November 11, 2022 12:00 AM EST

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

Killmonger is back from the dead—sort of. Michael B. Jordan’s legendary villain from the first Black Panther film makes a surprising cameo in the sequel, Wakanda Forever.

When Shuri, the new Black Panther, takes a synthetic version of the heart-shaped herb that imbues the consumer with superpowers, she visits the realm of her ancestors. She expects her mother, her brother, or perhaps even her father to be waiting for her to offer some sage advice on her new leadership role. Instead she finds her mass-murdering cousin, Killmonger. Not ideal.

In retrospect, it’s not all that surprising that director Ryan Coogler found a way to work Jordan into the film. The two artists are close collaborators: Coogler directed Jordan in his first feature film, Fruitvale Station, as well as Creed and Black Panther. So it’s not exactly shocking that Coogler would call upon his friend to resurrect Killmonger.

And it’s a deft screenwriting decision by Coogler and his co-writer Joe Robert Cole: When Shuri enters the realm of her ancestors, audiences are understandably nervous that she might encounter some CGI version of Boseman. After all, Disney has been known to use CGI to portray actors who have died. The sudden appearance of Killmonger not only surprises the audience but manifests Shuri’s own anxieties about whether she will be a worthy queen. Killmonger let his thirst for revenge drive him. Shuri is in danger of doing the same, and her tete a tete with her cousin pushes her in a bad direction. Here’s what to know about the scene.

Read More: The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther

How does the ancestral plane work in Black Panther?

Black Panther. L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) (Marvel)
Black Panther. L to R: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
Marvel

Early in Black Panther, after T’Challa has defeated the challenger to the throne M’Baku (Winston Duke), he is crowned the leader of Wakanda. During a ceremony, he is fed a heart-shaped herb that will imbue him with powers, then buried under sand. He then visits the ancestral plane and speaks with his father about leading the country.

Characters will visit that same plane two more times in that film. First, Killmonger will visit when he takes over Wakanda. And T’Challa will visit again when, after being beaten by Killmonger, M’Baku saves him and helps his family restore him to health.

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

What did T’Challa and Killmonger find when they visited the ancestral plane?

(L-R) Denzel Whitaker and Sterling K. Brown in <i>Black Panther</i> (Disney/Marvel)
(L-R) Denzel Whitaker and Sterling K. Brown in Black Panther
Disney/Marvel

When Killmonger defeats T’Challa in battle, he claims the throne and undergoes the same ceremony. During his visit to the ancestral plane, he encounters his own father N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown).

Remember, N’Jobu had moved to America and began working as a rebel against the American government in hopes of uplifting the Black community he had found there. Like their sons after them, the two brothers disagreed about the best way to create change for oppressed people. N’Jobu believed Wakanda could not longer remain isolationist, and the only way to fight oppression was through radical action. He stole Vibranium from Wakanda for the cause. T’Challa’s father T’Chaka wanted Wakanda to remain isolationist and tried to put a stop to his brother’s work.

N’Jobu argues to his brother T’Chaka, “Their leaders have been assassinated. Communities flooded with drugs and weapons. They are overly policed and incarcerated. All over the planet our people suffer because they don’t have the tools to fight back. With Vibranium weapons, they could overthrow every country and Wakanda could rule them all the right way.” The two butted heads, N’Jobu drew a gun on T’Chaka’s friend, and T’Chaka killed N’Jobu. A young Killmonger was left to find his father’s dead body with claw marks in it.

In an absolutely devastating scene, Killmonger enters the ancestral plane and visits his childhood home in Oakland. There he sees his father, who tells him that the Wakandan people will say he is lost. He blamed himself for imbuing his son with a drive for vengeance and concludes, “We are both abandoned here.”

Killmonger awakens and orders the Wakandans to burn all the remaining heart-shaped herbs so no one besides him can ever become the Black Panther again. Luckily, T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s partner Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) save one final heart-shaped herb to feed to the fallen king. When they find his body with M’Baku, they bury him in snow and feed him the herb.

At this point, T’Challa has learned that his father is responsible for the death of his uncle, N’Jobu, and that he abandoned his nephew. T’Challa confronts his father and tells him he was wrong to turn his back on Killmonger and on the rest of the world. Their conversation charts a new path forward for Wakanda that adopts some of Killmonger’s ideals about uplifting the underprivileged and reckoning with the history of colonization, but without all the bloodshed that Killmonger seeks.

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

What happens when Killmonger appears in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?

Letitia Wright in <i>Black Panther: Wakanda Forever</i> (Marvel Studios)
Letitia Wright in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Marvel Studios

In the sequel to Black Panther, it’s Shuri’s turn to visit the ancestral plane. The movie’s antagonist Namor kills Shuri’s mother Ramonda, and Shuri is crowned queen of the nation.

Because Killmonger destroyed the garden of heart-shaped herbs, Shuri needs to invent a synthetic version. She wasn’t able to invent it in time to help save her dying brother. But later in the movie, she succeeds and asks Nakia and Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) to help her take the herb. She eschews the traditional burial, expressing skepticism that the ancestral plane even exists. Nakia prays over Shuri asking the ancestors to bring her Ramonda.

Nakia wakes up in the ancestral plane and visits the Wakandan throne room. She sees a figure sitting on the throne, and walks around to see the person’s face. She expects her mother or her brother—or maybe even her father. Instead, she sees Killmonger, who greets his cousin with a smirk.

Shuri wonders aloud why he is there, and Killmonger implies that Shuri conjured him. Wakanda Forever suggests that the visits to the ancestral plane are manifestations created by the person who took the ancestral herb. Because Shuri was already seething with hatred after the deaths of her brother and her mother, she called upon the only other ruler she knew driven by vengeance.

Shuri initially rejects Killmonger, calling him an unworthy king. But as they speak about how her brother ruled, Killmonger points out that T’Challa let their father’s killer, Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) go. He challenges Shuri as to whether she will be weak like her brother or whether she’ll “take care of business” and avenge her mother’s death by killing Namor.

Shuri awakes from visiting the ancestral plane determined to kill Namor.

Will Killmonger return to the MCU?

Probably not. This seemed like a one-off cameo for Jordan, who is busy promoting the third installment in the Creed franchise, which he directed. But the MCU is now a multiverse, and different versions of the same person can exist across multiple dimensions. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, we saw variants of Wanda Maximoff and Doctor Strange, and in Loki, the Asgardian trickster encountered many versions of himself. Any actor—whether their character is dead or not—could return at any time.

More Must-Reads From TIME

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

You May Also Like
EDIT POST