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WARNING! Spoilers to follow for Avengers: Infinity War, a movie you definitely should have seen by now.
Like the Avengers themselves, we are all still reeling from Avengers: Infinity War. Perhaps more than we even anticipated, Thanos (Josh Brolin) won and won soundly, doing the unthinkable and actually executing his iconic finger snap while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, thus erasing half the life in the universe. We watched with wet eyes as new king T'Challa vanished in front of Okoye, saw Bucky call out to Steve, and were broken as Peter Parker pleaded with Tony Stark before scattering like ash to the wind. In this post-Infinity War world, what happens next is a mystery as our heroes try to pick up the pieces and recover from this terrible loss, hopefully to fight again one day. Although many heroes fell to Thanos' might, it is the ones left behind who will truly suffer and perhaps the greatest sorrow will be felt by an Avenger who didn't even participate in the battle.
After all the speculation and theorizing about Hawkeye's whereabouts pre-Infinity War and why he was missing from all the marketing, the archer wasn't in it at all, with one line of dialogue explaining away his glaring absence. We know that like Ant-Man, Hawkeye took a deal after the events of Captain America: Civil War and is now on house arrest. But choosing not to or being unable to fight in a war does not shield you from its effects. The events of Infinity War were grievous and far-reaching, inescapable in their scope and deadly in consequence. It is this sweeping fatality that I believe will have Hawkeye facing a heartbreaking truth in Avengers 4: Clint Barton's family will be dead.
Hawkeye is unique in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that he is the only hero who maintains a real family life while still occasionally battling killer robots and shooting aliens from the tops of buildings. Sure, most of the MCU's heroes have been given love interests and parents whose lives or deaths shaped their path, but Hawkeye alone is the guy with a wife and kids. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we met Clint Barton's secret family that consists of a wife, Laura, played by Linda Cardellini, a son, a daughter and a third child on the way. This is a man with a lot to lose and a family of 5 is on the wrong end of the numbers with half of all life on the chopping block. I don't think it is a stretch to assume that he will lose some and possibly all of his family as a result of Thanos' universe balancing.
We have heard that those characters that were underserved or missing entirely from Infinity War would get their due in Avengers 4 and I can't imagine a more emotional arc for Hawkeye than this one. We also know that, like Scott Lang, part of his story involves him being on house arrest and I believe that house arrest will turn out to be symbolic and consequential as Hawkeye faces this heartbreaking truth.
We don't know the conditions of Hawkeye's deal or how exactly his house arrest worked, but lets assume that he was home with his family during the events of Infinity War. Maybe he saw the attacks on New York and Wakanda on the news, once again seeing aliens attack the planet, but this time not being there to help stop it. He no doubt felt the urge to act, because he is a soldier and a hero, and sitting idly by while the world is in danger is not his strong suit. But he took a deal, likely to keep his family whole and I think it is that choice that will eat at him in Avengers 4.
As the world was under attack, Hawkeye likely found himself split between two loyalties. Maybe he even argued with his wife about breaking out of his house arrest to aid his fellow heroes. Then, when Thanos snapped his fingers, Clint Barton watched his family melt away in front of him, powerless to stop it. This would understandably lead to a tremendous amount of grief and anger, but also guilt, for just sitting there for the good of his family while the Avengers failed only to lose them anyway in the end.
Despite the fact that he has as big a heart and as much fight in him as any of them, it isn't unfair to say that Hawkeye is one of the least powerful of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. So even though he would have been no match for Thanos, that isn't a calculation that would matter to him. When we suffer loss it is human nature to always question your actions, to feel like you could have done more, that if only you had acted, done this, not done that, said the right thing or fought harder, the outcome could have been different, even if in reality nothing you did would have mattered.
So right or wrong, Clint Barton may blame himself for the death of his family and set out to fix it. Losing your family is the kind of loss that shapes you and maybe this is what leads Hawkeye to the much-rumored Ronin identity. Because why would he abandon his previous superhero identity and no longer want to be Clint Barton unless something drastic happened to cause him to forge a new path? I think the death of some or all of his family could be the catalyst for this change. No longer able to sit idly by, Hawkeye might break free from his house arrest, concealing his identity to not get caught and to protect any of his family and friends that do survive Thanos' purge.
Hawkeye will obviously have a bigger role in Avengers 4 and I think it will be an important one. This is certainly a dark way to go but as the end of Infinity War showed us, Marvel is willing to go there and deliver black eyes and broken hearts. It looks like we will be playing the 'What is Hawkeye up to?' game for another whole year (unless he shows up in Ant-Man and the Wasp) but I have a feeling that when we see him in Avengers 4, the original Avenger and the only family man amongst the team, will have lost everything he was fighting to protect. His journey may find him looking for a way to get them back and learning who he is without them.