(This article is full of major spoilers for the season finale of Marvel's "Loki" on Disney+)
Well, that was quite a doozie. While "WandaVision" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" didn't do much to shake up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the same can't be said for "Loki." It's not an exaggeration to say that this show is the actual start of the MCU's next phase -- we're going to see a lot more of Jonathan Majors' mysterious man at the end of time from here on out.
So if you're a normal person and not a weirdo who obsesses over every detail of these things for work, that ending is gonna be a lot to work through. But we can most of the legwork on this for you. Not all of it, but most of it.
So in the finale, Loki and Sylvie meet a guy Miss Minutes calls He Who Remains. He's played here by Jonathan Majors, who we reported last year had been cast in the MCU as Kang the Conqueror. We don't think that's who he was playing here, though. More on that in a moment.
Major spends the bulk of the episode explaining everything to Loki and Sylvie. And I mean everything. He claims that everything that has happened with the two of them was planned. He arranged all of it to get them to this place so he could make a proposition: They can kill him and create a multiverse, or they can take over leadership of the TVA so he can retire.
Loki, of course, has some follow-up questions. Such as "who are you?" We don't actually get a name here. "I've been dubbed many names by many people. A ruler. A conqueror. He Who Remains. A jerk. But it's not as simple as a name," Majors says. And he is indeed correct.
In the comics, Kang started out as a guy named Nathaniel Richards, who is either a distant descendant of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, or a possible descendant of Doctor Doom. But Kang did a lot of time traveling and eventually created other versions too, and I think it's safe to say that Majors is playing Nathaniel Richards, but not the Kang version. That's what "It's not as simple as a name" means. Calling himself Nathaniel Richards is meaningless because there were many Nathaniel Richards variants who had huge impacts on the multiverse.
"Eons ago, before the TVA, a variant of myself lived on Earth in the 3st Century. He was a scientist, and he discovered that there were universes stacked on top of his own. At the same time, other versions of us were learning the same thing."
This man encountered other versions of himself and at first they got along, sharing knowledge and enjoying what "He Who Remains" described as a "narcissistic peace." But: "Not every version of me was so pure of heart. To some of us, new worlds only meant one thing: New lands to be conquered. The peace between realities erupted into all-out war, each variant fighting to preserve their universe and annihilate the others," he explains to Loki and Sylvie. Kang is one of these guys.
But the way Richards is talking about these different versions of himself, it sounds like this particular variant was one of the "good" ones. But it doesn't sound like he stayed good.
"That first variant encountered a creature created from all the tears in reality, capable of consuming time and space itself," Richards says, talking about the monster policing The Void in last week's episode, known as Alioth. "I weaponized Alioth and I ended the Multiversal War. Once I isolated our timeline, all I had to do was manage the flow of time and prevent further branches."
As far as I can tell, what he's saying there is that, uh, he used Alioth to destroy those other universes. And then created the TVA to keep them from reoccurring naturally.
It's probably too much, even after all Loki and Sylvie have been through, to expect them to be able to process all this and make a decision quickly. But Richards doesn't seem worried.
"What's the worst that can happen? You either take over and my life's work continues, or you plunge a blade in my chest and an infinite amount of me start another Multiversal War. And I just end up right back here anyways. Reincarnation, baby."
More or less, what he's saying here is that the creation of the new multiverse will simply lead to the same outcome where he uses Alioth to end the Multiversal War and then create the TVA like before, like a time loop on an epic scale. But he might be very wrong.
So Sylvie can't let things go. She fights Loki and manages to kick him back to the TVA, leaving her alone with Richards. And she stabs him in the chest, and the multiverse begins to take shape. Loki, meanwhile, runs through the TVA, which is in chaos, and finds Mr. Mobius so he can tell him what happened. But there's a problem.
Mr. Mobius doesn't know Loki. And the TVA no longer has big statues of the Time-Keepers. In their place is just one giant statue of Richards. And that's where the season ends, with the promise of a second season of "Loki" somewhere down the line.
What's happened here is that Richards was wrong. The new multiverse hasn't put him right back where he ended up. He's once again running the TVA, but this time he's out in the open, not operating some kind of Wizard of Oz situation like before. Why it's different here is not yet known, but what we do know is that Loki and Sylvie are new variables, and they're still alive, and just by their presence, as people who remember the universe before the change, they definitely would have affected the new reality in some way. The butterfly effect and all that.
Conspicuously, when Richards is talking about the Multiversal War he frames it as a war between his variants specifically, and he mentions zero other people throughout his story. He just talks about himself and other versions of himself. Obviously, there will be a lot of MCU heroes, and villains, involved in whatever multiverse shenanigans we're in for after "Loki" -- they might be wild cards too.
It's not hard to imagine Loki showing up in "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness" to fill him in on what's going on, and thus having Strange become a new variable too, for example. And, of course, we've got "Spider-Man: No Way Home" on the way this December which will have its own multiversal crossovers. These things add up.
Unfortunately, there's basically nothing from the comics to use for reference here. Kang never controlled the TVA, and He Who Remains wasn't Richards. There isn't an equivalent scenario in the comics to draw from. The MCU is doing something totally new here.
Whenever we do see Majors in the MCU again, it will be as a different Nathaniel Richards. He could be Kang the Conqueror, or Immortus, or one of his other aliases, or just another Nathaniel Richards. My guess is we're going to see Majors inhabit a lot of different variants of the character in the next few years. And hopefully on "Loki" season 2 as well, since it's nice to have a character in the MCU who can just fully baffle Loki.