Up until this point, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes both have had their stories heavily tied to Steve Rogers. Beyond being close with the original Captain America though, these two have had quite different trajectories as heroes. This makes sense, of course, given that they were playing supporting roles in his story. Now, however, this series is giving them a story of their own ...well, one to share at least.
This will be a huge chance for fans of these characters to see them take the spotlight for a change and get to know them better. There are several things in particular that the show will hopefully explore and reveal about its two leads.
As stated previously, beyond small cameos in other films, Sam and Bucky’s main place in the MCU so far has been to support Steve Rogers and fight alongside (or sometimes in the case of the Winter Soldier, against) him. As such, the two have met and interacted a few times in the MCU so far, but usually the focus has been on how their actions relate to Steve’s rather than each other’s.
Many Marvel fans have latched onto the idea of Sam and Bucky becoming fast friends and engaging in playful antics, not unlike the ones their respective actors, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, have during press tours. However, people involved with the show have already hinted that the relationship between their characters will be much rockier and that the two won’t necessarily see eye to eye.
This dynamic was highlighted in the trailer released on Super Bowl Sunday, which also indicated that there will be plenty of fun banter and antics, even if the two aren’t BFF’s. Moments of tension between the two have also been hinted at, primarily in Captain America: Civil War where the two are found to be frequently bickering among themselves.
This does raise the question, however, of how exactly the duo’s partnership will begin. The two most likely scenarios are the fate of Steve Rogers (whether it be death, disappearance, or something else) bringing Sam and Bucky to the same place or the two being called on a mission together, perhaps by the United Nations as a way to make up for going against the Sokovia Accords (which, according to WandaVision and merchandise for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier , are still in effect).
Even though there will be some tension between Bucky and Sam in the series, the two share some notable similarities and common experiences. One major commonality they share is being military veterans, even though they were in different branches and had vastly different experiences while serving.
As seen in Captain America: The First Avenger , Bucky fought in World War II and ended up being captured and experimented on, was rescued by Steve Rogers, and joined a group called the Howling Commandos alongside him. During a war mission, Bucky fell off a train, was found and further experimented on by HYDRA, and became known as the Winter Soldier.
Sam, on the other hand, was a member of the United States Air Force. It is unknown exactly when he served his two tours, but it was definitely several decades after Bucky’s fall from the train. While serving, Sam witnessed an attack that killed his wingman, Riley. It is obvious that this had a profound effect on him, as he led a PTSD group for veterans after finishing his service (indicating he likely was or is suffering from the condition himself).
Having clearly both suffered some trauma from their military service, it’s quite possible this will come up at some point during the series and be something the two may very well end up bonding over. This could give viewers at home a chance to learn more about Sam’s time in the military, as well as Bucky’s perspective of World War II after seeing Steve’s in The First Avenger .
One thing we haven’t heard much at all about either Sam or Bucky in the MCU is their families. In the comics, on the other hand, there is plenty of information on both characters in that regard, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the show’s creative team elected to draw on that history to allow us to get to know their onscreen versions better.
The most significant family member of Bucky’s in the comics is his younger sister, Rebecca Barnes. The two were very close before their parents died and they were subsequently separated; Rebecca was sent to boarding school while Bucky was sent to Camp Lehigh, a military training base.
No mention of Rebecca has been made in the MCU thus far, though a picture from the first days of filming on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier likely alludes to her significance in her brother’s life. A photo of Bucky’s dog tags from the war taken on set shows the name “R. Barnes” where a soldier’s emergency notification would normally be. This could just be an Easter egg for eagle-eyed fans to catch while watching the show or a detail included for the sake of prop authenticity, but it could very well indicate that she’ll be mentioned or even seen at some point during the series.
It’s also worth mentioning that since Bucky grew up decades before the events of the series, there’s also the possibility of a descendant of his or his immediate family popping up on the show. Bucky has no known children of his own, but a sibling of his (possibly Rebecca) could have a descendant living in modern times that he could run into.
Sam hasn’t been removed from his own time (unless you count the five years he was gone between the Snap and the Blip), so it’s much more likely he has family members who are still alive. In the comics, both of his parents are dead, but he has a younger sister named Sarah (in addition to another possible sibling or two) and two nephews named Jody and Jim. It has already been confirmed that Sarah will be involved in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier , and it's possible we'll see other family members of Sam's as well.
It’s important to note that the MCU works loosely with the comics and the family lives of characters are sometimes different than their comic counterparts. Still, Sam and Bucky both being brothers to younger sisters and/or uncles (in Bucky’s case he’d probably be more likely a great-uncle) could be another great opportunity for the two to bond and develop a better understanding of one another.
VIEWS ON THE SHIELD
At the end of Avengers: Endgame , Steve Rogers passed the iconic Captain America shield on to Sam. The focus of this scene is understandably more about Steve’s decision to return to the past and retire, so there’s just a brief moment of Sam seemingly accepting the shield and Bucky nodding approvingly.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier ’s marketing campaign, however, has made it abundantly clear that things are going to be a lot more complicated than Sam just grabbing the shield and suiting up as the next Captain America. “Who will wield the shield?” is the question that has been used as the show’s tagline so far.
