How the Shocking Deaths in 'Avengers: Endgame' Signal the End of an Era for the MCU

avengers endgame
Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios
This post contains major, major spoilers for the entire plot and ending of Avengers: Endgame. You can also read our spoiler-free review, find out whether there's a post-credits scene, goss with us about Hot Hulk, and speculate what Endgame means for the future of the MCU.

Since Avengers: Endgame is the true end of a massive era in comic-book movies, we knew going in that some of the movie's huge cast of characters wouldn't make it past this one. Deaths in the series have been retconned before (e.g., Agent Phil Coulson, who was cruelly stabbed through the heart in 2012's The Avengers, is alive and kicking in the ABC spin-off show Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), but some, like Scarlet Witch's brother, Quicksilver (remember him?????), in Avengers: Age of Ultron, have remained unequivocally dead. Avengers: Infinity War billed itself as the first Avengers movie with real, undeniable stakes, and the toll -- half of all life!! -- was pretty gigantic, but we all knew everyone who suffered through The Snap had to come back. Because even when the Avengers lose, they have to win again, eventually.

But, even with a win, there are losses. It wouldn't feel right for a saga as grand as this one to end with everyone having a happily-ever-after, especially not for its most beloved characters. If you've gotten this far without heeding the spoiler warning, I assume you've seen the movie and already know that three of the series' most iconic characters, who have been with the franchise from the very beginning, didn't make it out of Endgame intact. In fact, it's those three characters' demises that proves that the Avengers series knows exactly where its heart always was.

The following is a breakdown of everyone we lost to Endgame, and why each of their moments matters.

avengers infinity war
Gamora is still dead... yet also still alive? | Marvel Studios

Everyone who died before The Snap

By undoing The Snap from Infinity War, Hulk brought back everyone who'd been reduced to ash at the end of Infinity War. But everyone who'd died before Thanos snapped, including Avenger frenemy Loki (whose neck Thanos brutally snapped right in front of Thor), Vision (whose Mind Stone Thanos ripped out of his head to complete his gauntlet), and Peter Quill's flame Gamora (whom Thanos chucked over a cliff to get the Soul Stone), stays very much dead.

That doesn't mean that they won't be back in some form. If you've been keeping tabs on the new Disney+ streaming service hitting our laptops later this year, you know that Marvel already has a few shows planned that involve a couple characters who weren't back for Endgame. WandaVision will bring back Vision somehow for what is hopefully a very cozy cooking show starring two of the Avengers' weirdest members. Vision's body, as far as we know, is still in Wakanda, and now that Shuri's been un-Snapped, who knows what she might be able to do with what remains of his brain in there? Or it could be an Infinity War prequel! Who knows! And Loki, well, Loki's the trickster. If he wants to come back, he will. (He also has a Disney+ show in the works, but we have no idea when or where that's set either.)

Endgame did find a very creative way to bring Gamora back, thanks to the powers of time travel and Thanos figuring out the Avengers' plan. When he follows them through the hole in time their machine created, he brings a past version of Gamora -- who, by the way, has no idea who Peter Quill or any of the Guardians of the Galaxy are -- with him to the future, who then escapes, helps all the heroes foil his plan, and then runs off somewhere. Presumably, the third Guardians movie will be all about Thor and the rest of the crew setting out to find her.

avengers endgame
Black Widow and Hawkeye share a moment before something terrible happens. | Marvel Studios

Black Widow

Black Widow and Hawkeye's relationship is a classic, and, for this series, probably unavoidable exercise in telling and not showing. Hawkeye and Black Widow tell us repeatedly that they have a strong camaraderie that goes back many years and transcends the flimsy bonds of the rest of the team. Widow tells Loki in The Avengers that Hawkeye was sent to assassinate her and that she owes him a lot for deciding to spare her life instead. Throughout the movies, they've often been treated as a single unit, fighting together with their arsenal of weapons against the Avengers' foes and sharing more than a few meaningful looks along the way. Widow wears a tiny silver arrow necklace, which she's had since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Their relationship isn't ever romantic (though it certainly may have been at one point), but that doesn't mean it's not the strongest bond of the whole series. Which is why the two of them had to go after the Soul Stone together: though they didn't realize until it was too late that one of them wouldn't be coming back.

