Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Marvel’s What if …? section 9.
Marvel’s What If…? Season 1 is over, and the season finale ends with a curious post-credits scene twisting Captain America’s Avengers: Endgame ends for Captain Carter. The animated MCU has been primarily composed of isolated one-off stories set in different realities of the Marvel multiverse, but episode 9 unites a team of characters from throughout the season to battle Ultron as the Guardians of the Multiverses. The team includes What if …? ‘S Star-Lord T’Challa, Killmonger, Gamora, Party Thor, Strange Supreme and of course Captain Carter.
Captain Carter’s character is introduced in What if…? episode 1, which shows a universe where Peggy Carter, not Steve Rogers, received the original Super Soldiers room. On that timeline, Steve wears an Iron Man-style mech suit called Hydra Stomper to help Peggy fight evil. Like in the original Captain America film, Captain Carter ends up being stolen out of his time after defeating Hydra and moving to today, where she joins SHIELD and continues her heroic efforts around the world.
After helping Watcher defeat Ultron as part of the Guardians of the Multiverse, Captain Carter asks if she can go back to her original time period and be with Steve. But Watcher rejects her request. Instead, he puts her right back where she started What if…? season 1 finale – on the ship from the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But after taking the terrorists on board with the Black Widow, Peggy discovers that Steve may actually be alive.
Clearly, the Watcher is not about to break his oath of non-interference in the right situation. He intervenes to defeat Infinity Stone Ultron, and he places Black Widow in a different reality than the one she came from, just to make her happy. But when Peggy asks to go back in time, like how Steve does at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Watcher says no. He states his reason pretty clearly — Captain Carter’s contemporary universe still needs her, and it would probably be in big trouble if she had to leave. Sending her back to the 1940s would be too big a change. In contrast, in Playoffs, Captain America has reached the end of its lead role in its timeline. He has given everything he can and his time which is completely over, so it has no major consequences for him to leave. Plus, the Avengers’ time travel was part of their core reality, not a departure from it, whereas a change adopted by Watcher would have been a major Nexus event.
Although Watcher chooses not to send Captain Carter back to World War II, he certainly knew what awaited her back in her current timeline — an implicit reconnection with Steve. Natasha shows Peggy that the terrorists on the ship were after a particularly sturdy piece of cargo – a metal box that held the original Hydra Stomper suit, which according to Black Widow still has someone inside. The clear meaning is that Steve is somehow alive and active, allowing Captain Carter to have another king of Avengers: Endgame ends up being reunited with her love in our days. However, is What if…? ending of episode 9 also points to a darker twist – that Steve in Captain Carter’s universe became a Winter Soldier.
While What if…? section 9 may not confirm that Steve is the Winter Soldier, it is strongly implied. The situation reflects the other Captain America films about decades of torment and control that were visited at Bucky Barnes when he was a Winter Soldier. It seems unlikely that Steve and Hydra Stomper would still have been active without SHIELD knowing about it unless he was manipulated by a darker, more hidden faction. And since Hydra is probably still active in Captain Carter’s timeline, just as they were in MCU’s Sacred Timeline, they could easily be behind Steve’s return.
However, what a Steve Rogers Winter Soldier would look like is a little less clear. Since the Hydra Stomper is still in use, it’s unlikely that Steve was modified with Hydra’s super soldier room in the same way Bucky was. A successful transformation would have made the Hydra Stomper irrelevant and better suited to a less superpowered operator. But if Steve was not modified with super soldier room, why should he have been there at all? Theoretically, anyone could learn to control Hydra Stomper, and if it fell into the wrong hands, it would probably have been easier to teach someone on the side of evil to use it than to try to force Steve. There are a lot of unexplained mysteries attached to Steve’s apparently What if…? return and they can be resolved in What if…? season 2.
A good portion of Marvel’s What If…? season 2 will consist of brand new realities and variations of characters, including some from MCU Phase 4. But there are also strong tips at the end of What if…? season 1 that some of its characters could be revisited. The most obvious to return to is Captain Carter, especially because of the set-up in the scene after credits What if…? episode 9. But will the series ‘next season really reveal the truth about Steve Rogers’ implicit Winter Soldier transformation, or is it just a tease?
Captain Carter has been one of the most popular characters in What if…? season 1, so it would make good sense to visit her again in season 2. Now that she knows that Hydra is surviving World War II thanks to her multiverse adventure with Black Widow, she could hypothetically stop the tragic events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier from ever happening in her own universe. That in itself is an interesting story, and it would be even more compelling with a Winter Soldier story involving Steve Rogers. Is he really alive? Did he get super-soldier room? Or use another Hydra Stomper? Hopefully, Marvel’s What If…? season 2 will provide some answers.