Branches and variants: Alternate Timelines in Loki explained

Confused about the ending of Loki with the Sacred Timeline branches? Loki head writer Michael Waldron explains their multiverse.


At the end of the first season of Marvel Studios' Loki on Disney+, we saw the Sacred Timeline branch out into innumerable forks, like a lightning bolt that stretches out infinitely. But what does this mean for the multiverses? What does it mean full-stop? Why isn’t reality unraveling immediately after this occurs? Well there is an explanation, and Loki’s head writer Michael Waldron can clear things up.

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The Sacred Timeline branching infinitely. (Images: Marvel Studios/Disney)

Read further to find out how the logic behind the multiverses and variants are explained, especially after Sylvie, the female Loki variant, slew Immortus (aka Kang, He Who Remains).

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Endgame and Variants from the Loki series

For those who followed the events of Avengers: Endgame, you already know how the surviving Avengers pulled off a time heist. But at the climax of the film, they pulled younger versions of Thanos, Gamorra, and the rest of Thanos’s army and destroyed them without canceling out the events of Infinity War.

Essentially, this is because the Thanos that traveled to the future to face the Avengers in Endgame is already a variant that, while he exists, there is also a version of him and his army that did not leave the original timeline and continued along the path that led to Avengers: Infinity War.

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The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), explains the timeline to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in Avengers: Endgame.

This is why when this variant of Thanos was defeated and Steve Rogers (Captain America) traveled to put back the Infinity Stones from the point they were pulled, things still happened the way they were supposed to happen.

But what about the Loki that escaped with the Tesseract during the resolution of the Battle of New York? Well, that’s where the Loki Disney+ series comes in. In the series, it is explained how variants are created and why the Time Variance Authority (TVA) exists, in order to prune variants and protect the Sacred Timeline.

Immortus, the variant of Kang that is also called He Who Remains, has seen and dealt with all the variants of the timeline. He did this to ensure that things would eventually result into him becoming the dominant version of Kang who preserves the Sacred Timeline, pruning problems as they occur throughout the different iterations of time and space.

However, as shown in the conclusion of the Loki series season 1 finale, Immortus is killed by Sylvie after he gives the two Loki variants a choice to either take over his duties or kill him and create an infinite number of Kangs that have less altruistic goals, thus leaving the scenario for Loki Season 2.

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Waldron elaborates

In an interview with ScreenCrush, Michael Waldron explains their approach on the idea of multiple timelines and alternate universes. As the Loki head writer and co-writer of the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness states:

The best I can explain it is our approach with time travel was the philosophy basically that time is always happening. So there are infinite instances of time always occurring at once. So you and I are having this conversation right now. There’s another instance of us having this conversation 10 seconds ago. There’s another instance of time of us having this conversation 10 seconds in the future. Generally, those three instances — you could literally say they’re all different universes in a way different timelines — are all the same.

This is the general basis of how alternate timelines can co-exist without one necessarily erasing any other or at least not deliberately causing an erasure simply by existing. Waldron continues:

There are minute little fluctuations in each instance of time. So in you and I’s conversation, five times out of ten, I pick up and I say, "Hello". And four times out of ten, I say, "Hey, nice to meet you". And then maybe one time out of ten, I’d say, "Hey man, f— you. I don’t want to do this interview".

This is not the only method of creating an explanation for fictional mulitverses to exist. In the DC Comics, alternate universes exist side by side, but are separated by different vibrational frequencies. If you can alter your frequency to match a different dimension or universe, you will be able to travel to it. This is generally how speedsters connected to the Speed Force, like The Flash, are able to shift from one universe to another.

And another explanation is that there are extremely powerful cosmic beings that create these alternate realities, whether it is due to their tasks or because they feel like it, as shown in such comic book storylines as Crisis on Infinite Earths and the recent Death Metal: Dark Knights.

Still Confused?

These explanations of how the MCU keeps track of alternate timelines and realities can still confuse most casual fans. But don’t worry about it.

Just understanding the basic idea that alternate events and realities can manifest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is enough to grasp the stories that will be explored in the Disney+ What If…? series and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Leave the complicated explanations to the writers like Michael Waldon.

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With the Sacred Timeline fractured into limitless variants, what is in store for Loki in Season 2?

Starring Tom Hiddleston, Owen Wilson, Sophia Di Martino, Tara Strong, Jonathan Majors, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wunmi Mosaku, Sasha Lane, Richard E. Grant, and Eugene Cordero, the full season of Loki is available for streaming on Disney+.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.