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Episode 5 of 'What If…?' fills the MCU with zombies and hopelessness
It’s time for the zombie episode of Marvel’s What If…? Fans of the Marvel Comics limited series Marvel Zombies (2005-2006) will no doubt be thrilled with this episode of the MCU animated series, as everything goes the way of The Walking Dead.
That's appropriate, as Marvel Zombies was written by Robert Kirkman, the co-creator of that comic-turned-television sensation. This new episode also includes Danai Gurira as Okoye, and she’s no stranger to fighting zombies either. What if… a virus turned many of our favorite MCU heroes into zombies while a pandemic continues to play out in real life?
***WARNING: From this point forward, there will be spoilers for Episode 5 of Marvel’s What If…? If you haven’t watched yet, what if you stopped reading?***
The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) shoots down to Earth just like he does towards the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. He lands in the Sanctum Santorum, but it’s empty aside from the lonely Cloak of Levitation. What gives? “What if the world he returned to was not the one he was used to?” the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) asks, as Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian appear in the street. A small portal opens and Iron Man’s hand pops out, blasting Maw in the head before he can finish his usual speech. The day is saved!
Not really, because Tony, Dr. Strange, and Wong all eat the two members of the Black Order after they are down. It “seems like overkill” to Bruce, who says as much, before realizing that all three are zombies. The Cloak flies in to help, and so does Wasp/Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Hudson Thames) swoops to get Bruce out of there as Hope fights the undead.
“Like too many great catastrophes, this one sprang from a place of love and hope,” the Watcher says. What caused this fresh Zombie hell? Two weeks earlier Hank Pym went to rescue his wife Janet from the Quantum Realm, but she had contracted a virus there. She gives it to Hank, who then brought it to the world at large when he returned. He attacks and infects Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) pretty quickly.
As the Watcher says, “Within 24 hours, the entire Pacific Northwest was infected. Ironically, it was the Avengers’ heroism that sealed humanity’s fate.” We see Clint, Nat, Steve, Tony, and T’Challa exiting a quintet, but then a little zombie Ant-Man bites Tony. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are infected. “No one else stood a chance,” the Watcher says, adding, “Unless of course, they knew the rules.”
We then cut to a Peter Parker home video titled, “So you wanna survive the Zombie Apocalypse?” Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) reluctantly appears in it, demonstrating Lesson 1, which is to wear long sleeves. Slavic folklore expert Kurt (David Dustmalchian) is also in the video, as is Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who demonstrates Step 2, which is about Hygiene. Step 3 is to always aim for the head, and Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) helps with this one. Peter’s graphics call her “The Blond Bond” and say her skills are “Spycraft, First Aid, Eulogies.”
Peter was showing this to the newly arrived Bruce, but General Okoye of the Dora Milaje (Danai Gurira) has him turn it off. Within their module base trussed up between buildings with webs, the group finds there may be a cure. A signal is coming from Camp Lehigh, so it’s time to go to New Jersey.
The team of Bruce, Kurt, Peter, Sharon, Bucky, Happy, and Okoye enters Grand Central Terminal. Okoye’s first order is for them to split up, and Peter questions this, asking if they just don’t have horror movies in Wakanda. Okoye says they don’t need them. “We have American reality shows,” she says. What if… Peter Parker questioning an animated Danai Gurira about fighting zombies was a really fun meta moment? Feels good to laugh again.
They split up anyway, with Kurt, Bruce, Hope, and Peter trying to get a train going. Zombie Hawkeye attacks Happy and Sharon, and even though Happy has one of Iron Man’s gloves, he goes down. Zombie Falcon/Sam Wilson flies into the station’s atrium and takes on Okoye, and she chops him in half in front of Bucky.
“That was your friend. Sorry about that,” she says. Bucky’s response: “I should be sad, but I’m not.”
The cloak returns and helps Peter, Hope kicks some zombie butt, and the survivors converge on the train which is now moving. All is well, except that’s never true. Sharon “Power Broker no more” Carter is attacked by Zombie Steve Rogers at the back of the train, and she gets turned. She really can’t get a break.
Hope fights off Zombie Sharon, and Bucky chops Zombie Steve in half with the cap shield. “Sorry pal. I guess this is the end of the line,” he says, putting the shield on his back. Hope then explodes within Sharon (no break) and Hope is now “covered in Sharon” but Bruce notices a cut on Hope. Her time is limited.
