Marvel's What If...? team unpacks that finale ending and post-credits scene
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Wednesday's season 1 finale of Marvel's What If...?.
After The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) finally decided to interfere and brought together the Guardians of the Multiverse — Doctor Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Star Lord T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), Party Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) — to stop Ultron (Ross Marquand), he returned all the heroes to their own universes. Except, of course, Black Widow (Lake Bell), who no longer had a universe to return to after Ultron destroyed it. The Watcher decided to return her to the universe of episode 3 instead to aid in the fight against Loki (Tom Hiddleston). And Strange Supreme was sent back into his pocket dimension prison, keeping watch over Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) and Killmonger, who are locked in an eternal, never-ending struggle over the Infinity Stones inside their own pocket dimension.
All is right in all their own worlds — but Captain Carter was feeling down about having to return to her universe since she's a woman out of her own time. But The Watcher still sent her back with a smile, and Captain Carter soon learned why in the post-credits scene that revealed the HYDRA Stomper — and potentially her long-lost love Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) — have been recovered by S.H.I.E.L.D. And with that final reveal, What If...? concluded its first wild season.
Below, EW got What If...? head writer AC Bradley and director Bryan Andrews to unpack that finale ending, what that post-credits scene means for Captain Carter's story in season 2, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I've become so conditioned by Marvel at this point that I had been watching all the way through the credits of every episode this season, and I was finally rewarded for that dedication in the finale. Did you always know you were saving a post-credits scene for the finale or were there discussions to have them in other episodes too?
AC BRADLEY: That was the Captain Carter moment, right Bryan?
BRYAN ANDREWS: Yeah.
BRADLEY: [Laughs] When you write the script, you don't write credits into it. So I'm seeing all these things on Twitter about the end credit scene and I'm like, wait, what was something else shot? [Laughs] We discussed how to resolve or where to leave Captain Carter's story in the writers room pretty much when we were walking into breaking episodes 8 and 9. We discussed 8 and 9 as one giant story and we talked about where we would be joining all our heroes and where we wanted to leave them and their universes. And we love Captain Carter and we feel like her story, it keeps going. There's places for her to go, there's still things for her to do. As The Watcher says, "The world is not done with you yet."
ANDREWS: Early on there was talk, like do we have these things, the stuff that people always anticipate at the end? I think [executive producer] Brad [Winderbaum] at some point with [Marvel boss] Kevin [Feige] was like, "Let's not do that every single episode. Let's let them just be the episodes." But then we thought maybe later, and then when we realized that there was going to be a second season, that's when it's like, now here's the time when we can do one so it's kind of a tease as to possibly further adventures to come. So it was organic, it just came up naturally. And it worked.
What does that post-credits scene mean? Are we going to pick up with Captain Carter and whoever is in the HYDRA Stomper in the season 2 premiere?
ANDREWS: [Laughs] We'll see?
BRADLEY: The Watcher has his favorites. I think we've seen that in the finale. And he has a soft spot for Peggy Carter, especially Captain Carter. So hopefully he'll be popping into her world in season 2.
ANDREWS: That's all we'll say.
BRADLEY: That's all we can legally say.
Can you tease whether or not that it actually is Skinny Steve in there and not someone else?
ANDREWS: What if? [Laughs] What if? We'll have to see.
BRADLEY: The impetus for that final shot is Captain Carter still has adventures to come and we hope we get to explore them more, both in What If...? and the MCU. We kind of tee it up and this is our way of asking the powers that be at Marvel to let us keep playing with these toys.
That's a pretty good way to ask.
BRADLEY: [Laughs] Basically we're asking Twitter to ask for us.
Why did you decide on making Ultron the final big bad of the season?
BRADLEY: Ultron is a huge character in the comics and while Age of Ultron was a lot of fun, he just got one movie where Thanos gets a whole series. So we wanted to give him his due and show the actual pure terror of this horrific A.I. that was created from a place of altruism and arrogance and see what he would actually do if unleashed. And because we now have the Infinity Stones and the multiverse to play with, it gets more and more horrific. And we got to show the human side of that tragedy and focus using both Clint and Natasha and their relationship. I love those two characters so getting to see them up close and personal, and how they interact with each other was a blast to write and work with.
ANDREWS: It was awesome. Way, way early on, even before we started breaking story and figuring out what was even going to be in the first season, the notion of having something where possibly Ultron won in some capacity was always kicking around. One of the images I always had was, whether it was Clint or Natasha, it was at least Clint, for me that was one of the immediate people I thought of in the post-apocalypse, dealing with the fact that he lost his family and everyone else, there was something about that, it just hit. And then it just all kept feeding into itself and making all sorts of sense and coming together, and what it says, people grabbed onto it, the fact that it's Nat and Clint that are saving the multiverse in a way. When all is said and done, it's the people that are human, they're just gritty and hard core and they get the job done. I think there's something really awesome about that, because they could be us. We're not Thor, we're not going to have godly powers and stuff like that, but it gives hope that humanity can make do and succeed. I think that's a really neat message to have tucked away in there with all the bells and whistles.
