Spoilers for Black Panther below.
Every gaffer and best boy should write a thank-you note to Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige. His Marvel Cinematic Universe enterprise has probably increased attendance during filmic credits sequences by 5,000 percent since the advent of Iron Man ten years ago. You always gotta wait to see if there’s a mid-credits scene, and if there’s yet another scene after the credits! Black Panther offers no exception in this regard. But you may have been rewarded with confusion by the post-credits sequence. Don’t worry, we’ve gotcha covered.
In the scene, a white man wakes up in a thatched-roof dwelling in Wakanda and has a brief conversation with Shuri. If you aren’t well-versed in all things Marvel, he’s a total stranger to you, having not appeared before in the flick you just watched. So who is that guy? Why, it’s none other than James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, Captain America’s onetime sidekick! If you want to know the character’s long comics and movie history, check out our feature on him. If you want to know all the details about what brought him to that hut, check out our explainer on the Black Panther–related events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. But if you don’t have time for all that and just want a quick rundown, read on.
Here’s the basic deal. Bucky (Sebastian Stan) fought with America’s premiere superhero, Captain America (Chris Evans) in World War II. After an epic battle, he was presumed dead. But as it turned out, he had been kidnapped by the sinister organization known as HYDRA. They severely brainwashed and scientifically altered Bucky and turned him into a near-immortal, globetrotting assassin known as the Winter Soldier. In 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Bucky reencountered Captain America (who had been frozen in WWII and unfrozen a few years ago), escaped HYDRA’s clutches, and went on the run. In Civil War, he was falsely accused of a terrorist attack that killed king T’Chaka (John Kani), father of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Bucky’s name was cleared, but he was still suffering from brainwashing. T’Challa kindly offered to help him hide away and get mentally repaired using Wakandan science.
So what you’re seeing at the end of Black Panther is noble, tortured Bucky in recovery. It appears that the brilliant Shuri (Letitia Wright, and how great was she in this movie, right?) has led the effort to overcome his HYDRA programming, and the two have formed a nice little bond. This is also a teaser for the next Marvel movie, May’s Avengers: Infinity War. If trailers are to be believed, he’ll join the titular Avengers in beating back the forces of the evil intergalactic overlord Thanos when they invade Wakanda.
The mid-credits scene doesn’t really require any explanation, but is quite sweet. In it, T’Challa appears before the United Nations. There, he announces that Wakanda is ending its policy of isolation and will be sharing its bounty with the world. He also says the world is better off when it builds bridges instead of “barriers.” (Could it be that that word is a tweak of a certain someone in the Oval Office?) A UN delegate, confused, asks what a country of farmers has to teach the community of nations. T’Challa just smiles, knowing how big the bomb he’s about to drop is, and the scene cuts out. It’ll be interesting to see in Infinity War what the repercussions are of Wakanda’s opening up. One thing’s certain: we need a Bucky/Shuri spinoff post-haste.