WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
King T'Challa has gone to his great reward, but Wakanda has a new champion... and another hero waiting in the wings. In the wake of Chadwick Boseman's death from colon cancer in 2020, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever director, Ryan Coogler, had to decide who would carry the mantle of the beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe hero forward into Phase 5 and beyond. The answer — intentionally — isn't a huge surprise: as teased in the film's trailers, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) steps into the superhero role previously occupied by her late brother, although she makes a point of putting her own stamp on the Black Panther super-suit.
But Coogler does have a major surprise up his sleeve for Wakanda Forever's midcredits sequence. It turns out that there's a T'Challa Jr. who can inherit the mask in a couple of years. Visiting her brother's lover, Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), at her current home in Haiti, Shuri meets the young prince-in-waiting, who goes by the name Toussaint outside of Wakanda. But he definitely knows the lineage he's part of: "I am Prince T'Challa — son of King T'Challa," Toussaint proudly tells Aunt Shuri.
Going by the MCU timeline, Toussaint would have been conceived sometime between the end of the previous Black Panther film and the start of Avengers: Infinity War, which culminated in T'Challa joining the ranks of the "blipped" — the people who lost five years of their lives thanks to Thanos's finger-snap. The Blip time gap, plus the one year that elapses following T'Challa's death puts Toussaint at six years old, which means he's still got a lot of growing up to do before he's ready to take over his father's gig, presumably sometime after The Multiverse Saga wraps up.
In interviews, Coogler has revealed that his original version of Wakanda Forever involved T'Challa dealing directly with the effects of the Snap — and missing five years of his son's life could very well have been among them. "It had similar themes, but it was very much rooted in his perspective," the Creed director tells Yahoo Entertainment. "And he was going through some things personally that are relatable, different from what Shuri and Ramonda go through in this movie."
Speaking of Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Nakia assures Shuri that while she may have been kept in the dark about Toussaint's existence, her mother met the child before meeting her own fate. (More on that below.) "We decided it was better for him to grow up away from the pressures of the throne," Nakia explains about why she and Toussaint relocated to Haiti. She also reveals that T'Challa "prepared" them both for the fact that he was going to die, specifically requesting that they not attend his Wakandan funeral in favor of a private remembrance.
For the record, "Toussaint" is almost certainly a reference to the 18th century general, Toussaint Louverture, a hero of the Haitian Revolution. And as Wakanda Forever depicts, the defiantly anti-colonialist Wakanda is facing increasing international pressure to open its borders to other nations — by force, if not by choice. That means the country will need leaders capable of standing up to foreign bullies and exploiters. With Nakia and Aunt Shuri guiding him, Prince T'Challa will become the hero that his native land both needs and deserves.
Here are our answers to some of your other burning Wakanda Forever questions, from who joins T'Challa on the Ancestral Plane to the MCU cameos that set up Phase 5 and beyond.
How does T'Challa die?
In the end, it had to be a broken heart. Certainly, Marvel fans felt their own hearts shatter when news first broke of Boseman's untimely passing two years ago. And Black Panther's cast and crew have openly spoken about the emotional toll of his death as they filmed Wakanda Forever.
"It was tough because you're trying to figure out your emotions as you're going through pre-production," Wright recently tells Yahoo Entertainment. "Some days you're like, 'Can we just snap and wake up? This has to be a dream.' And you just feel this gentle hand pushing you forward. And it's bro [Boseman] being like, 'You could do this. One day at a time, you can do this.' And I think it's just us laying our hearts out for him into this film. How we care for him, how we miss him. We just pour it all into this film."
T'Challa dies off-screen in the movie's very first scene, which finds Shuri racing to her lab hoping to find a way of saving his life. Much like Boseman — who kept his battle with colon cancer secret from the world — Wakanda's king hasn't informed his subjects or his court that he has a fatal illness, one that's specifically impacting his heart. "T'Challa's heart is failing," his sister says, as she tries to synthesize the heart-shaped herb that's at the root of the Black Panther's powers and was wiped out by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the previous film.
Unfortunately, she's too late to save T'Challa. "Your brother is with the ancestors," Ramonda tearfully informs her, as mother and daughter prepare to oversee T'Challa's emotional funeral. The ceremony ends with the Black Panther's casket rising into the heavens and entering the hold of an aerial craft bound for his final resting place.
One year later, Ramonda has taken back the throne of Wakanda, but the role of Black Panther remains unfilled thanks to the herb's destruction. Shuri, meanwhile, is uninterested in anything outside of her lab — that is, until her country makes contact with the underwater realm of Talokan, ruled by aquatic god-king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta). His people also possess the herb, as well as the precious metal vibranium, which the rest of the world covets from Wakanda.
As tensions escalate, the two nations are drawn into an armed conflict that ultimately claims Ramonda's life. Namor leads an attack on Wakanda's capital that destroys large portions of the city, and turns the throne room into a watery grave for the country's queen. Suddenly an orphan, Shuri has to bury another family member, while also confronting the prospect of assuming the two roles previously occupied by her mother and brother.
Who helps Shuri become the new Black Panther?
Let's be clear: Shuri solves the heart-shaped herb part of the Black Panther equation by herself. Following Namor's attack on Wakanda, the princess doubles down on her efforts to synthesize the plant, even using her brother's DNA as one of the ingredients for the lab-grown version. Through trial and error, she comes up with a serum that's a 97 percent match for the actual herb, and doesn't hesitate from using the experimental formula on herself... though not without assistance. "I might go into cardiac arrest," she warns Nakia before taking a sip of the purple potion.
