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The real reason Bucky wasn't given Captain America's shield

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

You've been warned.

Avengers: Endgame ends with, among other things, Captain America (Chris Evans) using his assignment to return the Infinity Stones to their timelines to give himself the life he was denied when he sacrificed himself for the good of the world in Captain America: The First Avenger. He finds his way back to Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and moments after the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) sends him back in time, Steve shows up sitting nearby as an older man with a wedding ring. At his side is his iconic red-white-and-blue shield, which he passes on to his partner Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) who humbly accepts it.

Which raises the question of why the mantle of Captain America passes to Falcon rather than Bucky (Sebastian Stan). Yes, Sam Wilson was Captain America for a time in the comics, but not until years after the resurrected Bucky had his time with the shield. Cap's decision has some fans wondering why the filmmakers chose to veer from the source material. Here are a few reasons Bucky didn't get Captain America's shield.

Bucky wouldn't accept it

When Bucky returns as a brainwashed killer in 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we rarely hear the character speak. But the recovering veteran has more to say two years later in Captain America: Civil War, and if we can say nothing else definitive about Bucky, we know he harbors absolutely no illusions about who he is or what he's done. If anything, he's harder on himself than his old friend is. While he fights for his freedom against any and all challengers, he doesn't shy from his responsibility and doesn't hide behind Hydra's brainwashing.

Considering this, it feels impossible Bucky would accept the responsibility of being Captain America or his old friend's shield. When he and Cap flew to Russia to confront Zemo (Daniel Brühl), he told Cap, "I don't know if I'm worth all this." Cap reminds Bucky he wasn't in control when he committed his crimes. Bucky responds, "I know ... but I still did it."

Bucky wants a chance at a full life and redemption, but so far we haven't seen him be very forgiving with himself. Bucky likely feels like wielding Captain America's shield would be like a serial killer owning the Holy Grail. The shield may as well be Mjolnir; as far as Bucky is concerned, he's not worthy of it.

His Hydra conditioning might still be active

While we've seen Bucky a couple times since Civil War, we don't get a lot of info about him. In the Civil War mid-credits scene he tells Steve he wants to be frozen until he can be freed from Hydra's mental conditioning, lest another ambitious criminal discover the right combination of words to transform him into an unstoppable assassin. In Black Panther's post-credits scene we see him in Wakanda, unfrozen and being regarded by children who call him the White Wolf. In Avengers: Infinity War, T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) present a new arm to the former assassin. We know he's no longer frozen and we know he has a new arm — but that's it. We have no definitive word about whether anyone has succeeded in removing his Hydra conditioning. Shuri (Letitia Wright) makes mention of helping "another white boy" in Black Panther when her brother arrives with Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and presumably she's referring to Bucky, but she never says how she's helped him.

Unless it can be proven Bucky's Hydra conditioning is gone, giving him Cap's shield is insane. Giving someone the power, access, and visibility of Captain America when that person could be turned into a murderer if you just know the right time to say "freight car"? That's a bad idea. Bucky knows it, Cap knows it, and you can bet the Avengers know it.

Trust needs to be earned

Besides his relationship with Steve Rogers, we haven't seen a lot of interaction between Bucky and the other Avengers, and what we have seen hasn't been promising. Just in the span of Civil War — brainwashed and/or of his own volition — he comes to blows with Cap, Black Panther, Iron Man, Black Widow, Falcon, and Spider-Man, and he doesn't pull his punches. The Avengers have since had the opportunity to fight beside him in both Infinity War and Endgame, but not for an extensive period of time.

Assuming there's to be an Avengers team post-Endgame, any team member knows two disturbing things about Bucky — he's beaten the tar out of a lot of their teammates and he brutally murdered Iron Man's parents. Knowing he was a victim of Hydra, that Steve Rogers vouches for him, and that he fought on the right side in Infinity War and Endgame might win him enough trust to be on the team. But to be on the team as the next Captain America? That doesn't seem like an arrangement most sane, intelligent Avengers would be cool with, and you can hardly blame them.

An uncertain legal status

After Wakandan scientists cryo-freeze Bucky in the mid-credits scene of Civil War, Cap tells T'Challa that if the U.N. discovers he's harboring Bucky, they'll come after him. When we see Bucky two years later in Infinity War, he's still in Wakanda and in Endgame it's five years later and shortly after the former assassin has been resurrected from Thanos' purge. So as far as we know, by the time Cap gives his shield to Falcon, Bucky is still a fugitive. And he's not a fugitive in the "I didn't sign the Accords" sense, but rather in the "I killed just so many people" sense.

