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Loki's Timeline In The MCU Explained

First introduced in 2011's "Thor," the role of the villainous Loki went to little-known British actor Tom Hiddleston, who had previously worked with director Kenneth Branagh on the crime drama "Wallander." Hiddleston proved to be a stand-out star and a fan favorite, bringing effortless charm and sympathetic soul to what might otherwise have been a one-note baddie. His 2013 appearance at San Diego Comic-Con in full regalia as the god of mischief certainly endeared him to fans, but his performances alone have always been enough to make him — and Loki — an integral part of the MCU.

Loki returned in "The Avengers" and the next two "Thor" films, as well as "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Avengers: Endgame." Though he eventually died at Thanos' hands, this was not the end: "Loki," his very own series on Disney+, stars a Loki "variant" from an alternate timeline. As this long and complicated history can be a bit hard to keep up with, we've created this handy guide, which breaks down the Asgardian prince's story in its entirety. From his birth in Jotunheim to his variant's adventures at the end of time, this is Loki's timeline in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, explained.

From Frost Giant to Asgardian

Loki is actually born on Jotunheim as Loki Laufeyson, child of the Frost Giant king (Colm Feore). But throughout most of Loki's upbringing, the truth of his lineage is hidden from him, and he's raised as Odin's own son. Loki begins to question his parentage as he gets older, however, and  finally confronts Odin (Anthony Hopkins) by asking him directly where he came from. 

Odin reveals that centuries prior, he led the Asgardians into battle against Laufey's forces and ultimately prevailed. In defeat, however, Laufey abandoned his child. Odin took the little one in and raised him as his own. He hoped that one day, Loki's dual parentage might help unite the two rival realms, with Loki taking his birth father's place as king of Jotunheim while still being loyal to Odin. It would be a long time before Loki truly understood his origins, and his father's love for him.

Life on Asgard

Though we've never seen much of Loki's youth on Asgard, we do know that he and his brother had a contentious relationship. Loki's penchant for mischief emerged early on: In the madcap "Thor: Ragnarok," we learn of several of his childhood antics, including the time he turned himself into a snake to bait his brother into a vicious stabbing. Thor wasn't without his own wicked sense of humor, though — he often used Loki as bait himself as part of their "get help" ruse, in which they feigned distress to escape trouble. 

The brothers truly love each other, but Loki believes their father favors Thor, which causes bitter jealousy and resentment. Loki's feelings are seemingly confirmed when Odin tells them, "Only one of you can ascend to the throne, but both of you were born to be kings." Loki knows full well Odin intends Thor to succeed him on that throne. Still, Loki remains close to his family — particularly his mother, Frigga (Rene Russo). He shares a deep love and bond with her, especially as it is she who teaches him sorcery. His respect and devotion to her doesn't stop him from engaging in troublesome pranks, though, like when he visits Midgard as D.B. Cooper, turns Thor into a frog, and cuts off a lock of Sif's hair.

Fight for the throne

After many years, Odin finally becomes ready to hand the throne over to one of his sons in 2011's "Thor." Loki's greatest fear is made a reality: Thor is chosen over him. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone, Loki makes a deal with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, providing them with an entrance into Asgard as Thor's coronation begins. While Odin is able to thwart the invasion with the use of the Destroyer, Loki manages to goad his brother into a reckless attack on Jotunheim without their father's approval. It's all part of a plan to get Thor out of his father's good graces. 

In Jotunheim, Loki learns of his true parentage. While Thor is banished to Earth, Loki confronts Odin about his origins, and learns the full truth. Loki feels betrayed by Odin for keeping such secrets, and enraged by the fact that he's been used as a pawn to unite the Nine Realms: He compares himself to Odin's other stolen relics, hidden away for future use. Thus incensed, he seizes the throne and plots with the Frost Giants to have Odin killed. But upon returning from Earth and after learning of his brother's schemes, Thor confronts Loki, and eventually defeats him. Loki is thrown off Asgard to parts unknown.

