Just two weeks after the end of WandaVision, the next story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is ready to be told. (Which is nice considering we waited well over a year between the last two installments.) That story is called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the six-episode Disney+ series will center on two of the MCU’s most fascinating, complex heroes.
Now, a short wait between MCU shows should be a good thing. The problem is, you might not have time to properly go back and watch everything that came before it in preparation. We’re here to make sure you’re well-versed on the tale of Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (aka the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan) and ready for any callbacks to the intricate story that’s been layered over and over the past decade.
Below, you can read what’s happened, so far, with all the main characters (that we know of) from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier who’ve previously been introduced. It should be a good refresher so you can jump right in when the show debuts on Disney+ Friday, March 19.
We first meet Sam Wilson in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as he’s running around Washington DC continually getting lapped by Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. (The famous “on your left” sequence.) The two bond over their shared experiences of war when Steve visits the VA office where Sam holds meetings for veterans. Coming to trust him, Steve and Natasha (the Black Widow) wind up asking for Sam’s help while on the run from the evil group HYDRA. He informs the two that as a former Pararescue airman, he was part of a secret military project to test and fly highly advanced EXO-7 “Falcon” wings and can use them to help in the mission.
After Falcon—as he comes to be known—joins the two Avengers in taking down HYDRA, he goes off with Steve to find Bucky Barnes, Steve’s childhood friend who was recently revealed to be the assassin known as the Winter Soldier. Though Captain America and his old friend come to blows, Bucky disappears in the end. So while Steve and the Avengers fight Ultron in Sokovia, Falcon spends that time following up on cold leads to find Bucky. Once the Avengers are successful in defeating Ultron, Sam/Falcon becomes a part of the superhero team.
Sometime later, after a run-in with Ant-Man at Avengers Headquarters in upstate New York, Falcon finds himself siding with Steve Rogers over the Sokovia Accords, a piece of legislation meant to control the Avengers. It’s signed in part because the public believes the Winter Soldier carried out the terrorist attack that killed King T’Chaka of Wakanda. Sam and Steve track down the Winter Soldier and realize he wasn’t the person who killed the King; instead, it was a new villain named Zemo, who has a plan to unlock more super soldiers like Bucky and tear the Avengers apart. Before they can stop Zemo, Falcon joins Steve, the Winter Soldier, and others in fighting other Avengers who agree with the Accords, resulting in a stalemate. During the battle, Falcon and the Winter Soldier end up fighting alongside each other against the newly arrived Spider-Man.
After Zemo’s defeat, Falcon is forced into hiding with Captain America because they are operating outside of the Sokovia Accords. They reemerge when it’s discovered that Thanos is hunting for Infinity Stones. After one battle, their fellow Avenger, Vision, is critically injured and Falcon joins Cap in taking him to the one place he can be saved, Wakanda. That’s where they reunite with Bucky and fight Thanos’ huge army. However, once Thanos gets the final stone, he kills half of humanity, including Sam and Bucky. Thankfully, the Avengers acquire the stones several years later and snap everyone back into existence. Falcon is the first one to reveal his return during a giant battle, telling Steve he’s “on his left.” Thanos is also eventually defeated, but the engagement results in the death of Tony Stark. At Stark’s funeral, Falcon stands with Bucky.
We last see Falcon hanging out with Bucky and Captain America as Cap goes back in time to return the Infinity Stones to their proper timelines/locations. However, Cap doesn’t return to the moment he left. Instead, he stays in the past to live a long, happy life. He returns a short while after the moment of his departure, now an old man, and Falcon says he’s genuinely happy to find Steve is content. The problem is, Sam says he’s sad he has to live in a world without Captain America. It’s then that Cap asks Sam to try his shield and Sam looks at Bucky assuming he would have been the person for the job. Instead, Bucky gives him a reassuring nod to go ahead and take the shield. Falcon thanks Cap and says he’ll do his best.
James Buchanan Barnes, Bucky for short, grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1920s and 1930s and MCU fans were first introduced to him all the way back in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger. The start of World War II saw him and his best friend Steve Rogers enlist. While Steve is initially too scrawny to be accepted, Bucky isn’t, and his unit goes missing in action somewhere behind enemy lines. Eventually, he and everyone with him is saved by none other than Steve, now enhanced with an experimental supersoldier serum and operating as Captain America.
