What If…?: What’s hidden in plain sight in episode 8

Ultron in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Ultron in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /
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The Return of Arnim Zola

Those who watched 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier know that, prior to Arnim Zola’s (Toby Jones) death, he had a copy of his brain stored into a computerized database at Fort Lehigh. Once he revealed to Steve Rogers and Natasha about Hydra infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. and various governments after World War II, Zola then sent bunker busting missiles to their location, destroying Fort Lehigh and himself in the process.

However, “What If… Ultron Won?” brings him back. Turns out that, according to the KGB files Clint and Natasha found, there’s another copy of Zola stored at Hydra’s Siberian facility–the same place where they conducted the Winter Soldier program as seen in Captain America: Civil War (2016).

In terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is actually a major reveal. Remember, the conceit of What If…? is that prior to whatever change takes place to a particular timeline, everything before that change happens exactly the same way it did in the main timeline. Therefore, not only did the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier happen the same way in this timeline (as confirmed by Natasha), there’s another back-up of Zola at the Siberian facility in the main MCU timeline.

Whether the live-action movies would follow up on this remains to be seen. Yet, if the fourth Captain America movie wanted to bring back Arnim Zola as an antagonist, they certainly could now thanks to this episode.

One other neat aspect about Zola is that he also gets a robotic body courtesy of being downloaded into an Ultron drone. This is in and of itself is a nod to the comic book version of Zola, who himself has a robotic body. Although the robotic body from the comics has an “ESP Box” in place of a head, and his face is projected on a television screen which makes up his torso. Interestingly enough, the ESP Box allows Zola to mentally control genetically-created humanoid drones, just like Ultron controls robotic humanoid drones.