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It's time to talk about that Black Widow scene in Avengers: Endgame

Contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame

Going into Avengers: Endgame, fans were prepared for everything – the surviving squad pulling off an epic mission, fallen heroes getting un-dusted and returning to the world of the living, Thanos (Josh Brolin) tasting his just desserts, and much more. They were also bracing themselves for the possibility that some who were spared in Thanos' universe-decimating Snap in Avengers: Infinity War would sadly not make it to the end this time around. (There are major Avengers: Endgame spoilers incoming. Please avert your eyes if you have yet to see the film.)

It pleases us to report that Endgame featured fewer deaths than anyone had anticipated. Of the deaths in the movie, one was heroic and heart-wrenching, another wasn't so much a passing away as it was a passing on, and one was completely unexpected. 

It's that last one that we need to talk about. It's time to address what happened to Black Widow in Avengers: Endgame

In Avengers: Endgame, Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, serves as a strong leader who keeps the scattered surviving Avengers in contact with one another following the time jump after the events of Avengers: Infinity War. She organizes intergalactic meetings at Avengers HQ, with heroes like War Machine (Don Cheadle), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) checking in and giving status updates on how the universe is faring post-Snap and five years after the death of Thanos at Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) hand, which happened at the start of the film. Black Widow also makes it her personal mission to track down her fellow OG Avenger Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who abandoned his Hawkeye mantle, assumed his ruthless Ronin persona after Thanos' Decimation took his wife and children away from him, and murdered his way through many countries in hopes of somehow filling the void in his heart the Snap left behind. 

All this felt like Endgame giving viewers evidence that Black Widow could rise to the occasion to marshal the Avengers and co. after they complete their big time heist, which ran the risk of resulting in a few casualties — namely Black Widow's closest companions Hawkeye, Thor, Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), or Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). If one or all of those guys died, Black Widow could step up to lead the Avengers. She has the skill and the personality, and she's been acting as a de-facto supervisor of the team for five whole years. Endgame shows us that. 

But that's not how things actually pan out. Black Widow never gets the chance to continue leading the way. She doesn't even get to finish the heroes' mission to travel back in time via the Quantum Realm and obtain the Infinity Stones for themselves before Thanos gets to them. Why? Black Widow is the first hero to die in Avengers: Endgame

Her death comes when she and Hawkeye head back a few years into the past and touch down on Vormir, the remote barren planet in the Helgentar system, where the Soul Stone is located. As everyone knows, in order to acquire the Soul Stone, one must make an equal exchange: a soul for a soul. Thanos had to do it in Infinity War, tossing his adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) off the cliff on Vormir to call the Soul Stone his own, and Black Widow and Hawkeye must do something similar now. It's either her or him — they can't both survive and get the Soul Stone. 

And thus, Black Widow makes the bold decision to sacrifice herself and allow Hawkeye to obtain the Stone, help the Avengers bring the dusted back to life, and reunite with his family. Hawkeye initially fights back, pinning Black Widow down and asking her to pass along a message to his family, and then getting stuck on the side of the cliff with Black Widow hanging onto his arm and dangling in the open air. She looks at Hawkeye and asks him to let her go, and tells him that it's okay. Hawkeye objects, but it's no use — Black Widow places her feet on the face of the cliff, loosens her grip on Hawkeye's hand, and jumps to her death. The film flicks to show Black Widow laying motionless on the ground, blood pooling around her head. 

So Black Widow is definitely dead, and people are understandably upset about it. While fans near and far expressed dismay over Black Widow being killed off, Esquire's Rosie Knight penned an insightful essay arguing how Avengers: Endgame failed Black Widow. 

"It seems like it's obvious who will go; Clint has killed many, many people as his Ronin identity. Nat, meanwhile, has spent the last five years attempting to make the world better and help those who are left. But ultimately it's Nat who makes the sacrifice to die so Clint can retrieve the Soul Stone. Sure, she loved Clint, but narratively it's a bad choice which supports the worst actions of Hawkeye and ignores the growth of Natasha," wrote Knight. "Nat's death is heroic, it's brave, but it goes against everything that she's come to believe. Whilst Tony and Steve mourned and ran, Nat was the one in the compound protecting those who were still left. If anything, she was the Avenger who'd truly found a way to move on."

Though it currently seems that there's little chance Black Widow will be revived, this isn't the end for the hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios is working on a Black Widow solo movie, directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, and is likely aiming to get it out in theaters sometime in the next few years. Details about the film's plot are sparse for the time being, but the general idea is that it will be a prequel set just after 2010's Iron Man 2 and before the events of 2012's Avengers. Other reports claim that Black Widow partially takes place in the time when Natasha served as an agent for the Soviet Union's KGB organization, and then skips ahead to 15 years after the fall of the KGB in the 1980s. 

Marvel has yet to confirm any story specifics, though a prequel-slash-origin-story set-up sounds pretty plausible, as it would allow for an easy explanation as to why Black Widow is back on the big screen. The studio would probably have to implement the same digital de-aging technology it did with Samuel L. Jackson for his role as Nick Fury in Captain Marvel, which is set in 1995, and make Johansson look younger for a Black Widow origin story — but it isn't like Marvel isn't well-versed in that area. 

Since Avengers: Endgame isn't the true end of Phase 3 of the MCU, there's still time for the franchise to hint at what's next for Black Widow. She has connections to S.H.I.E.L.D. and to Nick Fury, having joined the team after working for the KGB, and we know Fury and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulder) will appear in the real Phase 3-closer Spider-Man: Far From Home. Perhaps the upcoming film will weave in mentions of Black Widow's past, or feature a post-credits scene set a few decades in the past that teases the Black Widow solo movie. It's all a mystery for now, but fans should find comfort in knowing that they haven't seen the last of Black Widow, even after her devastating death in Endgame