November 11, 2022 12:01 AM EST

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The Thunderbolts movie is starting to take shape, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever provided some essential clues about a key player in that film and antagonist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Julia Louis Dreyfus‘ Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, better known as Val.

The Black Panther sequel primarily focuses on the realms of Wakanda and Talocan, an underwater kingdom ruled over by the film’s antagonist, Namor (Tenoch Huerta). But Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) do briefly venture to the United States to confer with Okoye’s “favorite colonizer” Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Unfortunately, in order for Ross to give the Wakandans information, he must defy the orders of the new CIA director.

In an unexpected twist, we find out that the new CIA director is Val, the woman who has been recruiting morally dubious characters like John Walker (Wyatt Russell) in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) in Black Widow to some sort of super-team.

Up until this point, audiences were led to assume that Val was just some sort of rich super-villain building a group to execute her own corrupt ends. But now that she is the head of the CIA, her plots to assassinate Hawkeye and steal Vibranium are all government-sanctioned. (Bad news for Hawkeye!) What’s more, the film reveals that Ross and Val used to be married.

Here is everything you need to know about Valentina, and what her position as CIA director means for the much-anticipated 2024 Thunderbolts film.

Review: There’s a Gaping Hole at the Center of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever—and It’s No One’s Fault

What’s Valentina Allegra de Fontaine been up to?

(L-R) Wyatt Russell, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and Gabrielle Byndloss in <i>The Falcon and the Winter Soldier</i> (Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios)
(L-R) Wyatt Russell, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and Gabrielle Byndloss in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios

For those of you who haven’t kept up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows and movies, Val has made a few cameo appearances that set her up as one of the next great villains of the MCU.

She first appears in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and introduces herself as a member of an organization interested in people with superhuman powers. Her first recruit is John Walker, a man who briefly took up the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers’ disappearance. After taking the supersoldier serum, John Walker became overzealous in his patriotic duty. He was eventually stripped of his title after he murdered someone who was surrendering to him. Val approaches Walker after he is publicly disgraced and offers him a place on a team she is building. He dons an all-black Captain America-esque suit, and Val dubs him U.S. Agent.

Read More: What’s Next for the MCU After The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Val pops up again in an end-credits scene for Black Widow. She approaches Yelena Belova as she mourns her sister, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) in a graveyard. Val tells Yelena that she has a new target for her, and the audience can deduce that Yelena is working as an assassin for Val. Val asks Yelena if she would like the chance to take out the man responsible for her sister’s death and shows Yelena a picture of Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye.

Yelena later appears in the show Hawkeye intending to kill Clint. But she has a heart-to-heart with Clint’s protege Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) and later with Clint himself. In those discussions, she realizes that Natasha sacrificed herself to save the world. She also conducts her own investigation and finds out that Kate Bishop’s mom, Eleanor Bishop (Vera Farmiga), hired Val to have Clint killed. Ultimately, Yelena decides to spare Clint and go back to spending time with her adorable dog. We don’t know how this decision will impact Yelena’s relationship with Val.

How does Val running the CIA change things?

Still from the film Black Widow. (DisneyPlus)
Still from the film Black Widow.
DisneyPlus

Presumably, the fact that Val was available for hire means that she was not actually a member of the CIA as recently as the events of Hawkeye. It would seem unusual for the CIA to hire a director from outside their ranks, but Everett Ross does mention that the director is brand new. Val seems to have infiltrated the U.S. government. This wouldn’t be the first time that bad guys managed to snag high-profile positions in Washington in the MCU. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the head of the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is revealed to be a secret agent of the Nazi offshoot organization HYDRA.

Now, Valentina can claim any evil deeds on the part of U.S. Agent and others are government sanctioned. We know little of Val’s motivations: During Black Panther: Wakanda Forever she does admit that she dreams of a world in which the U.S. had control of the precious metal Vibranium and could deploy it against their enemies.

Read More: From Hawkeye to Spider-Man: Far From Home, the MCU Is Blurring the Line Between Hero and Villain

Who are the Thunderbolts?

(L-R) Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, David Harbour, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jake Scheier, and Kevin Feige at D23 in 2022 presenting <i>The Thunderbolts</i> (The Walt Disney Company via Getty Images)
(L-R) Sebastian Stan, Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, David Harbour, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jake Scheier, and Kevin Feige at D23 in 2022 presenting The Thunderbolts
The Walt Disney Company via Getty Images

The Thunderbolts are essentially an anti-hero version of the Avengers team. They’re made up of villains, heroes, and ani-heroes with conflicting goals. Despite their differences, they first come together to protect the world after a cataclysmic event that results in the death of several avengers. Presumably, the movie version of the Thunderbolts will try to fill the void left by the Avengers seemingly splitting up (or taking a break?) after the losses of Iron Man and Captain America.

