It was the best of times and the worst of times. Steve Rogers survived Avengers: Endgame, unlike his fellow mighty heroes Iron Man and Black Widow. But the shield-slinging super-soldier's decision to travel back in time and spend the rest of his life with Peggy Carter left the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe without a Captain America — until Steve passed the shield to Sam Wilson, that is.
So, it's bittersweet: Steve's retired, but still alive. At least … he was? New photos from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are raising even more questions about exactly what happened to Cap after Avengers: Endgame. Here's what you need to know.
What Happened? — A new image released from the next Disney+ Marvel series features Anthony Mackie's Sam dressed in a black suit and tie, as if at a funeral. What's more, he's all alone, standing over Cap's shield. The associated feelings of doom surrounding Old Steve Rogers' fate in the MCU … well, they speak for themselves.
At an optimistic first glance, the image appears like it's a deleted scene from Endgame, with the erstwhile Falcon taking a break from Tony Stark's funeral to gaze upon his old friend Steve's shield. But revisiting the sprawling Avengers epic's penultimate scene makes this unlikely. When Sam and Steve meet on the lakeside bench, Sam is dressed in a leather coat; it's hard to imagine that he'd change back into his formal wear after receiving the shield, though hey, stranger things!
When Steve appears to Sam at the end of Endgame, he's at peace, having lived a "beautiful" life with Peggy, even if he refuses to speak her name out loud. It's a hard-earned happy ending for a man who was at war for the entirety of his adult life. Based on the image of a solemn Sam standing over the shield, it's easy to imagine Steve himself has now passed.
After all, recall the opening scene of Spider-Man: Far From Home, in which an In Memoriam montage details the various heroes no longer with us: Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision … and Captain America. One of these things is not like the other — unless, alas, Steve Rogers is dead.
Then Again … — It's hard to imagine General Ross and the other powers that be within the MCU accepting Steve's decision to retire quietly. (In Marvel Comics lore, an elderly Steve serves as a mentor of sorts when Sam first wields the shield.) If they must accept Steve's absence, there has to be some level of plausible deniability.
So how about this: what if Steve's death is faked? In WandaVision, it's heavily implied that there's circulated footage from the final battle against Thanos; it would be hard to imagine faking Cap's death in that circumstance, especially in light of Iron Man's actual demise, but not impossible.
Circling back to the Far From Home montage, it would make sense for Steve's inclusion if the greater world thinks he's passed away. Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes are nothing if not true ride-or-die Steve Rogers loyalists. It's entirely within the realm of possibility that they would want to honor Steve's wishes to live a private life, and instead go on to tell the world he's gone.
(For what it's worth, Professor Hulk also witnessed Old Man Steve's return, but he should be safe with the secret — just as long as he keeps it cool in between posing for selfies with adoring fans.)
The Inverse Analysis — Whether or not Old Man Steve is dead, it's almost guaranteed that we have not yet seen the last of the original Captain America. Recent reports suggest Chris Evans will return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in an upcoming project, surprising news given the actor's stated desire to hang up the shield for good. (For his part, Evans seemingly denied these reports.)
There are countless ways Evans could return to Marvel while still honoring the original Steve's moving finale. There's the Skrull route, should he appear as one in Secret Invasion. There's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and all the other multiversal happenings (such as animated series What If?) to consider.
But how best to explain his absence from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a series that's so focused on Captain America's legacy? Even in "retirement" and/or "hiding," it's tough to see Steve sitting on the sidelines while his two best friends deal with global calamities, not to mention potential attacks on the Cap mantle. With a heavy heart, then, this version of Steve Rogers looks likely to not be around at all by the time The Falcon and the Winter Soldier takes flight.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premieres March 19 on Disney+.