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Does the big bad of Marvel's What If...? hint at the next Thanos-level threat in the main MCU?

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Sep 29, 2021, 2:55 PM EDT

Avengers: Age of Ultron may not be the best title in the MCU canon, but maybe it's time we started appreciating the film as a springboard for today's absolutely bonkers episode of Marvel's What If...? anthology. Set in a timeline where Tony Stark's rogue A.I. succeeded in eradicating humanity, the story pushes the concept farther than any of us might have imagined.

***WARNING! The following contains major spoilers for Episode 8 What If...?***

After killing Thanos in the coldest way possible, Ultron (Ross Marquand doing a respectable James Spader impression) takes control of the Infinity Stones and embarks on a genocidal warpath across the known universe. Once everyone else throughout the cosmos is dead, the robot finds himself without a purpose... until he comes across the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) and discovers infinite universes just waiting for his special brand of peace.

In an effort to protect the sanctity of the multiverse, Uatu goes from passive observer to full-on badass, trading blows with Ultron between all sorts of different dimensions. At one point, the latter grows to enormous size and takes a literal chunk out a galaxy with his Vision teeth. The moment (taking place at the 23-minute mark) brings to mind another big bad from the Marvel catalogue: Galactus. It's not just the immense height and penchant for munching on heavenly bodies that warrants a comparison. When all gussied up in his golden armor, Ultron bears a striking resemblance to the planet-eating villain.

Is Marvel Studios trying to tell us something about the next Thanos-level threat coming to the mainstream MCU? Is Galactus herald Norrin Radd — aka Silver Surfer — waiting in the wings to warn Earth about its impending doom? If so, Jon Watts needs to get to work on introducing the Fantastic Four.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Ultron's destruction of a galaxy sends Uatu hurtling into the middle of Times Square, where all the screens are showing the same thing: a live presidential inauguation. Who's that being sworn in as POTUS? Why, it's Steven Grant Rogers, of course! This is not only a nod to an actual What If...? comic from the early 1980s, but also a reference to head writer A.C. Bradley's desire to make an episode that blends Captain America with Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing.

"I doubt it's ever gonna be made," she recently said on the latest episode of Deadline's Hero Nation podcast. "I wanted the walk-and-talks, I wanted the full Aaron Sorkin treatment ... We were playing around with it for ages. It was just something we kind of did over beers for fun. Me and [writer Matthew Chauncey] because we're huge Sorkin heads. But it was always the one that hit the idea room floor. Because it's a super talky episode and not a whole lot of action."

Episodes 1-8 of What If...? are now available to stream on Disney+. The Season 1 finale premieres on the service next Wednesday, Oct. 6. A second season (along with more animated programming) is currently in production.