The end of the MCU Retcons Arnim Zola (and planning his return)


In Marvel’s What If … ?, Black Widow and Hawkeye activate a new Arnim Zola system to stop Ultron, teasing a possible return to the main MCU.

Warning! Spoilers ahead for What if … from Marvel? Episode 8, “What if … Ultron wins?”

Thanks to What if … from Marvel?, the MCU has just recognized the fate of Hydra Arnim zola (Toby Jones) while preparing for his potential return to the main timeline. In the eighth episode of the animated series, Black Widow and Hawkeye are the last surviving Avengers in an alternate timeline where Ultron managed to Avengers: Age of Ultron, inhabiting the Soul Stone propelled synthezoid body that originally became Vision, wiping out Earth before killing Thanos for the other Infinity Stones, motivating his departure from Earth to destroy the entire universe. Seeing their last opportunity to defeat Ultron, Black Widow and Hawkeye sought out Arnim Zola’s AI, their only hope despite its supposed destruction in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (before the creation of Ultron).

A leading Hydra scientist during WWII, Arnim Zola worked directly under Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), helping him arm the Tessaract while also being the founding father of the Winter Soldier program. However, Hydra’s supposed defeat at the end of the war saw Zola recruited by the SSR who ultimately gave birth to SHIELD. From there, Zola was secretly part of the Hydra that survived within SHIELD itself, working in secret to establish Hydra’s reign and full control over the world. Additionally, when Zola’s body died in 1972, his mind was uploaded to a complex computer system at Camp Lehigh, turning him into a secret artificial intelligence where he would continue to aid his fellow Hydra agents. However, the base was destroyed in an attempt to kill Captain America and Black Widow in Winter Soldier, seemingly marking Zola’s ultimate demise just before the eventual downfall of Hydra as a whole thanks to Steve Rogers and his allies.

Related: What If Episode 8’s Ending Explained: How The Lookout Will Beat Ultron

However, this new timeline featured in What if … from Marvel? Episode 8 sees Black Widow and Hawkeye in search of the analog Zola following a real Age of Ultron, where all digital systems and the Internet itself were taken over by Ultron. According to Black Widow, despite the destruction of Zola’s AI at Camp Lehigh, a copy was made and installed in Siberia so that he could oversee the Russian branch of the Winter Soldier program, which traces his history. Additionally, this change could very well be the case in the main MCU timeline as well, meaning that it is now possible for Zola to return and continue Hydra’s work at some point in the future of the MCU. now that it still exists in Russia.


Due to the analog nature of Zola’s systems, Black Widow guessed that Zola’s AI would be unknown and uncorrupted by Ultron, seeing Zola as their best chance to shut down Ultron and his hive of drones for good. While Natasha was right, Ultron’s battle with the Watcher across the multiverse meant he was out of Zola’s signal range. Either way, the revelation that a copy of Zola potentially exists in the main MCU is a pretty dynamic throwback to its history. It would certainly be interesting to see him return, perhaps even in his classic robot body that he builds himself in the comics rather than just being a face on a computer screen.

Either way, Zola being an incredibly advanced AI, he is the perfect candidate to fight Ultron in What if … from Marvel?, and it’s a pretty exciting concept if Zola gets the chance to face him when and if Ultron returns. Additionally, Zola’s return to story is welcome, as it makes sense that Hydra’s AI would have created backups of itself in the event of destruction. While Arnim zolaThe Black Widow story will likely continue as the animated series reaches its final episode, with the hope that Captain America’s dynamic villain story continues into the main MCU as well with a potential appearance in the future.

More: What if …? Episode 8 asks 9 big questions about Ultron and The Watcher

What if … from Marvel? releases new episodes Wednesdays on Disney +.

  • Eternals (2021)Release date: 05 November 2021
  • Spider-Man: No Homecoming (2021)Release Date: December 17, 2021
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release Date: March 25, 2022
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: 06 May 2022
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever / Black Panther 2 (2022)Release Date: 08 Jul 2022
  • Wonders / Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release Date: November 11, 2022
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023)Release Date: February 17, 2023
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)Release date: 05 May 2023

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