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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Everything you need to know before watching

Marvel's latest show kicks off in less than 24 hours. Here's your primer.

Big buddy cop energies from this one.
Marvel Studios

When the credits rolled on Avengers: Endgame, virtually nobody predicted the next major chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would unfold on Disney's streaming service as opposed to the big screen. Now, just shy of two years later, we know better: Disney Plus' WandaVision shook the foundation of the MCU to its core. What first looked like a goofy, nostalgic romp turned out to be a wildly creative character study that explored the nature of trauma and grief. WandaVision showed viewers that Marvel's streaming series' aren't just side-stories to the core films, but important anchors of lore for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in their own right. 

For The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, a show that looks like a simple, action-packed buddy comedy at first glance, that raises the bar significantly. If you want to have a handle on what's next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, understanding what's going on in these Disney Plus shows is essential. Let's start at square one and lay out what you need to know to get the most out of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier when it starts streaming on Friday, March 19.

OK, the what and the who, now?

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Captain America's two best friends from different time periods.

What if I told you I didn't know who Captain America is?

I'd wonder why you were searching Google for explainers on Marvel TV shows in the first place. Then I'd tell you he's a comic book legend named Steve Rogers. He's famous for punching Adolf Hitler on the jaw and having an impeccable sense of morality. He was originally given super-powers by the US Government to fight in World War II, but got trapped in an iceberg for 70 years and joined The Avengers, the big superhero team of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What's a Winter Soldier? 


The show launches March 19 on Disney Plus.


The Winter Soldier is James Buchanan Barnes, "Bucky" for short, played by Sebastian Stan. He's Captain America's best friend from the 1940s. He was captured by a Nazi-like organization called Hydra back in WWII, brainwashed and cryogenically frozen. Hydra used him as an assassin for decades, taking him out of stasis only for missions and calling him "The Winter Soldier." After some tussles with The Avengers he eventually regained his freedom and became one of the good guys again. Also he has a cool robot arm that gives him enhanced strength. 

Who's The Falcon?

Sam Wilson is a veteran United Air Force Pararescueman and Captain America's best friend from the modern era. They became friends when Captain America outran him while doing laps around Washington DC. When Wilson wears a top-secret prototype military wingsuit, he goes by the name The Falcon. He's an Avenger and his suit allows him to fly. 

So why do I care about Captain America's two best friends?

Are you OK with spoilers for the MCU Infinity Saga?

No spoilers, please. 

Then I have 22 films and 10 television series for you to watch. It's going to take awhile. Here's a guide to get you started

Fine. Give me the spoilers. 

You'll still want to watch the Captain America films, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame for the details, but the short version is that Steve Rogers grew weary of being a superhero and decided to retire. It involved some time travel and he wound up as an old man who had lived a full life. When Sam Wilson laments that this means he'll have to live in a world without Captain America, old man Rogers gives him Captain America's iconic, nigh-indestructible shield

Wait, if Sam has Captain America's Shield, does that mean he's the new Captain America?

That's sort of what Avengers: Endgame implied, but the Disney Plus series is still called The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. For whatever reason, Sam Wilson hasn't taken on the mantle of Captain America. He's not the only one using the shield in the show's trailers, either. 

Who else uses Captain America's shield besides The Falcon?

In previews for the show, Sam Wilson and Bucky are both shown either catching or throwing Cap's shield, but it's not clear if The Winter Soldier is simply helping The Falcon learn how to use the indestructible frisbee before he takes on the mantle of Captain America, or if the two are fighting over it.

Wait, why are they fighting? Aren't they friends?

Well, they were both friends with Captain America, so they're used to hanging out together, but it doesn't seem like they like each other all that much. They're both still on the same side, but if the trailers are anything to go by, they're only working together out of necessity. While they don't seem to completely hate each other, it's clear that their relationship is one of competition, not camaraderie.

So what's the series about?

Between Captain America's Shield, the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame and the animosity between Sam and Bucky, it's a safe bet that a big part of the plot will focus on who will be the next Captain America.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier might not be the only choices for the job, either: Wyatt Russell is confirmed to be playing a character named John Walker. In Marvel Comics, Walker is known for temporarily replacing Steve Rogers as Captain America for a while. There's even a scene in one of the trailers showing someone walking onto a football field in a Captain America uniform. There's a good chance that's Walker.

It's also likely that there will be some larger crisis for our heroes to contend with as they sort out who gets to wear Steve Roger's star-spangled costume.

Who's the bad guy?

We don't know for sure yet, but there are a few options. John Walker actually started out as an antagonist for Captain America in the comics. He wound up being a good guy in the long run, but it's possible he could start out as a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

Marvel Studios

Daniel Brühl is also returning to play Helmut Zemo, his character from Civil War who used secret hydra brainwashing codewords to control Bucky. In the movie, he was a terrorist hell-bent on destroying the Avengers. It's probably safe to assume he's going to be trouble for Falcon and The Winter Soldier. 

Can Zemo still control Bucky? 

Probably not. After the events of Civil War, Bucky spent some time in Wakanda. He was mostly hiding from the authorities, but it's heavily implied the super-scientists in the hidden African nation helped deprogram the Hydra brainwashing. Even so, we haven't seen this deprogramming effort tested yet. It's still possible that he could struggle to maintain control if he heard Zemo say his trigger codewords. 

Anything else I need to know? 

Oh, lots of things, probably. Like how both Falcon and The Winter Soldier missed about five years of real time after a mad tyrant from outer space named Thanos used the power of six magic stones to blip them and billions of other people out of existence for a little while.

Wait, what?

Do you want to watch 22 films and 10 television series? Because I have a guide for that.

Nevermind. When is this show on again?

It starts on March 19 on Disney Plus.