Marvel revealed the makeup of the MCU team at the D23 Expo in 2022:

Valentina Allegra de Fontaine

Julia Louis-Dreyfus attends the Premiere Of Disney And Pixar's "Onward" on February 18, 2020 (Gregg DeGuire—FilmMagic)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus attends the Premiere Of Disney And Pixar's "Onward" on February 18, 2020
Gregg DeGuire—FilmMagic

In the comics, the Thunderbolts are led by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, played by the late William Hurt in the MCU movies. Ross was involved in the development of the supersoldier serum that led to the creation of Hulk and dedicated years of his life to hunting down Bruce Banner. In service of that mission, he turned Emil Blonsky into Abomination.

Ross has made some other dubious decisions over the years, including working with sketchy military contractor and Iron Man rival Justin Hammer. Nonetheless, Ross was named Secretary of State and in Captain America: Civil War oversaw the writing of the Sokovia Accords which would limit actions taken by superheroes. The accords divided the Avengers along ideological and personal lines, and Ross tried to hunt down Black Widow and jailed Captain America’s other allies, though Cap quickly broke them out of prison.

Hurt sadly passed away earlier this year. In his stead, fans are speculating that Val will most likely lead this group.

Read more: Everything You Need to Remember From Black Panther Before Seeing Wakanda Forever

Yelena Belova

Florence Pugh in <i>Black Widow</i> (Marvel Studios)
Florence Pugh in Black Widow
Marvel Studios

Yelena will presumably take on the mantel of Black Widow in some future movie. But first she has to contend with Val. Val gave her false information in Hawkeye, so it’s unclear what will bring Yelena back to her team.

The Winter Soldier

Sebastian Stan in <i>Falcon and the Winter Soldier</i> (Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios)
Sebastian Stan in Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios

Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is a morally complicated figure. Once Captain America’s best friend, he was brainwashed by HYDRA and deployed as an assassin. He even killed the parents of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Bucky spent much of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier contending with his history of mass murder and trying to reform himself. Perhaps he will join the Thunderbolts in hopes of repenting for his past wrongs.

U.S. Agent

Wyatt Russell in <i>Falcon and the Winter Soldier</i> (Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios)
Wyatt Russell in Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Chuck Zlotnick—Marvel Studios

John Walker has many flaws. His privilege blinds him. His ego drives him. His anger corrupts him. And yet, he will be a major player on the Thunderbolts team. Whether John actually hopes to reform has yet to be seen. Given that Bucky and John clashed in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, their team-up on the Thunderbolts will be begrudging at best, explosive at worst.

Red Guardian

Marvel
Marvel

Russia’s answer to Captain America, Red Guardian (David Harbour) was the first supersoldier created by the Soviet Union and acted as a surrogate father to Natasha and Yelena. The two women broke Red Guardian out of prison in Black Widow to aid them on their mission to free the brainwashed Black Widow assassins they once trained alongside in the Red Room in Russia. The Red Guardian will likely add not only brute strength but comic relief to the Thunderbolts movie.

Ghost

Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) in <i>Ant-Man and the Wasp</i> (Film Frame/Marvel Studios)
Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) in Ant-Man and the Wasp
Film Frame/Marvel Studios

The antagonist in Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen) is more a misunderstood anti-hero than she is a villain. An accident killed Ava’s parents and changed her own molecular structure. The good news is she can turn invisible, and she executed covert missions for SHIELD. The bad news is the alterations to her body are killing her. Her quest for a cure clashes head-long into Ant-Man’s mission. At the end of Ant-Man and the Wasp, Ava is temporarily healed.

Taskmaster

Black Widow introduced another misunderstood anti-hero, Antonia Dreykov (Olga Kurylenko). Her father, General Dreykov, runs the Red Room in Russia, where he brainwashes and trains female assassins called Black Widows. A victim of her father’s manipulation, Antonia was trained as a mercenary who can mimic the movements of whoever she is fighting. At the end of Black Widow, Yelena and Natasha kill General Dreykov, and save Antonia. Antonia joins Yelena and the other Black Widows in their escape. Presumably, she’d happily join any group Yelena is a part of.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

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