The Ending of ‘Black Widow’ Explained

The first feature in Marvel's Phase Four provides some connective tissue for the MCU's Disney+ shows.
Black Widow Ending Explained

Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old. This time, we look at the ending and post-credits scene of Black Widow. Yes, prepare for spoilers.

While not as originally intended, Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe began on Disney+ with the TV show WandaVision, followed by two more episodic series: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki. So, already this age of the franchise feels structurally different from what came before. However, even if Black Widow, Phase Four’s first feature film, had actually kicked things off as planned, this new era would still unfurl somewhat strangely.

And, no, I’m not talking about its prequel nature. I’m simply referring to the opening credits sequence and how it robs the audience of the usual mid-credits stinger. Director Cate Shortland provides an MCU spin on the Jason Bourne spy thriller, going so far as to supply a traditional title intro complete with blurry government documents and pixilated street camera footage. This bit would normally fall after the film’s climax, issuing its audience some breathing room before plopping one more scene to ease us into Marvel’s next tantalizing chapter.

Instead, Black Widow cuts to black at the end, and the long list of names starts to scroll. The eager-beaver Marvel fan catches their breath — are we not going to get a setup here? Ten minutes later, and finally, thankfully, blessedly, a stinger arrives, and it falls in line with what the Disney+ shows have already established. A storm is brewing for our leftover Avengers.

While those watching are firmly aware of the fate of Natasha Romanov (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers: Endgame, the majority of Black Widow doesn’t want to bother with such dread. For most of its two-hour-plus runtime, the movie only concerns itself with establishing the previously unspoken family that helped get Nat to the Avengers. While not related by blood, she had a mother (Rachel Weisz), a father (David Harbour), and a sister (Florence Pugh).

Nat’s clan is highly skilled and highly dysfunctional. They work together and demolish the Red Room once and for all. Black Widow concludes with Nat standing amongst the rubble awaiting arrest from General Ross (William Hurt) while her sister Yelena escorts the rescued and disenchanted Widow assassins to greener pastures.

Only after we complete the long crawl to the post-credits scene does Black Widow acknowledge Natasha’s end. Yelena arrives at Nat’s grave, and we have to wonder: what lurks below the dirt? Was her corpse somehow retrieved from the bottom of that Vormir cliff? Or is this tombstone just an empty ceremonial spot for friends, family, and fans to gather?

And gather they have. Yelena brushes debris from the grave, tidying the mementos that others left behind. She’s got a puppy with her, the dog she previously told Nat that she always wanted. Yelena does not break down with emotion, but her stride appears heavy, and grief sits inside her.

The reflective moment is interrupted by a snarl-layered clearing of someone’s nasal passage. Yelena doesn’t turn to meet the schnoz’s owner, but we spot Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). She blames her allergies, rubbing her lack of care in Yelena’s face.

We last saw Val in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. She had her sights on John Walker (Wyatt Russell) in that series, pulling the failed Captain America under her wing. She knew the right words to stroke his ego, dismissing the uncaring public and the political suits who were too pleased to cast him off after he went a little berserk on the Flag-Smashers.

Whatever she’s planning, Walker’s super-soldier rage is an easy instrument to manipulate. And now, standing next to Yelena at the end of Black Widow, it appears she has persuaded another living weapon to join her cause. Based on their interaction, it’s clear that this is not their first meeting, and when Val hands Yelena her next assignment, a mutual understanding seems clear.

In the big reveal of the Black Widow post-credit scene, Val plops Clint Barton’s photo in Yelena’s mitt. She explains that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is responsible for Natasha’s death. And while she’s not wrong, she’s not right either.

In Endgame, Clint and Nat were sent to Vormir to retrieve the Soul Stone. Unfortunately, the Infinity Stone could not be collected simply. As explained by its guardian, the Red Skull, the Soul Stone could only trade its soul for another.

The two Avengers exchanged blows via a seemingly never-ending slow-motion sequence, but eventually, Nat reached the cliff first. And she begged Clint to let her go so that the Avengers could reverse Thanos’ genocidal terror. Nat explained that Clint had a family to live for, and she had no one. A lie that allowed Clint’s hand to release her.

The ending of Black Widow establishes that there were more than Avengers who cared for her at the time, and most significantly amongst the bunch is her assigned sister, Yelena. Her fake mom and dad might have experienced some significant pain at Nat’s passing, but after recently reuniting for their Red Room adventure, Yelena must have crumpled in sorrow upon learning of Nat’s demise.

As Val exploited Walker’s rage, she exploits Yelena’s devastation. Why would the Contessa want to eradicate Hawkeye? He’s clearly the easiest Avenger to murder. All he’s got are some arrows to defend himself. If you’re forming your own anti-Avengers team, you start killing small and work your way up to Hulk assassination.

In the comic books, Val was a Soviet sleeper agent who snuck into S.H.I.E.L.D. ranks before graduating to Hydra’s supreme leader. She’s a vicious threat who could turn Steve Rogers against Nick Fury with the flick of an eyelash. Think of her as Fury’s opposite, skulking in the shadows, craving global domination rather than protection.

In the Disney+ shows, several superpowered villains have been carefully placed in stasis. Along with John Walker, there’s a very Skrully Sharon Carter selling national secrets, Baron Zemo ordering car bombs from his cell, and Agatha Harkness magically restrained to the suburbs. We assumed that Black Widow would pass the torch from Natasha to Yelena at the end, but maybe it’s actually a villain origin story.

Now that it’s been set up by the Black Widow post-credits scene, Yelena and Clint’s confrontation is scheduled to go down in the upcoming Hawkeye series for Disney+ (release date: TBA). It’s going to take more than a conversation for Clint to explain what occurred on Vormir. And that explanation might matter very little to Yelena’s heartache.

Sitting on the sidelines will be Val, probably with a big bag of popcorn on her lap.

Black Widow is now playing in theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premier Access.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)