Why Bucky Is Still Called The Winter Soldier In The MCU

Despite Bucky Barnes being healed in Wakanda after Civil War and undergoing therapy, the MCU still refers to him as The Winter Soldier, but why?

Despite his reprogramming in Wakanda, Bucky Barnes is still referred to in the MCU as the Winter Soldier, including in the title for Disney+’s The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, and for good reason. Bucky may have been “healed” by the advanced medicine of Black Panther’s mystical nation, but he is far from repaired after his decades-long ordeal of being Hydra’s assassin-on-ice.

The Falcon & The Winter Soldier has already set up Bucky’s continued reliance on therapy and his pardon after the crimes he committed as the Winter Soldier. It has also established that Bucky felt most at peace when he was the White Wolf in Wakanda – a point repeated in the second episode pointedly as if to reinforce how Bucky wishes he could see himself. But like many of his fellow MCU heroes, Bucky is haunted by what he did in the past. That thread of historical sins playing out in the present is something the MCU has long been fascinated with, with Thor and Iron Man both dealing with institutional evil and Black Widow’s infamous red in her ledger.

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The difference from something like Iron Man reclaiming himself from the past of Stark Industries is that Bucky wasn’t in control or an enabler by ignorance. He was controlled by Hydra against his will and was as much a victim as those he killed but his tragedy is that he doesn’t fully believe he can ever be redeemed. That’s why the MCU still refers to him as The Winter Soldier. Just as Falcon is not Cap, the title reflects how each of the heroes sees themselves and speaks to Bucky’s pained existence.

As Bucky says to Sam Wilson when he confronts him about giving up the shield after Avengers: Endgame, his worry is that if Steve Rogers was wrong about Sam, he could also have been wrong about Bucky himself. Because fundamentally, Steve was Bucky’s anchor: he pulled him back from the abyss and believed in him even as the world hunted him as a mass murdering war criminal. Steve also proved his own suitability to be Captain America by showing his willing to give everything up – including his freedom – to protect the perceived justice of saving rather than damning Bucky. Removing that from Bucky’s life was always going to destabilize him, even if Steve Rogers got his own happy ending in Endgame. On top of that, Bucky is also lumbered with the expectation that without therapy he could “lapse” back into being the Winter Soldier, as if that is his natural condition, fended off only through hard work, when the opposite is true.

The Falcon & The Winter Soldier has also introduced Bucky’s nightmares, which are made possible by the fact that Bucky’s brain would heal while on The Winter Soldier missions, threatening to wake him up from his conditioning. Unfortunately, what kept him vaguely human also came with the caveat that he would be forced to remember everyone he killed while under the Winter Soldier mask. Those ghosts are precisely why Bucky cannot see himself as anything other than The Winter Soldier and why the show is named as it is, rather than “Captain America & Bucky”. Tragically, it’s also probably why Bucky Barnes’ MCU story will end with him dying, because reprogramming, forgiveness, and therapy have all failed to move him past the self-doubt and the trauma of what he was made to do.

Next: The Real Reason MCU Movies Have A Deadly Superhero Curse

  • Black Widow (2021)Release date: Jul 09, 2021
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)Release date: Sep 03, 2021
  • Eternals (2021)Release date: Nov 05, 2021
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)Release date: Dec 17, 2021
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)Release date: Mar 25, 2022
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)Release date: May 06, 2022
  • Black Panther 2 (2022)Release date: Jul 08, 2022
  • Captain Marvel 2 (2022)Release date: Nov 11, 2022

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