Marvel’s upcoming show What If…? is a unique beast. For one, the project marks Marvel Studios' first official foray into the animated sphere, even being a part of the wider MCU as well. Secondly, it is set to take a deep dive into a core concept of the MCU’s fourth phase: The Multiverse.
The first season will feature ten episodes, all exploring different takes on Marvel movie storylines. Scenarios such as Killmonger and Iron Man becoming allies, T’Challa taking on the mantle of Star-Lord, Spider-Man getting the Cloak of Levitation, and more.
In fact, Marvel Studios just recently released a brand-new trailer for the title, giving fans fresh glimpses of the episodes that are on the way. Alongside it, came a new poster, one that has one particular image that draws eyes: Ultron, wielding all the Infinity Stones—not only that, but it also seems to be Vision within an Ultron body.
So what in the world could possibly lead to that outcome? Let’s take a deep dive into that, examining how it sets up Ultron’s acquisition of the Infinity Stones, and and diving deep into where else the infamous stones are set to pop up.
ULTRON AND INFINITY
Remember in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ultron Prime was originally creating the Vision body for himself. The metallic figure was made of the vibranium he had stolen from Ulysses Claw, and Ultron even claimed that it was to be his final form.
Of course, those plans were ruined when The Avengers showed up to stop him. In the knick of time too, because just before Ultron could complete the transfer, none other than Black Widow herself stole the container, and the body audiences would go on to know as Vision.
Now, what if it didn’t go down like that? Say that somehow those chain of events didn’t quite go the way The Avengers wanted. If Ultron was successful, he would have taken over his final form—and looked exactly like The Vision.
This would explain a few things about that Ultron concept art, mainly the fact that upon closer inspection, it seems that Vision is wearing Ultron Armor. With this theory in place, it makes a lot more sense that it would be Ultron in his final body, while just adding on some modifications.
But now there’s the Infinity Stones. Of course, right off the bat, Ultron has the Mind Stone. Him being the mad genius robot that he is, it likely won’t take long for him to gain a great understanding of that particular cosmic ingot ––something that fans never really saw Vision attempt to do.
At this point, Ultron is a force far greater than that of what was seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. With all the many satellites in space, getting his virtual consciousness up there wouldn’t be difficult––an inevitability warned about in the film. Now the Ultron virus is everywhere, spreading to every galaxy in existence.
From there, locating the Power/Space/Reality Stones would be a cakewalk. With all of that knowledge at his vibranium fingertips, tracking them all down would happen in a matter of days––if not hours, or minutes, given the Space Stone’s tendency to teleport through, well, space.
After all, there is still the Time Stone on Earth––Ultron’s new domain. Having four stones at his fingertips, trampling over the world’s sorcerer's would be no trouble at all. With Stephen Strange still being a big-wig doctor, not even the Sorcerer Supreme that fans are familiar with can stop Ultron in his tracks.
So now, Ultron has five of the six stones. That leaves the Soul Stone. How does an android such as Ultron sacrifice something he loves in order to complete the set? What does Ultron even love that can be tossed off a cliff in Vormir? Well, nothing. But he isn’t out of options.
Going by the events of the movie, and where the article is in theorizing the original divergence point from Avengers: Age of Ultron, either Wanda and Pietro Maximoff haven’t yet defected from Ultron, or they did so recently to the point that Ultron would be able to reign them back in as loyal subjects. Something that solves his Soul Stone problem in a sinch.
So Ultron sends the twins off to get the Soul Stone. With five stones and endless knowledge, tracking down its location on Vormir wouldn’t be all that difficult. Whether he knows about the sacrifice, the outcome would be the same: one of the twins would die. The Soul Stone would be acquired, and now Ultron would have all six stones.
ULTRON, WHY THE HEADACHE?
In the promotional image seen on the official poster for What If...? all six stones can be seen on Ultron. Five on his chest, and one still in his forehead. Though, looking closely, it sure does seem like there is a yellow stone on his chest––not his forehead.
Now, of course, the coloring could be off, and it could be a visual mistake/trick/illusion. But the question remains: why can Vision be seen in the trailer seemingly ripping a stone out of his forehead?
Is Ultron possibly aiming to replace the mind stone on his head with that of the Soul Stone? Now, who knows how he could survive the process, or even why do it in the first place? But it would be a great space for Marvel Studios to give more insight into what the powers of the Soul Stone are and how they work.
