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Marvel just revealed a ‘What If…?’ multiverse secret on Disney Plus

Published Aug 15th, 2021 2:08PM EDT
What If Multiverse
Image: Marvel Studios

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The first What If…? episode is available on Disney Plus now, delivering Marvel’s first multiverse story after Loki. The first animated series in the MCU is much more exciting now that we know what it really is. Marvel couldn’t reveal that What If…? would be a multiverse adventure before we saw Loki. But as soon as Loki season 1 ended, Marvel confirmed what we’d been suspecting. What If…? will be telling stories with familiar characters placed in alternate timelines.

The multiverse is a key factor here that will allow Marvel to bring some of these What If…? characters to other MCU movies and TV shows down the road. That’s why What If…? is the most interesting new Marvel show to keep track of after Loki — not that you have any other new Marvel shows. And Disney just revealed a big What If…? secret on Disney Plus.

Marvel’s multiverse

Marvel’s MCU movies and TV series are not always released in chronological order. Each adventure provides additional plot details for the overarching story. Black Widow is the latest example of that. It launched after The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but the action takes place between the events in Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

With the exception of the credits scene, Black Widow sits between those two movies. Anyone looking to rewatch all the MCU movies and shows in chronological order will have to take that into account.

Why is that important for the What If…? chronology? We need to explain Loki’s place in the MCU first.

It’s not surprising to see that Loki follows Avengers: Endgame in Disney’s MCU timeline. That’s the official chronology for the show, and it’s an important detail.

Technically, some of Loki happens simultaneously with Endgame. As the Avengers go on their Time Heist, the TVA arrests Loki. When he reaches the TVA, time starts behaving differently. We no longer have a clear correlation with the regular flow of time in the Sacred Timeline.

Loki Episode 6
The Sacred Timeline starts branching off in Loki finale.

What If…? place in Marvel’s chronological MCU timeline

That’s actually an essential detail for the Loki finale. As we get to meet the He Who Remains variant of Kang (Jonathan Majors), we see the multiverse from a place that sits out of time. The timeline starts branching off as soon as Kang relinquishes control, allowing Loki and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) to decide his fate. And we see that branches appear all over the place, in the past, present, and future. It’s as if we’re witnessing every single event at the same time.

This brings us to the What If…? chronology in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now that the first episode is streaming on Disney Plus, we know precisely where What If…? fits in the MCU. As ComicBook explains, What If…? takes place right after Loki in the official chronology.

What If…? tells different stories featuring variants of the main superheroes in the MCU. These stories are only possible because Kang and the TVA stopped pruning the Sacred Timeline. A simple thing like Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) being in a certain room in the first episode altered the course of events and started a different branch where there’s a Captain Carter instead of Captain America.

Similarly, every single What If…? episode will tell stories featuring variants who have changed the course of events that Kang had charted for the Sacred Timeline.

Making sense of the multiverse

How can the first What If…? episode take place after Loki? Well, it does, and it doesn’t. The multiverse is complicated like that.

Without Loki unleashing the multiverse, the TVA would have pruned this Peggy variant and the branch she had created. It would all have happened immediately, without interfering with the Sacred Timeline where Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) got the serum. So chronologically, an event in the 1940s takes place after Endgame because it’s all happening after the events in Loki. Again, the events in Loki all happen out of time.

If we’re looking at the actual time flow, the events in the first episode are in the past but in a different timeline. They’re concurrent with the events in Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s just that nobody in the main MCU reality knows about them, as the multiverse isn’t something people are aware of in the MCU.

Again, to make sense of What If…?, just transport yourself to He Who Remains’ office. From that vantage point, you see all the branches evolving at the same time in different places. You’re not experiencing the regular flow of time, so they all happen at the same time. And while the multiverse is growing, the main Sacred Timeline is still moving forward. But from that point of view, you can watch everything simultaneously, like flipping through TV channels.

What If…? episode 2 premieres on Wednesday on Disney Plus.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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