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"Time. Space. Reality. It's more than a linear path. It's a prism… of endless possibility… where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities… creating alternate worlds from the ones you know. I am the Watcher. I am your guide through these vast new realities. Follow me… and ponder the question… What If…?"
The Watcher, in the show's Opening Narration

What If…? is a superhero Animated Anthology series created for Disney+ by A.C. Bradley (Tales of Arcadia), based on the Marvel Comics title of the same name. The series is the 28th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 5th installment of Phase 4, the 4th series to be produced for Disney+, and the first animated series set in the universe.

Similar to the comic book it's based on, and set immediately after the events of the first season of Loki, What If…? explores the various alternate realities created from the death of He Who Remains and the resultant fracturing of the Sacred Timeline, showing how the films of the Infinity Saga would have been impacted by certain major events happening differently, while omniscient narrator Uatu the Watcher (voiced by Jeffrey Wright) occasionally weighs in on what he's observing.

Some alternate outcomes in the series include Peggy Carter becoming a super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers, T'Challa becoming Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill, and a Zombie Apocalypse suddenly breaking out in the MCU with Peter Parker becoming leader of the survivors. In addition to Wright as the Watcher, the series features voice acting from many of the same actors of the films, including the likes of Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and the late Chadwick Boseman in his final MCU contribution as T'Challa.

While there were many animated series based on Marvel Comics before, What If…? is the first animated title produced by Marvel Studios, and is among the first series to be developed by them for Disney+. The first season debuted on August 11, 2021 and concluded on October 6. A second season was greenlit before Season 1's premiere and was originally set to premiere in early 2023, with a third season also planned, but that has since been delayed. The second season will debut on December 22, 2023 in time for the festive holidays. A spin-off titled Marvel Zombies will continue the story of the episode What If…Zombies?!, itself an adaption of the comic of the same name, which will debut in 2024.

The 2022 comic Captain Carter is a spiritual spinoff from What If…?

Previews: First Look Trailer, Official Trailer.

What If…? contains examples of:

