Now that we've finished processing everything that happened in "Avengers: Infinity War," it's time to start looking ahead to the next "Avengers" film. In fact, this ending literally gives you no other choice than to immediately start screaming, "But how?! What?! When?! Can I get in line now?!"
While we're waiting for pre-sales to start, we're going to use this downtime to be productive -- AKA start speculating about what might come after that bleak ending.
And if you haven't yet realized that we're totally going to start talking about every aspect of "Infinity War" soon and pretty much spoil everything in the movie, you're not doing a very good job of keeping up. We're talking madcap theories here! Spoilers shall abound.
You have been warned.
Of course, the biggest question coming out of "Infinity War" is who's really dead? Half of everyone poofed away after a literal snap of Thanos' fingers at the end of the film, but are those people really dead? Of course not. There are sequels already in the works for Black Panther, Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. So it's not a question of if, but how.
How will they be brought back to life? Will all of them come back? What about those who died before "The Snappening," like Heimdall, Loki and Gamora? What about the characters we didn't see, like Hawkeye, Ant-Man, the Wasp and Valkyrie? Will they factor in the next film or did the blow away on the wind like so many others? We've got theories on all of this and more.
VAKLYRIE SURVIVED ASGARDIAN SLAUGHTER
When "Avengers: Infinity War" kicked off, Thanos had already done a pretty thorough job of slaughtering most of the surviving Asgardians on the Sakaarian ship we'd last seen them on at the close of "Thor: Ragnarok." Missing in the pile of bodies that we saw, or among the remaining survivors, were Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie and the Sakaarian refugees themselves, including the ever-delightful Korg. While it's easy to assume they were just among the dead we did not see, we don't think so.
First of all, Thor told the Guardians that Thanos had killed off half of his people. That is kind of Thanos' whole thing, but the entire population of Asgard was on that ship and it didn't look like Thanos left anyone alive after that destruction. The only other possibility, then, is that they weren't all there. It could be that Valkyrie and Korg were with a small crew of Asgardians scouting for supplies or even an inhabitable planet for the survivors to settle on. This frees up both Valkyrie and Korg potentially to be of some aid in the next "Avengers" film, should they have survived "the snappening."
Perhaps Captain Marvel will find them on her way to answer Nick Fury's call, or maybe they'll pick up a distress signal from Nebula (or otherwise go to Thanos' homeworld of Titan to try and track down the bastard who wiped out Valkyrie's people) and be the ones to pick up Tony Stark so he can rejoin the Avengers and save the day. After all, he can't spend the next movie trapped on a dead world.
This one seems like a no-brainer, but the Russo brothers went out of their way to make sure that we saw Loki good and dead for awhile. Could the Trickster God really be gone? On the one hand, yes. Tom Hiddleston may well be done with the character. On the other hand, he's a god, so even if he's killed he may not stay dead long.
But there's a better theory. Throughout "Thor: Ragnarok," Loki didn't even have the courage to face Thor directly in most of their encounters. He is tricksy, yes, but also incredibly cautious (or cowardly, however you want to see it). The odds of him really standing before Thanos and trying to stab him, therefore risking his own precious neck, is so far out of character as to be laughable.
Loki knows trickery, though, along with magic, so it could be that either he made a hard-light projection that could die for him so Thanos would leave him alone, or he inhabited the body of a peasant Asgardian and projected a glamour over their body so it would look like him. This would set Loki up to be alive for the next film where he'll get another chance to try and be the big hero (and then probably not do it). He's also changed his look in the comics, including into a woman, so perhaps he survives and we get a huge recasting as he hides his identity for a dramatic reveal later.
BANNER GAINS CONTROL OF HIS HULK TRANSFORMATIONS
The last two movies have spent a significant amount of time exploring Bruce Banner's relationship with the Hulk, In "Thor: Ragnarok," it was the Hulk who was in charge, with Banner reluctantly trapped inside. After getting his ass beat by Thanos, the Hulk retreated and stayed buried throughout "Avengers: Infinity War." Banner even acknowledged that they need to work this out.