Bucky joined up with Steve and several other soldiers in a special forces group known as the Howling Commandos, supporting Captain America’s efforts against the renegade science division of the Nazis, called HYDRA. However, during a raid on a HYDRA train, Bucky falls off at an overpass and is declared missing, presumed dead. Steve and his friends mourn him but we later learn that HYDRA operatives—mainly Dr. Arnim Zola—“rescued” Bucky and subjected him to experimentation and brainwashing, and giving him a metallic arm to turn him into a soldier on par with Captain America. Keeping him in cryostasis in Siberia until required for missions, Bucky becomes an infamous wetworks operative known as the Winter Soldier.
In modern times, the Winter Soldier is finally revealed to Captain America as his old friend while HYDRA tries to take over SHIELD from the inside. Eventually, Captain America, Falcon, and others defeat HYDRA—and after a battle between Cap and the Winter Soldier, the latter remembers parts of his true identity. Beaten by Steve, Bucky goes into hiding, confused about who he is and his friendship with Steve.
Sometime later, after being framed by a villain named Zemo for the death of King T’Chaka, Bucky is hunted not just by Captain America and Falcon, but now T’Chaka’s son, T’Challa (aka the Black Panther). Cap and Black Panther wind up fighting each other as they try and protect and capture Bucky respectively, but eventually they’re all arrested. In custody, Zemo uses old code words to reactivate Bucky’s HYDRA programming, but once again, he’s saved by Cap and the pair, along with Falcon, go off to stop Zemo. Before they actually find him though, Bucky joins Cap, Falcon, and others to fight Iron Man’s team of Avengers, which results in the Winter Soldier and Falcon fighting together for the first time.
During the hunt for Zemo, it’s revealed that in 1991, the Winter Soldier, still brainwashed, killed the parents of Tony Stark. The revelation sets Tony off, leading to a confrontation between him and Steve and Bucky. All three men are left wounded by the fight, but Bucky especially. Steve secretly sends his best friend to see Black Panther in Wakanda, where he is given time to recuperate (as well as acquire a new mechanical arm, crafted from Wakandan Vibranium). Bucky remains in the country until a team of Avengers arrives with an injured Vision, and the villainous Thanos following them. There, he fights alongside Falcon, Captain America, Black Widow, and even eventually Rocket Raccoon, Groot, and others against Thanos’ army.
Unfortunately, when Thanos gets all of the Infinity Stones and snaps his fingers, the Winter Soldier is the first one to disappear, right in front of his best friend, Captain America. Bucky returns once the Avengers reacquire the Infinity Stones and defeat Thanos. We last see Bucky in the same place as Sam, witnessing Captain America going back in time to return the Infinity Stones but returning later as an old man.
Sharon Carter first emerges onto the scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, acting as Steve Rogers’ neighbor during his modern work with SHIELD. Once HYDRA begins to take over though, she reveals herself as a member of SHIELD hired by Nick Fury to watch over him. She fights alongside Steve and his team to defeat HYDRA; later, she joins the CIA and helps Steve locate Bucky after his supposed assassination of King T’Chaka. It’s also revealed Sharon’s great aunt was Peggy Carter, Steve’s love from World War II who he eventually stayed back in time for. Last we see Sharon, she and Steve kiss, revealing their feelings for one another. Awkward, y’know, given the eventual time-travel shenanigans Steve gets up to.
A Sokovian soldier who lost his father, wife, and child in the aftermath of the Avengers battle with an evil robot in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Zemo shows up for revenge in Captain America: Civil War. He knows he can’t defeat the Avengers on his own so he hatches a very elaborate plan that includes unlocking the Winter Soldier’s programming with code words. He also knows that revealing to Tony Stark that his parents were killed by Bucky Barnes will likely tear the Avengers apart.
The revelation does indeed shatter the heroic team from the inside; however, upon his success, Zemo tries to take his own life—only to be stopped by Black Panther so he can be arrested and tried for his involvement in the bombing that killed T’Challa’s father. He’s currently being held in captivity by CIA operative Everett Ross.
Though they started as enemies, Sam and Bucky are now friends (mostly), due to their respective deep trust and friendship with Steve Rogers. Steve, who is still alive, albeit very old, in this timeline has passed the mantle of Captain America to Sam, who is not superpowered but uses his Falcon technology to continually save the day. Agent Sharon Carter is still working for the CIA and Zemo is still in CIA captivity. From there? We’ll find out on Disney+.
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