Time travel played a huge part in Avengers: Endgame. But how did some of the biggest moments diverge the timeline and change the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it?
While nothing that occurred over the course of Avengers: Endgame’s epic three-hour runtime could change the universe as we experienced it, up until those snapped away during the Decimation returned, three distinct new timelines were created as a consequence of the surviving Avengers seeking out the Infinity Stones.
Though Steve traveled back to return each of the six stones to the exact moment they plucked them out of the timeline — thus reversing the split that the Ancient One warned them about — that wasn’t the only way the MCU was altered as a consequence of their meddling in time. There are a few that, in the end, could come back around to impact the current timeline, should there be a way for them to reconnect.
Warning: Significant spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead.
Loki escapes with the Tesseract
After the Hulk bursts through the door of Stark Tower, knocking the case carrying the Tesseract out of Tony’s hands, and into the path of Loki, we saw our first divergence and new timeline for the MCU.
Loki used the Tesseract to escape his captors — and future imprisonment on Asgard — using the stone to teleport away. The exact extent of how massively that move affected Loki’s path is unknown, but it could be assumed that the ramifications lead to a vastly different outcome for him during the events of both The Dark World and Ragnarok.
Should Loki have survived his new timeline — and, we’d suspect, Thor would assume as much — it is highly likely that a future movie could revolve around Thor seeking him out and the two reconnecting. Grief has already devastated Thor, and Loki’s death at Thanos’ hands was the first in a long stretch of losses that contributed to the trauma Thor suffered. If there is even the most remote of chances that the two divergent timelines could align, we have no doubt that Thor will do anything in his power to see it through.
With a Loki solo-series on the horizon for Disney+, it is likely that this will be one of the timeline divergences we will see the consequences of first. There are several “what if” scenarios to play out, in between the known events of the MCU as we experienced it, and it would be interesting to see how much Loki’s escape could alter that course.
Gamora leaves 2014 and jumps to the future
As far as we know, 2014 Gamora did not return through the portal to her own timeline to live out the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Equally, 2014 Nebula perished at the hands of her future self, and 2014 Thanos was snapped from existence, removing them from the equation.
Thus, there is a universe and timeline in which the Guardians were without the intervention of Gamora and Nebula, and Thanos is no longer at large searching for the stones. That certainly doesn’t mean there will be no fight over possessing them, but it is a whole universe that is absent of Thanos’ threat.
The most immediate consequence of this divergence is a Gamora that does not have any deep or lasting connection with any of the Guardians, including her romantic one with Star-Lord. Something that will, undoubtedly, play a huge part in the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Free from the influence of Thanos, and to experience a universe with no expectations on her, Gamora can live exactly as she chooses to. Whether that choice includes returning to the Guardians, and Star-Lord, or reconnecting with her sister, Nebula, remains to be seen. But there is a very real divide in their lived experiences that will cause some serious friction as the MCU enters Phase Four.
Steve returns to ’40s and marries Peggy Carter
Perhaps the most complex of all the time divergences in the MCU comes at the hands of Steve Rogers. After returning the Tesseract back to the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility in 1970, he opts to then travel to the ’40s, choosing to live a life alongside Peggy Carter — thus, altering not only her future, but likely the future of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Bucky Barnes.
“I’m sorry, Tony. If I see a situation pointed south, I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could.” — Steve Rogers, Avengers: Age of Ultron
It has been made clear, time and time again, that Steve Rogers cannot ignore those that need his help. It would be difficult to reconcile with the fact, then, that he would be able to allow Peggy’s legacy to be corrupted by Hydra, and for Bucky, equally, to remain under their control and influence. And so, the third divergence. A timeline in which, not only do Steve and Peggy marry, but they remove Hydra from S.H.I.E.L.D., and prevent Howard and Maria’s assassination at the hands of the Winter Soldier. A timeline in which Tony Stark grows up knowing Steve.
What remains unclear is how, with the potential for so many huge divergences in the timeline, Steve managed to find his way back to the MCU that we know — to hand the shield over to Sam Wilson. We could assume, of course, that someone in Steve’s new timeline provided him with the ability to cross those streams (they would still, after all, have Tony’s brilliant mind, as well as the Pym particles), and it would go a long way to explaining why Steve might want to keep the specifics to himself.
But, equally, while the Steve that returned to our MCU is the one we have known for the last decade, he has also lived a life we can have no understanding of. Should he choose to stay through whatever comes next in Phase Four, it could complicate things massively — especially knowing how time travel and multiple universes have affected the comics over the years.