Captain America: The Winter Soldier ending explained: Twin Magic

The ending of Captain America: The Winter Soldier brought the MCU to a crossroads when it came to SHIELD, Bucky Barnes, the introduction of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.
"Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier"..Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal..© 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.
"Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier"..Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal..© 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved. /

A decade on from its initial release, Captain America: The Winter Soldier still holds up as one of the best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's a thrill-ride for the ages that packs an emotional punch that hits harder than any of the fists thrown in the film. But since we're talking about punches, it has some of the best fight choreography that the silver screen has ever seen, ensuring that each one of them (and there are many) is an edge-of-seat watch.

The film focuses on the arrival of the mysterious Winter Soldier, a character that was essentially an urban legend. But it soon turned out that this urban legend was very real, and he was tasked with destroying Nick Fury, Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, and anyone else in SHIELD who got in Hydra's way. But the history between him and Cap ultimately drove the movie towards the best storytelling in the whole of the MCU, making it all such a compelling watch.

Its ending (along with its two post-credits scenes) leaves the franchise in a very interesting place. If you have just recently watched the film, or you have decided to revisit it and would like to brush up on your MCU knowledge, allow us to dive into it and explain what it all means.

SHIELD is no more

The plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier revolved around the notion that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD. Director Nick Fury didn't want to acknowledge that possibility, but the events of the film forced him to. So when Steve Rogers, who already had a multitude of problems with the way SHIELD went about its business, decided that it all had to come tumbling down to ensure that the corruption was truly rooted out, he reluctantly agreed.

Captain America, Black Widow, Sam Wilson, Agent Maria Hill, and Fury himself didn't just take down the Helicarriers that Hydra had corrupted, they took down SHIELD, too; both literally and figuratively, as the Helicarriers went crashing into the SHIELD complex itself, and Black Widow uploaded all of its files online, telling the world everything.

Steve Rogers and Black Widow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
"Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier"..L to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) & Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) ..Ph: Zade Rosenthal..© 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved. /

The film brings the MCU to a major crossroads as it's the first time that it doesn't have the organization acting as a guiding force throughout it. But it also brings some of the characters themselves to a crossroads, too.

Natasha Romanoff has blown all of her aliases by posting them online, so she decides to go off and make some new ones, attempting to reconcile that with the fact that the world now knows about her dark, troubled past prior to her days as an Avenger and a SHIELD agent. Meanwhile, Agent Hill is seen interviewing for a new job at Stark Industries (which sets up her comeback in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Nick Fury burns his secret stash, including his iconic eyepatch as he sets off on a new adventure.

To the outside world, Fury is still dead (they don't know that he secretly faked his death to root out Hydra after Alexander Pierce's attempt on his life), and that gives him the autonomy he needs to figure out where he wants to go next. And speaking of where they go next, Captain America himself and Sam Wilson decide that they are going to find the Winter Soldier to see if they can save Steve's former best friend.

The mid-credits scene sets up Avengers: Age of Ultron

With all of Hydra's secrets out there for the world to see, one person who could potentially be impacted by this is Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. We meet him as he alerted of the events, but he is unperturbed by them, as he feels he has the power to avoid any blowback in his direction. We then catch a glimpse of Loki's sceptre before he mentions the twins, who he has seemingly experimented on. The mid-credits scene closes with a shot of these twins; a young man and woman with special abilities imprisoned in a cage.

There are a few things of note here: Loki's sceptre obviously ended up in Hydra's possession because the evil organization had infiltrated SHIELD - the very organization that took the sceptre after the events of The Avengers. And speaking of Avengers, the twins' introduction ends up setting the stage for 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron. Meet Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.

Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..L to R: Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson)..Ph: Jay Maidment..©Marvel 2015 /

The duo are portrayed by Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson and they go on to play a major role in the Avengers sequel, with their special abilities making them quite the force to be reckoned with. Pietro, also known as Quicksilver, is a speedster, while Wanda, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, harnesses energy, using her mind to manipulate the things (and the people) around her.

Wanda in particular ends up becoming a pivotal figure in the MCU going forward as this just scratches the surface of what she's capable of. That journey begins, however, in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Bucky's post-credits scene appearance teases his redemption arc

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was as much about Bucky Barnes as it was about Steve Rogers. Steve's best friend had not actually perished when he fell off the train in the 1940s (as seen in Captain America: The First Avenger); he lost an arm but he ultimately survived the fall as a result of the experiments that Hydra had done on him. When they found him in the snow, they gave him a new metal arm and reprogrammed him to become one of century's most formidable assassins: The Winter Soldier.

Steve managed to reason with his friend in the final battle, touchingly reminding him of who he was by reciting the words that Bucky once told him: "I'm with you till the end of the line". And in response, the confused Winter Soldier saved him from a fall before setting off on his own to figure out who he truly is.

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier..Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) ..Ph: Film Frame..© 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved. /

The post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier features Bucky at the Captain America Exhibit in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He's staring at the memorial created in his honor. Though the music playing over the scene is once again that chilling Winter Soldier score, this isn't a threatening scene; it's Bucky, attempting to remember who he was - and, more importantly, who he is.

His reunion with Steve has short-circuited his years of conditioning as the Winter Soldier, reminding him that he was once a good man. And this is the beginning of his journey to remembering all of it. That's not the Winter Soldier in that scene, it's Bucky Barnes.

While the mid-credits scene was a direct bridge to Avengers: Age of Ultron, this post-credits scene at the very end of the credits lays the foundation for the third Captain America movie, Captain America: Civil War.

What to watch after Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War
Marvel's Captain America: Civil War..L to R: Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal ..©Marvel 2016 /

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the most pivotal movies in the MCU's history and one of the strongest of Phase Two. If you've just watched it and thought the same, you'll likely want to continue your MCU journey, but as always with this franchise, you are posed with the question of whether you want to carry on with the overall story or just the story of these particular characters.

If you're wondering where to take your MCU journey next, the truth is that there are a number of routes you can go depending on who you're interested in.

Any other Phase Two movie: Like all phases in Marvel's Infinity Saga, Phase Two comes together in the form of an Avengers movie. That means that it isn't long until Captain America resurfaces again in the MCU franchise, but if you'd prefer to watch the rest of the heroes' stories before you see him again (to best understand what's going on in the film) then you should check those out first. With the exception of Avengers: Age of Ultron, they can be watched in any order.

That said, if you would prefer to watch the Phase Two movies in release order, here's how you can do that:

  • Iron Man 3 (2013)
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
  • Ant-Man (2015)

Avengers: Age of Ultron: If you're invested solely in seeing more of Steve Rogers, then his story continues in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I will say that he doesn't have as much involvement in the central story as he did in the first Avengers movie, but he is present for the whole movie and plays a major role in taking the fight to the new big threat Ultron. There is also a subtle moment in this film that ends up forming a major aspect of his story in a future Avengers film, so it's definitely worth checking out. And another reason that it's worth checking out is that we officially meet the twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, who were introduced in The Winter Soldier's post-credits scene (one of whom plays an important part in the next Captain America movie).

Captain America: Civil War: If you'd just rather skip out the rest of the MCU's story and resume Steve Rogers' story, you can jump straight to Captain America: Civil War. The first movie in Phase Three, it picks up with Steve and Sam Wilson on their journey to locate Bucky and it also proves to be incredibly pivotal to the MCU going forward, adapting one of the comics' most iconic storylines. It's the last installment of the original trilogy of Captain America movies, but it ends up setting the foundation for Avengers: Infinity War, too.

I will also add that it's probably best that you watch both Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man before you watch this one, as it features characters that play large roles in both of those movies.

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