As we get closer to INFINITY WAR, many fans wonder what the future of the MCU is going to look like. What’s the fate of each character in a post-INFINITY universe? One of the biggest questions is on the fate of Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, the formerly brainwashed assassin and Captain America’s best friend.

Let’s make some educated guesses about the Winter Soldier’s future based on the comics and previous MCU films.

Winter Soldier’s Origins in the MCU

The story of Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in the MCU follows pretty closely to his comic origins, albeit a little more streamlined. Best friend to Captain Steve Rogers, Bucky instantly joined Rogers’ Howling Commandos in their fight against Hydra. However, that ends on a mission to stop Arnim Zola on a high-speed train.

Barnes seemingly lost his life falling off the train and into the snowy ravine below. Captain America goes on to defeat the Red Skull and foils his plan by sacrificing himself. He crashes a bomb-filled plane into the ice below, where Rogers sleeps for 70 years in the ice until being found by SHIELD.

Fast forward to the present and Steve is struggling to find his place in the world. Working with Nick Fury and SHIELD after the Battle of New York, they discover that Hydra is alive and well working in secret within SHIELD. With this discovery comes the reveal of the Winter Soldier, Hydra’s ultimate tool they use to reshape history to their design.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR & WINTER SOLDIER

After Steve confronts the Winter Soldier, his mask comes off, revealing Bucky underneath. Similar to the comics, Bucky’s brainwashing has been so severe and thorough that he can’t remember who he once was. Even after Steve manages to get through to him at the end, Buck removes himself and goes into hiding.

Winter Soldier

It isn’t until Bucky’s framing for a U.N bombing that Steve finds him again and tries to protect him. Steve’s actions and attempts to clear Bucky’s name divides the Avengers in two. This is all part of a plan enacting by Helmet Zemo, who desires to tear the Avengers apart.

He reveals to Tony that it was the Winter Soldier who killed his parents. While he was under Hydra’s orders, unable to ignore his mission due to his brainwashing, Tony doesn’t care. This leads to the inevitable fight with Tony against Bucky and Steve.

The end of the conflict results in a permanent split of the Avengers, with Captain America and his allies going underground and on the run. T’Challa, king of Wakanda and the Black Panther, agrees to help Bucky remove the triggers and Hydra conditioning, keeping him safe in Wakanda.

The end of BLACK PANTHER gives a post-credits scene where Bucky is in a small village, spending time with Wakanda’s chief scientist, Shuri. Some children nearby refer to him as the White Wolf. This brings us to the immediate present for Bucky, where fans are unsure as to what the Winter Soldier’s future will look like as we head into INFINITY WAR.

Winter Soldier’s Origins In the Comics

Best friend to Captain Steve Rogers in WWII, Bucky Barnes supposedly dies in the line of duty. In the comics, it was during a failed attempt to dismantle a bomb attached to a plane, which exploded. Seemingly killing Bucky, the bomb also sends Steve into the freezing water to be found years later by the Avengers.

In the present, Captain America crosses paths with none other than the Winter Soldier, an operative for the Russians. Upon his discovery that the Winter Soldier’s identity is none other than Bucky, Steve tries to get his friend back. This proves difficult, as Bucky has been brainwashed all this time to the point where he forgets who he even was.

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When his missions end, he is put in cryo-sleep, until his next mission. In this way, Bucky only appears to be a young man in the present, similar to that of Steve. Once Steve reveals the truth of the Winter Soldier’s real identity, Bucky reels from the consequences of his actions. Bucky goes off the grid, distancing himself from others in order to process and figure out what the Winter Soldier’s future should be. During this time, he becomes a sort of anti-hero, with the only person he gets close to being the Black Widow. They form a bond that later turns romantic as she helps him adjust to the world.

Winter Soldier’s Future: Becoming The New Cap?

Many feel as though a likely possibility for Bucky is to become the MCU’s new Captain America. This is because there is a precedent for it in the Marvel Comics Universe. The comics’ CIVIL WAR ends with Captain America surrendering himself and his forces to Tony.

The conflict in the comics is that the government wants every hero to publicly unmask and register with them (in the movies it’s more about just government oversight). Captain America surrenders because he sees that the American people actually want superhero registration so that they’ll feel safer.

Winter Soldier's Future

Steve makes the call to surrender what he saw as a superhero’s personal right to autonomy. When he is walking up the steps to his trial, he is shot in the head and killed. After his death, Tony finds a letter from Steve saying that he wants his mantle to continue. Bucky Barnes sees Tony as the reason for Steve’s death, so he goes to confront Tony for revenge.

When Tony shows Bucky Barnes the letter from Steve, Barnes reluctantly agrees to become the New Captain America. Bucky Barnes served as Captain America until the FEAR ITSELF event in 2012, where he is seemingly killed by Sin. In fact, he survives her attack and decides to return as the Winter Soldier, giving the full mantle back to Rogers who also survived his supposed murder.

