What the End of 'Thor: Ragnarok' Means for Future Avengers Movies

thor ragnarok
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Yes, the ending of Thor: Ragnarok once again drops a post-credit stinger on to rabid Marvel fans, but for the most part, the movie -- director Taika Waititi’s first entry into the "Marvel Cinematic Universe," the third entry in the trilogy of Thor-led films, and the seventeenth film in the greater interconnected Avengers series -- takes a totally different direction than its predecessors. Ragnarok recalls the days of standalone adventuring. As Thor ventures from Asgard to Earth to Sakaar and back to his kingdom, he's rarely bogged down in setting up other films. Mostly.

Ragnarok lifts heavily from comics history -- the 2006-2007 run Planet Hulk plays a key role in the central conflict and Valkyrie is a fan favorite character who dates back to the 1970s -- but most of the drama is disconnected from the political brouhaha last seen in Captain America: Civil War. The movie doesn't even name-check the coveted Infinity Stones, expected to play a large role in next year's Avengers: Infinity War. So what connects Thor: Ragnarok to everything else in the Marvel universe? We have to look to the ending, and those post-credit scenes, for the biggest surprises.

thor ragnarok
Marvel Studios

The spaceship at the end of Ragnarok

The first of Thor 3's two end credits scenes finds Thor and Loki staring out over space, on their way to Earth with the last survivors of Asgard. The sweet moment is interrupted (or intercepted) by a large ship, multiple sizes bigger than their own, looking like it’s ready to swallow them up like a Star Destroyer swallows Tantive IV in the original Star Wars. Deductive reasoning suggests this is the ship of Thanos and The Black Order, the primary villains of Avengers: Infinity War (and presumably the untitled Avengers 4, slated for 2019).

This summer, Marvel showed the first Avengers: Infinity War footage at Disney’s D23 conference. The reel opened with the Guardians of the Galaxy coming across Thor, floating through space, on the edge of some sort of mass destruction (one of the Guardians asks: "What happened?" before Thor smashes into the window of Star-Lord's spaceship, The Milano). At the time, some assumed that Thor: Ragnarok would leave the thunder god drifting the vacuum after Asgard was destroyed; others thought Asgard would survive only to have Thanos destroy it. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between.

Disney and Marvel never released the Infinity War footage, and it's easy to see why: In the end of Ragnarok, Thor loses an eye and in the sneak preview, Thor still has both eyes. Anyone who's overanalyzed the Thor: Ragnarok trailers versus the finished Thor: Ragnarok product knows that Marvel is all about marketing sleight of hand and that taking an eye off Chris Hemsworth’s face isn’t a huge post-production challenge. If Infinity War really starts with the Guardians meeting Thor on the way to Midgard (a.k.a. Earth), something got him off the ship of Asgardians… and that’s probably Thanos.

thanos in avengers age of ultron
Marvel Studios

Thor, the Infinity Stones, and Thanos' role in Avengers: Infinity War

The last time we saw Thanos, back in the Avengers: Age of Ultron post-credits scene, he was putting on his Infinity Gauntlet, which had empty space for all of the cosmic Infinity Stones. Fans quickly pointed out that we'd actually seen the Gauntlet loaded up before, back in Odin’s treasure room in the first Thor movie. Ragnarok corrects that apparent error when Hela immediately knocks over the Gauntlet on Asgard and declares it a fake (which also makes sense as the Aether from Thor: The Dark World had to go to The Collector so it wouldn’t be in the same vault as the Tesseract, the other name for the Space stone). Hela does show great interest in the Tesseract, but then settles on… The Eternal Flame.

The Eternal Flame?!? If you’ve been following the reveals of the Infinity Stones a.k.a. Marvel’s magic MacGuffins, you know the Tesseract showed up in Avengers (as did Loki’s Scepter, though that’s not outed as a Stone until Age of Ultron), The Aether (the Reality Stone) appeared in Thor: The Dark World, The Orb showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy -- where the Collector finally told the backstory of the stones and gave us a glimpse at the unique colors for each one -- Ultron outed Loki's scepter as the Mind Stone (which the villain used to create Vision) and Doctor Strange (in Doctor Strange) slyly dropped that the Eye of Agamotto necklace was the Time Stone. That leaves one Stone left: The Soul Stone.

Many people assumed that the Soul Stone would be revealed in Thor: Ragnarok -- yours truly among them. It seems to fit so perfectly: the goddess of death Hela wanting a Soul Stone, Thanos wanting to court death in the storyline from the comics, even the acrostic theory -- where the objects hiding each of the stones spell out “THANOS” with the first letter of their noun (T for Tesseract, H, A for Aether, N for Necklace, O for Orb, S for Scepter) -- worked out. The “H,” us smart-asses thought, was for Heimdall, Idris Elba's all-seeing, bridge operator.

idris elba as heimdall in thor ragnarok
Marvel Studios

The thinking was that the ability of Heimdall's character to see people across space is actually a soul-based power that channels the energy of the Soul Stone. Not only would it allow us to spell THANOS with MacGuffin acrostics, but it would line up with the colors as well. The Collector's Guardians of the Galaxy Infinity Stone explainer described the Soul Stone as Orange, the same Orange as Heimdall's eyes, the same orange they used on Heimdall’s Thor: Ragnarok character poster. It all fit. But it didn't happen.

Call me crazy, but just because we didn't learn Heimdall has the Soul Stone in Thor: Ragnarok doesn't mean Heimdall doesn’t have the Soul Stone. Who else is on that ship when Thanos shows up in the mid-credits scene? Heimdall. Who isn’t floating in space in the Infinity War teaser? Heimdall. Dammit, I want the MacGuffins to spell THANOS so bad, I can’t even think of a good reason why Black Panther, the MCU movie in-between Ragnarok and Infinity War would need to include the Soul Stone. So consider me still on Heimdall-is-the-missing-link train.

hulk in thor ragnarok
Marvel STudios

What happened to Hulk?

We assume that Thanos is going to take on Earth, and we know Hulk is in Infinity War both because he’s part of the Avengers and because Mark Ruffalo has been on set for filming. Most recently, Ruffalo has mentioned shots that will include both Rocket Racoon (the smallest Avenger now that Groot is an adolescent) and Hulk. Thor: Ragnarok glosses over Bruce Banner protesting that if he Hulks out again, the Hulk might be able to suppress Banner forever. But then he’s needed to fight a giant wolf in the climax, so I guess everyone's worrying about that later. They'll have to.

In the comic version of Planet Hulk, certain Avengers conspired to shoot Hulk into space because he was too dangerous on Earth. When Hulk returns he causes an arc called World War Hulk where he and his friends from Sakaar fight the Marvel heroes. All the Infinity War teases have been focused on central characters that aren’t Hulk. He’s not absent, but unlike Ragnarok advertising, we’ve yet to be teased with a Hulk-Thanos showdown. Thor is the only character of the current Avengers line-up who isn’t harboring some ill will toward Hulk, last seen fleeing the Sokovia battle. Everyone likes Banner, of course, but Hulk? Hulk’s still a monster when he isn’t comic relief. Could he return to Earth with a vengeance, paving the way for Thanos? The pieces are in place for destruction.

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Dave Gonzales is a pop-culture writer and podcaster who wields the Internet's version of the Infinity Gauntlet. Follow him @da7e.