It may very well be with everything that's happened since Civil War, including Bucky's contributions in the fight against Thanos, that all will be forgiven and his record will be cleared. But until the Avengers know that for sure, giving him the shield could be a very humiliating move. Having the new Captain America arrested on his first mission and shoved into a glass box next to Zemo wouldn't really help anyone. Except maybe Zemo. He's probably bored by now.

It would make him too powerful

For the sake of argument, if we assume the possibility still exists of someone activating Bucky's Hydra conditioning, then just allowing him freedom is a fairly big risk. It's arguably a justifiable risk considering his actions since Winter Soldier and his commitment to not be anyone else's tool, but a justifiable risk is still a risk.

Without Captain America's shield, Bucky is a deadly opponent. His left arm gives him super strength (and his new one is presumably made of vibranium), and even without that strength he's proven himself to be an expert hand-to-hand combatant. He's a marksman, he can operate any weapon you put in front of him, he can fly just about anything, and nine-times-in-ten Brainwashed Bucky can lay low any Avenger standing in his way.

Add to that an aerodynamic shield made from the strongest metal on Earth and the access and trust inherent in the name "Captain America," and Bucky is virtually unstoppable. Trusting Bucky with his freedom is reasonable. But trusting him with that much power so soon is too much to ask.

Does Bucky even want to be in the USA?

Regardless of Bucky's legal status, it could be that Bucky has no interest in living in the USA. In Black Panther and Infinity War he's in Wakanda, and in Civil War we find him in Prague. As part of his training he clearly knows several languages and can live just about anywhere he wants. Besides, like Steve Rogers, Bucky is a transplant from another time and there's a good chance any family or friends he had during World War II — besides Steve Rogers — are long dead. So what would be tying him to the States? In fact, considering his need to build a new life, going somewhere as unfamiliar as possible might be the best thing for him.

And while there's no official rulebook on what you can and can't do as Captain America, there's a good chance that if such a book existed, "You kinda have to live in America" would be one of the top rules. Right before or after "Watch your language."

Did they discuss it beforehand?

It isn't definitively confirmed or denied in Endgame, but of the assembled heroes who are there to see the emergence of the old Steve Rogers, Bucky doesn't seem particularly surprised by it or by Steve's handing off of the shield to Falcon. His lack of shock could simply be that — because he's much like Steve in being a man "out of time" — he knows he would do something similar if he had the chance. There's also the possibility that, off-screen while no other characters are listening, Steve discussed his plans with Bucky.

If so, it may be that Cap actually did offer Bucky the shield and — as we insisted he would earlier — Bucky turns it down. Or perhaps Cap doesn't offer it but asks Bucky who he thinks it should go to.

Regardless of whether they discussed things beforehand, there's clearly an understanding between them. Bucky and Falcon aren't the best of friends and they probably never will be, but Bucky doesn't seem to question whether the shield goes to the right person.

Captain America is too important a symbol

Steve Rogers is no braggart, but he's also not blind to his importance in the scheme of things. He knows better than anyone else that Captain America is more than one man and has become an important symbol to both America and the world. Considering the cosmic ramifications of both Infinity War and Endgame, he may very well have become an equally important symbol in the stars. That's a symbol too important to be handed over to someone the world hasn't learned to trust.

Bucky deserves his chance at redemption. He was victimized by Hydra and he's fought for his country in World War II and his world in the conflict with Thanos. If nothing else, he's earned the right to prove he's not the monster Hydra tried to make him.

But there is a difference between having a right to redemption and having the privilege of being Captain America. If a reformed ex-convict gets out of prison and wants the right to show he's a better person, does he deserve that chance? Absolutely. Does he deserve to be automatically given the job of Chief of Police and access to all the information and weaponry that goes along with it? Yeah, probably not.

Baby steps, Snowy Soldier. Baby steps.

Falcon has proven himself

We can talk about why Bucky didn't get the shield, but the better question might be why Falcon did get it. Sam Wilson had no self-serving reason to let Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) hide in his home when they were on the run, but he did. There was no selfish upside to him volunteering to join a fight that would make him a fugitive just like Steve and Nat, but he did. He must have humored at least a few second thoughts when a metal arm tore through his car roof and ripped his steering wheel out, but he didn't run. He stood by Steve when he went to war with Iron Man. And while he's a highly skilled soldier, he doesn't have any of the genetic lab-work Steve Rogers and Bucky had to get him there.

Honestly, Sam Wilson deserves the shield just for not trying to trip Steve when he was pulling that "on your left" crap in Winter Soldier.

In all seriousness, Sam earned the shield and the mantle. And unlike Bucky, he's never been a brainwashed assassin for an evil organization bent on world domination. With all other things being equal, if you've got two applicants for Captain America and one has a history of "occasionally kills lots of innocent people" and the other one doesn't? That's a pretty easy choice.