Bucky Barnes believes returning as the Winter Soldier will allow him to atone for his actions from the past.

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References In the MCU Already

We’ve already seen some references to Bucky’s time as Cap in the comics in the MCU. In CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, Bucky Barnes wields the Rogers’ iconic Shield right before he falls to his supposed death in 1945. In WINTER SOLDIER, he wields the shield again for a short moment just before his true identity is revealed to Steve.

Finally, in CIVIL WAR, Steve and Bucky Barnes tag-team with the shield while they fight Tony near the end of the film. Pretty much any time that shield is in Bucky’s hand, it’s a nod to Bucky’s potential future he has in the comics.

Winter Soldier's Future

Also, at the end of Civil War, Steve and Bucky Barnes limp away from Tony. As they leave, Tony says that that shield doesn’t truly belong to Steve. His father made that shield. Steve responds by dropping and leaving the shield. When we see Steve next, he is breaking his friends out of the Raft prison. In the INFINITY WAR trailer, we see Steve in his costume, now faded. As the trailer continues, he wields two Wakandan shields provided by T’Challa.

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So where is the Shield? Is it still lying around somewhere in Siberia? Probably not. Best guess is that Tony took the shield, and is holding on to it. Now, it would be cool to see Tony present Steve with the shield during INFINITY WAR. It would symbolize the reunion of the Avengers despite differences. However, it looks as though Steve could potentially be in trouble, as the latest trailer suggests. If Steve doesn’t survive, what if Steve left a letter for Tony, and Tony gives Bucky Barnes the shield? Sound familiar?

Winter Solider’s Future: White Wolf?

What was the deal with those kids calling Bucky Barnes the “White Wolf” at the end of BLACK PANTHER? Well, it’s an Easter egg reference to a character from the comics. The White Wolf is T’Challa’s adopted brighter and leader of Wakanda’s secret police and security force, the War Dogs. The White Wolf became an ally to T’Challa in the comics after some initial strife.

It’s interesting that this title is used to refer to Bucky Barnes in the MCU. While it may just be an Easter egg, with some kids just having fun interacting and seeing a rare white dude, it could be more. It would make sense for Bucky Barnes to potentially want to leave the Winter Soldier title behind, a title that carries with it some serious negative and traumatic baggage.

Going along with his freed mind, Bucky might want to take a new title, so why not White Wolf? It wouldn’t necessarily dictate that he would have to lead T’Challa’s War Dogs, but that could be cool too. It would certainly provide some interesting avenues beyond taking up the shield. Maybe a Black Panther team up for BLACK PANTHER 2?

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Winter Soldier’s Future: Black Widow Team-Up?

Another possible outcome for the Winter Soldier’s future could lie in an alliance with Black Widow. This comes from another comics precedent where Bucky Barnes and Natasha have frequently worked together on missions in the past. When you think about it, they do have a lot in common.

They both reject their origins as tools for Russia/Hydra and decide to forge their own way with their skillsets. While I don’t think it would lead to anything romantic (pretty sure Banner/Natasha or Steve/Natasha is the most likely direction), it would be cool to see them working side by side on screen. But who knows? Bucky and Natasha do have a pretty significant romantic relationship in the comics. It could happen in the MCU.

Winter Soldier's Future

Sebastian Stan’s Thoughts on Winter Soldier’s Future

According to Sebastian Stan, the actor who plays Bucky Barnes in the MCU, he seems pretty confident he’ll become the new Cap. While he admits he doesn’t know the details, when, or how, he had this to say at a Nerdist Movie Marathon in 2016 for CIVIL WAR:

“You know, I was sitting there in a room with [Marvel] and basically they were saying to me that this is what’s gonna happen: He’s gonna be the Winter Soldier, and then eventually he’s gonna become Captain America.”

While this sounds pretty much like a confirmation, Stan went on to say that he wasn’t sure how it happens, so things could change. Marvel might want to change Bucky’s change while future films are still in development. It certainly seems as though Sebastian Stan will be around in the MCU after INFINITY WAR. He still has a few more films on his contract with Marvel. More Stan means more Bucky Barnes, so that’s awesome!

What We Can Expect From Bucky Barnes and His Future

If there are two things we can count on, it’s that Bucky Barnes will be around for awhile. He’ll probably leave the Winter Soldier title behind as well. Winter Soldier’s Future is the there probably won’t be one. Bucky Barnes will move on to someone and something new, which is super exciting for the character.

I’m sure it’s probably exciting for Stan as well, as he can explore new areas for Bucky’s upcoming future.

INFINITY WAR releases in theaters on April 27th. Tickets on sale now!

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