Delusions of grandeur

After being cast off Asgard, Loki finds himself in the presence of Thanos, who has begun a quest to collect the six legendary Infinity Stones. He gives Loki a scepter powered by the Mind Stone and tasks him with collecting the Tesseract, a cosmic cube that contains the Space Stone. In exchange, Loki will get to rule Earth with the help of the Chitauri army. After Loki steals the Tesseract, however, Thor tracks him down. With the help of Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), he apprehends Loki and brings him into the custody of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD. 

A new team is assembled to stop Loki, including the three aforementioned heroes plus the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). But the God of Mischief is prepared, and devises a plan to turn them against one another. It almost works, but not quite –  the newly-minted Avengers are too mighty even for Loki, and ultimately prevail. In the end, Loki is taken into custody by Thor, and returned to his own realm to face Asgardian justice. He not only fails Thanos — he allows two Infinity Stones to fall into human hands.

Against the Dark Elves

Returned to Asgard, Loki stands before Odin in judgment for his actions on Earth. The All-Father spares his life, but only because Frigga pleads on her wayward son's behalf. Loki is sentenced to eternal imprisonment in the dungeons beneath the royal palace of Valaskjalf. While he endures his confinement, wars rage throughout the Nine Realms, thanks to the destruction of the Bifrost Bridge. But when the Dark Elves attack Asgard, killing Frigga, Loki is distraught — and when they proceed to escape Asgard, Loki gets his chance to be set free.

Loki is asked to help Thor in a bid for vengeance on the Dark Elves, and offered an attractive deal: He will gain freedom from his eternal sentence should they succeed. With the help of Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Sif (Jaimie Alexander), they use an enemy ship to sneak into the Dark Elf realm of Svartalfheim. Riding along with them is Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who carries the Aether within her that the leader of the Dark Elves, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), covets. As part of a daring plan, Loki uses a devious illusion to fool Malekith, saving Foster. Side by side, Loki and Thor defeat the Dark Elves and return the Aether to Odin's vault. 

King of Asgard

With Malekith and the Dark Elves defeated and the Aether removed from Jane Foster, Loki finds himself a free man on Asgard. Unwilling to risk losing his newfound liberty and seeing a unique opportunity in his present circumstances, the god of mischief confuses Odin with a spell and sends him to Midgard. In Odin's form, Loki finally takes what he believes is his rightful place as king of Asgard. When Thor comes to him, even he is fooled by the deception, allowing Loki to grant him freedom to explore the Nine Realms. He knows Thor's love of adventure will keep him far from Asgard.

Unfortunately, after Thor defeats the demon Surtur and brings his crown back to Asgard, he becomes suspicious of "Odin," who rules their ancestral home with casual decadence. Exposed, Loki takes Thor to Midgard to see their father, who is near death. After Odin's last breath is exhaled, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death and the brothers' hidden sister, is unleashed. Thor and Loki attempt a getaway through Heimdall's (Idris Elba) rainbow bridge, but Hela manages to throw Loki off-course, which lands him on a far-off planet called Sakaar.

Escape to Sakaar

Having escaped Hela's grasp, Loki finds himself in the presence of an immortal being called the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), brother of Taneleer Tivan, aka the Collector (Benicio del Toro), and ruler of Sakaar. Charming his way into the Grandmaster's good graces, Loki becomes a friend and confidante to the cosmic being, even enjoying prime seats to watch the Contest of Champions. A battle royale fought between the greatest warriors from around the galaxy, the Contest is the centerpiece of life on Sakaar. 

Things change when, in an odd bit of time displacement, Thor lands on Sakaar some months after Loki, and finds himself fighting in the Contest of Champions. What's more, he's matched up against none other than Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk.

After battling the Hulk before the roaring crowd, Thor begins planning a rebellion so he can return to Asgard to defeat Hela and save their world. Loki refuses to join him, feeling it will be a futile maneuver — but then the former Asgardian warrior known as Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) captures Loki to prevent him from exposing Thor's escape. He helps them break free of the Grandmaster, but is left behind when he predictably attempts to betray them.