  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Watcher claims at the end of the first episode that he only observes the alternate realities occurring, but he does not, cannot and will not make himself present in any one of them, as per the usual for his character. Averted slightly towards the end of Episode 4, where he outright chews Doctor Strange Supreme out on this, knowing that the destruction of the MCU in that timeline was on Strange's hands. Averted fully at the end of Episode 8, as Infinity Ultron is a multiversal threat that the Watcher can't defeat on his own.
  • All-CGI Cartoon: The series is presented in Cel Shaded 3DCG animation provided by Squeeze Studio, Blue Spirit Productions, and Flying Bark Productions.
  • Alternate Self: Literally everyone except the Watcher. The alternate versions of MCU characters seen in the series include:
    • Peggy Carter as a super soldier known as Captain Carter.
    • Steve Rogers getting injured after being shot before he could take the Super Soldier Serum, instead donning an early version of the Iron Man Armor and becoming HYDRA Stomper.
    • T'Challa as an alternate Star-Lord.
    • A Thanos who was talked out of committing genocide and joined the Ravagers
    • A Hank Pym who, out of misguided vengeance for the death of his daughter Hope (who became an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in this timeline), became his universe's Yellowjacket and went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Nick Fury by murdering his candidates for the Avenger Initiative, indirectly causing Earth to be conquered by Loki.
    • An incarnation of Doctor Strange called "Doctor Strange Supreme" who, in going so far as to take back what he held dear, ultimately causes disastrous consequences.
    • Spider-Man as as a member of a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits, surviving a Zombie Apocalypse that has transformed much of the people on Earth into undead monsters.
    • Thor as a party animal in golden armor because of Odin choosing to return Loki back to his family in Jotunheim.
    • Loki, due to being raised by his own kind on Jotunheim, is a full Frost Giant and doesn't disguise himself as a human-looking Asgardian.
    • A version of Ultron who uploaded himself into Vision's body wears armor patterned after his original form, with a lance and the other five Infinity Stones embedded in the chest plate.
    • A post-apocalyptic Natasha Romanoff with thicker body armor, a more muscular build and Red Guardian's shield from a universe where Ultron won.
    • The Hawkeye from the above Natasha's universe has a robotic arm.
    • Gamora wearing a replica of Thanos' armor and carrying his giant double-bladed sword.
  • Alternate Universe: The entire point of the series is the Watcher exploring the various alternate timelines of the MCU. Examples include:
    • A universe where Peggy Carter became a super soldier in Steve's stead. Officially designated as Earth-82111.
    • A universe in which T'Challa becomes Star-Lord instead of Peter Quill. Officially designated as Earth-21818.
    • A universe where the Avengers are killed off one by one before they can assemble. Officially designated as Earth-51825.
    • A universe in which Doctor Strange performs a Face–Heel Turn in a desperate attempt to revive Christine Palmer. Officially designated as Earth-91233.
    • A universe where a Zombie Apocalypse breaks out on Earth, infecting several heroes who tried to combat it. Officially designated as Earth-89521.
    • A universe in which Erik Killmonger foils the plot to assassinate Tony Stark in Afghanistan. Officially designated as Earth-32938.
    • A universe where Odin never adopted Loki and Thor was raised as an only child. Officially designated as Earth-72124.
    • A universe where Ultron successfully uploaded himself into Vision's body before killing most of the Avengers, stealing the Infinity Stones, and discovering the Watcher and the multiverse. Officially designated as Earth-29929.
    • A universe where Gamora killed Thanos with help from Iron Man.
  • Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: Several alternate versions of previously established characters are far more powerful or stronger than their main timeline counterparts.
    • Peggy Carter became a British super-soldier that took down HYDRA during World War II and saved Bucky Barnes from falling and losing his arm. She also stopped a giant Kraken from destroying the Earth and would reemerge in the present day to join the Avengers Initiative.
    • The most ridiculous example would have to be T'Challa as Star-Lord. Not only did he outshine his Sacred Timeline self and Peter as Star-Lord in every way possible, but he also saved countless planets (including Drax's, which means his family is still alive) and became a well known and respected Robin Hood-type hero throughout the galaxy by 2008. He even convinced Thanos to do a Heel–Face Turn.
    • In the same episode with T'Challa as Star-Lord: due to Thanos turning good, the Collector takes his place as the Big Bad of the MCU and is implied to have killed Captain America, Thor, and Hela. Downplayed, however, as he was defeated far more easily than Thanos was in the Sacred Timeline by T'Challa.
    • A rare example where a character became more awesome by going through a Face–Heel Turn with Hank Pym. Out of vengeance for the death of Hope during a SHIELD mission, he kills all the founding members of the Avengers but Captain America.
    • In "What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?", Strange Supreme is incredibly powerful after centuries of absorbing the power of creatures from other dimensions (to the point he can actually perceive the Watcher as he watches events unfold and defeat his good variant created by the Ancient One), but all he accomplishes in his quest to bring back his girlfriend Christine is the complete destruction of his universe. Essentially, he's what Strange would have become if he allowed his arrogance and fear of failure rule his actions.
    • In "What If… Ultron Won?", a scene of Steve Rogers apparently being sworn in as President of the United States plays on a jumbo screen in one of the alternate timelines seen in Ultron's battle with the Watcher.
  • Anyone Can Die: Because this is not the Sacred Timeline, this trope is very much in effect. And in some episodes, everyone does die.
  • The Backwards Я: The KGB file on Arnim Zola is labeled "AЯNIM ZOLA," which would actually read "AYANIM ZOLA."
  • Bait-and-Switch: Early teasers for "What If… Zombies?!" showed Spider-Man, explicitly labeled as "Zombie Hunter Spider-Man", wearing the Cloak of Levitation, insinuating that so many people have been zombified that Peter isn't just one of the only ones left but has also gained enough magical ability that, in the absence of all other wizards, he's now Sorcerer Supreme. It turns out early in the actual episode that this isn't the case, he's wearing the Cloak in that instance for relevant reasons but the Cloak is basically acting independently with the other survivors now that Strange has become a zombie, and it ends up becoming more connected to the de-zombified severed head of Scott Lang in a jar.
