Plus, why there isn't a post-credits scene.
Well, that certainly wasn't The Dick Van Dyke Show. Marvel Studios debuted the first episode of their second event series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, on Friday, an hour of the slick action and plot twists you expect from an MCU outing, along with more introspective moments from the titular duo.
The premiere episode, "New World Order," picks up with Sam Wilson (aka Anthony Mackie's Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan's Winter Soldier) in a post-Endgame world, as they contend with money issues, PTSD and the loss of their mutual friend, Captain America himself Steve Rogers, along with the emergence of a new super-powered terrorist organization.
Along the way, we're introduced to a gallery of new MCU players, including the Flagsmashers, which counts Erin Kellyman's masked character among its members; Joaquin Torres (Danny Ramirez), who comic book fans know as Sam's protégé and the would-be Falcon; and most surprising of all: The new Captain America (played by Wyatt Russell).
ET spoke with head writer Malcolm Spellman and director Kari Skogland to break down the first episode's big reveals and lack of post-credits scene.
The New Captain America
With Sam having relinquished the mantle of Captain America, the episode ends with a record-scratching twist: The government holds a press conference to introduce the new Captain America. They don't call him John Walker, though, or U.S. Agent, as the character is known in the comics, but Captain America.
"Walker started off much closer to the Walker in the books, and then completely morphed into something very, very, very different," Spellman says. "For him to take the mantle and for him to be Captain America, we knew we needed to shift him to be a bit more heroic and righteous. So, just the very fact that we wanted to introduce him as Captain America, to bring that conflict to life, started to dictate the evolution of John Walker as a character. Because to carry that shield, you cannot be the guy that he was in the comics. There's traces of that there, but he's definitely much more obviously heroic. That said, he's going to have to earn it -- or not -- over the course of the series."
"He's going to have a big impact on the MCU," Spellman adds of Walker.
The episode shows Sam reacting to the Captain America reveal -- fittingly, as he was who Steve chose as his successor -- but ends before we see how Bucky is taking the news.
"One of the things that is critical to remember is that everybody has a different opinion of the shield, and everybody has a different opinion of who Captain America was or is," Skogland says. "Just like you have your opinion of the shield, so do I. It's all of us coming at it with our own individual baggage of what that iconic symbol represents. And that will be true of Bucky too."
Laying Down the Shield
Before John Walker can take up that star-spangled shield, Sam has to turn it down. One of the biggest questions leading into the series was whether or not Sam would assume Steve's title, a matter that's settled (for now) early on in the story: Sam formally retires the shield -- turning it over to the government to be included in a Steve Rogers memorial -- and thus, makes the choice to remain the Falcon.
"We knew that was the central conflict we wanted to explore. Before I even talked to Kevin and them, I knew some version of that had to happen," Spellman recalls. "We liked the idea of a betrayal from the government, because that speaks to that bigger theme. So, 50,000 different versions of how that played out occurred, but every one of them was rooted in us knowing that it had to end in that place."
"We start with this conversation of not only who's going to have the shield but who wants the shield -- will Sam pick it up or not? -- so that [final] scene was like the hammer into the nail for the conversation," Skogland adds. "It kickstarts everything."
Getting the Boys Back Together
For a series titled The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the first episode does not see the Falcon and the Winter Soldier share any screen time, instead following each on their own individual journeys. "This is a Kevin special. He knew, 'I do not want them together in the first episode,'" Spellman says of Marvel head Kevin Feige.
"The reason why is he's like, 'These characters need to be imprinted in the audience's mind as individuals first' -- because they've always existed in the context of something bigger than themselves -- 'now that we're introducing them to the world, they gotta be their own men before you identify them and contextualize them as a team,'" he explains. "Because we all know the magic they have together. And it's so powerful that if you didn't give them that time apart, you would just forevermore be remembering them as one of these classic duos and not as individual characters and human beings."
What's After the Credits
Following a first look at Russell suited up as Captain America, the episode cuts to the credits, a meticulously designed treatment worth watching in its entirety ("There's lots to look at there," Skogland says. "There's lots of little Easter eggs in there") that also reminds us, yes, we'll be seeing Daniel Brühl's Zemo and Emily VanCamp's Sharon Carter in forthcoming episodes. And then? Nothing.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is in somewhat unchartered water when it comes to utilizing Marvel's trademark post-credits scenes: Would the show have one for each episode? Or save it for the finale? (WandaVision did not include one until episode 7, when the show broke from its sitcom structure.)
"Well," Skogland grins, "I guess it just means you've got to stick to the end just in case."
New episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier stream Fridays on Disney+.