Warning: This post contains SPOILERS for Black Panther.
Erik Killmonger’s fate in Marvel’s Black Panther was sealed long before the film entered production. From the outset, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, proved to be a different type of villain, one that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t used to having. The shared universe is known for having practical villains, ones that are typically doppelgangers of their superhero counterparts, but Marvel is starting to buck that trend with their latest films.
Rather than depict villains that are evil for evil’s sake, Marvel realized the error in their ways and is starting to gravitate towards villains that can evoke an emotional response from their heroes. Kurt Russell’s Ego did just that in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and so did Cate Blanchett’s Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. In Black Panther, Killmonger took things a step further by temporarily taking the throne away from T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Unfortunately, T’Challa had to kill his cousin in order to save his kingdom. As it turns out, that was always what the film’s creative team had planned for the character’s end.
In an interview with Empire, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler says that they always intended for Killmonger to die in the film. According to Coogler, there was simply no way that Killmonger and T’Challa could coexist with one another.
“No, for him we always – that wasn’t something that we went back and forth on. His end was the same as draft one that it was in the film. Just because the idea was that these two things can’t coexist; if T’Challa and him… you know, that was a great tragedy of it for T’Challa, I think. But Killmonger was too far gone.”
After T’Challa fatally stabbed Killmonger in Wakanda’s Vibranium mines towards the end of the film, he offered to heal him – presumably using one of Shuri’s Swiss Army Knife-esque Vibranium beads – but Killmonger declined the offer. Instead, he chose to die a free man instead of being imprisoned for the rest of his life. That decision was made because it served both characters’ stories. As Coogler says, Killmonger was too far gone by that point, and there was no way that both characters could coexist with one another going forward, especially with their conflicting ideologies about where to take Wakanda.
Still, in the end, Killmonger’s tactics, though brutal and destructive, actually convinced T’Challa to disobey his father’s wishes and open Wakanda’s borders to the world. But while Killmonger wanted to use Wakanda’s technology, weaponry, and skills to conquer the world and lead the human race into a new age, T’Challa is looking to naturally change the world for the better by sharing Wakanda’s knowledge and resources. Even though Killmonger was always meant to die in Black Panther, at least something worthwhile came out of his death (and his abhorrent acts).
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