Who doesn’t love a good film theory? Well, screenwriters who work hard crafting a world only for fans to make up their own story, probably. But every now and again, a theory can come together that almost makes too much sense. A theory that the more you think about it, the more it becomes canon in the minds of the public.
While browsing Facebook, I stumbled across a theory from someone by the name of Cj Price. Originally, this theory was more of just a single sentence, but upon further examination and expansion, it started to all fall together into a cohesive hidden narrative within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That theory is that Erik Killmonger – the primary antagonist of Black Panther – was responsible (or at least partly responsible) for the assassination of King T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War.
It’s not a theory without its minor inconsistencies, but I thought it was worth researching, so I’ve put together the reasons why (and why not) it could hold some weight.
Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross serves as the exposition machine for Erik’s backstory in Black Panther, and he has one particular line about his training that would seemingly confirm the theory right off the bat.
After learning that Erik has destroyed the Garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb (the herb that grants a Black Panther their powers), Ross explains that that’s exactly what he was trained to do: attack transitions of power in order to destabilise a government. But what if Erik’s plan goes further than this? Black Panther takes place roughly a week after Civil War, is it too much of a stretch to say that Killmonger’s plan to attack the transition of power started with murdering the King of Wakanda? While the nation recovered from this blow and adjusted to its new leader in T’Challa, this would allow Erik to swoop in and take the next Black Panther completely by surprise.
In the space of a single week, Wakanda has fallen to its knees, something that Erik specialises in.
Erik got very lucky if it wasn’t part of his plan
When you isolate Killmonger’s plan without the theory, he was certainly the benefactor of exceptional coincidence. Was he just sitting around waiting for the leader of Wakanda to be killed, then in the span of a week was able to rendezvous with one of their most notable enemies in Ulysses Klaue, steal some vibranium to draw T’Challa out, kill Klaue to earn the trust of their military, and then defeat T’Challa in ritual combat? I know that supervillains are renowned for their ludicrous plans, but the whole thing becomes decidedly less ludicrous if you believe everything was planned in advance, with the primary strike point being the assassination of a political leader.
He may have known Zemo already
We can’t give this theory any credibility without paying attention to the man who actually carried the assassination out, Helmut Zemo. We learn in Civil War that Zemo was part of a Sokovian death squad, operating as an intelligence officer for his country. It’s safe to assume that Zemo took part in his fair share of shady operations, possibly stuff that was off the books.
It’s not farfetched to suggest he had at least met Erik Killmonger at some point. Erik’s military background is that he was part of a black ops unit, a team who carry out missions that are not official so that the government who put them in the field aren’t held accountable if they’re caught. Given Erik’s links to Wakanda and vibranium, and the links between vibranium and what happened in Sokovia during the events of Age of Ultron, he could have crossed paths with the man whose speciality is operating as a ghost.
It is true that Zemo was planning to dismantle the Avengers for over a year, but that doesn’t mean Erik wasn’t involved. Zemo couldn’t have possibly planned for the Sokovia Accords to lead to a UN meeting that would allow him to set off a bomb and frame Bucky Barnes. His plan was mostly likely to frame Bucky all along, but Killmonger may have found a way to kill two birds with one stone.
What if Erik presented Zemo with the plan to set off the bomb outside the UN, knowing that King T’Chaka would be there? Zemo never planned on killing T’Chaka specifically, but he was setting a bomb off, it’s not like he cared about who lived and died. Whether Erik’s involvement was as simple as supplying the bomb or orchestrating the whole thing is up for debate, but it would retroactively make Zemo’s plan a lot less convoluted.
Ryan Coogler had involvement in Civil War
It was announced prior to the release of Ned Flanders that Ryan Coogler had signed on to write and direct a Black Panther solo movie, and his involvement didn’t stop there. Coogler personally supervised Black Panther’s fight scenes in the third instalment of the Captain America trilogy in order for there to be consistency between the two films, but what if his involvement didn’t end there?
Coogler may have already had his outline for Black Panther ready and was using the first appearance of the titular character for inspiration. Could he have possibly written Killmonger’s plan around Zemo’s bombing? What if the reason the attack is gone over near the start of Black Panther isn’t just to remind us of what happened last time? What if it’s a clue that the events we’re about to see unfold are directly linked to it in another way? It’s worth considering.
Why did Erik need Zemo?
As I said, the theory isn’t watertight. Like all great theories, there are certain holes when put under close examination. The most obvious one being that with Erik being such an expert in black ops work, there wasn’t really any reason why he couldn’t have carried out the assassination himself. This would allow him to have direct revenge on the man who killed his father without the need of a middle man.
Killmonger’s plans could have been scuppered had he been caught, however, as his claim to the throne would never be entertained if he committed treason. Still, he managed to stay off Wakanda’s radar for almost 25 years, operating with discretion is what he’s good at.
What if T’Challa died?
This one’s a biggie. As both king and prince were at the summit when the bomb went off, there was no way of planning on just one of them being killed in the blast. Had they both snuffed it, what would Erik do then? It would be awfully fishy if the leader and the next in line to the throne were both assassinated and then a previously unknown royal-blooded Wakandan just showed up to exercise his blood right.
Killmonger would have had to have banked on getting extremely lucky with the use of a huge explosion for his plan to come to fruition. Why not use a sniper rifle or poison like he did with the museum curator? One could argue that a bomb wouldn’t make it look like T’Chaka was the target, thus quelling suspicion when Erik showed up, but still, political assassinations aren’t uncommon and there would be no real reason to suspect him.
It’s not a theory that lines up perfectly with the timeline of events presented to us in the MCU, and it can collapse in on itself when you’re talking about combining the ridiculously complex plan of Zemo and the separately motivated plan of Killmonger. However, it is worth pondering on, as it puts the wider storytelling of the universe into a different context, linking in with the ideas of government conspiracies and espionage that were explored in Winter Soldier.
Theories are just for fun and shouldn’t be considered canon, however, drawing more intricate connections between an already heavily interconnected universe isn’t causing any harm. Black Panther works as a standalone piece, you don’t really require much knowledge of the MCU to appreciate it. If you think of the attack in Civil War as a through line to the movie’s narrative though, it makes for a renewed viewing experience of both movies.