  • Big Bad: While the series is initially an anthology, the final two episodes feature "Infinity" Ultron as a threat to the multiverse as a whole.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Several examples occur. In Episode 6, similar to Iron Man, one of the Stark Industries missiles lands right next to Tony after his caravan was attacked. However, this time around, Killmonger comes out of nowhere and hurls the missile away before it explodes, saving Tony.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • "What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?" - Peggy prevents the monster that the Red Skull summoned from escaping the Tesseract portal and destroying the world, but at the cost of getting sucked into it herself. Like with how Steve got frozen, Peggy gets transported back to Earth decades after the war ended, separating her from Steve and her allies.
    • "What If… T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?" - T'Challa being more honorable and altruistic than Peter Quill allows him to avert a lot of tragic events that takes place in the Cosmic side of the Sacred Timeline. Yondu and the Ravagers become Just Like Robin Hood, he manages to invoke a Heel–Face Turn in both Thanos and Korath, and brings an end to the Collector's slave trade. Unfortunately, since the Ravagers never abducted Peter Quill, he remains on Earth up until Ego comes to collect his son during his adulthood. And now he doesn't have the Guardians or Ravagers to counteract Ego's influence.
    • "What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" - The Avengers are dead, Hank Pym has turned into a villain (which would imply that Scott Lang might not be provided a chance to escape a life of crime, and that Janet would not escape the Quantum Realm), and at the end of the episode Loki is preparing to take over Earth. However, the fact that Captain America (Steve Rogers) is yet to be revived, and the return of Captain Marvel, shows that there are still people who would be willing to defend the planet from Loki.
    • "What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?" - Killmonger kills Tony, Rhodey, and T'Challa in a gambit to take over Wakanda that works perfectly, and America and Wakanda are at war. However, thanks to a failsafe Tony placed, Shuri has proof of the murders and is going to team up with Pepper to take him down.
    • Many of these, though, get averted with the ending of the first season, and the aftermath is shown of several adventures. Captain Carter finds that aboard the Lemurian Star is the Hydra Stomper, and it's implied Steve is inside. T'Challa becoming Star-Lord shows that he's working to stop Ego, and it's implied that he's taking Peter under his wing. The "Lost its mightiest Heroes" story has the Watcher drop post-apocalyptic Black Widow into the timeline, leading to Loki's defeat. And Killmonger from the "Rescued Tony Stark" gets imprisoned forever in an eternal tug of war against Zola, leaving his timeline without him forever. While there is still blood and loss and death in each of the timelines, the first season finale makes it clear that things are, in general, looking up.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The MCU generally doesn't feature much blood being spilled, but it is especially apparent in this series, especially with the first episode revolving around World War II and a lot of guns being fired, and yet not a single wound or drop of blood seen. Well, unless you count the alien tentacles being sliced and diced and the Sakaaran soldiers getting impaled by Yondu's arrow, and even then the Alien Blood is fairly minimal.
    • "What If… Zombies?!" plays this straight with the living as usual (for the most part), but averts it big time with the zombies.
  • Breather Episode: After the grim plots of episodes 3-6, "What If… Thor Was An Only Child?" is almost purely comedic and has a tone more in line with "What If… T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?"
  • Call-Back:
    • The shattering prism in the show's opening. For those who watched the first season of Loki, it is a reminder of the fact that Sylvie is going to have a lot of explaining to do (for breaking the Sacred Timeline).
    • The third episode shows a recreation of a hungover Tony Stark eating donuts from Iron Man 2.
    • The sixth episode starts off with a recreation of how Tony Stark's caravan was ambushed in Iron Man.
      • In fact, many scenes from the earlier MCU are recreated in What If…?, helping to demonstrate the differences but recognizable similarities between them and the Sacred Timeline—for example, the scene of Captain America and the Howling Commandos fighting their way out of the HYDRA prison from The First Avenger is almost perfectly recreated up to the entrance of the HYDRA Stomper, just with Peggy Carter in Steve Rogers' place, and the second episode has an abbreviated recreation of the opening scene to Guardians of the Galaxy, except that T'Challa is there in Peter Quill's place.
  • The Cameo: Tons, almost all of them for pure fanservice:
    • "What If… T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?" has Malekith, of all characters, appear as one of the Collector's prisoners. Cosmo the Spacedog pops in at the end, stowing away on the starship that T'Challa and Yondu take to get off of Knowhere. Peter Quill and Ego appear at the very end of the episode.
    • Lots of Asgardian characters appear in "What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?", but special mention goes to Lady Sif and the Destroyer. Brock Rumlow has an extended cameo.
    • Many characters from throughout the MCU are momentary threats as zombies in "What If… Zombies?!", converging on the survivors as they try to reach Camp Lehigh but not getting much screentime otherwise.
    • "What If… Thor Was An Only Child?" has appearances by nearly every spacefaring and cosmic character in the MCU, including Yondu, Nebula, the Grandmaster, Topaz, Drax, the Skrulls and Rocket Raccoon. Rumlow has another extended cameo, amounting to just slightly more than in Episode 3.
    • "What If… Ultron Won?" is a darker version of this, with nearly every cameo being done as Infinity Ultron kills them all: all of the Avengers except for Black Widow and Hawkeye, (they're central characters to the episode instead) the Guardians of the Galaxy on Sovereign during Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the Grand Master and his gladiators on Sakaar, Ego, and Captain Marvel gets an extended one as she tries and fails to kill Ultron on Xandar. Tons of others make seconds-long appearances during the Watcher's fight with Infinity Ultron, including some Wakandans and Skrulls.
