The finale

Falcon and Winter Soldier failed to learn one huge lesson from Game of Thrones

HBO’s fantasy epic reveals an essential trick in sticking a landing.

WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier each had uniquely strong beginnings.

WandaVision started with a pure sitcom parody unlike anything we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Falcon and the Winter Soldier started with a conventional Marvel format — explosions! terrorists! — but quickly brought a nuanced discussion of race into the MCU while digging into Sam and Bucky’s very human struggles. It all seemed so promising. So where did it all go wrong?

Marvel is still learning how to make television but maybe it should look to the last epic television sensation — Game of Thrones.

👉 Read more at our Falcon and Winter Soldier hub.

What Marvel’s first Disney+ shows got wrong

Elizabeth Olsen in WandaVision.Marvel

WandaVision attracted many viewers who weren’t necessarily Marvel fans. The innovative format was enough to keep even an uninitiated audience interested. Then came the finale. Suddenly, the sitcom parodies and weird commercials were sidelined for a big CGI showdown and a slapdash epilogue. Sure, WandaVision provided emotional closure, its finale episode felt rushed and half-baked whether you were a hardcore Marvel fan or just in it for the Bewitched parody.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier attempted to tell a story of patriotism gone wrong but muddled its message at the end with a half-hour-long action sequence featuring a heel turn from one character and a reverse heel turn from another. The human struggles that followed Sam and Bucky at the beginning were reduced to a happy barbecue montage at the end. It was the party with the Ewoks at the end of Return of the Jedi, but with cajun shrimp.

So what’s the issue? Both these shows lean on a dangerous myth — the unwritten rule that the season finale has to be the most “exciting” episode. Sure, this works for procedural shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or The Mandalorian, but prestige shows with the room to take their time aren’t restricted to this format.

Falcon and the Winter Soldier vs. Game of Thrones

The tumultous result of “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of Games of Thrones Season 8. HBO

No show exhibits this better than Game of Thrones, which consistently put its shocking, action-packed events in the penultimate episode of each season. This became a trope of its own, but it crucially gave each season finale room to deal with the aftershocks, add some much-needed pathos, and set up what comes next.

Imagine if WandaVision ended its penultimate episode with Wanda releasing her hold on Westview, allowing for an entire finale episode where she could say goodbye to her family and cope with the guilt of what she did. It would also leave room for Monica Rambeau to come to terms with her newfound powers and maybe, just maybe, reveal Jimmy Woo’s secret witness. WandaVision ended with an odd number of episodes — nine — so there was definitely room for one more.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale also needed room to breathe. After the Global Repatriation Council vote insurrection scene, we could see Sam and Bucky discuss their new roles, John Walker becomes the U.S. Agent (is he good? is he evil?) and Sharon gives some more context to build up her new Power Broker identity. Who does she call in the mid-credits scene? All these aspects could have been explored in more depth with an extra episode that didn’t also need to pack in a helicopter fight scene.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finale we needed

Who among us wouldn’t watch 30 minutes of Bucky having fun and talking things out at a party?Marvel Entertainment

We only get one tiny scene in Louisiana with hardly any dialogue in the series finale. An extra episode would allow Bucky to revel in a found family with the Wilsons — and maybe build some romance between him and Sarah.

Worse, there’s no epilogue moment where we see what’s going to happen next. Is Sam going to go back to contract work with Torres as Captain America? Will Bucky still go by the Winter Soldier name despite him saying “That was me?”

Now that Season 1 is over, there’s all sorts of speculation as to whether or not a second season is on its way. An extra episode to let these moments breathe would also allow for the establishment of a firm cliffhanger to keep those who may be turned off by the standard MCU ending interested in what comes next.

And even if there isn’t a Season 2, a glimpse as to who these characters become would inform every single Marvel property from here on out. Of course, with an entire cinematic universe to play in, Marvel doesn’t need each show to end with an entire epilogue, but some of the best Game of Thrones episodes were those weepy season finales. So why not at least give it a shot?

Not just a Marvel problem

Sam and Bucky look toward the future, but don’t clue us in as to what’s next.Marvel Entertainment

This problem isn’t just limited to the Disney+ Marvel series. Marvel’s Netflix shows also fell into this same trap of starting out with clear characters and motivations, only to muddle the ending by attempting too much. TV can’t follow the same formula as movies, nor can a collection of TV episodes be considered a movie.

Marvel’s future shows need to decide if they’re going to be villain-of-the-week procedurals like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or sweeping, experimental epics like Game of Thrones. Trying to please both sides is impossible and leaves everyone wanting. With the freedom of a streaming service, give the shows the time they need to grow, and never prioritize classic Marvel action over stories that keep things interesting.

WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are now streaming on Disney+.