The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's Head Writer Explains the 'Toll' of John Walker's Arc

John Walker is Captain America no more, but that doesn’t mean he’s done fighting.
John Walker is Captain America no more, but that doesn’t mean he’s done fighting.
Image: Marvel Studios

John Walker’s journey through Disney+ and Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—from Captain America, to... well, not that—is one of dramatic highs and lows for the would-be shieldbearer. But his turn in the series’ finale raised some interesting questions of just how we’re meant to feel about the character. Now, head writer Malcolm Spellman has talked about that choice a little more.

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Illustration for article titled The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's Head Writer Explains the 'Toll' of John Walker's Arc

It’s hard not to come out of “One World, One People” without the thought that John Walker has gotten away with murder rather literally. Just two episodes after audiences watched Wyatt Russell’s traumatized, newly enhanced Cap publicly execute a Flag-Smasher in a fit of rage over his friend Lemar “Battlestar” Hoskins’ death, the man we meet in the finale gets to be, in a little way, one of the gang. As Sam, Bucky, and Sharon Carter race to stop Karli and the Flag-Smashers from assaulting a Global Repatriation Council meeting, Walker joins in, helping our heroes, getting a moment to help save GRC senators from certain doom, and jokingly quoting Abraham Lincoln as the bad guys are carted away by the police. He even built himself a new shield!

It’s weird because, as we said, we watched him turn a person’s upper torso into a jellied smear on Captain America’s shield a few episodes before this. But Walker’s arc in the series doesn’t end there—stripped of the Captain America mantle and discharged from service, Walker is instead rewarded by getting a new job with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Contessa Vanessa De Fontaine. He keeps his Cap suit, albeit now primarily colored black. He doesn’t have a shield, but he does have a new title ripped right out of the comics: US Agent. It feels like he’s actually had little in the way of setbacks by the time the credits role, but according to Spellman, he feels Walker’s moments of darkness in the wake of his discharge are punishment enough for a lifetime soldier.

“I would argue he paid an immense personal toll, and I would argue that people like that don’t pay a bigger toll,” Spellman told Deadline in a new interview. “Think about who John Walker is. Does it feel like I’m telling the truth when I say, someone like that being court-martialed and getting a less than honorable discharge would be devastated by it? And then going off and lying to Lemar’s family about who he murdered? That is a brutal, personal toll.”

For Spellman, the feeling that Walker comes out of the show looking somewhat heroic in spite of what he did is explained as a sort of commentary on “failing upward,” the sort of thing a white, powerful man like Walker can do. “As far as accountability from the system, I don’t know, man, when does that happen,” Spellman continued. “When does that happen to people like him? You can’t be fake when you’re telling the story.”

But considering “One World, One People” doesn’t really present Walker’s “award” of becoming the US Agent as something sinister—like the way it frames, say, Sharon Carter’s infiltration of the U.S. intelligence community as the Power Broker—it’s difficult to see Spellman’s take in the show itself. Time will tell, it seems, if whatever de Fontaine has in store for her new super soldier friend is as shady as her comic book history. But for now, it seems Spellman would have us believe that John Walker has paid his price—and that the US Agent is ready to move on regardless of how we see him.

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James is a News Editor at io9, where you can find him delivering your morning spoilers, writing about superheroes, and having many feelings about Star Wars. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

DISCUSSION

angriergeek
Angrier Geek

“Think about who John Walker is. Does it feel like I’m telling the truth when I say, someone like that being court-martialed and getting a less than honorable discharge would be devastated by it?”

I believe this about the character and it generated sympathy for him, but that doesn’t make the smiling quotes of Lincoln any more palatable. He should have been grim through the end, only prevented from killing them by Bucky. Walker was broken and should have been shown as broken, even with the new job. It wasn’t what he’d worked his whole life for. His wife should have been the one trying to boost him up, insisting that the new job meant they were “back.” But for Walker, anything short of full military reinstallment was a complete failure.