  • Cel Shading: Animated using this style, with 3D visuals that look 2D.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Starting with the third episode, it starts to deal with some surprisingly dark stories. Specifically, we get one timeline that has all the Avengers suddenly killed with Nick Fury and Phil Coulson trying to find their murderer, another where a grief-stricken Doctor Strange accidentally destroys the entire universe out of desperation to revive his lover, and one where Peter Parker is forced to deal with a Zombie Apocalypse that transforms several Avengers into Flesh Eating Zombies and a universe where Ultron wins, wipes out nearly all life on Earth, gathers every single Infinity Stone and then decimates all life in the universe…before deciding to destroy all life all across the multiverse upon discovering the Watcher.
  • Character Narrator: The Watcher narrates the intro (as well as the monologue at the start of each story), explaining the multiverse as a "prism of endless possibility".
  • Comedic Work, Serious Scene:
    • The episode "What If… T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?" is a generally humorous episode, like one of the movies it's based on. However, the scene in which T'Challa finds out that his home world was never actually destroyed and that his crew had been lying to him all this time so he'd stay with them is a rather emotional moment.
    • The episode "What If… Thor Were an Only Child?" is the most comical episode of season 1, which is about Thor throwing massive parties across the galaxy. However, the ending takes on a surprising turn when Infinity Ultron and several of his robot minions come crashing through a portal, causing even Uatu the Watcher himself to react with shock.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Each episode's end credits features various concept art for the specific episode, similar to The Mandalorian.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than most of Marvel's animated series—even Spider-Carnage's dimension didn't get as bleak as some of these alternate universes.
  • Death by Adaptation: Some characters that are alive in the main timeline end up dying or are already dead in other realities. See individual recap pages for notable examples, but otherwise averted in episode 7.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Ironically, the Watcher himself is this for The Watcher, the very trope he named.
    • Having to observe multiple alternate realities may seem fun at first, but as several universes lean towards the Darker and Edgier territory, being unable to do anything but watch them all becomes emotionally draining for the Watcher at times. He expresses a desire to punish Strange Supreme for his world-ending actions in the fourth episode, but is unable to act upon it because of his Alien Non-Interference Clause, shows visible sadness when watching the events of the sixth episode, and is practically begging for Clint to not give up in Episode 8 despite his will to live being all but gone. Overall, What If…? demonstrates just how difficult it would be for a person with human-like qualities to have to sit back and do nothing while horrible things happen in the world they're looking at.
    • Both Infinity Ultron and the Natasha Romanoff from his reality have noted how the Watcher's role as a strict observer of their universes appears to be downright voyeuristic to them. The former points out how creepy it is that the Watcher doesn't actually do anything other than talk to himself when watching them, and the latter accuses him of seeing her and the other alternate characters as little more than entertainment for his behalf.
  • Diabolus ex Machina:
    • The last shot of episode 5 reveals that not only did the infection manage to make it into Wakanda despite the force shields still being up, Thanos is there for no reason (in the main universe he went there to retrieve the Mind Stone, which was never there and is now in the possession of the survivors), somehow managed to become infected, and has a nearly completed Infinity Gauntlet. The sudden reveal at the literal last minute only serves to play into zombie tropes and create a Downer Ending.
    • In a case of Mood Whiplash, "What If… Thor Were an Only Child?" ends with a variant of Ultron who successfully uploaded himself into the body that would have become Vision and also acquired the complete Infinity Stones appearing out of nowhere, right as the Watcher was summarizing this episode as basically ending on a happily-ever-after note.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Compared to Death by Adaptation, certain characters who died in the Sacred Timeline are killed in ways different from their canon fates. See individual recap pages for notable examples.
  • Downer Ending: Episodes that don't have Bittersweet Endings tend to have these.
    • Episode 4 ends with another Doctor Strange accidentally destroying the universe after several attempts to save Christine. He begs the Watcher to help, but the Watcher refuses and gives him "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    • Episode 5 ends with the characters taking the Mind Stone to Wakanda, the last surviving human refuge, hoping it can produce a cure. The last shot shows that Wakanda has been conquered by a zombified Thanos, whose Gauntlet only needs one more Infinity Stone. The Watcher's narration heavily implies that the surviving heroes might not be able to stop him from destroying the universe.
    • Episode 8 begins with Ultron's conquest of his entire universe, killing every hero but Black Widow and Hawkeye. By the end of the episode, he discovers the multiverse and plans on expanding his genocide on a cosmic scale. The multiverse's only hope is the Watcher breaking his vow and Arnim Zola's ability to take over the Ultron hive mind.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: To thematically showcase an episode's divergent change from the Sacred Timeline, the specially-formatted episode previews use the Time Variance Authority's retro-futuristic monitors and aesthetic. However, this wasn't the case for "Captain Carter", which had a barren black backdrop with generic blue word processor text.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: By the end of the first season, the Guardians of the Multiverse defeat Infinity Ultron, saving all realities and avenging Black Widow's world. Back in Captain Carter's universe, her Black Widow reveals to her that they found the HYDRA Stomper suit, with "somebody" (heavily implied to be her universe's Steve Rogers) inside. T'Challa finds his universe's Peter Quill and becomes friends, averting their universe's Expansion caused by Ego siphoning Peter's life. Strange Supreme redeems himself and remains in his universe to watch over the pocket dimension containing Killmonger and Zola to prevent them from wreaking havoc on the multiverse. Additionally, with Killmonger in stasis, it gives his universe's Shuri and Pepper a chance to undo the wrongs he committed. In the course of the battle, Strange Supreme presumably emptied the Zombie Apocalypse universe of most of its undead inhabitants, allowing for the uninfected survivors to thrive.note  Thor returns to his world and to Jane Foster, and finally, the Watcher sends the Black Widow of the post-apocalypse universe to the universe where the Avengers were assassinated, where she defeats Loki and joins Fury and SHIELD.
