Movies

The Casual Marvel Fan’s Guide to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

The post-credits scene, Riri Williams, Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character, and more, explained.

A still shows Nakiya (Lupita Nyong’o) staring out at the sea on a beach while wearing a sparkly Afrofuturistic green-and-blue wetsuit. In front of her is photoshopped a giant question mark.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Marvel Studios.

This article contains spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

Can you remind me what the deal is with the heart-shaped herb? Why was Shuri attempting to synthesize a new one?

The heart-shaped herb is a plant that grows in vibranium-rich soil. The properties of the vibranium infuse the herb with powers, and it is this herb that must be ingested in order to become the superhuman Black Panther. In the first movie, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) destroyed the rest of the heart-shaped herb after ingesting it himself and killing T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), hoping to prevent anyone from gaining the powers of the Black Panther and defeating him. However, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) saved one and used it to bring T’Challa back to life. At the start of Wakanda Forever, Wakanda is left with no heart-shaped herb and no way to save the dying T’Challa, let alone induct a new Black Panther. Later on in the movie, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is able to use a relic from the vibranium-rich Atlantean city of Talokan to synthesize a new heart-shaped herb.

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Speaking of Nakia, what’s up with her and what is she doing in Haiti? That part was a little confusing. 

The key to understanding Nakia’s storyline is remembering that the poor woman lost T’Challa twice: first during Thanos’ Snap in Avengers: Infinity War, and second after his return five years later in Avengers: Endgame, when he dies, again, of an unnamed illness. That’s why she’s been away for six years: She first left after the Snap, and she didn’t return even for T’Challa’s funeral a little more than five years after that, and then most of the events of Wakanda Forever take place a year after the funeral. As for what she’s doing in Haiti, she seems to be taking the time to grieve that Shuri refuses to take, and she’s teaching young children—plus there’s one more thing she’s been up to that won’t be revealed until the mid-credits scene.

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What should I know about the mid-credits scene? And is there a post-credits scene?

In the mid-credits scene, we learn that T’Challa and Nakia secretly had a son, T’Challa Jr., and that she has been raising him in Haiti, away from the pressures of royalty, per T’Challa’s wishes. And then there’s no post-credits scene! All we see is a message that says “Black Panther will return.” Maybe they decided it would be too crass to follow the sweet mid-credits by teasing more Marvel product.

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Why does Nakia say that her son’s name “holds a great history”?

She’s talking about his Haitian name, which is Toussaint. Safe to say he’s named after Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, which not only ended slavery on the island but inspired anticolonial revolts around the world. Louverture was such a great leader that his legend grew to the point where he was sometimes thought to have supernatural powers, and he was once even compared to a tiger for his ability to elude capture. So: figure of liberation with superhuman strength in the mold of a big cat—you get the connection.

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Does T’Challa have a son in the comics?

He does! But everything else is pretty different: He’s named Azari T’Challa, and T’Challa père had him with Storm from the X-Men, so in addition to being the next Black Panther, he also has some bonus mutant powers. It seems like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is taking things in a slightly different direction.

Who’s this new Iron Mantype character? I wasn’t totally sure what she was doing in this movie, but I like her.


That’s Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), aka Ironheart. (You may have noticed the heart-shaped glow at the center of her supersuit.) The character first appeared in the Iron Man comics in 2016, and she became so popular that she now has her own comics, written by Eve Ewing. As for what she’s doing in this movie, the answer would seem to be that they’re setting up her Marvel TV show, which is due to premiere next year.

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Since when do the Marvel movies feature Julia Louis-Dreyfus?

Since last year! Louis-Dreyfus first appeared in the MCU in a brief cameo in the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then she appeared later last year in the post-credits scene that followed Black Widow. As we’ve explained before, in the comics, her character, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, tends to be a bit of a double agent (among her aliases has been Madame Hydra), so we can expect that she’ll play a bigger role in things to come—including in Marvel’s upcoming Suicide Squad-esque movie about a team of villains, called Thunderbolts and due out in 2024—and perhaps in a way that might be rough for poor Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), who we now know is her ex.

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Why is Martin Freeman … here?

As you may well have forgotten, Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross played a small role in the first Black Panther, as a CIA agent who provides crucial background on Killmonger’s black ops training and eventually fights alongside the Wakandans in their battle for freedom (you know, like the CIA usually does in African countries). In Wakanda Forever, his only real function is to tell Shuri and Okoye where to find Riri, to spar with Director de Fontaine about her all-American hunger for vibranium, and to remind audiences that there’s a whole MCU out there that the movie otherwise largely ignores. Also, executives may have thought that the movie should have a white character do something.

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The new villain, Namor, reminded me of Killmonger from the first Black Panther. Is he from the comics?

Yes, but they’ve changed him a lot. In the comics, Namor (aka the Sub-Mariner) is an ankle-winged classic antihero who has worked both with and against the Good Guys, mostly seeking vengeance against surface-dwellers for their slights against his people. Though the character’s function in this movie is pretty much the same, his backstory is much different than it is in the comics.

In the comics, Namor is the Prince of Atlantis, not the ruler of Talokan. However, writer-director Ryan Coogler has said that he both wanted to give audiences a fresher alternative to the usual vision of Atlantis (which has been old news to audiences since it was first imagined by the Greeks and Romans) and that he saw an opportunity to use this underwater city to imagine a Mesoamerican foil to Wakanda. All of the history in the film, including Namor’s name deriving from Spanish colonizers referring to him as “the child without love” (“el niño sin amor”), is additional. Like Wakanda, Talokan is also inspired by a blend of cultures from throughout its region: The name Talokan is inspired by the legendary Aztec city of Tlālōcān, but we’re told that the language they speak is Yucatec Maya. Likewise, the Feathered Serpent God (aka Ku’ku’lkán in Yucatec Maya and Quetzalcoatl to the Aztecs, with other regional names), is a real Mesoamerican deity. Meanwhile, the Mexican actor who plays Namor, Tenoch Huerta, has said he has indigenous ancestors from both the Nahua and Purépecha peoples.

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Why isn’t Namor blue, like the other people in Talokan?

According to Wakanda Forever, Namor’s people essentially took their (bluer) version of the heart-shaped herb en masse, but instead of bringing them close to death, it actually killed their land-dwelling forms, allowing them to be essentially reincarnated as super-strong water-breathers. But Namor’s mother was pregnant at the time, so he is a genetic hybrid, functionally immortal and able to survive out of the water for long periods of time. He is, in other words, a mutant—a concept only recently introduced to the MCU now that Disney owns the X-Men.

Are his cute li’l ankle wings more intimidating in the comics?

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Nope!

Why did Namor say “Imperius Rex”? My audience seemed to get a kick out of that.

Because that’s his catchphrase! And no, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s Latin, -ish, for something like “government king” or “empire king,” but mostly it just seems to be something that Namor thinks sounds cool. In one fight in the comics, Namor issues it as a battle cry while coming for Thor, to which Thor responds, “All these years, Namor, and I still have no idea what that even means.” Namor, in turn, explains, “It means I’m going to feed your sorry Asgardian hide to the biggest sharks I can find!

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Should we be shipping Shuri and Namor as a couple?

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OK, I’m glad I’m not alone. I, too, was feeling the ~vibes~ for a second. I don’t know if those vibes were exactly what the movie intended, but the dude is centuries old (talk about an age gap!) and threatened to, like, erase the human race. Perhaps she’s better off without him.

If the Talokanil spend their entire lives underwater and have the technology to build water bombs and aqueous highways, why don’t they ever wear flippers? Wouldn’t that make swimming easier?

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Who are we to judge them? They seem perfectly happy paddling around, making arcane hand gestures, and luring warriors to their watery doom with their siren-like call.

Let’s go back to Killmonger. I thought we’d seen the last of him. Can you explain how they brought him back? 

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Fans of the first film will remember that in order to become the Black Panther, there’s a ritual which involves ingesting the heart-shaped herb, being put to sleep, buried, and then woken up in the Ancestral Plane, which is exactly what it sounds like but the sky is purple. It is here that the future Black Panther gets to talk to their ancestors, likely for advice and clarity, before they become the Black Panther. Shuri expected to see her mother, but instead was surprised when Killmonger was waiting for her in the Ancestral Plane, tempting her to the vengeance-filled dark side.

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Why does M’baku live at the top of a mountain? Doesn’t he get cold?

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Well, the Jabari like their privacy, and M’baku likes wearing fur. He’s fine.

Why, at the end of the movie, was M’baku saying he was making a challenge for the throne?

It’s a little unclear, but by the end of the film, Shuri says yes to taking up the mantle of Black Panther but no to taking up the mantle of royalty and becoming the next Queen of Wakanda. M’baku makes a challenge in order to become king, but with Shuri’s blessing and no one left to challenge him, it’s likely just a formality to honor tradition.

How does the entire Talokan strike force get from the Yucatan to Wakanda in, like, a day? Can whales swim that fast? Can whales swim 100 miles up a river? Wouldn’t they need to rest? Aren’t orcas saltwater mammals anyway? 

Buddy, I don’t know how to tell you this: Vibranium is also totally made-up.

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