Fortunately, her heart continues to beat and Shuri does reach the Ancestral Plane, fully expecting to see Ramonda. Instead, she comes face-to-face with her cousin, Killmonger — once again played by Jordan in a brief, but potent cameo. Furious that he's the family member waiting for her in the afterworld, Shuri lashes out at T'Challa's usurper, accusing him of causing his death by destroying the heart-shaped herb. "You're the reason he's dead," she claims.
But Killmonger has his own message for his cousin: Their meeting is no accident. "You chose me," he tells her, noting that T'Challa was "too noble" to do what has to be done when she confronts Namor again. "Are you noble like him or can you take care of business like me?"
That question rings in Shuri's head as she returns to the land of the living with all of the Black Panther's powers intact. Crafting her own costume, she leads Wakanda's forces into a second battle with Talokan, one that culminates with her one-on-one fight with Namor. The intense skirmish leaves both of them battered and bruised, but Shuri ultimately gains the upper hand. One killing blow will avenge her mother's death... and that's precisely when Ramonda beams in from the Ancestral Plane to hold her daughter's hand. It turns out that Shuri is as noble as her brother — and nobility isn't a flaw.
While Wakanda Forever establishes Shuri as the MCU's Black Panther for the next few Phases, she doesn't appear to be taking over the throne from her mother and brother. At the end of the film, she skips the coronation ceremony to fly off and meet her nephew in Haiti, leaving Jabari leader, M'Baku (Winston Duke) to announce his intention to claim the crown. That leaves Shuri free to build new and better tech, which will come in handy as Multiverse Saga villain, Kang the Conquerer (Jonathan Majors), starts making his move.
Is Namor really a mutant?
That's certainly how he identifies anyway. And that word carries an enormous amount of dramatic weight as Marvel fans read the tea leaves for how "mutants" will enter the MCU now that the X-Men universe is defunct. (Except for the Deadpool series, of course.) It's worth nothing that Namor's mutant heritage is comic book canon and he frequently interacted with the X-Men in the pages of various Marvel Comics titles.
For Wakanda Forever, Coogler revises the character's origin slightly, presenting him as the descendent of a Mayan tribe that escaped encroaching colonial powers by establishing an underwater civilization. Namor's mother drank a potion derived from the heart-shaped herb, and it's strongly suggested that may have been the cause of the ankle wings that gift him with the power of flight, signifying his mutant evolution.
We also learn the secret origin of his name: After decimating the European invaders that conquered his native land, a Spanish-speaking missionary accuses him of being loveless — "Sin amor." Far from rejecting that label, the god-king claims it as his own: "Namor." (For the record, the character's creator, Bill Everett, picked the name because it was "Roman" spelled backwards.) The new Namor does share a favorite expression with his Marvel Comics counterpart. As Shuri prepares to deliver a near-knockout blow, Namor lets loose an astonished "Imperius Rex!" — a battle cry that dates back to his earliest comics appearances in the 1930s.
By the end of Wakanda Forever, Talokan and Wakanda have struck an alliance, and it's clear that Namor believes that balance is weighted in his favor. "They have no allies," he notes of the Wakandans, implying that they'll need his reinforcements if hostilities with the rest of the world continue to escalate. And if other mutants surface from the multiverse before then, they could join the fray... or even create their own brotherhood.
What's coming in Phase 5?
Wakanda Forever caps a divisive Phase 4, which tried to move beyond Endgame by introducing a host of new heroes and villains that will impact the MCU as the Multiverse Saga begins in earnest in Phase 5. Shang-Chi, She-Hulk and America Chavez are among the Phase 4 freshman class, and the Black Panther sequel introduces another future Avenger into the mix: Riri Williams aka Ironheart.
Played by Dominique Thorne, Riri is a Tony Stark-level inventor who crafts her own version of the late Iron Man's armor. After her invention of a vibranium detector is appropriated by the U.S. government, she's targeted by Namor for assassination — an attempt that's thwarted by Shuri, who eventually brings Riri back to Wakanda. Working together, the duo create the groundbreaking tech that will eventually power them to victory over Talokan.
But Riri's stay in Wakanda is temporary: At the end of the film, she's headed back to her home in Detroit, which will serve as the setting for the upcoming Disney+ series Ironheart set to premiere next year. The show's cast includes Anthony Ramos, Alden Ehrenreich and Cree Summer, and don't be surprised if Shuri drops by as well to catch up with her science buddy.
As for villains, Wakanda Forever features the latest appearance by Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. First popping up in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Val is part of a faction within the U.S. government that's eager to create an Avengers-like team that they can control. It's revealed in Wakanda Forever that she used to be married to CIA operative, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), who is one of Shuri's few remaining American allies.
So far, Val's team includes the disgraced ex-Captain America, John Walker, and the new Black Widow, Yelena Belova. And pretty soon, they're gonna have an official name: the Thunderbolts. Due in theaters on July 26, 2024, the movie is expected to be the MCU's answer to The Suicide Squad, featuring an all-star cast of villains and anti-heroes who are tasked with a mission that the Avengers can't (or won't) take on. Thunderbolts will also feature Harrison Ford as "Thunderbolt" Ross, the hero-hating military man previously played by the late William Hurt. Look out, Thor: You can bet that the Star Wars icon is gonna bring the thunder.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing.