“Every step you took to get here, Lamentis, the Void—I paved the road. You … you just walked down it.”
These are the words of the elusive man behind the curtain, the creator of the Time Variance Authority, and the last living being in existence, as He Who Remains explains to Loki and Sylvie that he’d been leading them on their multiversal journey through time all along. And although he’s never mentioned directly by name in Loki’s season finale, we know who he is: Kang the Conqueror, the MCU’s next major villain.
While many had predicted that Kang would make an appearance at some point in Loki’s time travels, it didn’t take any steam away from the strongest finish of the three MCU TV shows to date. Fresh off of receiving an Emmy nomination for his leading role in Lovecraft Country, Jonathan Majors enters the MCU with a brilliantly chaotic performance, playing a mad scientist who is equal parts alluring and terrifying—capable of striking fear into the heart of even the God of Mischief himself.
The final episode of Loki’s first season brings Loki and Sylvie to the Citadel at the End of Time, where Kang has controlled the fate of the entire multiverse and existed all by himself for eons (save for the company of a suddenly very creepy Miss Minutes). In a long expositional monologue backed by the visual aid of his advanced TemPad, Kang explains to the pair of Lokis that he was once a scientist living on Earth in the 31st century, when he discovered that there were universes stacked on top of his own. Kang’s other variants uncovered this truth too, and soon the various versions of himself made contact with each other. At first, there was peace between the universes, but soon, more sinister Kang variants decided they wanted to conquer the realms beyond their own, leading to an all-out multiversal war. While Loki had heard the vague outlines of this epic war in his introduction to the TVA, it isn’t until this telling that he realizes that truth had been woven into the narrative along with the lies. It wasn’t the Time-Keepers who saved the entire multiverse and brought “ages of cosmic harmony,” but Kang.
And yet, despite Kang seemingly earnestly explaining the history of the Sacred Timeline, it’s ultimately up to Loki and Sylvie to decide whether he’s telling the truth—and whether they still want to complete their quest to tear down the entire establishment nonetheless. “You came to kill the devil, right?” Kang asks them, despite knowing the answer. “Well, guess what? I keep you safe. And if you think I’m evil, well, just wait till you meet my variants.”
The gambit that Loki and Sylvie face puts the duo at odds, and the result is the culmination of themes and questions that Loki has been exploring all season. While Loki proves himself to be a changed man—presented with an opportunity to control everything, he appears incredibly uninterested—Sylvie sticks to her glorious purpose to claim revenge on the one who stole her life away from her. “Can’t you see?” Loki asks Sylvie. “This is bigger than our experience.”
“Why aren’t we seeing this the same way?” Sylvie responds.
“Because you can’t trust,” Loki says. “And I can’t be trusted.”
Kang presents the Lokis with one final test of faith between them, and in the end, they fail it. The question of “what makes a Loki a Loki” ultimately becomes a moot point; it’s the nuances between variants across the vast multiverse that matters most. Loki and Sylvie see the situation differently because they are, after all, not the same person. Their own experiences have pulled their lives in different directions, and while Loki places his faith in the first person he’s ever loved, Sylvie can’t shake a lifetime of anger and solitude. Meanwhile, the true threat looming in the shadows over the course of the season was never the man behind the TVA, but rather his own evil variants that he had spent an eternity keeping at bay.
Sylvie’s decision to kill He Who Remains triggers the exact scenario that he foretold, as the Sacred Timeline shatters, splitting into a cascade of branching realities. (Sylvie, meanwhile, looks defeated rather than triumphant after completing her mission, perhaps finally gaining the sort of deeper understanding that Loki did before her.) When Loki finds Mobius and Hunter B-15 back at the TVA in the final moments of the finale, neither of them recognizes him. And in a moment evoking Planet of the Apes, Loki turns around to see a massive statue of Kang the Conqueror where the monuments of the Time-Keepers once stood. There’s no going back now—Kang has arrived, and the multiversal war that He Who Remains warned the Lokis about has begun.
He Who Remains/Kang the Conqueror
Arriving just in time for Loki’s dramatic conclusion, Majors pushes the show across the finish line. Instead of the massive CGI battles that have become standard in MCU finales, most of the episode relies on Majors’s expository monologues, and the wonderfully strange energy he inserts into them. But beyond the actor’s performance, Kang’s arrival—especially this variant of him—reinforces the theme of trying to pin down who Loki is, and how no person is purely good or evil. “We’re all villains here,” Kang proclaims as he presents the Lokis their options. “We’ve all done horrible, terrible, horrific things. But now, we—you—have a chance to do them for a good reason.”