Battle for Asgard

During Thor's escape from Sakaar, the rebellion he starts proves successful: The ragtag band of fighters led by the Kronan named Korg (Taika Waititi) manages to overthrow the Grandmaster. Looking to escape Sakaar at long last, they board a massive starship — but not before Loki offers to join them as their leader. Though he's initially seeking a simple escape, Loki goes on to have a change of heart, and convinces the rebels to travel to Asgard. With their help, he hopes to join Thor and Valkyrie in their attempt to defeat Hela and save their realm from total annihilation. 

When they arrive, Thor is losing a brutal fight with Hela, and the Asgardian people are at the mercy of her undead army. Announcing himself proudly as savior, Loki shepherds the fleeing Asgardians to safety aboard their ship while Thor, Valkyrie, the Hulk, Heimdall, and Korg battle the enemy soldiers. Though the group fights valiantly, it becomes clear that defeating Hela means destroying Asgard. The decision is made to abandon the glittering realm and take the Asgardians into the stars, to search for a new home.

Confronting Thanos

At the outset of "Avengers: Infinity War," Loki is aboard the Asgardian refugee ship, where he and Thor have set a course for Earth. But just as Loki expresses apprehension about how he might be received there, given his attempt to conquer the planet years prior, the ship is attacked by Thanos' vessel. Audiences aren't privy to the violent fight to defend the ship, only witnessing its direct aftermath as Thanos' Black Order step over the Asgardian dead who litter the deck of their ship. Loki and Thor have been left alive, and when Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally makes an appearance, he demands to know the location of the Tesseract that houses the Space Stone. 

In an attempt to get close enough to the Mad Titan to strike a killing blow, Loki produces the cube and offers it freely, along with his allegiance. But Thanos sees through Loki's ruse. As Thor watches helplessly, Thanos grips Loki by the throat and snaps his neck, killing him once and for all. After countless ages of tormenting Asgard, fighting alongside his brother, and exploring the mysteries of magic, Loki, son of Asgard, god of mischief, brother of Thor ... is dead at the hands of an interstellar tyrant.

Stealing the Tesseract

Let's back up a bit to the events of 2012's "The Avengers," when Loki attempts to use the Mind Stone and a Chitauri army to conquer Earth. There, a group of Avengers from some 10 years in the future arrive via a time machine devised by Tony Stark using Hank Pym's (Michael Douglas) quantum technology. In their timeline, that of "Avengers: Endgame," Thanos has eliminated half of all life in the universe. They're embarking on a risky plan to steal the Infinity Stones from the past to undo the damage of their future. While the original plan is to pluck the Stones from the timeline and return them without anyone ever noticing, things go quickly awry, which creates an entirely new timeline. 

While they attempt to steal the Tesseract after Loki's defeat in New York, an ill-timed interruption by the Hulk comically fumbles the cube, leaving it at the god of mischief's feet. Creating a new branching timeline, Loki grabs the cube and uses its portal powers to escape Thor's custody. In the "prime" timeline, Thor takes him back to Asgard to stand before Odin's judgement. In this new one, the future is unwritten.

TVA recruit

Freed from the Avengers, Loki finds himself transported to a vast desert, home to people who don't seem to recognize him. After a few confused moments, this errant Loki is located and scooped up by the Time Variance Authority, an extra-dimensional organization that monitors and eliminates alternate timelines. Loki's theft of the Tesseract and its branching reality is not part of their Sacred Timeline, which means the TVA  is intent on pruning him.

Brought before one of their best agents, Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), Loki is given a glimpse of the original timeline's future. He sees his mother's death during the Dark Elves' invasion of Asgard, Odin's quiet passing, the amends he makes with his brother, and even his own demise at Thanos' hands. Mobius then offers Loki a deal: In exchange for his help in tracking down yet another Loki "variant" who is apparently wreaking havoc in the timestream, he'll be saved from pruning. With few other options available, Loki agrees.