  • Episode of the Dead: What If… Zombies?!, as the name implies, tells the story of a timeline that succumbed to a Zombie Apocalypse shortly before the events of Infinity War. Most of the big-name superheroes have already fallen to the plague, leaving only a handful of characters alive in the race to find a cure.
  • Finagle's Law: True to the comics, a few of the universes end up going through worst-case scenarios: (Doctor Strange destroying his reality out of blind disregard for the consequences of resurrecting his true love Christine, the zombies infecting Thanos while he possessed five of the Infinity Stones, Ultron getting Vision's body as well as the complete Infinity Stones before going on an interplanetary rampage), no matter also giving slight hope (Loki takes over the world, but there's still at least Captains America and Marvel (and later a universally displaced Black Widow)to fight him; Killmonger won and turned the US and Wakanda against each other, but Shuri learns what he did and recruits Pepper to help bring him down).
  • Flashback with the Other Darrin:
  • For Want Of A Nail: The Central Theme of the series is how the littlest, seemingly insignificant choices have unexpected, large-scale consequences. See each episode's recap page for their divergences.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: Done In-Universe (In-Multiverse?) by the penultimate episode of the first season. Ultron becomes aware of the Watcher as he recaps what's supposed to be the end of his story, only for the killer machine to realize that there are universes beyond his own after hearing his voice.
  • Framing Device: The Watcher explains about universes where a divergence caused things to unfold in another way, and that he won't interfere with them, being just a narrator. One of such universes is the one with the story of the specific episode.
  • Hand Sliding Down the Glass: In the episode "What if… Zombies?!", this occurs in a flashback scene showing how the zombie apocalypse started in the first place, in which the zombified versions of Janet Van Dyne and Hank Pym attack Scott Lang. A Gory Discretion Shot of them eating him ensues, but we see his hand sliding down the glass as he's attacked.
  • Hijacking Cthulhu: In the eighth and ninth episodes of Season 1, in a universe where Ultron was able to possess the body that would have become Vision, and later on acquire the complete set of the Infinity Stones in order to engage in universal genocide, that universe's Black Widow and Hawkeye planned to use a copy of the A.I. consciousness of HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola to invade and destroy Ultron himself from within. Their plan only failed because, by the time they found Zola, Ultron had already discovered the existence of the multiverse and was fighting the Watcher outside of that universe. The plan was later revived during the battle between Infinity Ultron and the Guardians of the Multiverse and here, it succeeded. Zola was uploaded to Ultron's synthroid body via a USB arrow to the eye and proceeded to "delete" him entirely, though this opened the way for Zola to possess the vacant body and attempt to take control of the Infinity Stones. Fortunately, a foreseen betrayal by one of the Guardians, a variant of Erik "Killmonger" Stevens, allowed for the Watcher and Strange Supreme to imprison the both of them in a pocket dimension and eliminate the threat entirely.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: In keeping with the "What If" comics, each episode's title is a question beginning with "What If…".
  • In Spite of a Nail: Some events from the Sacred Timeline still happen even when a divergence occurs. Notably, in Episode 4, the events of Doctor Strange happen as is after its divergence occurs, but it is after that when the divergence's side-effects become clear.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: A given, seeing that the animated characters who appear in this series are made to resemble their live-action counterparts/actors. However, Episode 6 depicts the Watcher in normal lighting for the first time and he's shown to have African features—darker skin, broad nose, and full lips—to match his voice actor Jeffrey Wright (though he otherwise looks like a classic Watcher).
  • Logo Joke:
    • The Marvel Studios logo sequence plays out normally until the end, where the logo itself shifts from its usual 3D look to a 2D cartoon look to go along with the series' focus on animation.
    • In Episode 5, rather than fading to black after the title logo appears, the camera pans down.
  • The Lost Lenore: Christine Palmer for Strange Supreme.
  • Meaningful Background Event: The Watcher can sometimes be seen looming in the sky during the events of certain episodes, indicating something big is about to happen. These appearances also have a dual meaning: with each passing episode, the Watcher appears more and more clearly, signifying his gradual investment in the narratives he's watching and subtly foreshadowing him getting dragged into the action himself in Episode 8, culminating in him breaking his oath of non-interference.
  • Mood Whiplash: The tone of the episodes varies in this series - sometimes during episodes themselves - from lighthearted, to tense, to outright tragic.
  • The Multiverse: The primary focus of the show is the Watcher observing various different realities.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The idea of Steve Rogers piloting a prototype suit of Iron Man-like armor after being unable to take Erskine's Super Serum comes from Bullet Points.
    • The ending of "What If… T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?", after establishing that basically everything is better for everyone everywhere after T'challa reforms the Ravagers into a force for good, has Ego show up to retrieve Peter, who never left Earth in this universe and is working at a Dairy Queen, to enact his grand scheme which was the central conflict of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. The Watcher insinuates that this could mean the end of the world, but decides that's a story for another time. A common theme in the original comics was that a change that's seemingly for the better actually has much worse consequences further down the line compared to the main continuity. Unlike the comics' convention, though, Ego doesn't get away with it as T'Challa saves Quill from him and he's subsequently defeated (or at least stalled, since they weren't at Ego the planet itself) by the Ravagers.
    • The villain of "What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" is eventually revealed to be Hank Pym in the Yellowjacket suit, out to destroy Fury and the Avengers because Hope was killed on a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission in this universe. This isn't as out-of-left-field as it might seem: in the original comics, this character was a bit unhinged and really did snap and become a supervillain once, and with this very costume/codename, to boot.
