The following story contains spoilers for the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is all about answering one not-so-simple question: Who is the next Captain America? At the end of Avengers: Endgame, that seemed like an easy one to answer: Sam Wilson. Because, well, a very old Steve Rogers came to him specifically and said Yes, I want you, Sam Wilson, to be the next version of me. But a few months later, amidst the events of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier it doesn’t seem so clear cut. Sam turned the shield in to the government, not feeling right taking on Steve’s mantle, and the shield was instead (briefly) put on display at the Smithsonian. As it was put on display, we see Sam speaking at an event and paying tribute to Steve, in something that looks an awful lot like a memorial. So…does that mean Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, is dead?
The answer, to put it simply, is that we don’t quite know. The first episode’s cliffhanger reveals that while the shield was on display in a museum exhibit at the Smithsonian, it didn’t stay there long—the government has already signed up a new Captain America in John Walker (Wyatt Russell) who is already quick to wield the shield and wink for cameras. If Steve was still around, well, this would certainly be something he’d speak up about, or at least want to talk to Sam about, right? That makes us think that our old pal Steve may not be among the living anymore.
It would track. When Steve returned from his new time-traveling, infinity stone-returning life to meet with Sam and Bucky, giving Sam his shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame, he looked old. Like, really old. According to a Wired interview (found by CinemaBlend) the intention was for Ol’ Cap to be 106 years old. So it would make sense if he didn’t make it much longer after that moment.
It also makes it seem like he’s gone when Sam speaks in the past tense at the Smithsonian shield event. “Steve represented the best in all of us,” he says, before turning and looking at the banner with Steve’s image on it behind him. “Courageous, righteous, hopeful. And he mastered posing stoically.”
But it’s one of Sam’s next lines that really makes us think that Steve is actually gone, perhaps in a manner similar to the way his love, Peggy Carter, died in Captain America: Civil War. Just old age.
“Symbols are nothing without the women and men who give them meaning. And [Captain America’s shield]…I don’t know if there’s ever been a greater symbol,” Sam said at the ceremony. “But it’s more about the man who propped it up. And he’s gone. So today we honor Steve’s legacy, but also we look to the future. Thank you, Captain America.”
Well, that sure seems to confirm it, huh? Captain America is gone (or, at least, the MCU powers that be want us to believe he’s gone). And it makes it even more of a gut punch when the man we’ll soon know as John Walker shows up wielding that shield at the end of the episode.
So, yes, barring an unforseen twist, it does seem like Steve Rogers is dead. But that doesn’t mean even in-universe characters are going to stop theorizing.
In an early-episode conversation with Sam, Joaquin Torres spoke of a conspiracy theory where Steve is actually on the Moon (and Sam, of course, flew him up there). Sam assures Joaquin—and the viewers—that theories like this should not be taken seriously. But the idea that someone like Joaquin, a government official and someone who from what we’ve seen to this point is presented as fairly bright, doesn’t know for sure tells us that the public doesn’t know (or, at least, didn’t know before the Smithsonian event).
Now, we’re entering an MCU phase that will include multiverse adventures, and we’ve already seen time-travel. If Chris Evans wants to return (and there have been some rumors of this), it feels pretty safe to say there will be a spot for him. But for the time being, in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it looks like the time for everyone to really say goodbye to Steve Rogers has come—let the tears flow, people.
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