The only possible evolution for the next film is for Banner and Hulk to come to an understanding and agreement about how to share their body. At this point, the Hulk has evolved beyond just being "angry Banner" and has become an independent being unto himself, just sharing a body with puny Banner. Thus far, the arrangement has been tenuous and the Hulk more dangerous for it.
Giving Banner conscious control of the transformation would remove anger as the trigger for Hulk's arrival, which means he wouldn't come crashing onto the scene in a blind rage that is almost uncontrollable. Instead, his strength would be an asset with minimal inherent risk. Plus, it would give a new sense of peace to both halves of Banner's existence.
There was a lot of tension between Tony and Stephen Strange when they first met, since they're both powerful alpha males with ideas on how to handle the biggest threat Earth has ever faced. Stark's plan to surprise Thanos on his home turf won out, but the sorcerer made it very clear he would not be risking the Infinity Stone in his possession to save Iron Man's life. However, when push came to shove, he did the exact opposite and gave Thanos the stone so he would spare Stark.
It wasn't an emotional choice, though, it was simple logic. Strange looked through millions of possible outcomes and said he only saw one in which the Avengers beat Thanos. And before crumbling away with the rest of the Earth's population Thanos doomed, Strange told Stark "it was the only way" and warned the OG Avenger he was in the end game now. The only conclusion we can draw from that is Stark's role in that game is a big one, which makes sense, because Iron Man is basically the leader of the MCU. But what, you ask?
THE AVENGERS WILL TIME TRAVEL TO SAVE THE WORLD
Did y'all notice the superheroes that survived "The Snappening" were all OG Avengers? Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow and Hulk. Did we miss anybody? Yes, Hawkeye, who was suspiciously absent from "Infinity War." We're betting our life savings he'll be back in a pivotal role as -- ready for it? -- the Avengers time travel back to the 2012 fight against Thanos' Chitauri army in New York City.
Now that they know how powerful this Mad Titan gets when he gathers all those Infinity Stones, they're going to realize they have to strike when he's weak(er), and what better way to reach him than going right through that portal in the sky Loki opened in the first "Avengers" movie. It brings the franchise full circle, and if they change the course of history, will also bring all those Marvel heroes back to life in the present -- and likely give Loki a role in "Avengers 4," too, even if our previous theory about his death doesn't prove to be accurate. We're not sure how they'll get there or how they'll destroy Thanos, but we don't think it's a coincidence Stark referenced the battle of New York in the first act of "Infinity War." Maybe Thor will finally put that magic axe to good use when he meets Thanos in the past.
But in the event Marvel isn't planning an "X-Men: Days of Future Past" time travel reset, there is another way all of your favorite superheroes can come back.
"DEAD" ARE TRAPPED INSIDE THE SOUL STONE
Throughout his cleansing project, Thanos has been wiping out populations left and right, and in every wholesale slaughter he's left behind a massive pile of corpses. Basically, one dead body for every survivor to clean up. And yet, when he snapped his fingers and wiped out half of the universe's population, they didn't drop dead, nor did they all wink out of existence at once.
Instead, they very dramatically flaked away into dust, with some going much faster than others and some waiting until they could tell Mr. Stark that they felt funny and didn't want to die. This actually adds weight to the theory that these entities aren't dead at all, but rather have been captured inside the Soul Stone.
There is comic book precedent for this, as the Soul Stone houses a place called the Soulworld and that's where it keeps all the souls it harvests ... because that's kind of a thing it does. Now, this is a lot of souls to take in at once, so maybe the Stone just went with a staggered approach to make it more manageable. Or it was for dramatic effect. The end result would be the same, though, with no one actually dead. Instead, they're simply trapped inside of the Soul Stone in need of rescue. Now, who do we know that has a movie coming out soon and can shrink down far enough to perhaps work their way inside the Stone?
