This article contains The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4 spoilers.
From the moment he was first introduced, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been drawing very clear distinctions between how Wyatt Russell’s John Walker approaches being Captain America compared to Steve Rogers. While he only appeared for a brief moment at the end of the first episode, one detail that immediately stood out was the semi-automatic pistol prominently displayed on his hip. It makes sense, of course, Walker is already a much more seasoned and battle-hardened soldier than Steve Rogers was when he first put on the costume, and without the super soldier serum coursing through his veins, he needs every advantage he can get in combat situations.
And despite the charismatic rollout Walker’s Captain America got in episode 2, the cracks began to show in his façade pretty early on. Walker’s impatience and temper were on display in the third episode, perhaps the first hints that the stress and responsibility of being Captain America were starting to get to him. But he’s also suffering from PTSD from his time in Afghanistan, something he hints at during his conversation with his partner and war buddy Lemar Hoskins in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode 4, “The Whole World is Watching.”
Throughout that episode, we see John beginning to unravel. He twitches, he mutters, and he gets particularly antsy and aggressive when he considers the possibility that someone on his team could be endangered on his watch (note his dialogue with Bucky Barnes while Sam Wilson is trying to reason with Karli Morgenthau). While we don’t know the details of what earned John his Medal of Honor (three times!), he recalls it to Lemar as some of the worst days of his life. John and Lemar both know what it’s like to lose comrades in battle, and that’s something clearly driving John throughout this series…and which pushes him to his breaking point at the end of episode four.
The Deaths of Battlestar and a Flag-Smasher
John’s worst fear comes true, and he experiences his biggest failing as Captain America when Lemar dies on his watch, after taking a super soldier serum enhanced punch to the chest that sends him flying into a stone pillar. While it was Karli who delivered the fatal blow, Walker flies off the handle, brutalizing and ultimately killing one of Karli’s fellow Flag-Smashers, in full view of a horrified crowd.
It’s a moment that had been foreshadowed throughout the episode. Earlier, when John and Lemar confronted Sam and Bucky on the street, you can see two guys lurking in a doorway filming the encounter on their phone, even though nothing terribly interesting or dangerous is taking place. Similarly, when John and Lemar are having their heart to heart about the horrors they’ve seen in war, John is recognized and approached for an autograph. So seeing him in full costume using that symbolic shield to brutally murder a defenseless man is going to have some repercussions, to say the least.
And while it’s a safe bet that this is the event that finally gets Sam to understand that not just anyone can wield the shield, the moment that will sway public opinion away from John as Captain America, and the one that will likely give the U.S. government second thoughts about their new Cap. And considering how human Russell’s portrayal of Walker has been, we’re likely to see this prey on his mind, regardless of how justified he may have felt in the heat of the moment.
And the way this affects Walker may call back to a Captain America comic book story from the same run that has inspired so much of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Should Captain America Kill?
The question of whether Captain America should kill is a philosophical debate that has raged in the comics for decades. For most of the character’s history, though, it was explicitly stated that Steve Rogers had a code against killing, much like Superman and other “lawful good” type superheroes. It’s admirable, but considering that a key piece of Captain America’s identity is that he actually fought in World War II, it never seemed all that believable to begin with (this was later retconned, first with the understanding that Cap generally didn’t carry a gun and only killed when it was unavoidable, and later when Ed Brubaker revealed that even before he was the Winter Soldier, Bucky was a deadly and highly-trained commando who often did the dirty work that America didn’t want their patriotic symbol seen doing).
But nevertheless, in the Marvel Comics of the 1980s, Cap’s code against killing was firmly and unquestionably in place. That is, until 1986’s Captain America #321, an early appearance of the original Flag-Smasher, Karl Morgenthau and the first appearance of his team, ULTIMATUM (Underground Liberated Totally Integrated Mobile Army to Unite Mankind…look, it was the ’80s). Just as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier‘s Karli Morgenthau is the MCU’s version of Karl, the MCU’s Flag-Smashers are the equivalent of ULTIMATUM. Now, with that out of the way…
In this story, ULTIMATUM has taken 110 hostages under Flag-Smasher’s orders. One agent, named Vladimir Korda, was told to start executing the hostages if anyone tried to interfere. And sure enough, when Rogers came to the rescue, Korda turned his Uzi on the crowd, leaving Cap with no choice but to gun him down.
Despite it being a far more justifiable decision than Walker’s actions on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the killing haunts Cap for years. Cap gunning someone down in front of approximately 100 witnesses has PR repercussions and it sets in motion the chain of events that leads to Steve giving up the shield and Walker taking over as Captain America. This is just one more example of how this run of comics (written by legendary Cap writer Mark Gruenwald) has seen its events slightly remixed to serve as inspiration for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Considering how relatively nuanced John Walker has been on this show, we’ll likely see a similar crisis of conscience for him in the final two episodes. Unless, of course, the super soldier serum continues to amplify his worst qualities, in which case, we may see a very different side of him in episode 5 and beyond.