Working with Sylvie

After a complicated hunt through history, Loki discovers his troublesome variant is a woman named Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), who is, like him, the adopted child of Odin and Frigga in another reality. But Sylvie became the target of the Time Variance Authority in her youth, and was accordingly captured and scheduled for pruning. Sylvie managed to steal a TVA TemPad device and get away, however. She's remained on the run ever since. Over the course of her long existence, she has learned that the TVA isn't exactly what it appears to be, and neither are the so-called Time Keepers. 

Loki is fascinated and even charmed by Sylvie. Curious what secrets she knows, desperate to escape the TVA, and experiencing sheer affection, he joins her on her quest. Initially, Sylvie does not want Loki's help, and even attempts to kill him — on more than one occasion, no less. But the pair are eventually stuck together on a doomed world, and bond over their shared experiences. Now true allies, they set out to reach the realm at the end of time, in the hopes of uncovering the TVA's deepest, darkest secret.

Unleashing the multiverse

Running out of options, Loki and Sylvie end up in a region called the Void, where variants are sent after pruning. There, they meet several different variants of Loki, including an alligator Loki, a kid Loki (Jack Veal), and a middle-aged Loki (Richard E. Grant). Together, they battle a giant beast known as Alioth, who watches over the Void and serves as the gatekeeper of the Citadel at the End of Time. Once they are victorious, Loki and Sylvie are able to get through to the Citadel and confront the supreme being known only as He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors). 

The mysterious He Who Remains reveals himself to be a man from the distant future. He discovered the multiverse, and many variants of himself, which set off the Multiversal War. After emerging victorious, He Who Remains set up the Citadel and created the TVA to ensure no such war could ever happen again. He offers Loki and Sylvie a simple choice: Take over the TVA and guard the Sacred Timeline in his stead, or kill him and unleash the multiverse and countless evil versions of himself who seek nothing less than total domination over all reality. While Loki is unsure, Sylvie is convinced it's all a lie. She stabs He Who Remains through the heart, killing him ... and opening up a new multiversal era of the MCU.

Time slipping through the TVA

After being sent by Sylvie through a time door at the end of time, Loki winds up back in the TVA and is surprised to find that nobody — not Mobius, B-15 (Wunmi Mosaku), or Casey (Eugene Cordero) — remembers him. It isn't long before Loki figures out that he's in the past, which is confusing since the TVA is supposed to exist outside of space and time. Yet Loki discovers that this notion, just like the Time Lords themselves, is all a lie propagated by He Who Remains, who has wiped the memories of everyone at the TVA sometime in the past. As a result of Sylvie killing He Who Remains, new timelines are branching out, and because of them, the Temporal Loom is overloading, causing Loki to time slip.

Time slipping is essentially described as being sent seemingly at random to various points in time beyond your control. Since Loki was at the End of Time when this happened (and was kicked through a time door to the past), he is therefore affected by the status of the Temporal Loom. But Loki only discovers this after returning back to the present TVA, where he and Mobius meet Ouroboros (dubbed "O.B."), who explains to them that Loki's condition will likely get worse. Thankfully, he can fix it. Using a Temporal Aura Extractor, O.B. (Ke Huy Quan) has Mobius extract Loki from the timestream at the exact moment the God of Mischief is pruned in the future by an unknown force.

Encountering Victor Timely

Saved from his time slipping, Loki and Mobius hunt for Sylvie. After the whole debacle with He Who Remains, the TVA has split into factions. Some have decided that protecting the sacred timeline is still their mission, while others want to let the branches — and in turn the multiverse — grow naturally. This makes Sylvie, the instigator of the conflict, public enemy number one for the former group. Convinced that they need her, Loki and Mobius attempt to convince her to help them. Though she does eventually, she'd much rather live a life of her own on the timeline.

Discovering that Miss Minutes (voiced by Tara Strong) and Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) have teamed up to take over the TVA for themselves, Loki and Mobius soon travel to 1893 Chicago (seen also in the post-credits scene of "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania") where they meet Victor Timely. Timely is a variant of He Who Remains (just like Kang the Conqueror), but whether he will turn into the TVA's overlord is unclear. Nevertheless, he remains the key to fixing the overloaded Temporal Loom, so they bring him to the TVA.

