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Some heroes are inextricable from their unmasked identities. However, Black Panther is not one of those heroes. In fact, opening up in a recent interview to promote the Black Panther home release, Marvel producer Nate Moore directly addressed this idea and explained that there are ways for the franchise to continue without the presence of Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa in the titular role. Moore explained:
One thing I like to tell Ryan is, the Black Panther is a mantle as much as it is a person, so we're not restricted by anything, because the truth is, there [are] a lot of different ways to go back to Wakanda and have a good time and continue to explore the themes that made the first film so resonant.
Obviously, that raises questions as to who could potentially step in as the new Black Panther if T'Challa never comes back (or at least doesn't come back for a long time). There are already a few options currently available, including Black Panther's beloved sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) as well as rival-turned-ally M'Baku (Winston Duke), not to mention we could always get a total recast. That puts several potential options on the table, and the sheer number of badasses in Wakanda (not to mention the amount of Vibranium available for new suits) leaves the role open to interpretation.
Warning: spoilers ahead for Avengers: Infinity War!
Nevertheless, the Marvel Cinematic Universe established this as far back as Captain America: Civil War when T'Challa talked about how the Black Panther has protected Wakanda for generations. It existed before T'Challa's birth, and it continues to exist after T'Challa's death. Even the character fading away in the wake of the Thanos (Josh Brolin) finger snap that devastated the MCU in Avengers: Infinity War, Nate Moore's remarks to Screen Rant confirm that the folks at Marvel see a way to continue this story in the fallout of his death.
It's also worth noting the fact that audiences might not even feel that jarred by the passing of the Black Panther mantle because we have already seen another Panther on the silver screen aside from T'Challa. As fans of Ryan Coogler's film will recall, we see a young T'Chaka (Atandwa Kani) in the vibranium suit during the opening sequence of the character's recent solo movie. In addition, we see Black Panther also meet with his ancestors during the rituals to take on the mantle, thus hammering home the fact that T'Challa is only the latest in a long line of Black Panthers to protect Wakanda. If someone else steps into the suit in the wake of his death, it will just represent yet another passing of the torch.
Of course, at the end of the day, it's far too early to know precisely what Marvel has planned for the Wakanda corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We will find out where the fallout of Avengers: Infinity War will leave T'Challa and the rest of the Wakandan royal family next year when Avengers 4 debuts on May 3, 2019. For now, make sure to pick up your copy of Black Panther on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD, all of which are currently available!