At the beginning of every episode of Marvel Studios' What If...? Jeffrey Wright's The Watcher narrates that "Time. Space. Reality. It's more than a linear path. It's a prism of endless possibility, where a single choice can branch out into infinite realities, creating alternate worlds from the ones you know." This is the same premise as the original comics of the same name, which is just one single difference in the universe that snowballs into new unforeseen outcomes.
However, for the latest episode of What If...? to make any sense, the audience has to accept multiple considerable changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the story's events. Similar flubs have already happened in this animated series, such as HYDRA somehow still being a threat despite not having the Tesseract to power their weapons.
The issues in the latest episode, which involves Ultron winning in Avengers: Age of Ultron, are just too big to ignore.
Why Isn't Xandar Decimated?
The least major continuity issue in the episode is Ultron's genocide spree ending on an untouched Xandar. Ultron got the Power Stone from Thanos, which Thanos took from Xandar. Thor said in Avengers: Infinity War that Thanos hadn't just attacked Xandar to get the Power Stone but "decimated" it.
It looks perfectly fine in this episode and doesn't seem to be recovering from any previous attack by Thanos and his Black Order. It would have been excellent attention to detail seeing a struggling Xandar suddenly having to contend with Ultron. It would also have been another explanation for Captain Marvel already being on the planet to fight the insane machine, as she could have been there helping the planet recover from the attack.
Unfortunately, the continuity issues only get worse.
Ego the Living Planet Should Already Be Dead
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opened with a flashback to 1980 before time jumping 34 years into the future, squarely putting the events of that film and its predecessor in 2014. The Guardians of the Galaxy sequel occurred only three months later in-universe, despite the film being released in 2017.
However, Avengers: Age of Ultron takes place in 2015, far after Ego the Living Planet has died, yet fans see this Ultron blowing him up. Therefore, there is no possible way that Ultron gaining his new body should have altered the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 unless the events of Age of Ultron occurred before both Guardians of the Galaxy films in this universe.
Confusingly enough, one scene in the episode implies precisely that, as fans can briefly see the opening of the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel when the team helps the Sovereign. Instead of fighting a multi-dimensional tentacled monster, Peter Quill, Drax, and Gamora fight and are killed by Ultron and his sentries.
But this leads to the biggest problem.
How Did Thanos Get the Soul Stone?
If those were the only inconsistencies, fans could have accepted that the events of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in this episode of What If...? happened after Age of Ultron in this universe, therefore allowing the crazed AI the opportunity to kill Ego himself. However, Thanos showing up throws a massive wrench in this idea and unnecessarily complicates the flow of events even more.
After Ultron has killed (nearly) all organic life on Earth, Thanos suddenly appears with five of the Infinity Stones, including the Soul Stone.
How would he have gotten the Soul Stone if Gamora was still alive, as shown in the montage after Ultron killed Thanos and took the Infinity Stones for himself? The entire point in Infinity War was that Gamora was the only thing Thanos truly loved that he could have sacrificed for it.
Additionally, Thanos shouldn't have even known where it was located in the first place. Thanos explicitly took Gamora in Infinity War because she was the only one who knew of its location, and he had to go so far as to torture Nebula to get it out of her.
So, unless even more was changed in this universe, both sisters should be on the homeworld of Sovereign when Ultron attacks since the only reason the Guardians took the job from Ayesha was to secure Nebula as a prisoner.
It's unfortunate that this episode had to alter events drastically and outright ignore continuity only so that Ultron could kill a few more named characters on screen.
An Easy Fix
The universe explored in the latest episode of What If...? is confusing with multiple significant changes, aside from the inciting incident and premise of the episode.
Not only do the events of Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel happen entirely after Age of Ultron, but Thanos also somehow knew of the location of the Soul Stone without Gamora's help while also sacrificing someone else to get it. Certainly convoluted, yes? It's a shame that it seems to have been done so that audiences could see Ultron killing the Guardians of the Galaxy.
There wouldn't be any huge issues if the episode had simply excluded the scenes on Sovereign and Ultron killing Ego. Yes, it's still a bit strange that Xandar is untouched, but who knows, maybe Thanos attacked it differently in this universe, which left it less visibly damaged.
Most of what Thanos actually does to get the Infinity Stones happened entirely off Earth anyway, so while Asgard also appears to have been untouched from any attacks, Thanos could have gotten the Space Stone some other way, or Ultron attacked it much later after they recovered. Thanos could have also easily taken the Time Stone from a destroyed Kamar-Taj before going directly to Ultron to retrieve the Mind Stone.
Hopefully, the next season will be more careful with its attention to detail. But, regardless of these many contradictions, fans will see how this season of What If...? will conclude on Wednesday, October 6, exclusively on Disney+.