With "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3" in the Marvel pipeline, it's hard to believe that Gamora will stay dead. Our bet is on Thanos being so heartbroken by his decision to sacrifice his beloved daughter in exchange for the Soul Stone, he'll bring her back to life. After all, Thanos proved he could end life with a simple snap of his fingers, but before that, we saw him turn back time to bring Vision back to life so he could steal that final Infinity Stone.
Still, Zoe Saldana's recent interview with The Los Angeles Times makes us question our confidence in this theory. When asked if it was "sad to say goodbye to Marvel after all these years," she gave an answer that makes us think maybe she did want to be written out of the MCU so she could get that "Avatar" money, instead!
"Yes and no," she said. "It was sad, of course, because I think that we all suffer from FOMO. There is a fear always of missing out, but I'm so happy that I got to play a part in the Marvel Universe, and I also got to play a character that -- it has been brought to my attention -- is seen as a great role model for young women. And also for young boys. I live for that, that's why I do what I do. So I guess I'm going to cry all the way to 'Avatar,' you know?"
On the other hand, her answer could simply be another misdirect. Considering "Avengers: Infinity War" directors Joe and Anthony Russo put images of Hulk battling in the Wakanda sequence in promos for the blockbuster, we're not sure what lengths they'll go to in order to keep their audience guessing.
But back to our theory: Saldana told E! she was definitely back for "Avengers 4."
"At least for me, it felt like a TBC, because I knew that we will have to all come back, at some point this fall, and finish up the second – the fourth installment of Avengers," she said. "So, it felt like 'See you later,' not like a formal goodbye."
So if we take these statements at face value, here's another possibility: Thanos brings Gamora back to life, only for her to die again. For real this time.
ONE OR MORE OG AVENGERS SACRIFICE THEMSELVES
There are several practical reasons to assume that "Avengers 4" is going to be a big showcase for the original "Avengers," as well as a swan song for some of them, if not all of them. As we pointed out earlier, they're about the only ones that survived "The Snappening," and that wasn't an accident. Whether we get a time travel adventure or not, "Avengers 4" is about closing this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so of course you're going to want to get the original band back together again.
What better way to usher in a fresh and more diverse future for the MCU than to have the original Avengers sacrifice themselves to save the next generation of heroes. Obviously, no one thinks any of the dusted heroes are gone for good, so the question is how high of a price will the Avengers have to take to get them back. If they're trapped in the Soul Stone, as we've theorized above, we can speculate that the cost will have to do with souls. After all, Thanos had to sacrifice Gamora to possess the stone, so there would have to be a toll to bring back half the universe.
On the more practical side, a lot of the OG Avengers are reaching the ends of their contracts. Some are ready to move on to other adventures after so many years in spandex. Others would likely seek substantial salary increases to continue in their roles. For the sake of the bottom line, Marvel and Disney can bank on future stars like Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland (who probably cost a lot less to lock up for a gazillion films) to pick up the mantle from the pricey Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth.
If it happens, it will be a groundbreaking step for a superhero universe, as no one truly stays dead in the actual comic pages. Of course, hardly anyone ages either no matter how many years pass and that's not as easy to pull off in the real world unless you want to recast characters constantly, and the MCU is smartly staying away from that move. Let these heroes depart the MCU as heroes through death or retirement and have their legacy hang over the heads of the next generation.
If the screenwriters take Earth's mightiest heroes back the battle of New York to use that portal to get to Thanos, we can imagine some of the brave OGs (lookin' at you Tony Stark and Steve Rogers) getting lost in space when the portal closes, allowing Marvel to bring them back years later down the road, which worked out well for Disney's other blockbuster franchise, "Star Wars."
We could even close the next film on a dramatic image of that classic OG Avengers statue from the comics, only this time set up as a memorial to all those lost to keep the hope and inspiration alive.