Fans of Marvel Studios movies generally know to stay to the end of the credits for a bonus scene, one that typically introduces a character or teases the next film in the franchise. The tradition began with Iron Man where Samuel L. Jackson infamously showed up in Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.’s) apartment and name-dropped The Avengers, a moment which laid the groundwork for the future of the franchise.

Every Marvel movie since (with the exception of The Incredible Hulk which moved its scene into the main film) has included some sort of tag/button at the end of the credits, but The Avengers (i.e. the biggest opening film of all time) included two; One during the credits and one special scene added after the credits which didn’t play until the film opened in North America on May 4th.

The first button shows up midway through the credits and works to tease upcoming events in the Marvel Cinematic universe. The second scene at the very end however, is there only for pure entertainment value, and it wasn’t even shot until after The Avengers premiered in LA. In fact, we only found out about it because Robert Downey Jr. couldn’t resist spilling the beans and teasing the extra scene.

So, what are these two scenes, why are there two this time, and how did they come about?

*

**

***

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE AVENGERS AHEAD!

***

**

*

The first scene that shows up after the first section of credits (the part with all the animated weapons/costumes) presents the leader of the Chitauri alien force explaining the failure of their attack on Earth (led by Loki) to a mysterious alien, who turns and smiles at the idea of dealing with The Avengers would be “courting death itself.” That alien is of course the previously rumored Thanos and the reason for the smile is that “Death” is actually personified in the Marvel Universe as someone Thanos so desperately wishes to please.

Without getting too deep into the Marvel Comics history of Thanos, this scene, albeit totally confusing to non-Marvel Comics fans, is important as it is likely teasing the villain for next year’s Thor 2. We know from Tom Hiddleston’s interviews in promoting The Avengers, that Loki and Thor return to Asgard in the Thor sequel and there’s a greater villain at play which just may force the (not by blood) brothers to work together. It’s likely that Thanos will be coming to get at least one of the artifacts found in Odin’s Vault (image below), as shown in the first Thor film. Thanos needs the Infinity Gauntlet and Thor 2 must show him coming to get it. From there, Thanos will show up in Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie which remains unannounced but could come in 2014 or 2015, and if not, The Avengers 2, likely in 2015.

Thanos sporting the Infinity Gauntlet

Was Thanos then, a character Marvel forced Joss Whedon to include at the end? Nope. Not at all. In fact, it was entirely Joss Whedon’s idea. Marvel President Kevin Feige explained to /Film that their guidelines simply involved aliens attacking Manhattan through a portal – who they were and who sent them was entirely up to Mr. Whedon. He chose the Chitauri army, as we know, but he also chose Thanos as the man behind the curtains so to speak, the one who set the plan in motion and gave Loki his added knowledge.

“He for me is the most powerful and fascinating Marvel villain. He’s the great grand daddy of the badasses and he’s in love with death and I just think that’s so cute. For me, the greatest Avengers was THE AVENGERS annual that Jim Starlin did followed by THE THING 2 in 1 that contained the death of Adam Warlock. Those were some of the most important texts and I think underrated milestones in Marvel history and Thanos is all over that, so somebody had to be in control and had to be behind Loki’s work and I was like ‘It’s got to be Thanos.’ And they said ‘Okay’ and I’m like ‘Oh my God!'”

But only the hardcore fans will know who he is, right? How many non-comic-readers knew who Nick Fury was at the end of Iron Man, what that hammer was at the end of Iron Man 2, or what the cube was at the end of Thor? As we explained in our special Avengers edition of the Screen Rant Underground podcast this week and as Kevin Feige reiterates in the interview, it’s there to get people talking, to get fans speculating, and to serve as a reminder for when said character does return to the big screen next year or the year after.

As for the post-credits scene that didn’t play internationally, it does nothing to setup future films or offer geek-focused Easter Eggs. Instead, it plays off of one of the jokes in the film’s final act, as told by Robert Downey Jr’s character. EW had a chance to chat with director/writer Joss Whedon and the cast to figure how and why this scene came about and why it was added at the literal last possible minute so it could play in theaters in time for its May 4th North American debut.

For background, during the final battle in The Avengers, a nuke is shot towards Manhattan to ensure the destruction of the invading alien army, but it was shot against the wishes of SHIELD Director Nick Fury and so he notifies Stark that it’s incoming. Using the last bit of energy in his armored suit, Iron Man redirects the warhead back through the portal, potentially sacrificing himself. On his collision course back down to the Manhattan streets, Hulk leaps to his rescue (as spoiled by the trailers) and when he regains his consciousness, it’s time for a series Robert Downey Jr.-style quips and one-liners, including one about trying out some local cuisine (shawarma), a line that wasn’t in the original script as pointed out by Entertainment Weekly who was on set during the time.

Stark was originally supposed to awaken and ask “what’s next” but Downey Jr. felt they could do more with the scene and the director agreed. The one line became three pages, but the payoff wasn’t there for the shawarma quip. Marvel agreed later, and so after the LA premiere of The Avengers, with the cast gathered, they brought the costumes and had them shoot one scene in a local restaurant (made to look damaged from the battle) where all they did was sit around a table eating.

There was no dialogue at all and the scene was meant to show how tired the six heroes were after the battle. Chris Evans, having short hair and a beard, had to wear prosthetics and covered his face with his arm, and we see all the characters chewing slowly as the mighty Thor dug in for one big bite. It was hilarious and it’s the type of scene that works so well with the tone and style Whedon brought to the team-up epic. Now we know why it was added.

If you’ve seen The Avengers and want to share your thoughts, join our Avengers spoilers discussion. Update: Disney’s CEO confirmed The Avengers 2 is in development.

The Avengers stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Tom Hiddleston and Stellan Skarsgard. It is of course written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes if you’re a Marvel fan.

Sources: EW, /Film