And why did you have Ross Marquand step in to voice a new version of Ultron over bringing back James Spader or even Paul Bettany — especially since Paul was already involved in What If…?
BRADLEY: First of all, I love Ross Marquand. He's the nicest guy. Last summer he was at my house drinking wine and my cat got out and me, him, and a few friends literally wandered the streets looking for my cat, so Ross Marquand always gets a thumbs up from me. We wanted Ultron to be as terrifying as possible, because he's terrifying, and Paul Bettany is the loveliest man on earth. He is such a sweetheart. We felt that, if Paul Bettany using Vision's voice voiced Ultron, it would be too much of a disconnect, because we're asking the audience to believe that this is Ultron in Vision's body and not Vision. So by having Ross step in and give an incredibly chilling performance helped us make that clear to the audience, especially people who aren't as familiar with Age of Ultron, Vision, and that whole canon as we are.
ANDREWS: It just seemed to make sense. Because in Age of Ultron, they get some version of Jarvis A.I. into Vision so it makes sense that it's that A.I. with that voice that comes out of that body. But the body can be whatever voice it wants because it's this amazing thing of tech. So if a pure Ultron A.I. gets in there, there's no reason why it would sound like Jarvis. It's Ultron injecting himself into this shell, so it's his personality. He could probably choose to sound any way he wants. What's interesting is it makes for a brand new type of disconnect where people are seeing Vision's face and they want to hear that voice that they love so much, but they get this evil voice coming out. It's an extra layer of unsettledness and tension.
Did you try to get James Spader to voice the character?
ANDREWS: I was under the impression that we tried to reach out to everybody. And just some people maybe could or couldn't for whatever reason.
BRADLEY: The casting of the Marvel actors really was a pay grade above us. [Executive producer] Lou [D'Esposito] kind of spearheaded the whole operation. And my understanding is they reached out to everyone and those who could come back came back and we were so happy to have them.
The finale was the first time we saw Gamora on What If…? whereas we met all the other Guardians of the Multiverse in previous episodes. Was Gamora involved in the episode that was pushed to season 2, or was this truly the first time we were supposed to meet her?
BRADLEY: Yeah, due to the pandemic one of our core production houses was hit very hard, and could not finish animation on one of our episodes that was supposed to air earlier in the season. That episode featured Tony and Gamora. It was a lighter episode! We didn't murder Tony horrifically in this one, I promise! Big spoiler. [Laughs] But I'm getting hate mail.
ANDREWS: It's a great episode; it's funny. It was supposed to be the fourth episode so Strange would have been fifth and everything else would move back in that order it was. But it's an exciting Tony adventure with Gamora and then we would go into Doctor Strange and get a little bit darker. But it's coming — I was seeing some shots on it just the other day so it's coming. It will be there for our second season.
Now that The Watcher has broken his oath and interfered to some success, what does that mean for the future? Will we see him step into stories more in season 2? Will there be ramifications for that decision?
ANDREWS: We'll have to wait and see.
BRADLEY: I love The Watcher because he's always a dramatic b---. [Laughs] "I will not interfere. I can't! I can't possibly. I can't... Okay, let me do this." So hopefully we'll see him interact more in the second season, but he also knows that interfering and meddling in time can have consequences.
You previously said all the season 2 episode scripts are written. How far into production are you on season 2?
ANDREWS: They're all in different stages of production. They've all been written, they've all been boarded, they've all been recorded, basically, except for maybe like little pickups we may need here and there but for the most part they're all in various stages of production. There's an episode that's very close, its animation is way further on and the final picture is getting close to being in process, and then everything in between.
BRADLEY: We have to give a special shoutout to our animation houses and partners around the world that bring this show to life. This is an incredibly detailed art style, with amazing cinematography, and it's not an easy show to animate. This show takes anywhere from 12 to 16 months for one episode of animation, so they get a huge amount of credit for really bringing their A-team.
The run times on all the What If…? episodes were significantly shorter than the other Marvel Disney+ shows. Was that intentional?
BRADLEY: It was a mixture. We designed the episodes to be between 25 and 30 minutes. There was some cuts taken during the pandemic because the cost of animation skyrocketed as well as the cost of toilet paper. But I think it actually made the show tighter and swifter. Special shout out has to go to our amazing editors Joel and Graham Fisher. They're so nimble and so quick to switch between genres and have an understanding of various genre storytelling which you don't always find. They went into the episodes and found places to save us a few bucks here or there without sacrificing thrills or story or character. So we owe them a thank you.
ANDREWS: They really do great work. They're knee-deep in it right now; they're working on some stuff right now. I've got to meet with those guys later actually.
All of What If...? season 1 is now streaming on Disney+.