Unfortunately, Renslayer captures Timely as Miss Minutes manipulates the facilities. It's here that Loki discovers that he is the mysterious one who pruned himself before, and after O.B. reboots the power, Loki and Sylvie reclaim Timely and prune Renslayer once and for all. Additionally, O.B. deactivates Miss Minutes, but there still isn't enough time to fix everything.

Loki re-assembles his TVA team

O.B. needs Victor Timely's aura to even begin to work on the Temporal Loom, so Loki and company bring Timely to the TVA to try. Seeing what's at stake, Timely offers to fix the Loom himself, but upon his attempt, he's disintegrated by time waves. Without warning, the Loom ruptures, engulfing Loki and his friends in white light.

Because the Loom has self-destructed, Loki starts time slipping again. Traveling across the new branching timelines, he discovers the lives that his friends at the TVA — Mobius, B-15, O.B., and Casey — all were meant to live. Mobius is a single dad named Don, B-15 is a New York doctor named Verity Willis, Casey is none other than Frank Morris (an infamous missing prisoner from Alcatraz), and O.B. is a physicist named Dr. A.D. Doug, who moonlights as a self-published science-fiction author.

After Doug builds his own homemade TemPad, he tells Loki to gather everyone (including Sylvie) back together in the hope of using their auras to take them back to the TVA and prevent the Loom from overloading. But after Sylvie challenges Loki's motivation, the former supervillain laments that he's really more afraid of losing his new friends than anything else, including the TVA. Discovering that this is the key to his time slipping, Loki narrowly escapes disintegration as the timeline crumbles around him, and wills himself back to the TVA before the Loom erupted.

Loki, God of Stories

Upon returning to the TVA, Loki does the "Groundhog Day" thing, re-living Timely's demise over and over again in an attempt to fix the Temporal Loom. But he needs more time. So Loki time slips himself further back and spends literal centuries (you read that right) learning everything that O.B., Casey, and Timely know about, well, everything. This gives Loki an advantage at first, and it looks like he's managed to pull off the impossible, but the Loom overloads again anyway. Because the timelines are branching at an infinite rate, they've become unmanageable via the Loom.

As a result, the only thing that Loki knows to do is to go back to when Sylvie killed He Who Remains and stop her from doing so. But no matter how hard he tries, nothing works. Confronting He Who Remains about how to protect both the Sacred Timeline and all the new branches, he's offered a choice: kill Sylvie or start a time war. Instead, Loki jumps to his past to meet with Mobius, who tells him that "most purpose is more burden than glory." With that, Loki realizes what he needs to become in order to save all of reality and says goodbye to Sylvie.

Destroying the Loom, Loki uses magic to revive the branches and re-arranges them into a giant tree (a version of Yggdrasil from Norse mythology). Shedding his former identity, Loki becomes the God of Stories and takes his seat at the End of Time.

Other Loki variants

Early on in "Loki," Mobius mentions that out of all the people within the greater multiverse of timelines, Loki (living up to his title as the "God of Mischief") has more variants than anyone. In the first season of the show, we met Sylvie, Kid Loki, "Classic Loki," and the alligator variant, among others. Even the main Loki of the titular series is technically designated "Variant L1130." We meet another one (not to mention countless other MCU variants) in "The Simpsons" crossover short film, "The Good, the Bart, and the Loki," in which Tom Hiddleston reprises his role.

But possibly some of the most interesting Loki variants (again, with Hiddleston voicing the character) come from the animated MCU series "What If?..." In the episode "What If... the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?," Thor dies after being exiled to Earth by Odin. As a result, Loki arrives with some other Asgardians to avenge him, and after defeating Hank Pym (Thor's killer), the God of Mischief quickly decides to take over Earth and rule — not surprising, given the character's messy history. The conflict rages on, with Loki's forces battling those of SHIELD, until he's eventually defeated later on by an alternate Black Widow.

Conversely, in "What If... Thor Were an Only Child?," Odin gives Loki back to Laufey the Frost Giant, and he's raised by his own people instead. As a result, he becomes best friends with Thor and never has delusions of grandeur.