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Everything You Need to Know About the Multiverse in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

Not caught up on all the Disney+ shows? Here's a crash course!

The branching timeline from Loki.

Phase 4 of the MCU has been building up to a multiversal event for over a year now. The multiverse was hinted at in WandaVision, created in Loki, and broken open in Spider-Man: No Way Home, and now it looks like all the mischief and chaos Marvel’s characters have been causing is going to come to a head in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But what if you haven’t been dutifully watching every single phase 4 movie and Disney Plus series? What if you’ve fallen behind on all the backstory and lore that Marvel has been building? Don’t worry! Here’s a crash course in what the multiverse is, how it came to be, and how exactly it all works.

The Time Variance Authority and the Sacred Timeline

Tom Hiddleston as Loki references "space lizards"

We’re going to skip the events in WandaVision for a minute and talk about the main entity controlling the multiverse: the Time Variance Authority, or TVA.

In The Avengers: Endgame, Loki grabs the tesseract and launches himself into the Gobi desert to escape the Avengers. He thinks he’s home free, but then a portal opens and a group of armored cops accuses him of “crimes against the sacred timeline.” Turns out they represent the TVA, an eons-old bureaucracy tasked with keeping all of existence confined to one timeline.

See, whenever someone makes a choice, even if it’s as minor as being late for work, that creates two branches of reality: one in which they performed that action, and another in which they didn’t. This occurrence is called a nexus event, and the alternate version of that person in the newly created branch is called a variant. The TVA prunes all branching timelines that result from nexus events, thus preventing the universe from splitting into an infinite multiverse. The Timekeepers, a trio of space-lizard dudes who dictate what events can or can’t happen in the sacred timeline, supposedly know that any timelines that were allowed to branch would lead to a vast multiversal war, as beings from various timelines encountered each other and fought for control.

Well, chaos ensues after Loki’s arrest, and it turns out that the Timekeepers aren’t real. Instead we meet a man called He Who Remains, who explains that the threat of multiversal war comes from his own variants. By pruning all possible realities into one timeline, he explains, he’s keeping the universe safe from violent alternate versions of himself.

He Who Remains is tired of running the TVA, though, and he offers to hand the reins to Loki and Sylvie. Sylvie kills him instead, freeing the multiverse.

Nexus Beings

WandaVision, in which Wanda creates the illusion of a sitcom life to avoid dealing with her grief over losing Vision and her brother Pietro, features a commercial in every episode that explores a significant event in Wanda’s life. Most of them draw from her past, but the final commercial advertises something called Nexus, which promises to “anchor you…to the reality of your choice.”

In the comics, Wanda is known as a nexus being, or a being capable of altering their timeline in a way that others can’t. It looks like Marvel is paving the road for Wanda to be a nexus being in the MCU as well. There are even some eerie parallels between the final episodes of WandaVision and Loki, with Wanda’s transformation into the Scarlet Witch syncing up with He Who Remains crossing the threshold into a future he hasn’t seen yet.

Doctor Strange Breaks the Multiverse

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange wearing winter gear and a cloak in the Spider-Man No Way Home trailer

In Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange attempts a spell to make the world forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. His tampering with reality, coupled with Peter’s interference with the spell, has an unexpected consequence. Instead of erasing everyone’s memory, Strange breaks a hole in reality itself, pulling in beings who know Peter’s identity from other realities. “The multiverse,” Strange says, pondering the ramifications of what they’ve done, “is something about which we know frighteningly little.”

But Wait! How Does Strange Know About the Multiverse at All?

Sylvie and Loki confront He Who Remains at the literal end of time, presumably billions of years after any of the events in any Marvel movie. The TVA itself exists outside of time and space (some have speculated that it’s in Ant-Man‘s Quantum Realm), and has been pruning realities since time began. So how can anyone inside the timeline possibly know about the multiverse if the multiverse only recently came into being?

Here’s where things get especially weird, and all we can do so far is speculate. As the TVA monitors the sacred timeline, branches appear randomly throughout history. A branch appears in 15th century France, and they go back in time to prune it. A branch appears on the moon Lamentis I in 2077, and they go forward to prune that. When it comes to branching realities, a branch can appear anywhere, since from the TVA’s perspective, all of time is happening simultaneously. When the multiverse is created at the end of Loki, we see branches appearing all throughout the timeline: past, present, and future.

That means that if you’re within the timeline when the multiverse sprouts, then from your perspective, the multiverse will have always existed—even if, from the TVA’s perspective, it just started to branch 10 seconds ago.

So What Can We Expect in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness?

Where to watch Marvel films: Disney+, Apple TV+, Prime Video

Wanda Maximoff telling Stephen Strange the truth in the Multiverse of Madness trailer

Well, madness, for one thing. The multiverse has been getting steadily out of hand since WandaVision, and judging from the trailer, things are about to get pretty wild in the MCU.

There are a few major developments that we can look forward to. In the trailer, Strange goes to Wanda to ask for her expert opinion on the multiverse, and we find out that Vision had some theories about it, too. This means that Strange knows Wanda holds some significance in the multiverse. We’ll also meet America Chavez, who not only has the ability to punch holes into different branches of the multiverse, but comes from an alternate reality herself. Finally, we know Strange will meet at least a couple of variants of himself.

Plus, several rumors are circulating, including a rumor that one or more of the characters from Loki will make an appearance. Who better to explain the secrets of the multiverse to Strange than the tricksters who are responsible for it?

Where will the multiverse go from here? We’ll get the next installment of Marvel’s multiversal saga on May 6th, when Multiverse of Madness comes out, and He Who Remains will return in his incarnation as Kang the Conquerer in Ant-Man: Quantumania, due out in July 2023. Plus, we’ll get a second season of Loki sometime in 2023, in which we’ll find out what the TVA’s deal is now that they’ve lost their whole reason for being. In the meantime, what are your theories and predictions for Marvel’s multiverse? Let us know in the comments!

Where to watch Marvel films: Disney+, Apple TV+, Prime Video

(Image: Marvel)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at