    • "What If… Dr Strange Lost His Heart…" draws heavily from Strange Tales 8-15 where Stephen becomes infected with a black magic and gradually absorbs various demonic entities, costing him his humanity in an effort to gain enough power to fight Shuma-Gorath, ending with him absorbing the Elder God's power as well before finishing him off. Fittingly, in the episode the first demon he encounters and the final one he manages to absorb a portion of bears a strong resemblance to Shuma-Gorath.
    • Predictably, "What If… Zombies?!" is a take-off from Marvel Zombies, one of the most prominent obviously-alternate universes in Marvel Comics, beyond the typical self-contained What If…? comic. Aside from just the zombie apocalypse angle:
      • Like in Marvel Zombies, the hordes of undead here aren't just mindless husks constantly looking for living flesh, they retain a lot of their mental faculties and, particularly, the zombified superheroes still know how to use their powers, fighting skills, and technology, showcased when zombie Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Wong show up to attack Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian, ambushing them through the sorcerers' portals and the opening attack being one of Tony's repulsor blasts. During the episode's climax, zombie Scarlet Witch stops trying to eat the survivors and instead tries to just kill them after she sees that Vision is dead from ripping the Mind Stone out of his own head—even undead, she still loves him.
      • The zombie plague originated from a superhero who became infected in another dimension/universe through unknown means and everything going downhill once other superheroes become infected as well. In the comics, it was unintentionally introduced to Earth by an alternate-universe version of the Sentry; things were looking grim for a while, but it got really bad once superheroes started becoming infected and, particularly, a zombified Quicksilver infected basically everyone on Earth in minutes thanks to his super-speed. In What If…?, Janet Van Dyne contracted it in the Quantum Realm and it got out into this alternate MCU timeline when Hank, Hope, and Scott tried to rescue her; the entire Pacific Northwest was infected within a day and the Avengers showed up to try to put a stop to it, ironically sealing this Earth's fate when Captain America was immediately bitten by Hank Pym like a zombie mosquito.
      • Early on in the episode, Okoye says that they've learned that T'Challa might still be alive after the rest of the Avengers became zombies. It's revealed that he is, Vision having captured him as a food source for a zombified Wanda; T'Challa himself is still alive and unzombified, but is missing a limb or two. This is exactly what happened to him in Marvel Zombies, though it was Hank Pym who did it instead, and for his own benefit instead of another's.
      • The ending insinuates that the zombie plague will be able to spread to other worlds, even to the entire universe, because Thanos has been infected as well and still has access to the Space Stone. In the comics, the zombies eventually ate every last living thing in their universe after the Silver Surfer and Galactus came to Earth only to be eaten by zombified superheroes, in turn allowing those zombies to acquire the Power Cosmic.
    • In "What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?", the point of divergence from the Sacred Timeline results in Killmonger becoming very important very quickly in Stark Enterprises and he and Tony start collaborating on an unmanned drone that Killmonger had designed in college in the hope of reducing lives lost in battle but could never actually work on for lack of resources. The drones bear a striking resemblance to the Hammer drones from Iron Man 2. Much like Vanko, Killmonger's intentions aren't as noble as he lets on.
    • "What If… Thor Was An Only Child?" includes an appearance by Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and Darcy "thought you were a dude captain." This goes two levels deep as the previous Captain Marvel from the comics, Hala Son Mar-Vell, was a male but given a Gender Flip in the MCU.
    • There are several in "What If… Ultron Won?":
      • The opening mirrors that of the comic version of the Age of Ultron event, with Hawkeye sneaking through the ruins of civilization trying to evade Ultron drones.
      • Infinity Ultron is given as a version of the character who successfully uploaded himself into the body that became Vision in the Sacred Timeline, and therefore obviously doesn't look like he did in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but as he becomes ever more powerful he takes on a suit of armor over his Vision body which more closely resembles his old self. There's more to it than that, though: in the film, Ultron looks like this, whereas in the comics he looks more like this, and that's where Infinity Ultron splits the difference—his red Vision face is visible under his helmet, giving him a resemblance to the Ultron of the comics with a huge glowing-red "mouth" and four slit-shaped "eyes". In addition, Ultron changes his appearance to more closely resemble his design from Annihilation Conquest shortly before going off world and is seen killing the Guardians of the Galaxy (who in the comics were formed during Conquest to stop him).
      • In Siberia, Natasha manages to find the shield of Red Guardian, the Soviet attempt to create their own Captain America from the comics.
      • The fight between Ultron and the Watcher makes extensive use of Kirby Dots, which were a signature style of famous Marvel artist Jack Kirby.
      • One of the many universes that is momentarily visited during the aforementioned fight shows Steve Rogers apparently being inaugurated as President of the United States, broadcast on the Times Square jumbotron. This was the subject of more than one What If…? story in the comics as well as the United We Stand arc in the Ultimate universe.
      • The very end of "What If… Ultron Won?" has the Watcher seeking the assistance of Strange Supreme and presumably more heroes from alternate universes in order to stand up against Infinity Ultron. The Watcher of the comics did this as well in the issue What If the Watcher Saved the Universe as part of the Timequake event.
    • "What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?"
      • The Arnim Zola copy from Infinity Ultron's universe successfully destroys his consciousness and takes over the Vision body, with his Matrix-like video face appearing on Vision's chest. This was the basic look that Zola had in the comics where he had his own robotic body and was an active supervillain, redone as a digitized mind with his face on an analog computer screen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