Sam seems hesitant to adopt the shield, and in one of the trailers comments that “there’s a lot of history behind [it]”. Steve Rogers obviously left a huge legacy behind and, even if Sam doesn’t end up taking the title of “Captain America,” simply carrying the shield and using it in combat entails holding a symbol that represents so much.
It appears Bucky wants the legacy of the shield to carry on, as we hear him comment in a trailer that people “need something to get behind,” seemingly in reference to it as well as possibly the Captain America mantle. If Endgame is anything to go by, he’ll probably encourage Sam to be the one to do it. Though given that the two will be at odds during the series, his feelings on the matter could change.
Many fans were hoping Bucky himself would be the one to take over the title, as both he and Sam have done so at different points in Marvel Comics history. While members of the creative team behind Endgame have explained why they ultimately went with Sam, it’ll be nice to (hopefully) get an in-canon explanation now that the characters are in a project where there’s more time for context like this to be provided.
LIFE AFTER STEVE ROGERS
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a show intended to highlight two characters who haven’t got a lot of spotlight in the MCU thus far, rather than focus on those who have. However, Sam and Bucky’s stories - particularly their superhero origins - have been so closely tied to Steve Rogers that it’s inevitable that the original Captain America is going to be a factor here, even if he never shows up in person.
The show will probably let fans know what really happened to Steve after Avengers: Endgame. According to Spider-Man: Far From Home , the public believes he died in the quest to revive the Snap’s victims but, regardless of the specifics, he is more than likely going to be out of the picture and there’s already heavy speculation the characters in this series will be attending some sort of memorial service for him.
If the scenes of Sam in a suit looking at various pieces of Captain America memorabilia are indeed part of a posthumous tribute, this may be what initially sparks his doubts about taking the shield. The grand scale of this scene makes the idea of the legacy behind them seen larger than life, and that would be enough to make anyone intimidated by the idea of trying to live up to it.
Sam’s now-famous line “I do what he does, just slower,” may also come back up, with the inclusion of “slower” highlighting his lack of super-soldier abilities. However, if this is mentioned it’s likely the show will also bring back the notion of the ideal candidate for the serum (or perhaps in this case, the title of Captain America) being “not a perfect soldier, but a good man,” which Sam certainly is.
Bucky’s situation going into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a unique one; assuming Steve is gone, he’s presumably the only super-soldier from World War II still alive and fighting, and the only person who was frozen for several decades now living in a new era.
According to the Endgame creative team, Steve talked to Bucky (offscreen) about what he was going to do upon returning the Infinity Stones to where (and when ) the Avengers obtained them from. It’s possible he not only knew Sam would be given the Captain America shield, but that Steve would be returning to the era in which they grew up together, or at least the one they’d have lived in after the war.
This raises a big question: If Steve had the ability to go back to the past, why didn’t Bucky - someone with less of a foundation built for a life in the current era than - go back with him?
The most likely possibilities are that the care he needs after the trauma of being brainwashed wouldn’t be available to him in the past. Considering his healing took place in Wakanda though, this could also tie in with the idea of his views on the era he grew up in towards people who didn’t fall in with a certain, very limited, mold. This could be about the racism of the time period, as well as possibly the way neurodivergent people were treated back then.
Given that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been confirmed to tackle racial issues, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the idea of life in the past versus the present may come up in this context. If so, it’s likely that Sam’s feelings on the matter would also be explored.
Steve didn’t tell him where (er, when ) he went to in Endgame. But, if he finds out during the events of the series, the idea of him carrying on the legacy of a shield and/or title that originated during a time when Black people in America did not have equal rights would be a very interesting topic for the show to dive into.
THEIR FUTURE IN THE MCU
Even though the promotion for the show is casting doubt on who the “next Cap” will ultimately be, it’s pretty obvious that the scene of Steve passing the shield over to Sam was included in Avengers: Endgame as a way to communicate to viewers without access to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier why Sam Wilson is suddenly suited up in red, white, and blue - or is at least carrying the shield - in his next movie appearance.
Without an Avengers team currently in place, though, it’s unclear who Sam will be working with after the series. He might keep fighting alongside Bucky, join a new group, or re-establish the Avengers. Whatever happens, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should give fans an indication as to where Sam will end up next...and whether he’ll still be known as the Falcon, Captain America, or another name entirely. (Captain Falcon, perhaps?)
Bucky, on the other hand, is pretty much a total mystery. The character’s stunt double has indicated his story won’t end with this series, but there’s been no indication as to where he might end up by the show's completion. There’s the option of continuing to work with Sam, becoming an official Avenger if that group makes a comeback, or joining a new team.
There have been rumors of the Thunderbolts coming to the MCU, given the confirmation of certain characters debuting in Phase 4. Bucky has been a part of this group in the comics, so this seems like a distinct possibility for his MCU iteration as well.
Bucky is in a similar position to Sam when it comes to aliases; the title of “Winter Soldier” comes with a lot of baggage, so will he change it, or reclaim it in the name of heroism?
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will premiere on Disney+ on March 19, 2021.