When Sylvie plunged a dagger into He Who Remains’ heart, she effectively unleashed hell for our heroes and villains over the next several years. Never mind that the man she killed was fine with surrendering the TVA willingly. What Lady Loki’s actions did was both destroy the sacred timeline and bring about something even worse than the Mad Titan.
Given that, What If…? becomes even more important as the first Marvel Cinematic Multiverse show to highlight the first real consequences of Lady Loki’s actions. Before we look at where we are now, we need to take a quick look at where we were before Lady Loki’s actions.
If you believe that Captain America was able to return all the stones to their rightful timeline and return with a brand new shield for Sam Wilson at the end of Avengers: Endgame, then I’m here to tell you that the math generally doesn’t add up. When Cap and Tony go to steal the Tesseract from the 70s S.H.I.E.L.D. base, they also steal four Pym particles. They use two to return to the present timeline which leaves Cap with two. If you listen to the dialogue with Ant-Man, Iron Man and Cap, it is made clear that you need two Pym particles for a roundtrip in the Quantum Realm. So, theoretically, Cap would’ve only had enough to return one of the stones and then come back to the present-day.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Hank Pym was back, so he could’ve just made Steve more Pym particles. Sure, that would explain how Steve got the stones back, but you really think Steve told nobody except Hank Pym, a man he just met, about his plan to remain in the past with Peggy Carter and secure a shield of his own? That just doesn’t seem like something Steve would do.
It’s more likely that Hank made Steve the particles to return the stones and return to the present day, but Steve used the one to return to the present day to return to 1950 to be with Peggy. This removes Captain America from our main timeline. These are the branching timelines that, I think, popped up post-Endgame:
A 1940’s timeline where Cap remains while he is, possibly, believed to be dead.
This becomes interesting to explore because it would stand to reason that Cap wouldn’t leave Bucky to Hydra’s torture, which takes that timeline into a very different direction than the main timeline. Is this Cap operating in the shadows with Peggy helping him? Does he become Nomad instead? How does SHIELD develop with Cap still alive? A lot of questions, especially when he wouldn’t have had enough Pym particles to return, so the one that gives the shield to Sam isn’t our Steve.
A 2012 timeline that has Loki with the Tesseract.
This was explored, briefly, in Loki. However, if we dive further, we now have a 2012 where Loki does not return to Asgard and cause his parents’ death. That means neither Hela and Surtur are released, Asgard is still standing, and Thor does not return to Earth in Avengers: Age of Ultron to help retrieve Loki’s scepter. Keep in mind that Thor returned to Earth to get the Aether from Malekith. With Malekith vanquished, he and Jane could’ve remained in Asgard. If Thor does not return then the Vison in this 2012 timeline might be very different. Wanda and Pietro would still receive their powers from the Mind Stone, and Ultron would actually create Vision.
A 2014 timeline with no Thanos (because that Thanos was killed in 2023).
This is a timeline with not only no Thanos but also no Guardians as Gamora is gone. This means that Star-Lord never loses the Power Stone to Gamora. Instead, he probably loses it to Rocket and Groot, and they are still arrested, but without Gamora the team isn’t as strong and it is very possible that this timeline sees Ronan succeed in destroying the Nova Corps and Xandar. With no Thanos to check him, does Ronan become the most powerful being in the universe? Does this timeline have a Carol that returns to Earth sooner if Ronan sets his sight on Earth?
A 1970s timeline where Hank realizes someone stole his Pym particles.
This is a timeline where Hank Pym potentially leaves SHIELD much sooner, which means Janet never vanishes. If Janet never vanishes, who stops the Russian missiles from destroying Earth? Furthermore, if Hank and Janet are still alive and together, then Hope never feels the need to become a superhero, so there is no new Wasp in this timeline either.
After Loki, we now have a 2012 that has created another branch: one where He Who Remains is dead and Lady Loki is potentially in charge of the TVA. That means we definitely now have 2 different versions of 2012, with a potential third:
1. Loki and the tesseract, King Thor, Odin alive, Hela imprisoned, Asgard still here, and a Hydra that believes Captain America is a sleeper hydra agent.
2. Lady Loki in charge of the TVA with Kang dead.
3. whatever TVA Loki now finds himself in, where Kang lives.
That means that we have six guaranteed timelines, with a potential seventh, before we even get to the first episode of What If…?.
Oh, wait, but what about Wandavision? Wanda becoming the Scarlet Witch was the event He Who Remains did not foresee. It may not create a whole new branch as much as it veers the main timeline in a direction that not even Kang saw coming. It’s that change, in combination with the branches, that brings Dr. Strange off the bench.
Now… on to What If…?:
We see Agent Carter become Captain Carter by making one small decision. This leads to a timeline where the following things definitely happen:
1. Peggy Carter is the new Captain and vanishes through the portal created by the tesseract. She lands in the future of this universe where Nick Fury is assembling the Avengers in 2012. The Hawkeye in this timeline knows who Captain Carter is, and clearly so does Fury.
2. Howard Stark creates the first Iron Man suit, which Steve Rogers utilizes as the Hydra Stomper.
3. Bucky does not become the Winter Soldier, which means Isaiah Bradley is not sent to capture him. It is possible that Bradley will not be experimented on either, which means his grandson wouldn’t join the Young Avengers.
4. Tony Stark doesn’t lose his parents because there’s no Winter Soldier to kill them. This, also, probably means there is no Iron Man in this universe.
5. Colonel Phillips is dead, replaced by Colonel Flynn, and this could mean SHIELD takes a very different direction with no Phillips or Carter left to ground the agency.
Those are a lot of changes emerging from episode one, but there’s one that this episode also might hint at:
If Earth Prime’s Steve did not deliver the new shield to Sam, who did? It has to be a Steve that both did not go into the ice, had access to someone who could build a new shield, and did not receive the super-soldier serum. What Steve could that be? Perhaps a Steve that loved Peggy Carter and had a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist with access to the Tesseract who could help him be right there in that spot all along?
Where do we go from here?