange Soul Stone does present a rather glaring issue for Rogers, given that his old WWII nemesis Red Skull had been cursed to watch over it on the planet Vormir. Red Skull would only surrender it to those who’d made a sufficiently major sacrifice, such as Gamora (albeit unwillingly) or Natasha Romanoff (in another one of the Avengers franchise’s most painful moments).
If receiving the Soul Stone required such a sacrifice, what would giving it back have required?
In one interview with CinemaBlend, Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely joked that sending back the Infinity Stones worked more like a return slot at an old bank:
Stephen McFeely: “It's a good question. I think it is an everlasting exchange.”
Christopher Markus: “There's a slot.”
Stephen McFeely: “That's right. Yeah, that's right. It's like an old time bank. It's a pneumatic tube.”
Christopher Markus: “You put it back, but you don't get anything in return. It's not like a pawn shop.”
But would the Marvel canon really make things that simple? This recent theory sidesteps the issue by positing Rogers never had to visit Vormir at all, so long as the stone was returned to the same point in time (but not space).
When Bruce Banner speaks to the Ancient One in Endgame, she raises concerns that lifting a stone from its reality could wreak havoc on that specific timeline. He convinces her, however, that returning the stones to their timelines would counter any such effects. (Notably, Banner never specifies a physical drop-off point for each stone.) Perhaps Rogers avoided a run-in with his archenemy by leaving the Soul Stone somewhere far from Vormir.
That said, this theory isn’t airtight. Imagine you’re the Ancient One and Bruce Banner promises the Avengers will return the stone to the exact point in time it left. Instead of Banner taking the stone and Rogers immediately returning it (from The Ancient One’s perspective, that is), they’d see Banner leave and then... nothing, given that the stone had been returned somewhere else in space. Wouldn’t that alter the timeline?
What’s most likely is that Rogers returned to the Ancient One directly, seeking counsel as to how to return the other stones, be that leaving them exactly where they were taken from or finding a better home than “at the center of a death trial run by the former head of HYDRA,” as one could quite accurately put it.
Whether this theory is true or not, we can rest easy knowing Steve survived his mission to return the stones, that timelines never melted down (at least, not yet), and he lived a long life with his true love, Agent Peggy Carter. But if he was able to do all that without having to encounter Red Skull? Even better.
Avengers: Endgame is now streaming on Disney+.