Back in May, the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel ended with five end-credits sequences, setting a new benchmark for fan-baiting and spin-off-teasing. In this, and only this, Thor: Ragnarok is a more subdued affair. SPOILERS FROM HERE FOR THE BEST THOR MOVIE EVER: When the credits start to roll on Ragnarok, there are only two further scenes of action, one of which is essentially a final Jeff Goldblum laughline. But the other scene promises big plot points for the Marvel Cinematic Universe – or just, like, bigness. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
Ragnarok ends with the titular apocalypse laying waste to Thor’s home realm of Asgard. In a clever twist, that destruction is part of the plan: Setting fire-god Surtur on his path of destruction is the only way to defeat the villainous Hela. With a little help from a colony-sized ship stolen from planet Sakaar, Thor and his allies manage to evacuate a considerable amount of Asgardian citizens. And the final proper scene of Ragnarok sees the newly-crowned King Thor setting a course for Earth.
This is plot material familiar to comic book fans. In the mainstream Marvel Universe, Asgard was destroyed – and then rebuilt on Earth, in Oklahoma, because America is a nation that welcomes refugees from foreign lands no matter their religious beliefs. However, that might not be the future for the MCU Asgardians. In the mid-credits scene, Thor and Loki are hanging out on the ship, staring off at the expanse of space. Thor assures his brother that going to Earth is the right decision. Loki’s a bit anxious. Understandably: A few years back, he tried to conquer Earth, and his actions led to the destructive climax of Avengers. But Thor assures him there’s nothing to worry about. Everything will work out fine!
At that point, they stare out the window, and up, and we see what they’re looking at: A gigantic spaceship, so huge that it can only be malevolent.
Who’s inside that spaceship? The easy money is on Thanos, the overarching bad-guy-of-the-universe who first appeared way back in the credits scene of Avengers. Thanos’ long-simmering antagonism will boil over in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which promises to unite all the Marvel heroes in a cosmic conflict. I’ve seen some statements online that the ship at the end of Ragnarok looks like technology of the Thanos-affiliated Chitauri, the aliens who attacked New York in Avengers. (You know: The space-skeleton lizard things!) That could be – I’m not sure Chitauri architecture is the most specific design sensibility in the cosmos – but it certainly seems likely that the ship is allied with Thanos somehow.
(ASIDE: For a brief beautiful moment, I thought the big ship belonged to another alien race with deep roots in Thor mythology. The Korbinites were first introduced by the brilliant Thor writer-artist Walt Simonson. They’re a refugee race from a distant galaxy – not dissimilar to the Asgardians at the end of Ragnarok – and their champion is Beta Ray Bill, one of the great unexpected characters in Marvel’s cosmic pantheons. There’s actually a visual reference to Beta Ray Bill in the tallest skyscraper of Sakaar, and I badly want to believe that Marvel is teasing a full-blown Walt Simonson-type Thor movie. But logically, anything that happens at the end of Ragnarok has to flow into Infinity War, and I can’t believe Marvel would introduce such a wild new character into a movie with 457 other characters. END OF ASIDE.)
Lest we forget, Thanos has a mission. He’s trying to assemble all of the Infinity Stones, those glowing plot rocks spotted throughout the MCU franchise, in the hopes of uniting their disparate powers into the godhood-bestowing Infinity Gauntlet. One of those Infinity Stones, known as the Tesseract, first appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger, when it was discovered on Earth by the fascist Red Skull. After World War II, the Tesseract fell into the hands of SHIELD, where it stayed until the post-credits scene of Thor 1. It was stolen by Loki in Avengers, and its powers were used to create the portal above Manhattan that brought the Chitauri to Earth.
At the end of Avengers, Thor brought the Tesseract back to Asgard, where it stayed in Odin’s trophy room. And that’s where Loki finds it, in Ragnarok, right before he releases Surtur onto his destructive rage. We don’t see what Loki does with the Tesseract, but it’s a good bet that he grabbed it for himself.
Which means that big ship at the end of Ragnarok could be Thanos coming to collect one of his precious infinity stones. The Tesseract has been identified as the “Space Stone,” because it has cool transportation powers, and also because it draws lots of power from space, or something. Don’t stress over the details! The point is, Loki probably has a powerful item in his possession, and a villainous entity is probably lingering in that big ship hoping to take it from him.
Something interesting to consider for Infinity War: If that is Thanos, and if we pick up with Thor running afoul of the megavillain, it will be the first proper time any of the Avengers have seen Thanos. But it will also be a reunion of sorts. Although we never really saw them interact, Loki was working at Thanos’ behest throughout Avengers. It’s possible that the trickster god, ever fluid in his loyalties, will try to alliance-swap back into Thanos’ good graces. Which means the good feelings between Thor and Loki might turn sour immediately. Brothers, always competing!
Also, there’s a scene after the end credits where the Grandmaster congratulates his rebelling citizens for their great revolution and asks them to call the whole thing a draw. Hopefully they do, because we need five more movies set on the trash planet. Maybe starring Howard the Duck, Man-Thing, and Beta Ray Bill. God, I hope all of Phase Four is Trash Planet.