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What If…? episode 5 recap: Marvel Zombies run rampant in apocalyptic reality

Undead Avengers are determined to gobble up the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe in the animated Disney Plus show.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
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Sean Keane
4 min read
Zombie Captain America in Marvel's What If...?

Zombie Captain America is hungry.

Marvel Studios

In the wake of last week's dark Doctor Strange journey, the fifth episode of Marvel Cinematic Universe animated series What If…?  landed on Disney Plus Wednesday. This episode leans into horror tropes as it introduces the infamous Marvel Zombies to the MCU.

The all-seeing Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), who observes the various realities of the multiverse, ponders the question What If… Zombies!?

Beware of undead SPOILERS ahead.


The Quantum Virus

This reality diverged from the mainline MCU during the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp, with Janet Van Dyne contracting a brain-corrupting virus during her three decades trapped in the Quantum Realm. When her husband, Hank Pym, went in to rescue her, he got infected and brought the disease back to Earth -- Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) was his first victim. 

In the comics, the undead heroes were the result of a plague (known as the Hunger) that infected the superheroes of that reality. They soon feasted on most of their world's populace, in an excellent 2005 miniseries written by The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman. 

It's pretty dark, but seeing zombified versions of iconic heroes ruthlessly gobbling up everyone around them is fun. And it spawned plenty of sequels and spinoffs, so there's lots for you to gobble up if the concept excites you. 

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A T'Challa snack

Our heroes discover that Vision (Paul Bettany) hid from the undead hordes in Camp Lehigh, the New Jersey military base where potential Captain Americas were trained during World War II. Vision discovered that the Mind Stone implanted in his head could cure people of the virus, and used it to save Ant-Man (who's just a decapitated head now) 

It turns out Vision is hiding a dark secret as well -- he's been holding the zombified version of his lover, Wanda Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch), but couldn't cure her due to the power of her chaos magic

Zombie Scarlet Witch in Marvel's What If...?

Wanda Maximoff's magic makes her one dangerous zombie. 

Marvel Studios

In a serial killer-style twist, we learn that Vision kidnapped Black Panther (the late Chadwick Boseman) during the Avengers' doomed attempt to take on the zombies in San Francisco and kept him as a prisoner to feed Wanda -- she's clearly been chowing down on poor T'Challa's leg. 

This mirrors T'Challa's fate in the Marvel Zombies comics, in which he's captured by a zombified Hank Pym. Pym keeps his fellow Avenger alive so he can gradually eat T'Challa's limbs to keep his hunger under control as he works on a cure.    

Zombie Iron Man in Marvel's What If...?

Even in zombie form, Tony Stark likes his gadgets.

Marvel Studios

Earth's Mightiest Zombies

We see a whole bunch of heroes, villains and other familiar characters in undead form throughout the episode -- all of them have extremely cool zombie character designs, and I absolutely should not start collecting them in action figure form. Here are all the ones I spotted:

  • Iron Man
  • Doctor Strange
  • Wong
  • Ebony Maw
  • Cull Obsidian
  • Janet Van Dyne
  • Hank Pym
  • Hawkeye 
  • Falcon
  • Happy Hogan
  • Captain America
  • Sharon Carter
  • Wanda Maximoff
  • Wasp
  • Thanos
Zombie Thanos in Marvel's What If...?

An undead Thanos is one step away from his goal.

Marvel Studios

The cure and the Titan

Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man's head and Doctor Strange's Cloak of Levitation manage to escape Camp Lehigh and travel to Wakanda to transmit the Mind Stone's power to the world. 

However, the episode ends on a dark note -- Thanos has contracted the virus and managed to gather the five other Infinity Stones. Our heroes are unwittingly bringing him the last one he needs to gain ultimate power.

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Observations, WTF questions and Easter eggs

  • This is the third What If...? episode where a reality faces some kind of apocalypse, after Ego's appearance in episode 2 and Doctor Strange Supreme's dark fate in last week's episode.
  • "My mom, dad, Uncle Ben, Mr. Stark, now Happy… I've lost a lot." This episode includes the first direct reference to Peter Parker's late Uncle Ben in the MCU. Hopefully we'll get another in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home.
  • Most characters in this episode are voiced by their live-action actors, aside from Captain America and Spider-Man, who are voiced by Josh Keaton and Hudson Thames, respectively.
  • Why didn't Vision stop Bucky from exploring Camp Lehigh and finding zombie Wanda? It's possible he was feeling guilty about it, and wanted to be found out.
  • Vision's questionable actions in his attempt to save Wanda are similar to her mind-warping a whole town to create a fake life with him in WandaVision. 
  • After Strange's cape flies him out of the bunker, Scott shouts "wingardium leviosa!" That's the levitation charm from Harry Potter.
  • Vision reveals that the virus "overloads the brain's limbic system," which controls our behavioral and emotional responses -- particularly in relation to feeding and other basic survival instincts.
  • Slavic folklore expert Kurt (David Dastmalchian) compares Ghost to legendary Russian witch Baba Yaga in Ant-Man and the Wasp. He mentions the supernatural creature again in this episode, and the comparison fits Wanda more than it did Ghost. Then she eats Kurt.
  • There's no reason to think Hulk got eaten by the zombie hordes. We already saw that Wanda's teeth couldn't break his gamma ray-enhanced skin.
  • "In my culture, death is not the end. They are still with us, as long as we do not forget them," T'Challa's line is particularly poignant, given actor Chadwick Boseman's death. This episode is the second of four in which we'll reportedly hear his voice.

Join us for more Easter eggs and observations next Wednesday, Sept. 15, when episode 6 of What If…? hits Disney Plus.