If there’s any pattern to the rollout of each episode of What If…?, it seems to be that each episode is getting more and more removed from the original source material and more willing to push the limits of what themes and concepts the MCU is willing to explore. Episode 5, What If… Zombies!?, is the most outlandish the series has given us so far, and it was also an extremely fun ride.
First, this episode is very loosely tied to the events of Avengers: Infinity War due to the starting point being Bruce Banner’s return to Earth that we see at the beginning of that movie. From there, we learn that essentially the entirety of Earth is infected with a brain virus that turns anyone infected into a zombie. This includes the original Avengers lineup, marking the second episode where they simply do away with the original six.
This episode, similar to the previous Doctor Strange episode, goes far beyond the plot of the source material to bring an entirely new story to the table. The result is an amusing mixture of reference after reference from previous films. Of the numerous examples: one of Sharon Carter’s skills was “Eulogies”, Bucky with the good hair found the “end of the line” with pal zombie Steve, the virus was contracted by Janet van Dyne in the Quantum Realm based on the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Kurt’s concern with Baba Yaga, Happy’s insecurities about his chauffeur profession, the New Jersey facility is visited once again, and Vision and Wanda’s romance ultimately leads to Vision’s iconic death.
The true stars of the episode are, of course, the remaining Avengers. The episode gives lip service to more of these “smaller” characters such as Hope, Bucky, Okoye, Sharon, and even Happy Hogan and Kurt from Ant-Man. The honest lead was Hudson Thames’ dominant performance as Peter Parker, who seemingly takes on a greater leadership role after the infection. While logically he is not any older than he was in Infinity War, he seems more mature in a lot of ways, including acknowledging his grief over all of those he has lost—including previously unmentioned in the MCU Uncle Ben. Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa also makes an appearance in this episode and Boseman’s performance is unsurprisingly extremely well executed. His character’s quotes about death also hit hard.
Episode 5 is undoubtedly a horror and apocalyptic episode genre-wise. It certainly has been the most violent, gruesome (toned down for a more wholesome audience), and dark episode graphically. There were plenty of decapitations and severely violent deaths of well-known characters to go around. All credit to the show for making the jump into this sort of territory—the major cliffhanger of zombie Thanos certainly sets up our zombie universe to play a significant role down the line in the series if not beyond. It is also yet to be seen if our remaining heroes—Peter, Scott, and T’Challa—actually get the cure into action.
Still, the episode was genuinely funny. Between Peter’s “How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse” video, the banter between the characters, Scott Lang’s head in a jar, and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce’s commentary at the beginning of the episode—among plenty more examples—the zombie episode was at times hilarious and generally delightful with the combination of both legitimate horror and legitimate comedy.
Episode 5 of What If…? is heavily suggesting that the series is picking up steam and more unique and boundary-pushing episodes are coming. We’re also at a point where the potential universes for live-action use are expanding so dramatically that the possibilities seem endless and also perhaps overwhelming, particularly for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Either way, the long-awaited zombie episode was truly a lovely experience and wildly fun.