With Thor: Ragnarok adapting the comic book storyline of the same name, it’d be easy to dismiss the film as just another entry in the Thor trilogy: esoteric, tied to Asgard and not all that connected to the rest of the MCU, with the exception of Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk hanging around and Hulking it up, as he tends to do.
It remains to be seen exactly what effect the catastrophic events of Ragnarok will have on the wider universe, but one announced character stands out: Grandmaster, Jeff Goldblum’s mysterious role. He’s not connected to Asgard, Ragnarok or even Thor in particular. So who is Grandmaster, and what’s he doing in a movie about people from Norse mythology all getting together to kill each other?
Grandmaster - real name En Dwi Gast - is an ‘Elder of the Universe’, a fancy way of saying that he’s been around for a really long time. Having lived for eons, he eventually grew to enjoy learning about and playing all sorts of games, which is his driving motivation is most of his appearances. Never a true villain, En Dwi Gast exists to gain enjoyment from challenges and trials set to lesser mortals, mostly acting as a cosmic (and far more successful) version of the X-Men villain Arcade.
Over the years, he’s played games with the Avengers, the Defenders, the X-Men and many others, often popping up at times when he’s least expected and messing up everyone’s day by forcing them into some kind of challenge that they definitely didn't sign up for. Grandmaster also held onto an Infinity Gem for a while - specifically, the Mind Gem - though he wields vast cosmic power without any kind of source, including the power to warp reality to his whims, as well as true immortality; nothing can kill or even harm him.
Grandmaster may not necessarily be a major player in Thor: Ragnarok, given that he has nothing to do with the story in the comics. If he is incorporated into the plot, it could be that he sets the main characters against each other in one of his games, triggering Ragnarok for the sake of it making his boring existence slightly more interesting.
However, it seems more likely that this will serve as an introduction for Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster. Thor returns to Asgard to find out more about the Infinity Stones, Grandmaster is a cosmic being who’d probably know all about that intergalactic nonsense and the two could have a brief meeting, filled with ominous imagery and plenty of juicy foreshadowing.
This would be a significant step for the MCU, which thus far has only depicted cosmic beings as ancient entities. Guardians of the Galaxy had an entire sequence set inside the severed head of a Celestial (gigantic ancient beings), the mining colony Knowhere. Meanwhile, we see an actual, armored Celestial in a flashback, using the Power Stone to wipe out an entire planet. Grandmaster could well be the very first cosmic being to appear in the present-day MCU, taking the universe some wild new territories. Whatever the reason for his appearance, it’s likely tied to the Infinity Stones; everything in the MCU seems to revolve around them, after all.
Just for something completely different: meet Skurge, a.k.a. Executioner. If you’re familiar with the Norse tradition of ‘berserkers’, that sums him up nicely; a ruthless warrior able to enter a frenzy during battle that makes them almost unstoppable. As the son of an Asgardian warrior and a frost giant, Skurge became a famed warrior himself, earning the name ‘Executioner’. However, he’s mostly been relegated to the bad guy side after being seduced by Amora, better known as ‘Enchantress’. Another persistent thorn in the side of Odin and Asgard, Enchantress has tried time and time again throughout thousands of years to place Asgard and the rest of the nine worlds under her control.
Skurge’s answer to most of life’s problems is to hack at them with his battle axe or just punch them with his massive superhuman strength, but he’s not without depth. His loyalty comes from being utterly love-struck, eternally bound to Enchantress for that date that she keeps putting off. As a result, Executioner has found himself clashing with Odin and Thor as part of his mistress’ schemes, proving to be one of the fiercest adversaries for the god of thunder. He also teamed up with various villains over the years (usually once again being strung along by Enchantress), including Loki; by this stage it’s practically a Marvel villain rite of passage to team up with and then be betrayed by Loki.
Skurge eventually met his bloody and glorious end aiding Thor in rescuing stolen souls from the realm of Hel that had been taken by Hela, goddess of the dead. Though they succeeded, someone had to stay behind to guard the bridge of Gjellerbru, which led from Hel to the realm of the living. Armed with twin machines guns (because why not?), Executioner made one final stand, mowing down the armies of the dead and allowing his comrades to escape. After his death, it was this heroic act that allowed him into Valhalla, a place for honored Asgardian warriors.
Karl Urban’s version of Skurge in the MCU is less clear at this stage, though we do get a few hints from what we’ve been told so far. There’s been no word on the presence of Amora, meaning that he may be serving a new master/mistress. If so, it seems likely that the role of Enchantress will go to Hela (Cate Blanchett). It would make sense to mash the two characters together, creating an arc for Skurge that involves him working for her (probably again under her thrall while she keeps promising him a rain-check on that candlelit dinner) and perhaps fulfilling his comic role by dying awesomely on the side of good.
This fits in with what we know about the character from Karl Urban, who has said that his character is ‘fantastic’ and has ‘a great arc’. This is all hearsay, and with the movie not even properly finished anything could change. However, it does point to Skurge playing out a compressed version of his comic book role…and here’s hoping for a massive battle between him and Thor.
You might notice that - in terms of major antagonists - Thor has thus far faced a nigh-indestructible laser-face robot (the Destroyer), his own weedy, illusionist brother, a weird monster and a dark elf who was earlier bested in combat by Thor’s own mother. If this is to be the final Thor solo movie featuring Chris Hemsworth, then Skurge/Executioner could finally be a worthy challenge for the MCU’s god of thunder.
Captain America: Civil War is in theaters now. Doctor Strange opens November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel– March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2– May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.