      • The Watcher recruiting heroes from other multiverses to stop a greater threat is lifted straight from the comics. The only difference here is that he doesn't rely on the help of the Time Variance Authority to do this.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Downplayed, but the series trailer cleverly crops the shot of Thor saying "Slow down, there are some people in the room who don't understand", to avoid showing the other Guardians of the Multiverse standing to the right of the shot.
  • Never Was This Universe: While several stories allegedly have a single point of divergence, others have things that play out differently as background events unaffected by the big change that aren't addressed in order to keep the story moving forward. For instance, Mantis is at Party Thor's big bash in Australia despite the fact that she should be working for Ego at that time. (Yes, the point of divergence is thousands of years in the past, but it's not clear how it could have affected Ego or Mantis.) Alternate versions of Thanos in the Zombie and Infinity Ultron universes have five of the Infinity Stones despite there being conditions that would've made some impossible for him to attain (since Doctor Strange gave him the Time Stone, which didn't happen in the former, and Gamora's death gave him the Soul Stone, which didn't happen in the latter). Arnim Zola's AI copy and, briefly, Ego are also present in the Infinity Ultron universe, even though in the main timeline, both had been dead for about a year before the events of Age of Ultron (though the former is explained as there being multiple copies of his intelligence squirreled away). The only way for this to make sense is to say that there are other elements that are inherently different about certain universes. This is confirmed in the season finale, where it's an explicit plot point that every universe's Infinity Stones have slightly different properties, even between two universes that apparently diverged only very recently.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The reason Infinity Ultron becomes a multiversal threat is because killing his entire home universe made him reach a level of consciousness that allowed him to hear the Watcher narrating, alerting him to the Watcher's existence and, in turn, to the existence of the multiverse.
  • Not So Episodic: The series begins as an anthology series hosted by the Watcher as he ponders various alternate realities in the MCU. This formula is first challenged when the Watcher meets Strange Supreme, but refuses to help save his universe. Another crack begins to form when an alternate-reality Ultron suddenly appears at the end of another episode and the Watcher's reaction makes it clear this was not supposed to happen. Then, it becomes a full-on Myth Arc when Infinity Ultron learns of the existence of the Watcher and the multiverse and begins going on rampages to destroy everything, forcing the Watcher to go back to Strange Supreme and ask for his help.
  • Opening Narration: Each of the sequences for an episode has the Watcher doing this, to explain the divergence that has or had occurred.
  • Outside-Context Problem:
    • "What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" has two examples of this, one being the central mystery of the episode: Hank Pym kills off the Avengers one by one as a basically untouchable, practically invisible assassin that they have no chance of actually defeating given that he's able to shrink to sizes that can't be targeted and which allow him to attack unprotected vital organs. Pym gets on the end of this himself when he starts fighting who he thinks is Nick Fury but is actually Loki in disguise, who's momentarily allied with S.H.I.E.L.D. to avenge Thor and pulls out all the stops to trounce Pym with his magic-like abilities, making Pym just as helpless as the Avengers were.
    • "What If… Zombies!?" is an even bigger example of this. No one-hero or villain-saw a Zombie Apocalypse coming and it utterly derails the events of Avengers: Infinity War.
    • Killmonger becomes one to Obadiah Stane in "What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?" by interfering with the attempted hit that Stane put on Stark and then exposing Stane's plan on live TV. He ends up becoming one to basically everyone else, too, successfully killing T'Challa, Rhodey, and Stark and getting himself into power in Wakanda to enact his master plan from Black Panther with almost no credible threats left to stop him.
    • Infinity Ultron is this to the entire Multiverse as he not only comes from a reality where he killed the Avengers and took possession of the Infinity Gauntlet but he fully intends to conquer other universes starting with Party Thor's timeline. Even the Watcher himself didn't see him coming.
      • Rather fittingly, Infinity Ultron is defeated by an Outside-Context Problem of his own: Natasha manages to inject the digitized mind of Arnim Zola into him as a computer virus, and Zola destroys his consciousness and takes over the Vision body that Ultron had been using; Ultron has little idea of what's happening until it's too late to do anything about it.
  • Painted CGI: The art style for the series includes cell-shaded characters and environments with a painted feel to give the show a look resembling that of the works of early American painters. Being primarily an All-CGI Cartoon, the characters, props, and vehicles are 3DCG. However, effects like fire and smoke are 2D animated, which are blended well with the CG assets. Notably in Episode 4, certain mystical creatures and shadows are completely animated in 2D.
  • Precision F-Strike: While not particularly strong, the Watcher's exclamation as he and the entire multiverse are discovered by Ultron is uncharacteristic of his normally calm and composed demeanor.
    "I have seen everything… that has ever happened. Ever will happen. Ever could happen. And yet… what the hell is this?"
  • Present-Day Past: Both the third and seventh episodes have characters using touch screen cell phones, despite them both taking place in 2010, back when they had yet to become a widespread public phenomenon.
  • Questioning Title?: Which it shares with the comic it's based on.
  • Role Swap AU: The first two episodes of the series see Captain America and Star-Lord's roles being given to other people, with Peggy taking the Super-Soldier serum in place of Steve and T'Challa being taken by the Ravagers instead of Quill.
  • Scenery Porn: The show features several sweeping landscape shots with the Watcher silently looking on in the background. It can be quite striking.
  • Series Continuity Error: Several episodes of this series take many Broad Strokes with the events of the MCU's Infinity Saga. Since we are looking at a series that's all about deviations from the norm though, one can easily Hand Wave these continuity discrepancies as being part of said multiversal shenanigans.
  • Sequel Hook: With the exception of "What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?", most episodes leave off on a hint towards a possible continuation:
