SPOILERS for Moon Knight‘s fifth episode follow.
As humans, one of the greatest questions we eternally ponder is, “What happens after we die?” There are plenty of theories, of course, many of which make their way into our favorite superhero stories. Because, let’s face it, even those who save the universe, reality, and everything in it have to meet their maker at some point… at least for a little while!
When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the answer to the big question has been hinted at to some extent, but not fully delved into. However, in the recent fifth episode of Moon Knight, “Asylum,” viewers got a big look at what happens to Marc Spector and Steven Grant after they die, thanks to Arthur Harrow, and then pass through the Duat, an underworld based on Ancient Egyptian traditions.
This revelation opens up all sorts of floodgates for the MCU that could lead to yet another layer of stories, and also the potential for some dead characters to return in some form, much like they do in the comics with relative frequency. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the hints and glimpses at the afterlife that we’ve seen so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, along with a couple of other Marvel Comics versions that might be in play down the line as well…
Duat and the Fields of Reeds
Since its launch, the Disney+ Moon Knight series has been raising plenty of questions when it comes to the deific content of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What does it mean if Khonshu and the others are actual gods? Of course, when your lead seems to inhabit a variety of personalities, it can be difficult to nail down the actual details of the situation.
However, with “Asylum,” it became clear, thanks to the hippopotamus goddess Tawerat, that Marc Spector and Steven Grant had indeed perished and were in the Duat. She explained to them that they would experience the realm as they saw fit, which is why it manifested as Putnam Psychiatric Hospital. Upon walking through a door, though, they found themselves on a boat traversing a desert on its way to the afterlife. If they properly balanced the Scales of Justice, they could enter the paradise-like Field of Reeds, if not, they would be forced to spend eternity in the Duat.
Of course, Tawerat herself noted Duat is only one of the possible afterlives that exist and even referenced a place we’d seen before…
The Ancestral Plane
A major part of the Black Panther mythos revolves around the fact that the current holder of the title can commune with their ancestors to gain insight. In the comic book source material, the leader of Wakanda has the ability to not only speak with the cat god Bast, but also the Black Panthers who came before. At one point, when his sister Shuri had taken over the role, T’Challa even became the king of Necropolis, the city of the dead.
In the film Black Panther, T’Challa journeys to the Ancestral Plane after ingesting the Heart-Shaped Herb as part of the trials to become Black Panther. During his visit, a panther leapt out of a tree and transformed into his father T’Chaka, who had been killed in Captain America: Civil War. Later, after T’Challa’s defeat at the hands of Killmonger, Killmonger goes through the same process,and shares a moment with his own late father, N’Jobu.
The exact nature of what was occurring in these situations was a bit uncertain in that movie, including whether it was an actual location or an hallucinatory result of the herbs. However, with the appearance of Duat in Moon Knight, and Taweret directly mentioning the Ancestral Plane, it seems it is indeed some form of afterlife.
The Soul Stone
Given the immense and unquantifiable power of the Infinity Stones, it’s hard to imagine anything they could not create, especially after seeing what they could really do in Avengers: Infinity War. As anyone who saw that movie knows, Thanos sacrificed a great deal to attain all six stones in his gauntlet, including murdering the only being he ever truly loved, his adopted daughter, Gamora. After attaining his goal and snapping half of all life in the cosmos out of existence, the Mad Titan was seemingly transported to another world where he was able to briefly visit with a younger version of Gamora who asked him if all this was worth the cost.
While not specifically noted in the film, this appeared to be a reference to Soulworld, a dimension located inside the Soul Gem in the comics (where the Infinity Stones were originally called the Infinity Gems). The comic book Gamora spent a good deal of time in that very place for a while before being reborn leading in to the original Infinity Gauntlet comic series. The film version however might still have been a manifestation of Thanos’ near-omnipotence at the time, though, instead of an actual place for the dead to reside.
It’s worth noting there was a scene deleted from Avengers: Endgame where Tony Stark, moments before his death, after using the Infinity Stones to defeat Thanos, interacted with an older version of his daughter Morgan, in a similar manner to Thanos and Gamora. While Tony was on death’s door, Morgan was alive and well, but perhaps this also indicated some way to exist beyond death or time thanks to the stones, which certainly seemed powerful enough to do so. For now, we can only ponder what these encounters signified…
According to myth, Asgardians who have lived a true warrior’s life go to Valhalla upon death. In this realm, they feast and embrace all of their other sensory delights as they see fit. In the comics, this has been shown as an actual place that Odin’s Valkyries usher the fallen to, though many have come and gone from there, including Thor, Odin and even a future version of the Punisher. It should be noted that of the Ten Realms in the comics — of which Asgard and Midgard (Earth) are counted — there is also Niffleheim, the frozen realm of the dead, a place for everyone else.
Valhalla has certainly been mentioned in the MCU, but so far we have not seen it, though between Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War, a great many Asgardians have been killed and, presumably, sent there. In the third Thor film, Odin says that he can hear his dead wife Frigga calling to him shortly before his own death. Even though the MCU Asgardians have been very clearly designated as a race of aliens with incredible powers, rather than actual gods, it still seems possible that they have some sort of other realm they go to after dying. This is backed up by Odin’s reappearance towards the end of Ragnarok, when he reminds Thor of his true nature, helping his son finally defeat Hela. Was Odin speaking to Thor from Valhalla? It seems very possible!
A Few Hellish Options
Looking more into the comics and where the MCU could go in future stories, there are indeed Marvel versions of some of the most well known afterlife concepts included, though it remains to be seen if these eventually make it to a movie theater or a Disney+ series. But certainly, when it comes to hellish locales just waiting to torture the evil, Marvel Comics has quite a variety. One of the most prominent is actually a pocket dimension overseen by the extra-dimensional demon known as Mephisto. This major force of evil in the Marvel Universe has tormented everyone from the Silver Surfer and the Avengers to Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange (and, thanks to a lot of speculation that he would appear in WandaVision, a go-to joke reference by fans to make a surprise appearance in every MCU film or series since).
Mephisto’s fiery realm is very similar to the version of Hell that Christians — and readers of Dante’s Inferno — have learned about, though the religious version of Hell is also present in the Marvel Universe as a separate realm, as is Limbo, a demonic dimension overseen by Belasco. The Asgardians also have their Hel and there is the Olympian Hades among any number of other mythology-based takes on the concept of eternal punishment. The Spirits of Vengeance associated with the Ghost Rider also have a special place in Hell carved out for them where they can communicate with the current incarnation, not unlike Black Panther and his predecessors.
As you might expect, with so many versions of the bad place, Marvel also has its own take on the good place – several, in fact. One of the favorite versions of the place came about in Fantastic Four #511. In that issue, the rest of the team attempted to save The Thing’s soul and, after doing so, they got to meet their creator. In this case, the deity looked an awful lot like Jack “The King” Kirby, the man who first drew most famous Marvel characters who debuted in the 1960s, the FF included.
Of course, you also have a more standard version of Heaven, complete with hosts of angels, a place that some resurrected characters come back from. It was also the setting for an epic attempted takeover by fallen angel Zadkiel. Luckily for all those fine feathered friends, the Ghost Riders saved them. These versions of Heaven should not be confused with Heven, which is a long-forgotten part of the Ten Realms inhabited by angel-like beings.
As you can see, there are plenty of places for denizens of the MCU to go to after shuffling off this mortal coil. We’ll just have to see how many eventually get the spotlight on our movie or TV screens down the line.