At the end of the day, there is an additional thought process: is this even truly Ultron? Vision’s body is still clearly seen. So that means there’s a chance that the figure seen in the artwork is in fact Vision in control—or at least some version of Vision. Likely one corrupted, that succumbed to the Ultron code within his body, but not enough for the villianous android to come out on top.
With all of this talk about Ultron, there are two outstanding points when it comes to his rise to ultimate power.
THANOS, WHAT ABOUT HIM?
Of course, it’s easy to forget that Thanos is still out there through all of this. He probably won’t be too happy that someone else is starting his Easter Egg hunt first. It’s a confrontation that I hope the episode explores. After all, not addressing it at all would almost be a problem in itself.
Much like opening up a situation ripe for exploration into the Soul Stone, this entire chain of events could pave the way for Marvel Studios to finally both address and explore the idea that Ultron’s ultimate creation was thanks to Thanos pulling the strings. It’s something that fans have theorized for years but has never directly been addressed in the live-action outings.
Either way, it’s hard to see the entire thing not address the Thanos in the room. One doesn’t make a two-part episode finale to over twenty films for nothing. Though make no mistake, it is Ultron’s episode of What If…?, so don’t expect to see the purple titan add any victories to his collection.
However, an interesting avenue for the show to take is making Thanos the only hope at defeating the now near god-level Ultron. After all, Thanos knew the temptation of such power, and self-proclaimed to be better than falling into it. Ultron may not have such a barrier in his programming.
Though, at that point, maybe the show has bitten off more than it can chew for one episode. But wait…there’s more! A big rumor points to another potential hero on the horizon: Black Widow.
BLACK WIDOW, AND THE MURDER BOT
If rumors are correct, one of the episodes of What If...? will revolve around Black Widow surviving Ultron’s apocalyptic scenario.
How could she have survived such a cataclysmic event? Well, right before the Sokovia battle, she was safely locked up in Ultron’s evil lair. If Hulk never came to get her, she might still be there. A perfect place to be for Ultron’s plan to go through.
This would theoretically be where the rest of the Avengers succumb to the "Age of Ultron". Leaving Natasha to be one of the last survivors on Earth, if the post-apocalyptic plan was vocalized correctly. Earth will be reborn.
There is a nagging question still at bay: is Natasha’s episode going to be the same as the one where Ultron gets all the Infinity Stones? Or are fans set for two episodes featuring Ultron rising victorious?
With everything What If…? has to explore, it would be a bit odd to focus so heavily on Ultron winning for more than one episode. So odds are, the big Black Widow rumor is the very same episode where Ultron is set to acquire all the Infinity Stones.
Not sure if the episode will end too well for Natasha Romanoff––though, neither did Avengers: Endgame. So it’s a lose-lose scenario. One pro for her though, is that she’ll probably wield her Russian father’s shield at some point. So that’s fun for her!
Of course, Ultron isn’t the only one that will have an episode revolving around or including an Infinity Stone. So where else will fans see the stones pop up in What If…?’s first ten-episode season?
DOCTOR STRANGE, AND TIME
It’s been known for quite a while that Doctor Strange was going to be featured in this upcoming show. It makes sense after all. If you have a project about a multiverse of possibilities, it’s almost required that Doctor Strange be involved in some way.
Many believe that Doctor Strange will feature throughout multiple episodes, maybe even serving as a narrative vehicle to go through the various universes, alongside The Watcher. While that seems like a likely scenario, there’s another, darker version of the character said to make an appearance.
A recent rumor suggests that the Doctor Strange episode of What If…? Will see Stephen Strange march down a far darker path. One that involves the good doctor seeking out magic after the death of his true love, likely referring to Christine Palmer.
If Strange’s entire reason behind finding magic occurs after such a tragic event, there’s no doubt that one of the very things that he will set out to do is right his wrongs, and save the one that he lost. The easiest way to do this? The Eye of Agamotto, or more importantly, the housing to the Time Stone.
How he gets all of that is a complete mystery. It’s hard to imagine The Ancient One letting him anywhere near her secrets. This means Strange would likely need a different source. What about Kaecilius? The disenfranchised mentee who hates his mentor? Seems like a great candidate.
Or, maybe going one step further, maybe Dormammu himself is involved somehow. After all, Dark Doctor Strange can be seen with the same purple bags around his eyes that Kaecilius has in the films after having devoted himself to dark magic.
