Warning - This article contains spoilers for the third episode of What If...?.
What If...? is going all-out in showcasing different alternate timelines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the latest installment took it up a notch by featuring the death of Earth's Mightiest Heroes.
Episode 3, titled "What If The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?," killed off (almost) all the Avengers at the beginning of Phase 1. The narrative takes place during Nick Fury's Big Week, rounding out the events from Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor.
At the tail-end of the episode, the surprising killer was revealed to be Michael Douglas' Hank Pym, seeking revenge for the death of his daughter, Hope Van Dyne. Pym, who suited up in his Yellowjacket armor, managed to take down the Avengers one by one, but he was eventually defeated by the combined might of Fury and Tom Hiddleston's Loki.
Now, a surprising Easter egg from the episode has been discovered by an eagle-eyed fan.
A WINTER SOLDIER EASTER EGG IN WHAT IF...?
Twitter user @RedDragon733 unearthed a major Easter egg in the third episode of What If...? titled "What If The World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?"
During the episode, Nick Fury revealed that Hope Van Dyne, who was an agent of SHIELD in that universe, died on a mission "outside Odessa, Ukraine."
The user pointed out that the Odessa mission was mentioned by Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff during the events of 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
In the Captain America sequel, Romanoff revealed the story behind the Winter Soldier to Steve Rogers, mentioning the fact that "somebody shot out [her] tires near Odessa."
The Russian agent later shared that Bucky "shot him straight through [her]" in order to kill a high-value target.
The full conversation can be read below:
Natasha Romanoff: "I know who killed Fury. Most of the intelligence community doesn't believe he exists. The ones that do call him the Winter Soldier. He's credited with over two dozens assassinations in the last 50 years."
Steve Rogers: "So he's a ghost story."
Natasha Romanoff: "Five years ago, I was escorting a nuclear engineer out of Iran, somebody shot out my tires near Odessa. We lost control, went straight over a cliff. I pulled us out. But the Winter Soldier was there. I was covering my engineer so he shot him straight through me. Soviet slug. No rifling. Bye-bye, bikinis."
HOPE VAN DYNE VS BUCKY BARNES
Hope Van Dyne's recruitment and death in Episode 3 solidified the true point of separation in the installment's universe to the main timeline of the MCU. It looks like this shift erased Romanoff's involvement in the mission in Odessa, being replaced by Hope Van Dyne instead.
Hank Pym's killing spree suggests that Hope was the only one keeping him sane after Janet Van Dyne's disappearance. After Hope died, this incident pushed him over the edge, targeting the candidates of Nick Fury's Avenger Initiative.
It makes narrative sense that Pym decided to take out the big guns instead of Bucky Barnes considering that the Winter Soldier is always off the grid and within HYDRA's protection.
Given that HYDRA is still lurking within the shadows of SHIELD during this specific point in time, it's also possible that they were the ones who manipulated Pym into targeting the Avengers in order to prevent the team from being assembled.
In many ways, this is a fitting example of the various story possibilities that What If...? can showcase for the MCU.
The third episode of What If...? is now streaming on Disney+.