After spending his life as Captain America, Steve Rogers decided to hang up the red, white, and blue at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Thanks to time travel, Cap was able to get some of that life Tony Stark was always telling him to get.
The downside of Steve’s decision? All the horrible things that have happened on Falcon and the Winter Soldier in his absence. But where there’s bad news, there’s good: Steve was able to live happily ever after with the love of his life — and in fact, according to this theory, he may have lived happily ever after with someone else, too.
The theory — In Avengers: Endgame, Cap gets the final word of the film, fitting given his connection to directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who made their Marvel debut with Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The last scene of Endgame features an older Steve Rogers on the other side of his time-travel mission passing off his shield and presumably his mantle to Sam Wilson. When asked to elaborate on what his life looked like after going back in time, Steve declines, but the audience finds out a crucial detail anyway: Steve finally got that dance with Peggy Carter, and the two presumably lived happily ever after.
But what happened next? Did Steve really never pick up his shield again? Did he just quietly settle down in the suburbs with Peggy and call it a day — or did he at least pursue one last act of heroism after placing the Infinity Stones back in their proper place? I’d argue that Steve still had at least one last score to settle before settling down for good.
The Steve Rogers of Avengers: Endgame knows all too well what happened to his best friend Bucky Barnes after World War II. Bucky didn’t die when he fell off that train. Instead, he became the brainwashed HYDRA assassin known as the Winter Soldier. In what world would Steve Rogers ever let that lie if he couldn’t do something about it?
The theory goes a little something like this: Steve goes back through time, returns the Infinity Stones to their rightful spots (and presumably has some harsh words of admonishment for the Red Skull on Vormir, if not an outright space battle against his oldest enemy), and then makes his way to the 1940s to reunite with Peggy. There, he fills her in on the life he lived, and how he found his way back “home.”
But the journey isn’t over, not while Bucky Barnes is still under HYDRA’s spell. With the knowledge of what happened to Bucky in his home timeline, Steve would try to right those wrongs in this world at least. Perhaps with Peggy’s assistance, he would fight his way through HYDRA to not only save Bucky from his Winter Soldier fate but also to root HYDRA out of S.H.I.E.L.D. before the shadowy group’s hold takes place.
If that’s what happened, it lends a lot more credence to claims from Joe and Anthony Russo that Steve Rogers created his own alternate timeline when he went back in time and stayed there — though that opens up a whole other debate.
The Inverse Analysis — When Sam asks Steve about the life he lived, the original Cap describes it with a simple sentence: “It was beautiful.” Steve living happily ever after with Peggy surely qualifies for a beautiful life, but would he really be at such peace if he never used the benefit of his future knowledge to save his best friend from so much torture? No way.
Of course, we may never see what Steve’s life after Endgame actually looked like. Chris Evans has said he’s retired from the Marvel Cinematic Universe life, much like his superhero alter-ego, though there are still rumors persisting about his eventual return. If he does come back someday, perhaps he’ll reveal how he altered his own parallel Marvel universe to save Bucky from HYDRA.
It would certainly make for a killer second season of Falcon and Winter Soldier — but that might be asking for too much. But a single episode reveals Cap’s post-Endgame life alongside Peggy and Bucky in a second season of Marvel’s What If…? feels like a nice compromise for everyone.
Avengers: Endgame is streaming on Disney+.