    • "What If… T'Challa Became a Star-Lord?" ends with Ego finding Peter Quill on Earth as his eyes begin to glow with Celestial energy, with the Watcher declaring what happens after to be a story for another time.
    • "What If… The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" has Loki taking over Earth after the Avengers are killed, but Fury goes to find the still-frozen Captain America and is joined by Captain Marvel, ready to fight for Earth's freedom.
    • At the end of "What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?", Killmonger is poised to become the next Black Panther, but Shuri has made contact with Pepper and they're planning to expose Killmonger's false flag operations to avenge T'Challa, Rhodey, and Tony after Killmonger killed all of them.
    • "What If… Thor Were an Only Child?" ends with an army of Ultrons appearing out of nowhere - their leader is an alternate version of Ultron who successfully uploaded himself into Vision's body then went onto acquire the other Infinity Stones. The Watcher was even remarking on the main conclusion of the episode wrapping up well for everyone when this happens and says that he might have spoken too soon. The series follows through in the very next episode, "What If… Ultron Won?", and shows where this version of Ultron came from. It also defies the non-Sequel Hook of "What If… Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?" when Strange Supreme appears at the end and the Watcher asks him for help in defeating Ultron.
    • In the end, (of the first season, at least) all of these are followed up on in "What If… The Watcher Broke His Oath?": The Watcher retrieves the central characters of the preceding episodes to form the Guardians of the Multiverse, all of them in the middle of their "sequels" (T'Challa saves Quill from Ego, Killmonger is pulled away from having to fight Pepper and Shuri, and Thor is fending off the Ultron drones in Las Vegas) with the addition of having "sequels" for Captain Carter, who is early in the parallel events to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the zombie universe as Strange Supreme pulls them through one of his portals to distract Infinity Ultron. After defeating him, the Watcher sends the Natasha of Infinity Ultron's universe to that of "What If… the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?" where she immediately joins Fury, Rogers, and Danvers in fighting Loki's army. This episode also has one of its own: Captain Carter is sent back to her universe and finds the HYDRA Stomper suit among the cargo that Batroc had stolen, and it's implied that Rogers is in it.
      • There's also an inverted Sequel Hook: one of the Guardians of the Multiverse is the teased alternate version of Gamora with Thanos' armor and double-ended sword, who is in the process of creating an Infinity Gauntlet at Nidavellir with help from an alternate version of Tony Stark, none of which we've seen before.note  Call it a Prequel Hook if you like.
  • Serial Escalation: The Watcher’s appearances become more and more detailed and noticeable as the series goes on. He appears as a Celestial Body at the end of the first episode, and by the third, his silhouette is looming in the daytime sky. His silhouette becomes more three-dimensional by episode 4, and by episode 5 we get a clear view of his face. In episode 6, we're shown a shot of him fully in color.
  • Ship Tease:
    • Much like in the original universe, Peggy and Steve maintain their connection. When their conversation goes back to dancing, Peggy muses that with her makeover she likely won't have suitors lining up. Steve makes it clear that he isn't put off at all.
    • Captain Carter and Black Widow have some tension too, just as she did with Steve Rogers, and it is confirmed by the end of the series that Natasha counts Carter as one of exactly three people she trusts.
    • It's subtle, but it's implied that T'Challa and Nebula might be a couple; if nothing else they spend quite a bit of the episode flirting. Nebula even calls T'Challa by the Affectionate Nickname "Chacha."
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Some of the timelines explored by the Watcher involve certain characters avoiding their canon fates and living much longer. See individual recap pages for known examples.
  • Stealth Sequel: Although the show seems mostly unconnected to the events of the main MCU timeline at first glance, the first season of Loki indicates the alternate realities seen in this show are in fact the result of Sylvie killing He Who Remains in the Season 1 finale, thus creating the multiple branching timelines within the Multiverse (and by extension this very show) as a result. The fact that the Watcher refers to "new realities" in the opening monologue can also be taken as an indication to that effect (though it might also just mean new-to-the-audience). Executive producer Brad Winderbaum noted that the show debuting after the conclusion of Loki was not a coincidence. Some Twitter trailers even use the TVA computers showing the timeline branching and subsequently editing the records.
  • Title Drop: The Watcher drops this at the end of his opening monologue during the title sequence.
  • Title Montage: For Season One, the moment the prism shatters in the intro, a multitude of scenes from episodes are scattered throughout the galaxy backdrop.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: Tony Stark has been killed in every episode in which he appears, with the single exception of his brief appearance in the season finale, and his death strongly implied in at least one other episode. Each of his deaths also qualifies as Dies Differently in Adaptation.
  • What If?: Well, duh. The premise hinges on alternate takes on existing MCU stories and their characters.
  • The Worf Effect: This is used to demonstrate how powerful some of the alternate versions of characters actually are. The clearest example is in "What If… Ultron Won?" when Thanos appears on Earth to retrieve the Mind Stone, having collected all the other Infinity Stones. Infinity Ultron immediately bisects him vertically and kills him, then takes the Infinity Stones for himself; he subsequently kills everyone in his universe very easily, the standout examples being Ego and Captain Marvel. In the very next episode, Strange Supreme transports Zombie Scarlet Witch to distract Infinity Ultron, but she's destroyed just as easily as Thanos was. Ultron gets this himself from Arnim Zola, who almost effortlessly destroys his consciousness and takes over the Vision body after being uploaded into it.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: This is the premise of the fifth episode, the entire Earth is overrun by zombies and the surviving heroes attempt to survive and cure it.

"Your stories, they are everything to me."

Alternative Title(s): What If


Strange Supreme

Strange Supreme goes mad with power.

How well does it match the trope?

4.4 (25 votes)

Example of:

Main / WithGreatPowerComesGreatInsanity

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