As is implied by the headline, this story is all about the ending of Joe and Anthony Russo's Avengers: Infinity War. It is LOADED with spoilers. Stop reading if you haven't seen the film, and come back here when you have.

We weren't ready for that. No matter how bleak you thought Avengers: Infinity War would get, the actual ending to the film delivered a staggering gut-punch from a villain wearing a massive gauntlet on his meaty paw. Thanos (Josh Brolin) won. He acquired every Infinity Stone, digging the last one out of Vision's forehead and leaving the hero as an empty husk on the ground in Wakanda. The Avengers lost. For now.

We think that this will get resolved in Avengers 4. The sequel has no subhed yet, but this movie -- while having a resolution -- offers a cliffhanger that needs to be cleaned up. Let's discuss what the ending of Avengers: Infinity War means, and the three ways that it could be continued in the upcoming movies.

Are the heroes really dead?

It looks like it. Thanos completed his quest to bring balance to an overpopulated world by eliminating half of existence. He snapped his finger while wearing the Gauntlet, and people started fading to dust. Literally. The affected included such key members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and even Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who surfaced in an end-credits scene.

The movie ends with the existing Avengers as confused as the audience. What actually happened to these heroes? They don't drop dead. They fade away, and are very much alive and aware of what's happening to them as it happens. Spider-Man even resists it long enough to apologize to Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) in one of the film's most heartbreaking moments.

So, are they dead? Have they phased away to another realm? Could they be brought back? For now, it looks like they are -- in the definition of a comic book movie -- dead. They are gone. They could come back, though, and the movie left a few interesting threads that could be pulled for Avengers 4. Yes, Thanos won, and brought balance to the universe by eliminating half of it with the snap of his fingers. But here's how the ending could set up a beginning for the next chapter of the MCU. Read on.

Doctor Strange knows how to win

Why on Earth -- or Titan, I suppose -- would Doctor Strange turn over the Time Stone so easily? The Sorcerer Supreme made it crystal clear that he'd sacrifice Iron Man and Spider-Man so long as it meant protecting the Time Stone from Thanos. He didn't agree with Tony's plan to bring the Time Stone anywhere near Thanos. However, in a very key scene, Strange used his magic to play out every scenario where the Avengers faced off against Thanos. And in only ONE scenario did the heroes prevail.

So, that successful timeline HAD to include Doctor Strange turning over the Time Stone. It's the only logical explanation for why the sorcerer would surrender the precious gem that was in his possession. At one point, Thanos even questions why Doctor Strange never used the power of the Time Stone against him. Thanos uses it immediately, to restore Vision so he can claim the final Mind Stone.

Does this mean that Doctor Strange knows how to use the Time Stone later to reverse Thanos' balancing? It's possible. The person who wields the Infinity Gauntlet can control all things, including bringing souls back to life, altering reality, or reversing time. So while the ending of Infinity War was earned, it's hardly final. If Strange is right, it's all part of the plan. He's not the only one with a plan, though. Here's what else could happen.

Captain Marvel could save the day

If you stayed through the end credits (and of course you did, you are a Marvel fan), you saw Nick Fury trigger a distress signal right before he succumbed to Thanos' balancing and faded to dust. The device he was using fell to the ground, with the word "Sending..." Then, the message went through, and we saw a logo that stands for Carol Danvers, aka Captain Marvel.

There are two Marvel movies that will arrive in theaters between Infinity War and Avengers 4. In July, Ant-Man and the Wasp will explore the Quantum Realm. And Brie Larson will bring Captain Marvel to life on screen in March 2019. This is a new superhero in the MCU, one that will expand on the galactic side of the universe. And it will be set in the 1990s. So, somewhere in that movie, it will be explained what Nick Fury saw that led him to want to create The Avengers Initiative in the first place. And, it has to explain where Carol has been this whole time.

The answer to that one could clarify where the Avengers have gone following their demise in Infinity War. Or, Captain Marvel could have a power that solves how to bring everyone back. There's a lot of mystery to the things that Captain Marvel can do in the MCU, and after her solo movie, we'll have a better understanding about what could happen in Avengers 4. Either way, she has been signaled by Nick Fury, and he's alerting her to come back. The "why" will be a huge question to answer for the MCU.

The Quantum Realm could come into play

We know that two heroes were absent from Avengers: Infinity War, but the excuses were flimsy. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) accepted house arrest following the events of Captain America: Civil War, so they could be home with their families. It's possible that Hawkeye could turn up the heat in Avengers 4, but if one of the two was going to be responsible for somehow reversing the Thanos spell, it could be Scott, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lillie) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

Ant-Man and the Wasp is expected to dive deep into the mysterious realm of the Quantum Realm when it opens in July. Aside from being mentioned in the latest trailer, we know that Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a big part of this sequel, and Janet was lost in the Quantum Realm decades ago.

Much like Doctor Strange's numerous powers, the world of the Quantum Realm has largely been unexplored, and could hold secrets to defeating Thanos in Avengers 4. There could be clues to the eventual resolution to the Infinity War cliffhanger in Ant-Man and the Wasp. Or it could be a fun, standalone story that does nothing to solve the problem. We'll know for sure in a few weeks.

Yes, Avengers: Infinity War ended on a cliffhanger, with our main villain sacrificing everything for what he believed needed to happen -- balance in the universe. And yes, half of our mighty Marvel family was turned to dust, literally. But it's my belief that the Avengers will live to fight another day. Specifically, May 3, 2019. For now, what do you think will happen following this harrowing, heartwrenching ending?

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