With Season 1 of What If… ? in the rearview mirror, it’s clear that the series certainly proved that it had more up its sleeve and more to offer its own multiverse than it seemed to early on. Marvel Studios’ first animated and anthology series was an unlikely candidate to be the first to truly delve into the newly opened multiverse, but What If… ? was specifically engineered to do just that. The episodes are a mixed bag, both because the series intended for them to be and because some fell short while others exceeded expectations. With that in mind, we rank all 9 episodes of What If… ? below:
9. What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?
At the end of the day, What If… ?’s leading episode is the plainest and least interesting of all. The premise was simply the whole plot of Captain America: The First Avenger, and virtually the only change was Peggy and Steve switching places, more or less. While arguably it was designed well to introduce viewers to the concept of the series, the story itself was bland and a three-minute version probably would have had the same effect overall.
8. What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?
If Killmonger wasn’t such a great character and if Michael B. Jordan wasn’t Michael B. Jordan, this episode would have felt like a complete flop. Even though the premises are substantially altered, the episode somehow strongly embraces the restrictive concept of sticking closely to the Sacred Timeline source. In this case, it is both Iron Man and Black Panther, but it feels like the Captain Carter episode in terms of watching a condensed version of stories we already know. Killmonger’s deception and manipulation felt one-note pretty quickly, and the episode ends in a place that neither feels like a resolution nor a cliffhanger—it just sort of feels like it was cut off in the middle.
7. What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?
Nick Fury’s Big Week is where we first were introduced to the idea of What If… ? routinely killing off major characters in order to make things feel different and add some sort of stakes to the plots that are so easily cast-off as hypotheticals. The theme of this episode is that there is always hope, and there will always be heroes willing to rise to the occasion. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury gets a much-appreciated spotlight, but otherwise, the story plays out so flat that the death of five Avengers doesn’t come across as upsetting. The elements of a solid murder mystery are present, but it just doesn’t execute in terms of delivering something deeper than a surface-level concept.
6. What If… Thor Were an Only Child?
The Party Thor episode is a great example of an episode that everyone can both completely agree and disagree on. There is no doubt that this episode was fun with its countless easter eggs, seemingly infinite cameos, and silly let’s-have-a-good-time energy. Whether or not that makes for a satisfying episode up for debate. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with the episode, there’s nothing particularly worthwhile either. At the end of the day, it feels more like empty fan service than anything else. To be fair, that’s what a lot of people wanted from the series.
5. What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?
T’Challa’s episode is genuinely delightful on multiple levels. There is a certain warmth that comes from Chadwick Boseman’s leading voice performance, and his own energy and presence matches well with the episode’s point that T’Challa would have made the universe a much better place than it is. This competes with the zombies episode for the funniest episode, but it is undeniably the most comforting heartwarming episode the series put out. Its themes of family and belonging hit the right notes, and something about T’Challa reconnecting with Wakanda just makes this episode feel fulfilling.
4. What If… the Watcher Broke His Oath?
The finale did deliver a sense of resolution to the series and the Ultron arc that began last episode. While it was exciting to see pieces and characters of the multiverse come together in such a direct and desired way, the episode unfortunately felt shallow by completely ignoring the implications the series—and the multiverse as a whole—have on the main MCU timeline. The character team-up is gratifying, and the rag-tag group of multiversal heroes has a solid dynamic. There was a significant amount of humor that keeps the episode on a level apart from the previous episode, What If… Ultron Won?. Ultimately, while it is exciting, fast-paced, and delivered an epic showdown, the victory feels a bit cheap and the overall effect and punch of the episode did not quite meet its predecessor.
3. What If… Zombies?!
This episode was just great. We had a huge array of characters, and most of the ones that are not mindless zombies are characters often not given as much attention. Hudson Thanes’ Peter Parker was center stage and delivered on both humor and emotionality. So much of the episode, by nature, is violent and gruesome—it’s the closest thing the MCU has to horror at this point. Yet amongst the apocalyptic survival, the episode is also hilarious. As a result, it’s probably the most enjoyable to watch. It’s a great example of how the series can succeed by generally ignoring what the movies have done.
2. What If… Ultron Won?
The penultimate episode finally gave us something that made it feel like What If… ? has a point and can provide the type of storytelling that fits within the MCU rather than just having one-off mini-stories over and over again. The concept of the multiverse actually comes into play here for the first time, and the Watcher comes alive. Ultron is portrayed as the most powerful villain of the MCU, and it fits. The Ultron versus Watcher showdown is not only great because of the strength of the two characters, but it is visually and conceptually stunning as they punch their way through the multiverse. It also features some very human moments, but the real triumph of this episode is that we finally have the multiverse as an overarching concept to play with.
1. What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?
The Doctor Strange episode was the first time the series felt like it had something particularly meaningful to offer. While still heavily anchored by the general events of Doctor Strange, it moves past this to intimately explore a dramatic reimagining of a character. The character-driven piece was shrouded by extremely compelling dark themes that are absent from the MCU at large. It was the definition of a tragedy drowning in grief, desperation, and defeat that resonated in the empty void that Doctor Strange left himself in at the end. Combine all of this with a mystical twist that Doctor Strange had been time-split in half, this episode was truly phenomenal.