Long monologues right before death are nothing new in the world of storytelling. The same goes for the MCU, in fact, fans just saw one in what has immediately become an iconic MCU villain introduction.
Of course, the scene in question is when Jonathan Major’s He Who Remains pauses the very moment he feels something’s off during Loki's finale. Things are changing—he no longer knows what is going to happen. He’s in new territory now.
The Sacred Timeline is branching, and it's not stopping. As fans know, that scene eventually ends with Sylvie betraying Loki and stabbing He Who Remains. With a promise and a wink, the man at the end of time is gone.
There happens to be one major scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that gives off similar vibes. That of someone fluent in the timeline, freed from the constraints of their knowledge, to only find the release of death waiting for them around the corner. Of course, the person who fits this description is none other than The Ancient One, and her final moments in Doctor Strange.
TIME IS RELATIVE
After saving Stephen Strange and Karl Mordo from her disenfranchised former student Kaecilius, The Ancient One suffered a skyscraper-sized fall, right onto the concrete sidewalks of New York City. After being taken into surgery, Strange finds her on the Astral Plane, appreciating what may in fact be her final moments.
The Ancient One has always been said to not only be a powerful being, but also one that possesses a vast knowledge of events to come and things that have shaped reality as they know it. Her ability to see the future has been something she’s touted a few times in the MCU, such as in Avengers: Endgame when telling Bruce Banner that Stephen Strange wasn’t set to become the Sorcerer Supreme for a few more years.
Her speech at the hospital with Stephen Strange in 2016’s Doctor Strange is a powerful moment and within it reveals a lot about her mindset when it comes to everything that she, as The Ancient One, is responsible for doing. Her full speech is as follows:
“Time is relative. I've spent so many years peering through time looking at this exact moment, but I can't see past it. I've prevented countless terrible futures, and after each one there's always another. And they all lead here, but never further...As you well know, sometimes one must break the rules in order to serve the greater good... Only together [Strange & Mordo] do you stand a chance at stopping Dormammu."
Immediately, what sticks out is how she says that she has “prevented countless terrible futures, and after each one there’s always another.” That certainly sounds a lot like what He Who Remains is trying to accomplish at the end of time, but obviously on a much larger scale.
But then there’s also the point where The Ancient One claims, “As you well know, sometimes one must break the rules in order to serve the greater good…”. This line is greatly representative of the themes running throughout Doctor Strange. Sometimes doing what may seem is wrong may be the only way to accomplish that which may be good—world-saving even.
HE WHO FIBBED
When compared directly to He Who Remains, obviously a lot of that lines up with his intentions and actions. Preventing futures and breaking rules kinda seems to be his shtick. Though when it comes to the ruleset that he’s dealing with, fans don’t entirely know what that means when it comes to manipulating the timeline as a whole. Though, no question, rules are being broken––if only ethical ones.
In fact, that’s what drove Loki and Sylvie right to the castle at the end of time during the God of Mischief's Disney+ series. Someone was taking away free will and manipulating people at the highest level, and they had to be stopped; though not without a potential cost. But like the Ancient One, He Who Remains was doing the wrong thing for the right reason; if he is to be believed, of course.
Here is what his final monologue looked like:
"We just crossed the threshold... So I fibbed. I fibbed earlier when I said I know how everything is going to go. I know-I knew everything up until a certain point and that point was about seven, eight, nine, ten seconds ago. But now I have no idea, no idea how the rest of this is going to go. I'm being candid…. I've gone through a lot of scenarios, trying to find the right person to take this spot, and it turns out that person came in two, which is definitely you two."
Of course, the connections to The Ancient One’s situation are clear when he says “I knew—I knew everything up until a certain point…”, which for the Ancient One was her death, but for him, it was the branching of The Sacred Timeline. It seems that the two both had different finish lines for where their knowledge led to––keep in mind that He Who Remains may have known when he was to die, but when the Sacred Timeline started branching so severely, that was his finish line. One he was trying to stave off.
Then, of course, in relation to finding his replacements, he says “I’ve gone through a lot of scenarios…”, showing that, like The Ancient One, breezing through the knowledge amongst the timeline was all but a daily activity for the two. In fact, both may have even utilized this in an attempt to look for their replacement.
In the end, He Who Remains’ final words don’t really add up to anything significant or emotionally deep. But what if that’s the point?
THE BURDEN OF KNOWLEDGE
Besides breaking rules for the betterment of the timeline in some fashion, what else binds these people? It’s certainly not their deaths. Neither died directly because of that knowledge coming to an end––and the moments didn’t occur at the same time, ala The Ancient One didn’t die the moment the Sacred Timeline started branching.
No, a further connection can be found when it comes to how these two extremely powerful beings reacted when the weight of that burden of their unimaginable knowledge was lifted off their shoulders. For the Ancient One, it was in knowing she had reached the end; for He Who Remains, it was that moment that he was back into the unknown––he no longer had all the answers.
Knowing the future—or in He Who Remains’ case, all of time—is a significant burden for one to hold. Imagine possessing all of that information, and feeling the responsibility, and necessity, to always be monitoring and curating it for the best outcome for all reality. It’s a lot for any one person to handle, let alone comprehend in the first place––especially two people who are only “flesh and blood.”
When that weight was lifted, they both treated it almost as if it was a blessing. For The Ancient One, it provided one last moment of contemplation and final conversation with the man who will all but go on to take her place in safe-guarding their reality. It was a relief––it was time.
Then there was He Who Remains, who was almost in shock when that metaphorical weight was lifted. He was no longer shackled to that burden of knowledge that he had chained to himself in order to protect existence from his own Variants. For better or worse, he was in the unknown—his days were numbered.
It was such a release to him, that he was giddy after riding that initial shock and disbelief. This was fun. He hadn’t known the excitement of being in the unknown for who knows how long.
Going even further, both had been at the game for an exhaustingly long time––of course, relative to their own experiences. So having that weight lifted, and finally being freed, made death all the more welcoming. It was their time. They had served their duty, and it’s up to someone else to take on that mantle.
The two of them considered their separate experiences and knowledge of the timelines to be the highest of responsibilities. When someone has all of that information at their fingertips if they can better all existence, should they not do something about it? Both chose that they had to, and they did, becoming metaphorically heavier because of it.
But now, those self-imposed shackles have been cast off. It’s someone else’s turn to pick up the baton. For the Ancient One, it will go to Doctor Strange––who has already been at his duties for a few years and will continue to do so in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
For He Who Remains, well, the outlook doesn’t look so good. No one picked up his baton. In fact, Sylvie just kinda stepped over it to push him into the afterlife. Though, said baton isn’t likely to stay on the floor for long. His many variants will likely arrive, and be happy to pick it up. Though this time, as forewarned, their intentions may not be so virtuous.
Both Loki and Doctor Strange are available to stream now on Disney+.