Before we get started, this post will contain huge spoilers for the most recent episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, titled “The Whole World is Watching”.
Anyone watching the latest Disney+ TV show about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) knows that the United States government introduced a new Captain America to replace Steve Rogers (last seen as a feeble old man in Avengers: Endgame). This new soldier, John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), was instantly disliked by the characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and viewers alike. The common complaint about John Walker as Captain America was that he not only did not look the part, but he looked so goofy with his ill-fitting helmet and undeserved swagger during his introduction. The memes and dismissals were quite brutal and over the top. Frankly, the poor soldier never had a chance.
To the show’s credit, John Walker was given a back story and he is not an evil person. In the interview he gave during his introduction during the show’s second episode “The Star Spangled Man”, he came off as a person who realized he had large shoes to fill and was trying his hardest. But that was impossible to do. After all, how can you top, let alone, compare to the legendary Steve Rogers? Still, he seemed respectful of the legacy and the honor given to him, plus he had the combat experience as a soldier to be a suitable replacement. But Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were outraged that Walker had the audacity to pick up the shield and mantle of Captain America. They and the audience felt he was not worthy. Howver, this outrage could be seen as guilt from Sam after he relinquished the shield to the government instead of replacing his friend as the new Captain America. With Bucky, he is furious because Sam gave up the shield easily and probably because he was not given the shield instead. Now, some pretender has the shield and the status of Captain America.
John Walker tried to work with Sam and Bucky, in fact, he and his partner and best friend, Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar (Clé Bennett), rescued the Falcon and the Winter Soldier later in the episode when they fought against a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers. But the duo didn’t want anything to do with the new Captain America and needlessly made him an antagonist.
Throughout the series, the new Captain America felt pressure to measure up. You could see this with subtle visual cues and the way he was treated by others, except Hoskins. What made things worse for Walker was that although he is a skilled soldier, he is not as skilled in fighting as the original Captain America. He began to feel inadequate and not up to the task. However, it was difficult to empathise with him because he displayed an arrogant swagger to the outside world. Also, he was reckless and impatient as his actions in the fourth episode escalated tense situations such as when Sam tried to negotiate with the Flag Smashers’ leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman).
The ultimate humiliation came during the same episode where he was defeated in combat by the elite Wakandan soldiers, the Dora Milaje. He felt especially chastised when he commented that they did not even have super powers yet they defeated him handily.
This led to his conflict later in “The Whole World is Watching” when he came upon a vial of the Super Soldier serum that created the first Captain America and was given to members of the Flag Smashers. To his credit, Walker did not inject the serum, though he took the vial without telling anyone. He sought advice from Hoskins about the ethics of taking the serum and Hoskins opined that he himself would take it if given the chance.
In the last act of the episode as Walker, Hoskins, Sam and Bucky faced off against the Flag Smashers, it soon became clear that Walker had taken the Super Soldier serum thanks to his feats of increased strength. However, he was not as skilled or as polished as Steve Rogers, what was worse was that he lacked control. This lack of control would be exhibited in the shocking final moments of the episode.
During the final fight, Battlestar saved Captain America from being stabbed by Karli, but she accidently killed him in another example of someone who was inexperienced with having the Super Soldier serum. Enraged, Walker chased down the closest Flag Smasher he could find and brutally killed him by bludgeoning the terrrorist with his shield out in public. The last haunting image that closed the episode had a shaken and defiant Captain America standing tall with a bloody shield in front of shocked civilians, for the whole world to see.
This development echoed similar moments in the pages of the Captain America comic book during a famous arc called Captain America: The Captain, written by Mark Gruenwald, which ran from issues #332 through 350. In the arc, Steve Rogers abandoned the Captain America identity and John Walker took over but proved to be unhinged. This was best shown in issue #345 (“Surrender”) where after his parents were murdered by a group of domestic terrorist, an enraged Walker savagely killed the terrorists, then tried to talking to his deceased parents as if he saved them.
Seeing a similar moment in the live-action MCU is more shocking just for the visuals and its impact. This last image could be seen as a metaphor for how far the U.S. has fallen in the eyes of the world; something that is an uncomfortable reminder of fairly recent events not just in the MCU but in real life. The moment clearly proves that John Walker is not worthy to be Captain America, who should be held to a higher ideal, a greater standard. The original Captain America represented the best of humankind thanks to his nobility and compassion. These traits were why he was chosen to receive the serum back in World War II. It is doubtful that whoever chose Walker had this in mind.
Then again, it is hard to see him as this evil man. Even as he smashed his shield down repeatedly over his victim, one can’t help feeling grief over how he and the ideal of Captain America have fallen. Circumstances beyond his control, such as facing opponents who outmatched him or how he was repeatedly disrespected, influenced him to make these fateful decisions. If things had happened differently, if Bucky and Sam had given him a chance for example, then maybe his brutal actions could have been avoided.
No matter how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concludes, or who ends up wielding the shield and the Captain America title, John Walker is an intriguing character who deserves to be showcased in future MCU productions, perhaps as the U.S.Agent to mirror the comic books.