But while He Who Remains is benevolent in the sense that he’s saved the entire multiverse from destroying itself, it’s hard not to see his actions as equally self-serving—and it’s just as hard to put absolute faith in his words. History is written by the victors, after all. And though Kang believes that the ends have justified his means, victims of his consequentialism, like Sylvie, might disagree. They’re all villains—he’s right about that. But he is the only one making choices freely.
Even in letting Loki and Sylvie decide the fate of the multiverse, he manipulates the outcome all the same. Loki director Kate Herron has cited David Fincher’s Se7en as a source of inspiration for Kang, and the comparisons between him and Kevin Spacey’s John Doe are obvious in the way each pushes others to kill them in order to complete a sinister plot. “Sylvie! You think you can trust this guy?” Kang asks before she and Loki even turn on each other. “Do you think you’re even capable of trusting anyone at all?”
Despite not knowing the outcome of his meeting with Sylvie and Loki, Kang helps guide them to his demise without really indicating his preference one way or the other. He displays the ambivalence of a man who has no fear of death after living countless lifetimes. “What’s the worst that can happen?” Kang asks. “You either take over and my life’s work continues, or you plunge a blade into my chest and an infinite amount of me start another multiversal war, and I just end up right back here anyways. Reincarnation, baby.” And though Kang gives Loki and Sylvie the chance to take his seat as the keeper of the multiverse, he knows who they are, and he knows what they’ll ultimately decide to do. He says that he wants to keep his dangerous variants at bay—that he’s a benign villain—but at least some part of him must want them to be unleashed.
When Sylvie finally stabs Kang, he dies with a smile and a wink, knowing that he’ll inevitably find himself back in the same place eventually. But just as Loki feared and as He Who Remains foretold, Sylvie has unleashed an even greater threat—a multiverse of Kangs now free to try to conquer other realities.
Season 2 and the Future of the MCU
Out of the three MCU TV shows to hit Disney+ to date, Loki is the first series not to end its first season with its hero riding off into the sunset, their story neatly wrapped up. Separating Loki from its streaming predecessors even further still, it’s also the first show to leave no doubt about its future; in the finale’s brief post-credits scene, a stamp leaves a definitive message for the audience: “Loki will return in Season 2.”
But beyond this glorious news remains the fact that Loki just completely shook up the rest of the MCU. As head writer Michael Waldron recently told Marvel.com, the Loki team was well aware that the series would play a larger narrative role. “We knew that we wanted this show to be huge, and we wanted it to really end with a bang and have a huge impact on the MCU moving forward,” Waldron said. “Knowing that Kang was probably going to be the next big cross-movie villain, and because he is a time-traveling, multiversal adversary, it just always made so much sense. I came up with that big multiversal war mythology and pitched it out in the room one day to our producers. And they said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’ We knew we were going to end up meeting the man behind the curtain. And then it was just on us to make sure that that meeting really delivered.”
In addition to Kang’s likely return for Loki’s second season, where Ravonna Renslayer will surely cross paths with him, Majors is already set to reprise his role as the main villain in 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But the destruction of the Sacred Timeline also paves the way for other films and TV shows to dive into this strange new terrority of the multiverse as well. Without any clear division between timelines and realities any more, it now makes sense how Tom Holland’s Peter Parker will cross paths with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man variants in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home (assuming that the rumors are true). And in addition to the Scarlet Witch realizing her own reality-bending potential, the Sorcerer Supreme has his work cut out for him in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Not to be buried beneath Kang’s entrance is the confirmation that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki will live on in the MCU, as the God of Mischief simply cannot be killed. Beyond Loki’s unfinished business with Kang, the newly conquered TVA, and his beloved Sylvie, Hiddleston is also reportedly set to return in Doctor Strange 2, with the multiversal war already started. With more time to spend in the strange, wonderful world (er, multiverse) that Loki built across its first six episodes, Hiddleston will have the chance to continue to shine in the spotlight. Hopefully, Loki will reunite with Kid Loki and Alligator Loki somewhere along the way.