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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

What If...? Places a Darker Spin on Thor's Heartbreaking Arc

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In What If...? Season 2, fans get a couple of unique versions of Thor. First, the Odinson shows up late in "What If... Happy Hogan Saved Christmas?" and misses the brawl against Justin Hammer and his henchmen. The episode is comedic, which reminds fans the Avengers can't always depend on Thor, especially when he celebrates Yuletide festivities with mead on Asgard.

Second, the story where Thor is most important comes in "What If... the Avengers Assembled in 1602?" Here, Thor has more of a regal role following a drastic loss in his kingdom. However, as Thor spirals into darkness, What If...? does end up reinterpreting his heartbreaking arc in Avengers: Endgame. This time, it is done with class and handled very

In Endgame, Thor isolated himself for five years, angry after failing to kill Thanos. He felt that half of the galaxy being wiped out was his fault, as he had the chance to kill the Mad Titan. Sadly, he opted to evade the headshot in Avengers: Infinity War, all because he wanted to gloat. In that period of mourning, Thor turned into a gamer, bullying kids like NoobMaster69 online as he couldn't process his anger. In addition, Thor stuck to beer and snacs, putting on weight in what fans called "Fat Thor," and what the Marvel Cinematic Universe's creatives deemed "Bro Thor."

While the MCU did try to humanize Thor and make him as relatable as can be, the execution did not stick the landing. Instead, Thor became the butt of many problematic jokes surrounding body image that bordered on body-shaming. Among the characters who perpetuated these problematic jokes include heroes like War Machine, Rocket Racoon and Thor's mother, Frigga, insisting he was either too big for battle, or that he needed a salad. Without thoughtful execution, the emotional impact of Thor's character arc was lessened.

The handling of Thor's depression required more tact in order to meaningfully explore his struggles with grief and trauma. Additionally, Thor: Love and Thunder had the Odinson quickly work out in a montage to lose weight and make it seem like this depression was just a plot crutch. Though it may not have been the intention, the execution of Thor's weight loss still played into harmful stereotypes against plus-sized people. It minimized his weight gain and reduced his period of grief to an obstacle he had to overcome.

What If...? Addresses Thor's Loss With Tempered Rage

In What If...? Season 2, Thor undergoes a similar journey of loss. In the 1602-reality, there are time cracks appearing, creating storms that suck up people in the royal court. Captain Carter is brought over by Scarlet Witch to fix the issue, but it ends with Queen Hela being killed by a vortex. Thor is broken over losing his sister. He's suddenly thrust into the role of ruler, but rather than show compassion, his first act on the throne is to embrace his rage. He clearly fears what he does not understand (in this case, the rifts), so he lashes out at Peggy, ordering his men to arrest and punish her.

While there's no condoning Thor's actions, his behaviour is still understandable since the narrative sees him spiraling out of control. He is depressed because he is all alone. There is no Odin around and Loki is depicted as incompetent in this universe. Thus, Thor has to mature quickly without guidance. All he can do is lash out. This fits the bratty nature of the character, as someone who always got what he wanted, and who has had comfort zones to fall back on. None of that exists in "What If... the Avengers Assembled in 1602?", effectively showcasing similar personality traits to Joffrey from Game of Thrones.

Thor's character arc in What If...? spotlights how important the Odinson's banishment was in this first Thor movie. The MCU movies, like the comics, had Thor exiled to Midgard by Odin to learn humility. Once that arrogance was scrubbed, he got hold of the Mjölnir. This worthy Thor understood camaraderie, love and being selfless, not just for Asgard, but for everyone across the Nine Realms. It's why he took the Thanos botch to heart. The 1602-Thor didn't undergo this trip.

Without Earth, he doesn't understand redemption, and how one has to take time to process tragedy. There is no Jane Foster to impart the concept of love, and there are no Avengers to educate Thor on family outside of his bloodline. As such, 1602-Thor is petulant, reactive and very hungry for violence as he views everyone as pawns. It suggests that he may well be destined to be his father, or his grandfather in Bor.

Odin was presented in the same infuriating way in "What If... Hela Found the Ten Rings?" -- where he didn't have any family around to help him cope with the war he was constantly embroiled in. He turned into a cosmic tyrant, which Marvel fans know Odin has been at times in the comics. Bor was also known to be a tyrant, as he set down their Asgardian royal lineage and overall dynasty. In 1602-Thor's case, the root cause does make viewers feel for him on an emotional level. He's scared, desolate and crying out for help. Thankfully, Peggy saves the day in What If...? Season 2 by restoring stability and ensuring the king's anger doesn't get the best of him, or else he would have gone on a self-destructive path.

This has a lot more weight than "Bro Thor," with people treating the situation with gravity. This is why Nick Fury and Scarlet Witch don't want Thor dead, even after betraying him. They know there is a good man under this shell, but an invisible layer of depression that requires careful, patient and meticulous attention. Ultimately, this broken Thor is handled a lot better, complete with the empathy Bro Thor should have gotten.

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