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Explaining Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Post-Credits Scenes

Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters this weekend, and, of course, features the requisite Marvel post-credits sequence. In the case of Cap 2, there are two: one that arrives mid-credits, and another that shows up at the very end. As always, each of them hint at very big things down the road for our cast of heroes.

And what are these big things? Well, there are never absolutes when dealing with future Marvel plots, only guesses, and I'll make a few below. This goes without saying, but there are SPOILERS ahead, so turn back now if you want to avoid major plot reveals.

The first hidden sequence shows two men walking through a dark basement filled with computers and other random, unlabeled machinery. One of the men is Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (played by actor Thomas Kretschmann), the monocle-wearing, facially scarred leader of the villainous group HYDRA. In this scene, Strucker and a lesser member of his crew discuss their recent failed takedown of S.H.I.E.L.D., but Strucker and his HYDRA cohorts still have a few cards to play, since we soon find out that they are now in possession of Loki’s scepter. If you recall, Loki used this scepter to open a gigantic portal in The Avengers, thus allowing the Chitauri to fly through and destroy half of New York City. But wait, there’s more! As Strucker rounds the corner, we get a glimpse at a pair he calls "The Twins": Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), held prisoner in side-by-side jail cells, the former bouncing around the room like a lightning-quick junkie, the latter silently juggling toy blocks with her mind. “This isn't the age of spies. This is not even the age of heroes,” Strucker says ominously, watching his two superpowered charges. “This is the age of miracles ... and there's nothing more horrifying than a miracle.”

So what was that about? Well, if you’re familiar with the comic books, Strucker is a noted enemy of Captain America, and along with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, he's set to appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Therefore, this scene — directed by Avengers: Age of Ultron helmer Joss Whedon — likely hints at the themes that will be explored in that film. Then again, how much Strucker will play into the actual plot of Avengers 2 is anyone’s guess, since that film's primary villain is the robotic Ultron (James Spader). Also worth noting: So much is made of Loki’s scepter that it likely holds one of the six infinity stones. As I explained in this piece about the Thor 2 post-credits scene, collecting all six gets you the Infinity Gauntlet, which Thanos (the baddie introduced in The Avengers' post-credits sequence) is eager to possess. We've already seen two Stones in previous Marvel movies: the Tesseract in The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World's Aether.

While Strucker’s path seems pretty mapped out, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s are a bit harder to decipher. In the comics, both of them are the children of the mutant Magneto, but Fox owns the rights to that X-Men character as well as the Marvel term "mutant"; is that why Strucker instead refers to them as "miracles"? Though the brother-sister duo is shown with the villains here, we've seen Age of Ultron set photos where they appear to be fighting alongside Hawkeye, which would mirror their comic-book journey from bad to good.

That leads us into our final post-credits sequence, which features the film’s villain, the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Here, the defeated (though far from dead) Bucky is seen strolling through the Captain America exhibit in the Smithsonian, where he comes across a photo of … himself. If you remember the first Captain America, Bucky was Cap’s best bud until he ended up dying during combat, or so we thought. The Russians picked up Bucky, gave him a bionic arm, and brainwashed him into becoming a Russian assassin and spy (they cryogenically freeze him in between missions, which is how he’s stayed so young). During Cap 2, our hero tries to remind Bucky of his humanity during their final fight, and though the Winter Soldier doesn’t seem to completely process it, at the end of the film, he doesn’t go back to his trainers, opting instead to investigate the things Cap was saying.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Bucky moving forward. In the comics, Bucky Barnes eventually becomes Captain America, and Chris Evans has hinted at his retirement once his Marvel contract runs out. Could Sebastian Stan be headed toward the red-white-and-blue suit of armor? As usual, Marvel holds all the secrets, so it’s anyone’s guess for now.