Either way, it would seem that at some point, he is set to get his hands on the Time Stone––at some point either besting or tricking The Ancient One and the rest of the sorcerers. Even further, it seems that it happens before he truly falls into darkness, and becomes that Doctor Strange we see a much friendlier looking Supreme Sorceror fighting.
While it’s easy to think that maybe this is the good Strange seen with the stone, there’s a big hint that shows that it likely isn’t: A bottle of alcohol can be seen by him as he practices with the time stone. This is something that MCU Prime left behind once he found the healing powers of magic.
So, connecting dots, it’s likely that Strange uses the Time Stone, and probably a combination of dark magic, to bring the dead love of his life back from the grave. As for whether it works, it’s impossible to tell.
At this point, Doctor Strange is likely far too deep down the rabbit hole and is succumbing to Dormmammu’s dark magic. It does seem that he handles all of it far better than the other henchman we watched wither away into Mindless Ones in Doctor Strange. Maybe a trick by the Time Stone to keep Dormammu’s true control at bay?
T'CHALLA, AND POWER
Out of all the many instances of the Infinity Stones showing up throughout the show, this is likely to be one of the more straightforward explanations. In fact, it could be as simple as the Power Stone playing the same exact role as it did in the 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy film.
In fact, many of those events will likely play out in a very similar fashion, with the key differences being in the relationship between T’Challa and Yondu, as well as T’Challa’s overall goals—or at least that’s how it seems.
At the very least, several snippets of moments from the original film can be seen. Including the acquisition of the Power Stone on Morag, running into the Collector, and goofing off with Drax. It’s probably safe to say that while the Infinity Stone will appear in this episode, it likely won’t be the key aspect of the proceedings.
LOKI, THE CASKET, AND SPACE
Now pictured above is, obviously, Loki. And in his hands, is the Casket of Ancient Winters. Something that fans have not seen since 2011’s Thor. In fact, as it stands right now in the prime MCU timeline, that Casket is destroyed alongside the rest of the city that housed it.
Here, though, it seems pretty clear that Loki is in a victorious position. After all, there’s not much reason why Loki would once again be in possession of that Casket—if he ever lost it in the first place. Of course, the Casket isn’t quite an Infinity Stone.
But once the God of Mischief tastes the unbridled power of the Casket of Ancient Winters, there’s a fair chance that Loki is going to enjoy that taste of power. And if there is a perfect painting in this world, it’s Loki and the Tesseract.
Could fans see an exploration of Loki’s rise to power thanks to a successful chain of events in an alternate version of Thor, which would lead straight into his quest to conquer Earth with the Tesseract at his side? It’s interesting to think that it’s certainly a possibility, given that there’s an entire show focused on the God of Mischief and the many Variants of himself. In fact, the finale may even focus on one Loki above all the rest.
GAMORA, AND THE MAD TITLE
Then there’s Gamora. The daughter of Thanos, who last time fans saw the Gamora that they’ve come to love over the years, she was thrown off a cliff to her sacrificial death—much like that of Black Widow. What is What If…? If not a second chance for Vormir victims.
Of course, there’s the time-displaced one still running around somewhere in the MCU Prime. But this show isn’t set to explore that one. Instead, it looks to be exploring Gamora if she became her father: The Mad Titan.
Promo art of her can be seen on the recent poster, and while no Infinity Stones can be seen, it's hard to imagine her being called the Mad Titan if her goals don’t align at all with what her father wanted. Maybe she is set to carry on her father’s mission to balance all life. Or she simply has her own agent for the stones.
On the complete opposite end of the scale, though, is if this Gamora got so sick of her abusive faux-father and ended up successfully ending Thanos’ life. So, instead of going on her own way, she chose to fill the vacuum left by his departure. As for whether this Gamora has good or bad intentions, only time will tell.
WHAT IF...?, AND ITS ENDLESS QUESTIONS
What If...? is going to break new ground for Marvel Studios. Will it break viewership records? Or reach anywhere close to the previous shows in even the slightest? Those are some of the many questions fans will see explored when the show releases.
For now, fans will have to just continue theorizing about how the situations they are being given only fleeting glimpses of will play out. If not anything, the show is bound to spark endless conversations about the concepts and ideas brought to life. If this article was any indication, it certainly already has—and it's not even halfway through July.
Marvel's current Disney+ show Loki is set to finish up its run this week, so fans can expect Marvel Studios' next streaming venture on August 11 when What If...? hits the streaming service. One thing is for sure: It'll break records in one of these universes, even if it isn't this one.