The Big Picture

  • The Sacred Timeline in Loki is revealed to be the result of Kang the Conqueror’s actions, setting up his role as a major villain in future Marvel projects.
  • The branching of the Sacred Timeline affects other Marvel projects, including What If…?, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.
  • Kang’s multiversal war references the Secret Wars storyline from the comics, hinting at a potential adaptation of the storyline in future MCU projects.

Throughout its run, Loki has tackled the nature of time and how it can lead to different choices. If you knew the way your life would turn out, would you do anything to change it? What would happen if entire worlds were formed from those choices? What if those worlds posed a threat to all creation itself? Those are the questions that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) finds himself asking when he’s captured and put to work for the Time Variance Authority in Season 1 of his show. The TVA prides itself on protecting the “Sacred Timeline” — the natural flow of time — and pruning any “variant” branches of time that spring up. Over the course of Loki‘s first season, the true nature of the Sacred Timeline was revealed — and its importance to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well.

The Sacred Timeline Is the Result of Kang the Conqueror’s Machinations

Jonathon Majors as He Who Remains in Loki
Image via Disney+

The bulk of Season 1 of Loki finds the titular character chasing after a variant of himself named Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) who seeks to destroy the TVA for the trauma she went through at their hands. Loki, who himself is a variant due to escaping the Battle of New York at the end of The Avengers, decides to help her. The duo eventually find themselves at the end of time, encountering a mysterious man named “He Who Remains” (Jonathan Majors) who reveals that the Sacred Timeline was due to his own construction. Years ago, he met multiple variants of himself who ended up launching a war that crossed time and space. To prevent this from sinking into chaos, He Who Remains created the Sacred Timeline and formed the TVA to prune any rogue branches. Having gone mad from isolation, He Who Remains offers Sylvie and Loki the chance to take his place at the head of the TVA. Sylvie refuses, killing him in the Loki Season 1 finale — and in the process causes the Sacred Timeline to branch off into multiple versions.

Prior to his appearance in Loki, Majors was announced to be playing Kang the Conqueror — the time-traveling villain who’s battled the Avengers on multiple occasions. Shortly afterward, it was announced at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con that Majors’ Kang would be a prominent antagonist in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as well as Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. The goal was clear: Marvel Studios intended to craft Kang into a threat to rival Thanos (Josh Brolin), and the praise Majors received for his performance as He Who Remains seemed to back up that conviction (at least until the one-two punch of Quantumania‘s negative reviews and Majors’ own legal woes).

RELATED: ‘Loki’ Season 2’s Reference to ‘The Avengers’ Has a Deeper Meaning

The Sacred Timeline’s Splintering Leads Into Other Marvel Projects

Spider-Man- No Way Home’ (2021) (1)
Image via Sony

The fallout of the Sacred Timeline branching off can be felt in Marvel Studios’ future offerings — particularly the animated series What If…?, which centers on the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright) who observes the different worlds created by the branching of the timelines. In one universe, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) goes mad with power when attempting to save the love of his life Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams); another features the Avengers and other heroes transforming into flesh-eating monsters after contracting a “quantum virus.” Speaking of Doctor Strange, his next cinematic adventure — aptly titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — saw him crossing time and space while dealing with the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who sought a world where her children lived.

However, the character who might be affected the most by all the alt-dimension apocalypses is Spider-Man. Spider-Man: No Way Home saw Tom Holland‘s web-slinger seeking the help of Strange after Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed his identity to the world. But Strange’s spell backfired, pulling in a multitude of villains that fought other Spider-Man — as well as Holland’s predecessors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, reprising their roles as alternate versions of Peter Parker. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, though not a part of the MCU, also invokes imagery from Loki. As he discusses the Web of Life and Destiny with Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), Miguel O’Hara (Oscar Isaac) draws a graph that looks suspiciously like the Sacred Timeline. Even the opening of the film has Miguel acknowledging the events of No Way Home by referring to “Doctor Strange and the little nerd from Earth-19999.”

RELATED: ‘Loki’ Season 2’s Reference to ‘The Avengers’ Has a Deeper Meaning

Kang’s Multiversal War Is a Reference to ‘Secret Wars’ (the Modern Version)

Secret Wars comic book cover art
Image via Marvel Comics

The roots of the Sacred Timeline, as well as the multiversal war He Who Remains was a part of, has its roots in Marvel Comics canon — specifically, the Secret Wars miniseries from Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic that released in 2015. Secret Wars built on Hickman’s previous work in Fantastic Four, Avengers and New Avengers, which saw multiversal “incursions” — events which led to two alternate Earths colliding — breaking apart time and space. Doctor Doom was able to save fragments of the Multiverse and forge it into a new world, one which he lorded over as god and master. It fell to Reed Richards and a handful of heroes to end Doom’s empire, leading to reality being repaired.

Much like Secret Wars, the MCU seems to be drawing heavily from Hickman’s work. Incursions were referenced in Multiverse of Madness, as was the Illuminati — the secret council of superheroes who went to extreme measures to stop them. Fantastic Four featured a council of alternate versions of Reed Richards; one of Quantumania‘s post-credit scenes featured a vast army of Kang variants. Kang himself is the future relative of Reed in the comics, making that connection all the greater. Finally, the upcoming Secret Wars looks like it will be based on Hickman and Ribic’s version rather than the original 1984 maxiseries — albeit with Kang in Doom’s place. The Sacred Timeline breaking apart may spell doom and gloom for the MCU, but it has set the stage for a potential swan song to one of the world’s biggest franchises.

New episodes of Loki premiere Thursdays on Disney+.

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