Spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War lie below, so unless you've seen the movie or have the Time Stone, look away now.
There was a lot going on in those final minutes of Avengers: Infinity War. Heroes vanished, leaving the survivors to look on in absolute horror; Thanos was transported to another dimension, where young Gamora awaited his arrival; and in the end, the Avengers lost. It was a shocking defeat, one made all the more heartbreaking by the team's insurmountable losses.
But are the characters who evaporated really gone for good? Or are their souls simply in limbo? A popular fan theory insists on the latter, explaining that Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the others who turned to dust aren't dead, but rather they're trapped in another dimension — more specifically, the Soul Stone.
Unlike the other Infinity Stones, the Soul Stone is still one giant mystery. Kept safe on the planet Vormir under Red Skull's watchful eye, the Soul Stone was the only one of the powerful gems that required a sacrifice. To obtain it, Thanos had to sacrifice that which he loved most: Gamora. But what can the Soul Stone actually do? Turns out, it was the most essential part of Thanos's plan to balance the universe. Like its name implies, the Soul Stone harbors souls.
Soulworld is a pocket dimension contained within the orange stone that houses the souls it has taken — and it's where Thanos reunited with a young Gamora after he snapped his fingers and eliminated half the universe's population. This means Gamora isn't really dead; her soul is trapped in the Soul Stone. Joe Russo, the co-director of Infinity War, recently confirmed as much while speaking to a group of students at Iowa City High School.
"It's implied [that] it’s the Soul Stone," Russo said of the scene. "It’s all orange around, then he’s inside the Soul Stone with the amount of power that it took to snap his fingers – he has this out of body experience with Thanos. When he goes inside the Soul Stone he has this kind of conversation with the younger version of his Gamora."
When asked specifically if Gamora was alive in the Soul Stone, Russo replied, "She in fact is, yes." This latest reveal gives credence to the theory that the ones who vanished are now stuck inside the stone and much of the untitled Avengers 4 will be spent figuring out a way to get them out. (After all, the anticipated follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming is still set for release in July 2019, just two months after the final Avengers film hits theaters in May, so Spidey's return is a safe bet.) Of course, the superheroes who got sucked into Soulworld could also form the New Avengers, while Captain America, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Shuri — taking up the mantle of Black Panther — and the others try and find a way to reverse Thanos's plan.
Though, it's not like Peter Parker, Groot, Bucky, Stephen Strange, and the rest are imprisoned inside a burning hellscape. In the comics, the Soulworld is a place of peace and tranquility, a utopia where beings live in complete harmony. If anything, it's going to be a rude awakening for the ones who do return to the real world. This could create a compelling next chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is someone as winning and enthusiastic as Peter the same person when he inevitably returns? Or is he somehow disillusioned by it all?
There are still so many questions, but the Soul Stone reveal does give us a glimpse of what's to come — and how the Infinity Gauntlet's most mysterious gem might be the key to saving those feared dead.