After the weekly joys of WandaVision, Marvel is already back with its second Disney+ series The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, once again zoning in on two supporting characters from the MCU and bumping them up to headline status: Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier. And while they’re destined to team up in the six-part series, the opening instalment of the show kept them apart throughout its runtime, instead teeing up their individual lives in the wake of the Blip, and teasing exactly who they’ll be up against in the rest of the show.

With a massive opening action setpiece, plenty of character drama for both Sam (battling institutional racism and the prospect of financial ruin!) and Bucky (facing 100 years of unprocessed trauma!), and a massive ending mic-drop, there’s plenty to unpack from Episode 1 – so let’s dig in, starting with the big question.

The Big Question: Who is the new Captain America?

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

No wonder Episode 1 closed on the reveal that Wyatt Russell’s incoming John Walker has been officially appointed as the new Captain America – this is the cliffhanger that’s going to keep us all talking in the run-up to next week’s episode. It’s been known for a while that Russell would be playing Walker, who in the comics has wielded the shield under the moniker U.S. Agent. But here, it’s very pointed that he’s taken Cap’s name (and his shield!), especially since Sam declined it out of reverence to Steve – and that wink to the camera inclines that we’re going to be dealing with a very different Captain America this time around. “You don’t really get to know him, right? You see his back and you see the shield,” director Kari Skogland tells Empire of Walker’s introduction. “It’s all about, who is this? What is this? And then – boom – you know, that wink.” What a [REDACTED].

In the comics, Walker has been a more militant and much less virtuous figure than Rogers – and while The Falcon And The Winter Soldier head writer Malcolm Spellman has teased that Walker may be a slightly more sympathetic figure here, chances are we still won’t end up rooting for him to keep the shield. That belongs to Sam, you massive [REDACTED]! Most notably, when Steve Rogers was chosen for the super-soldier serum, it was because of his purely good nature – the guy hadn’t seen a single day of combat yet, other than being beaten up in the alleyways of Brooklyn. Walker, by contrast, is an experienced soldier who will have seen things and done things in the heat of battle that have shaped him as a person – so stay tuned to see how that impacts on him as he takes on the Captain America mantle, likely with less success than the wholesome mister Rogers.

That’s the Big Question covered, but there was plenty elsewhere in the episode to discuss – with new allies introduced, and a band of underground antagonists. Let’s get stuck in:

Who is Torres?

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

If Sam Wilson doesn’t have his old pal Steve Rogers around anymore, thankfully he’s found a new pal – Joaquin Torres, played by Danny Ramirez. For now, Torres is Sam’s man-on-the-ground, a member of the Air Force who provides necessary support for his airborne buddy. It’s clear when they’re debriefing in Tunisia, though, that Torres knows his tech stuff too – offering his own suggestions of how to tweak Falcon’s Stark-tech while Sam fixes up Redwing. This might come in handy – because if Sam eventually does decide to take up Cap’s mantle, it would leave room for Torres to take on the moniker of The Falcon, as he has done in the comics (albeit as some kind of weird genetic bird-man hybrid – don’t expect The Falcon And The Winter Soldier to follow through on that).

Who – or what – are the Flag Smashers?

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

As delivered in some (admittedly inelegant) exposition dumpery, the Flag Smashers are a group who have risen out of the Blip – people who were left behind in that five year period, and apparently rather liked an Earth that left such petty notions as bordered nations behind in the wake of universal catastrophe. Whether that’s their true motivation and how they decide to act on that remains to be seen – but like Anonymous, they’re based online (“Flag Smashers? There’s an app for that!”) and are seen using identical Wilson-from-CastAway-handprint masks to pull off a Swiss bank heist. How exactly that’s going to help their cause remains to be seen – but their (unnamed) leader seemed to possess some superhuman strength. Note that down as a concern. Expect more clarity on their whole deal in the coming weeks.

What is clear is that the Flag Smashers on screen are – as always with the MCU – not exactly a like-for-like adaptation from the comics. On the page, Flag-Smasher was a singular character and a leader of the awkwardly-acronymed organisation U.L.T.I.M.A.T.U.M. And you thought S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was clunky.

Everyone up to speed? Great. See you next week where we’ll tackle The Big Question from The Falcon And The Winter Soldier Episode 2.

Empire May 2021 cover – The Falcon And The Winter Soldier

In the meantime, if you want more The Falcon And The Winter Soldier breakdowns you can listen to our Episode 1 Spoiler Special podcast by subscribing here – plus, read our magazine cover story featuring director Kari Skogland, head writer Malcolm Spellman, Marvel boss Kevin Feige, and stars Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp and Daniel Brühl in the latest issue of Empire, on sale now and available to order online here.

READ MORE: How WandaVision Rewrote The MCU

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