Paging Neil Gaiman: in the penultimate episode of What If…? season 2, things get medieval. “What If… The Avengers Assembled in 1602?” was written by A.C. Bradley & Ryan Little and directed by Bryan Andrews.

At the Globe Theater in 1602, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) delivers Hamlet’s famous monologue. Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) asks the queen, Hela, if he can throw rotten cabbages. But the proceedings are interrupted by the opening of a green portal in the sky above the theater. Loki begins to levitate towards the glowing rift. But Sir Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tells Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) she’s up. Note: Carter was summoned to 1602 by Wanda Merlin (Elizabeth Olsen) in the concluding moments of “What If… Peggy Carter Fought the HYDRA Stomper?

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Carter leaps into action. She uses a rope to lasso Loki before he can be pulled through the rift. Carter catches him before he can fall to the ground. But then Hela is pulled into the rift. Carter attempts to rescue her but the rift closes. Only Hela’s scepter falls to the ground. Sir Harold “The Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau) states that the queen is gone. Hogan declares Thor the King.

Carter says she’s sorry. Thor says his sister is gone, lost to the storms that threaten to tear this world apart. He continues that the Scarlet Witch summoned Carter to stop the storms. However, they grow worse every day. Thor declares Carter to be cursed. Carter takes Loki’s Yorick skull and flees. Thor tells Hogan to summon the Witch, as he would have words about her “hero.”

What If… The Avengers Assembled in 1602? 

The Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) states that what we’re seeing has all the makings of a Shakespearian tragedy. He notes the King marred by personal difficulty, the soldier on the lam and the world on the brink of oblivion. As Carter leaps from building to building, the Watcher asks how an out-of-time super soldier ends up in this situation. The Watcher says the sad truth is that there are worlds among the multiverse that are meant to die. However, he says every once in a while, a glimmer of hope can emerge.

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The Watcher recounts that with their world about to destroy itself, a band of heroes worked together to save their reality. He explains that Wanda reached into a neighboring world to summon a warrior. This brought Carter to them. The Watcher states that Carter willingly joined their crusade to save their world. But now, “after weeks of trial and error,” Carter stands alone, “a failure and an outlaw.” The Watcher continues that she has no way home.

Carter reveals that she can hear the Watcher. She asks if he needs something. The Watcher says she doesn’t belong here. He says she’s fighting a battle she can’t possibly understand. Carter says the way she figures it, the 1600s and the early 21st century have become stuck together like pieces of gum. The Watcher acknowledges that she has it figured out. Carter says she must unstick the time periods or the universe will shatter.

The Watcher extends his hand and offers to take Carter back to her universe. Carter says she’s not leaving. The Watcher says he’s watched millions of universes fade from existence. Carter says not on her watch.

What If… There Was a 1602 Forerunner? 

In the throne room, Fury states the cracks are growing in number and strength. Thor states that this may be their darkest hour, but he won’t let it be their last. He says he wants Carter. Wanda says that Carter’s not to blame. However, she may be the key to their survival. But Wanda senses that there may be another from the future. Hogan must struggle to contain his temper.

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Wanda states that another from across time may unwittingly be the cause of their collapsing universe. Hogan asks how they can find this person. Wanda says the answer is beyond her capabilities. Fury states that Carter, who is hiding outside the window, has her mission. When Thor asks who Fury addresses, Fury says, “No one. Only a pretty bird.”

Soon, Carter wakes Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) by dumping a bucket of water over his head. Tony uses a microscope to examine the rift residue left on Loki’s Yorick skull. Stark observes that it gives off energy. Carter postulates that it’s radioactive. Stark asks for more of her made-up words. An explosion above them heralds more rift issues. Carter explains that she’s looking for the forerunner. She explains this is a person from the future who had already arrived in the 17th century before she did. 

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Stark asks if the forerunner would share the same energy. Carter hypothesizes they might. But Stark lacks the technology to build a device to search for them. Stark says the royal scepter could provide the necessary power. However, the king is unlikely to lend it to Carter. Stark says it sounds like she needs a thief. Carter asks who he has in mind.

All-New, All-Different Othello

Loki rides in a horse-drawn carriage. He tells two women that William Shakespeare has written a new play, Othello, featuring a main character called “Iago.” But the carriage is interrupted by an arrow. It’s Rogers Hood (Josh Keaton). Accompanied by Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the trio steals from the rich and gives to the poor. However, the theft is interrupted by the arrival of Carter. Rogers is dumbstruck by Carter’s resemblance to his late lady love, May Margaret. Carter realizes she’s dead in this world and says that’s great.

Loki instructs the carriage driver to make haste while they’re lost in each others’ eyes. The carriage escapes. Carter asks if there’s anywhere they can talk. Soon, they’re sharing ales over a table in the public house of a treetop thieves hideout. Rogers clarifies that Carter wants her to steal the royal scepter. He says that most people would be driven mad by her circumstances. Carter says that at this point, being in the wrong place at the wrong time is her specialty.

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Rogers asks about the Steve of her world. Carter says, “No, I don’t think I will.” But she asks him for his help anyway. Rogers says his Margaret would have wanted to save the world as well. Their nice moment is interrupted by the arrival of a tiny swashbuckling soldier. This “Royal Yellowjacket” is joined by many more. The interlopers soon grow to full size and begin attacking.

Lang observes that their secret treehouse has been outed. Hogan is outside. He orders Carter be kept alive, but leaves the rest’s survival at the discretion of the Yellowjackets. 

What If… Captain Carter Met the Royal Yellowjackets? 

Inside the compromised treehouse, Lang laments that shrinking is his thing. Barnes assures him he has the market cornered on being a pest. Carter and Rogers get to know each other as they battle the Yellowjackets together. They’re both pretty good with swords and shields. Meanwhile, Bucky teases Hogan’s temper. When the Yellowjackets evacuate the treehouse, Lang posits that they may have won. But they’re just clearing the way for the arrival of 1602’s version of the Destroyer.

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Hogan orders the Destroyer to fire on the treehouse. Rogers, Barnes, Carter and Lang avoid the fire. Carter tells Rogers to find Stark and then retrieve the scepter. She’ll surrender while Lang distracts the Destroyer. This causes the Destroyer to attack. 

Carter takes over for Lang against the Destroyer. She begins to plead with Hogan. Carter tells Hogan that in another world, they were all friends. Hogan tells the Destroyer to halt. He says it would be a farce to see himself as a compatriot to the “madman” Stark. Carter surrenders.

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Imprisoned, Carter asks the Watcher if he’s watching. The Watcher says, “Always.” He asks if she’s ready to go home. Carter insists she can save this universe. She says she just needs to find the forerunner. She asks the Watcher to tell her who it is. The Watcher says he’s unable to see the coming events clearly when a universe is close to extinction. He says this world is destined to die. Carter says if you see someone hurt, you help them. The Watcher offers her a piece of advice from “an all-seeing being,” telling her she cannot comprehend the consequences of her actions.

The Hulk in the Iron Mask 

The Watcher asks Carter what happens if she finds the forerunner and it doesn’t save the world. He asks her several more worst case scenario what if questions. Carter says she has to try. The Watcher says because she’s human. Carter says, “Because I’m Captain Carter.” She breaks her chains and stands up. Then, she tells the Watcher if he’s not going to help her, then get out of her way.

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A prison escape is sounded as Carter makes her way through the halls. She locates Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a monster in an iron mask. Banner says he doesn’t do that any more. Carter apologizes, then calls the attention of the guards towards Banner’s cell. Banner transforms into the bearded Hulk, breaking out of his mask and his cell. Carter rides the Hulk as he plows out of the building and into the city beyond. The Hulk says he hates this world, and that the people are wrong. Carter says she knows and she’ll fix it, she hopes. The Watcher observes.

Soon, Stark offers Banner some grain alcohol to “set [him] straight” as Carter looks on. Stark reveals his latest invention. He explains that once the prized royal stone is inserted, the device will locate the forerunner. Then, the device will return the forerunner to their time. Rogers, Lang and Barnes arrive and say they can help with stealing the stone. Rogers returns Carter’s shield.

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Banner asks the plan. Carter states that they’ll infiltrate the castle by donning disguises during the upcoming court session. Hopefully, the forerunner will be present, and Tony’s device can do its work.

What If… There Was a Conflict at Court? 

At court, Loki is still going on about his upcoming role as Iago. Barnes and Lang bicker as they are disguised as trumpeters. Hogan presents Thor. Soon, a rift begins to open above them. Wanda observes, “It’s here.” The crowds begin to panic. Wanda attempts to close the rift but to no avail. Hulk bursts in (“the signal”). Hogan directs the royal guard to stop them. Barnes and Lang enter the fray. Thor asks Loki about the hammer he got him. Loki says he lost it.

Stark arrives on the scene with the device, dodging the battle as he does. Rogers and Hogan enter into one-on-one combat. When Rogers cuts off Hogan’s hat feather, Hogan transforms into Hulk Hogan (see: “What If… Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?”). Carter tells Thor he must trust her. Thor says he and his sister trusted them and Carter failed them. He calls for the All-Father: a vibranium sword that was a coronation gift from the King of Wakanda.

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Rogers is distracted by the battle with Hogan as Thor advances on Carter. Carter says Thor is more of a drama queen than Loki. “Bless,” says Loki. Thor strikes with the All-Father, which crackles with energy. Hulk arrives to battle Hulk Hogan. Meanwhile, Barnes battles the Red Skull. But the now-available Rogers arrives to save his friend.

The various battles rage on. Hogan is a verbal fighter. Lang rescues Stark and says, “Let’s get you to that scepter.” Thor seems to be gaining the upper hand against Carter. However, Wanda uses her power to freeze Thor in place. She tells him they’re out of time. Fury gives the scepter to Stark.

What If… There Was an Infinity Flashback? 

Stark accepts the scepter and removes the stone. He says he’s “just igniting an industrial and mystical revolution.” But inserting the stone doesn’t seem to work. Stark asserts it’s only a failure if it explodes. Wanda tells them to hurry. She soon collapses. The rift glows green again. Carter tells Stark it’s now or never. The device begins to activate. Carter reaches into the box and when she extracts her hands, she’s wearing gauntlets.

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Carter raises a gauntlet towards Thor. She fires green energy which engulfs the throne room. Wanda identifies the forerunner: Rogers. He’s glowing green. Carter asks how. Rogers says he remembers a battle. It’s the climactic conflict of Avengers: Infinity War. In battle against Thanos, Rogers struck the Infinity Gauntlet with his Wakanda-crafted replacement shield. Specifically, he hit the Time Stone (hence the glowing green color). Thor realizes Carter was right.

Thor tells Carter to finish the task for which she was summoned. Carter says she can’t lose Rogers again. Rogers says they both know what he needs to do. 

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Carter says it never gets easier. She says they never get their happy ending. Rogers says he’s sure somewhere out there, they do. He presses Carter’s gauntlet himself. With a flash of light, Carter is left alone in the throne room.

To Be Continued…

In voiceover, Carter says that there was a superstition during the war that victory was its own sort of curse. This is because every battle won, every inch gained, means one is further from home. She’s drinking alone in a public house. She assumes the Watcher has joined her to gloat about her being stranded. 

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But it’s actually Strange Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch). Carter asks what Strange is doing there. Strange says he’s got a story to tell her.

The first eight episodes of What If…? season 2 are currently available for streaming on Disney+, with new episodes daily through December 30.

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