demands a sacrifice

Avengers: Endgame theory: Doctor Strange let one character die on purpose

Was the MCU’s most tragic loss avoidable?

The Avengers beat Thanos, but at what cost? In Avengers: Endgame, the Blip was reversed, but not without enormous sacrifice. Two deaths in particular hit Marvel fans like a one-two punch with a wrecking ball: the loss of Natasha, followed shortly by the death of Tony Stark.

Following the revival of the 3.5 billion blipped population, Tony’s demise completed a holy trinity of emotional gut punches in Endgame. But while the moment worked as a denouement for a chapter of Marvel Cinematic Universe history, was there a way it could have been avoided?

Perhaps — but this theory suggests Doctor Strange let Tony fall for a haunting reason.

The Theory — Redditor u/OmegaRed12 posits that when Doctor Strange saw into the future, the other 14,000,604 timelines where they lost didn’t always mean Thanos won; there were timelines where other, non-Thanos events were considered losses as well.

After all, it’s the MCU; 14 million outcomes would surely involve some intense curveballs.

The theory suggests that in some of these outcomes, the Avengers’ demise didn’t come at the hands of Thanos. Instead, Tony Stark served as the lynchpin for huge issues after Thanos was defeated, meaning the end of the Avengers as we know it. Therefore, a win condition for Dr. Strange wasn’t just the defeat of Thanos. Unfortunately, it meant the defeat of Tony Stark too.

Doctor Strange letting Tony know this is the one winning outcome.Marvel Entertainment

The Stark Truth — It’s hard to come to terms with a theory like this purely because Tony Stark was the glowing arc reactor heart of the Avengers. But it’s certainly possible something terrible could happen with him in the future.

Faced with the biggest trolley problem possible, Doctor Strange decided the best outcome for the fate of the Earth was to get rid of both Thanos and Tony Stark in one fight, allowing the Avengers to continue to exist in an intact (if damaged) form.

Doctor Strange said in Infinity War that he wouldn’t hesitate to let Tony die, but that may have changed in Endgame. In a deleted scene from the movie, Benedict Cumberbatch plays Strange’s reaction to Tony’s loss in utterly heartbreaking fashion. You get the sense he didn’t let Tony die just to get the upper hand. He’s done what’s necessary.

One of the best parts of Doctor Strange’s character is how practical he is. He’s a doctor, he knows how to make hard decisions about which treatment would be worth the side effects to ensure survival. He didn’t let Tony die because he thought the Avengers would be better off without him. He did it because the world would be better off without him, callous as it is to say.

Doctor Strange kneels in response to Tony’s deathMarvel Entertainment

The Inverse Analysis — Did Strange let Stark die not just to win against Thanos, but to stop Tony from doing something even worse down the line? Of course, it’s just a theory. Tony Stark could have been the best thing to happen to the MCU and died simply because there was no outcome where it could be avoided.

Then again, maybe there was something darker about Tony, on the other side of the Infinity War. Maybe he was responsible for a future atrocity.

Clearly, Stark’s sacrifice was necessary for the world’s survival, whether the blood is on Doctor Strange’s hands or not — but we’re left wondering just how bad Strange needs to feel about that sacrifice after all.

Avengers: Endgame is streaming now on Disney+.