The show is called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but the biggest twist in the very first episode of the new MCU Disney+ series is all about Captain America. But, which one? Steve Rogers? Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), formerly the Falcon? Or, someone else? If you’ve seen the first episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, you know the answer to this question already, but you still might be kind of confused.
After a ponderous opening episode, Falcon and Winter Soldier ended with a big twist that is going to rock Sam’s world. Here’s what it means and why this twist has roots in the long history of Marvel comics, specifically a storyline from 1987. Spoilers ahead for the very end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, episode 1.
Like most of WandaVision, the first moments of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier essentially pick-up right after Avengers: Endgame. Sam has Captain America’s shield and is trying to figure out how he feels about becoming the literal new Captain America. In the opening of the episode, he opts to hand in the shield to a government-run museum, a kind of Avengers-themed Smithsonian. Rhodey (Don Cheadle in an awesome cameo!) is baffled as to why Sam won’t “take up the mantle” of Captain America, and Sam echoes what he told old-Steve in Endgame, that the shield felt like it belonged to “someone else.”
But, by the end of the episode, we learn that the US Government didn’t actual decide to keep that shield in a museum. As Sam watches in utter confusion, a new “Captain America” is revealed on national TV, and he’s now carrying the shield. Does this guy have super strength like Steve did? Is he just a puppet for the US government? Is he “really” Captain America?
Short answer: This character is usually called “U.S. Agent” or “Super Patriot” in Marvel Comics, and is almost certainly named “John Walker.” The actor playing John Walker is Wyatt Russell, and fans and insiders have long-suspected this exact twist was coming.
But what does it actually mean? Well, a text Easter egg in the end credits sports the phrase “Power Broker is watching you.” This seems like a reference to the Marvel comics character “Power Broker,” who, in some backstories gives John Walker artificial super-powers, kind of like the ones Steve got back in WWII.
Also, and most relevantly, in a very similar 1987 storyline, which began in Captain America #332, Cap is told by the US government that he has to become an official government agent. Cap isn’t really cool with this which leads him to resign and handing over his shield. This story was called “Captain America No More” and was followed by an issue (#333) in which Walker — formerly Super Patriot — took over as the “new” Cap.
Obviously, the details of what is happening in Falcon and Winter Soldier are different than these ’80s comics, but the broad strokes are similar — the shield gets handed over, Steve has resigned (time-traveled/gotten old), rightful cap (Sam) steps-aside, and a faux Cap is appointed by the government.
In all incarnations, John Walker is at odds with whoever is the “other” Captain America, which, in some iterations, includes Sam Wilson. Right now, it’s pretty clear that Sam is set for a showdown with this knock-off Cap, and we’ll probably, at some point, meet somebody called “Power Broker,” who is selling superpowers to whoever has the most money, or, is the most desperate. Either way, if Sam wants that shield back, it looks like he’s going to have to fight for it.