“Oh god.”

The last line of Avengers: Infinity War is uttered by the MCU’s sole beacon of hope and optimism, Captain America, having witnessed the people he held dear to his heart vanish into thin air. Defeated and confused, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are literally on their knees, their fate and dreams resigned to Thanos’ will. It’s a moment in the cinematic universe that is cemented in the minds of an entire generation whose imagery has already sparked audience-wide speculation for the future of the franchise. Everyone, including my 75-year old grandmother, has their own idea of what happens in Avengers 4. Most of them revolve around the mechanics of bringing all the heroes back together and how Thanos will be defeated. Currently, I’m more invested in what the MCU landscape will look like after the snap and how the status quo will change now that half of the population has disappeared.

Here’s what I think that status quo will be like post-snap: the stability of America and the rest of the world will be in disarray. World leaders have vanished including the President of the United States, leaving the power of the free world for grabs. That is until one man steps up to restore peace and order to the world: Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross.

The Russo Brothers have always been about shifting the status quo and setting the stage for the MCU at large. And in the two occasions they’ve done it, they’ve been centered on political groundedness. They did it when they disbanded the world’s espionage apparatus SHIELD at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They put the Avengers under government supervision at the end of Captain America: Civil War all the while labeling Captain America, a political figure in his own right, a criminal. The ending of Infinity War may not be politically driven but the film’s post-credits depicts the disintegration of two key figures of government in the wake of Thanos’ snap – Nick Fury & Maria Hill – as they watch cars crash and planes fall from the sky, hinting at larger ramifications to the world. And this grounded status quo has been hinted at by the Russos when they were asked about the title of the film a few weeks ago.

It’s certainly grounded in the narrative that we have been following throughout the MCU — very well grounded…

That’s not to say Avengers 4 will be a grounded politically-driven film. It won’t. If the leaks are to be believed, the film will be a batshit crazy story spanning the entirety of time and space, with very little to do with verisimilitude and groundedness. But the backdrop of the film when it begins, I have a hunch, will briefly feature the new world order under Ross.

What would that look like?

When Avengers 4 takes place is something that’s being heavily speculated on. There are rumblings of it taking place a few years after Thanos’ snap which I completely buy. The Russos and screenwriters Markus and McFeely have insinuated time and time that Avengers: Infinity War is a completely separate story from Avengers 4 despite its unsatisfying cliffhanger. And structurally, the only way these films stay separate if they narratively don’t take place next to each other.

So when we begin Avengers 4, a couple of years will have passed. The world has unfortunately moved on from the unexplainable catastrophe that was the modern-day rapture. As mentioned above, several world leaders will have vanished alongside the most insignificant of civilians. With no one else to turn to, America appoints its Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross as the guy to restore order in the world. He’s got his own personal motivations for stepping up to the cause: his daughter Betty was one of the casualties of Thanos’ snap – the Russos specifically confirmed this a few weeks ago. As the power vacuum incites new world threats to rise, Ross is determined to get everything back together and he’s pissed as hell at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes allowing it to happen in the first place.

For one thing, I think the Avengers will be in a very interesting predicament. You let half the world’s population disappear on your watch, some consequences are to be expected. A part of me thinks that the Avengers may be benched in place of a completely different defense apparatus. That or Ross switches the team up to his own liking. Without retreading the dilemma of the Accords, the effects of such a government mandate after a worldwide catastrophe can only get worse and more restrictive and what better way to restore the peace of a world in chaos than to hire the meanest strike team to police the world? Enter the Thunderbolts, the new superhuman response team handpicked by Thunderbolt Ross himself which includes the likes of Helmut Zemo, Abomination and War Machine (the precedent for a scenario like this is in the comics. When all the heroes disappeared in their fight against Onslaught, the Thunderbolts took their place).

Where a scenario like this leaves the original 6 Avengers is still up for debate. I can’t imagine a scenario where Captain America willingly steps aside for new management to take over. He either continues to work with the Avengers on his own terms or goes back to being an insurgent with Natasha. Joining them is Clint who, still grieving for his family that turned into dust in front of his own eyes years earlier, dons a new vigilante identity. Thor definitely isn’t going to stick around Earth after Infinity War. He’s got his sweet rabbit friend Rocket Raccoon to travel the cosmos with. As for Tony, I don’t see him leaving his post as the world’s best defender. In the years following the snap, I think Tony and Banner will invest all their time figuring out a way to undo Thanos’ damage.

Again, to reiterate, this outrageous theory of mine is merely painting what could be the backdrop of Avengers 4 when it begins. I’m not saying the movie will be a Dark Reign-esque film where the Avengers will go up against the rule of Thunderbolt Ross. In the same vein, Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War dealt with its preceding status quo, the same will go for Avengers 4. Regardless of how it specifically turns out, I think the Russos will present some very interesting set-ups for the story.

How do YOU think will Avengers 4 begin? Let us know in the comments below!