The train zooms along as the giant form of the Watcher is seen in the sky. Everyone refuses to kill Hope as they are so close to a cure. Peter chimes in that hope is the key to survival in any zombie movie, adding, “plus it’s also your name, and that’s gotta mean something.” It’s all about Hope!
She asks him how he stays so upbeat, and he answers, “Practice, I guess. My Mom, Dad, Uncle Ben, Mr. Stark. Now Happy. I’ve lost a lot.” He mentions his Aunt tells him to keep smiling when the others can’t, but it’s MCU Peter Parker referencing his parents and Uncle Ben that stood way out here. Uncle Ben, though never talked about, does exist in the MCU.
The MCU also includes Kurt running in to say that the train is running out of fuel, which is what happens next. The only way to the base now is through a horde of zombies. Hope, who blames herself for this, says “I started this, but you are gonna finish it.” She enlarges herself using the Wasp suit, and holding the others in her hands, she crosses the horde of zombies kicking them out of the way. She gets everyone to the base before zombies crawl up her giant body and break through her mask.
Kurt is just as afraid of Baby Yaga here as he is in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Peter accidentally gives him a jump scare, then Peter gets one from none other than Vision (Paul Bettany) who Bruce is happy to see. “One of the benefits to being an android. I’m not on the menu,” Vision says. In the old S.H.I.E.L.D. base, Bruce and Vision get down to the nature of the virus, which has an aversion to the Mind Stone. Vision tried to use it to cure a zombie.
It worked, kind of, because who else is in this secret base? Scott Lang’s head in a jar. Vision’s plans for a cure at the very least cure heads, so there’s that? Lang starts making jokes and barely stops before the episode ends.
They all have to get to Wakanda in order to spread the Mind Stone frequency, and all seems to be looking up. Nope, it’s all about hope, but it’s also the hope that kills you. While snooping, Bucky finds a very much alive T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), but he also finds a Zombie Wanda Maximoff.
“Thought he was saving me, he was just picking up takeout,” T’Challa says to Okoye when they are reunited, explaining how Vision snagged him in San Francisco. “He’s been keeping him alive to feed his zombie bride," Bucky says. Vision did try to cure Wanda, but her powers were too strong. He didn’t eliminate her either.
“I… I couldn’t,” he says. Bruce puts it all together for us, saying that Vision lured innocent people to their deaths all in the name of love. Scott sums it up well with the line, “Love sucks.” Yes, it does, Scott.
Zombie Wanda blasts out and snags Kurt first, who dies screaming about Baba Yaga. Scott’s head in the jar is now flying thanks to the cloak (?) and Okoye gives T’Challa a final “Wakanda forever” before being taken down. The building ends up collapsing and Vision seals it. He points them all to a jet, but says he can’t leave Wanda. He does have to atone for his actions though, so he rips the Mind Stone out of his own head.
Zombies now swarm the base as Wanda breaks free. The heroes left are in the jet, and Bruce says he can buy them some time. Peter says, “I don’t think I can lose another friend today.” Bruce hands him the Mind Stone and says, “So, avenge us.”
Bruce proceeds to run right into a zombie mass before exploding out of it as the Hulk. He takes on Zombie Wanda as the jet escapes, which also manages to nearly escape the now zombified giant Wasp.
T’Challa, Peter, and Scott’s head in a jar (lifted by the Cloak of Levitation) approach Wakanda. T’Challa shares some wisdom with Peter, telling him, “In my culture, death is not the end. They are still with us, as long as we do not forget them.” Once they get the Mind Stone to Wakanda, they’re gonna save the world.
“Even in the darkest of times, humans will give all to save their planet. Even if it might bring an end to the universe,” the Watcher says, as we see zombies clawing at the Wakanda force field, and a zombie Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet. The only stone he is missing is the Mind Stone.
What happens next? We don’t know, because that’s the end of the episode. Would a zombie Thanos use a full gauntlet to banish the virus? It’s unlikely. It’s hard to see a bright side here, though T’Challa still being alive helps a little. Even if they did find a way to cure the virus, half of the population would likely refuse to take it. That’s too stupid to even contemplate.
How's about that Uncle Ben reference though? With great power comes, you know.
New episodes of Marvel’s What If…? stream on Disney+ every Wednesday.