The question of who will take on the mantle of Captain America seems to be a key theme in just-debuted series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which picks up from the end of Avengers: Endgame where an aged Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) apparently passed his shield onto friend and protégé Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
Now, based on trailers the Disney Plus series looks set to explore the legacy of Captain America even more – but we have to wonder if there’s more to this search for a successor than Steve just deciding he's too old for the job.
What if the reason for the new series’ emphasis on a new Captain America, and the reason behind Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and Sam teaming up in the first place is because the original Cap – the Sentinel of Liberty himself, Mr Steve Rogers – is dead?
The theory was first put forward by some fans online who spotted some suggestive imagery in the Super Bowl trailer for the series, including a shot of Sam in a black suit and tie looking at Cap’s shield, a group of men in full military dress regalia standing in a line and Bucky mysteriously watching an event from afar, apparently still on the run. Given how old and comparatively frail Steve was the last time we saw him, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to think he might have met his maker.
With the first episode of the show having now launched, we can confirm that (spoilers!) Cap's demise isn't confirmed one way or the other – yet – but he's certainly out of the picture. That's not to say, though, that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier couldn't address his passing later down the line.
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And if you think about it, the series feature Steve Rogers’ death would make a lot of sense. Rumours of Captain America's comeback aside, Chris Evans has officially left the Marvel Cinematic Universe and isn’t set to return for this series (Marvel boss Kevin Feige has explicitly ruled it out – sorry, fan theorists!) – and given how much it looks set to delve into Captain America’s legacy, if Steve was still knocking around it seems odd that Sam and Bucky wouldn’t be asking him for some advice.
Plus, another element of the series seems to include the creation of a “new” Captain America embodied by Wyatt Russell’s John Walker, who is apparently a government-created replacement for Rogers who can be glimpsed wearing a version of the Captain America costume at a sports event in the trailers.
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Would the government really do this while the “real” Captain America was still alive? If he was still around, wouldn’t Steve speak out about this use of his “brand,” especially given Walker’s more militaristic stance (in the comics, he’s an unstable and more brutal character than Rogers was)? We have our doubts.
If Captain America is dead, it also explains what might have thrown Sam and Bucky together despite their differences, and why Sam is so reluctant to take on the shield for himself. Maybe he’s worried about living up to his friends’ legacy, made all the more complicated now that he’s not around to give his blessing.
Of course, we could be way off base about this. Sam could be in those clothes for a number of reasons, you don’t need many excuses for a show about ex-soldiers to include military uniforms and given Cap’s age there’s a ready-made explanation for why he wouldn’t be in the series. After all, we’ve grown to accept the Avengers not dropping in to help Ant-Man or whoever in their solo adventures despite world-risking threats. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier can do the same dance with their storyline.
Still, we can’t help but wonder if a big tragedy is coming to the MCU. It’d certainly be an emotional way to cap off (sorry) Steve Rogers' story.
The Falcon and The Winter Soldier debuts new episodes every Friday on Disney Plus. You can view the full The Falcon and the Winter Soldier release schedule here. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our list of the best movies on Disney Plus and best shows on Disney Plus, or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.