Getting the Soul Stone, which is housed on the planet Vormir, requires a sacrifice. We saw that play out in Infinity War when Thanos sacrificed his beloved daughter Gamora, the one thing he loves the most in the universe, pushing her over the cliff. That's why Hawkeye and Black Widow's relationship went through one final test, one of them sacrificing the other to save the world. They both realize what has to happen at the same moment, and each fights to be the one to take the fall so that the other can live. They've always been evenly matched, and their final fight is chilling and difficult to watch, and, in that moment, the best way these movies have ever shown how deeply the two feel for each other. They might be the two least charismatic members of the core Avengers team, but Black Widow's death still feels like a crushing blow. (She's finally getting her own movie, so she'll be back too, somehow.)

avengers endgame
I'm not crying, you're crying. | Marvel Studios

Captain America

It's a bit incorrect to put Cap in this deaths list, since he didn't actually die. Well, maybe that's not right either. Steve Rogers is still around, albeit a little bit older, but Captain America, as we knew him, is gone. When Hulk, Sam Wilson, and Bucky Barnes send Cap back in time to the 1970s to put the Power Stone (the Tesseract) back where he found it, he doesn't reappear on the time-travel platform when he's supposed to. In fact, he's sitting on a bench a little ways away, looking out over the lake. He's an old man now, having decided to stay back in the time he had always wanted to return to, ever since he was thawed into the 21st century. This outcome seems inevitable, and fitting, especially if you've been tracking the appearances of his Peggy Carter compass over the last few movies, plus the fact that he never got another love interest (we don't talk about Sharon Carter in this house), plus the very dramatic, heartfelt tweet he posted when production on the movie wrapped. He never got over the first woman he loved, so why not make the decision to stay with her as soon as he got one last chance?

avengers endgame
Tony Stark and his suit, forever a dream team. | Marvel Studios

Iron Man

There was no way Tony Stark was making it out of Endgame alive, especially given the movie's obsession with dangling a win-win scenario in his face. Tony gamed the Avengers' time travel plan so that he could return to the life he'd built with Pepper Potts and his new daughter, at least so that they would survive the fight he knew would come. If only Thanos hadn't been so desperate to get the gauntlet back, if only Captain Marvel had been faster in getting it off. Something tells me, since Tony went to the trouble of hiding a human hand-sized gauntlet within the armor of his Iron Man suit, he knew that he would probably have to dip into his backup plan. If he's brilliant enough to figure out time travel, he's brilliant enough to get that. He definitely knew as soon as he locked eyes with Doctor Strange and the wizard held up one finger: this was the one single version of reality in which the Avengers would win. "I am Iron Man," he says, the very last line he spoke in his very first movie.

Iron Man has been the face of the Avengers since before we knew the Avengers. He's the first one we ever met, back in 2008, and if all these ensemble movies have a main character, it's him. His technology and his brains made the idea of a team of heroes possible, and though Captain America may have been the leader in name, everyone follows Tony. His funeral scene at the end of Endgame gives him a lovely Big Fish moment, and there's even a shot of his old arc reactor from the first movie -- "Proof That Tony Stark Has a Heart" -- floating on a bed of flowers.

If Avengers: Endgame is a celebration of all the other Avengers movies we've had, it's also a celebration of the series' key character. We've followed Tony's arc since day one, and if this has to be the end of this era for this team, it has to be the end for him too. It's fitting, then, that the last sound we hear at the end of the credits of Avengers: Endgame, in lieu of a traditional post-credits scene, is the first sound we remember from Iron Man: Tony's hammer clanging on the helmet of the first suit he ever made.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.