Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War follow below.
The climax of Avengers: Infinity War does not go the way fans originally thought. Traditional blockbuster storytelling would dictate that the heroes win and the villain is defeated, but what if the villain is the main character of your movie? What if the antagonist is the one on the Hero’s Journey? That’s where directors Joe and Anthony Russo decided to take Infinity War, which culminates in Thanos gaining all six infinity stones, snapping his fingers, and wiping out half the population of the entire universe.
When Thanos does actually snap his fingers, the film cuts to this dreamlike world where Thanos confronts the younger version of his daughter Gamora—who he sacrificed (i.e. murdered) in order to gain one of the infinity stones and enact his plan. Speaking on Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused podcast, Joe Russo explained that this sequence does indeed take place inside the Soul Stone, and it reflects the tragic end of Thanos’ Hero’s Journey:
“It is [in the soul stone], it’s an orange world that they’re in. Because he’s in the Hero’s Journey in the movie, we did point that out that there’s a correlating journey in the film between Thor and Thanos. Certain characters make very human choices in the movie that are very tragic that shift the direction of the storytelling. Quill makes that choice on Titan when he punches Thanos in the face. Thor makes that choice when he plunges the axe into Thanos’ chest because he wants to tell him that he got him, that this is payback. If he had not made that decision, had he gone for the kill, they wouldn’t be in this situation. For Thanos at the end of the movie, this is part of his Hero’s Journey, we once again put him face to face with the only thing that he cared about, where he has to own up to the emotional cost of what he’s done in the movie.”
So seeing Gamora inside the Soul Stone, does this mean she could be revived in Avengers 4? Joe Russo confirmed that what we see inside the stone is indeed Gamora’s spirit, while also deftly changing the topic of conversation to the damage the Thanos Snap did to Thanos himself:
“I think it’s a reflection of [Gamora’s] spirit, and the power required to use all of the stones at once is so significant that it sends Thanos into this dream state. You’ll notice his arm is damaged post the snap, the gauntlet is damaged post the snap, it’s the incredible energy required from it and only because of his strength is he able to survive actually using the gauntlet in that capacity. But it does create this cathartic moment for him.”
Many have theorized that the Thanos Snap didn’t kill half the universe’s population but instead trapped them all inside the Soul Stone, which would mean that Avengers 4 would find the heroes trying to venture inside the stone to get them out. But it also sounds like Thanos may not be his formidable self—the Snap may have taken a serious physical toll on him, so it’s possible he’s more easily dispatched when the OG Avengers finally catch up to him. We’ll find out a year from now when Avengers 4 hits theaters.