In the opening minutes of Avengers: Endgame, Thor impulsively follows the Mad Titans’s advice when he decapitates Thanos in his own home. It’s a moment that was heavily foreshadowed at the climax of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War when the purple tyrant tells the God of Thunder that he “should have gone for the head,” and yet, given the family-friendly reputation of the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, many viewers were surprised to see Endgame actually follow through on this tease.
In a recent interview with Collider, Endgame co-editor Jeff Ford reflected on the moment, and explained how they were able to get away with a decapitation in a franchise that has generally avoided gore. First, Ford argued that any act of violence needs to be justified by the story:
“Most of us on the crew are parents and have young kids, and I think that’s part of who we are. We think about that, but more importantly, it’s about the scale of the story. So for instance, is it necessary? And is it narratively significant? And is it warranted? If you can answer those questions and you feel you need something that could be shocking or violent, then what’s the most artful way to handle that so that you don’t alienate the audience?”
In this case, Ford observed that part of the story is “Thor dealing with something that he really shouldn’t maybe have done.” He also pointed out that the death of Thanos is a “shocking” and “final” moment that puts an end to his journey in the main timeline.
Ford went on to say that the fantasy element of the sequence allowed them to get away with things that couldn’t be done in a more realistic context:
“There’s an unreality to these movies. They are in a science fiction fantasy context. So there’s a level of that that is slightly abstracted from what is real. And so you still want them to have sort of a visceral impact, you want the characters to feel it, but at the same time, people are doing things that people sometimes cannot do.”
The editor also stressed that he and his Marvel collaborators “never want to be ghoulish” and are “not trying to celebrate” the violence they present, adding that they’re “trying to make sure that there are consequences” to the characters’ actions.
Incidentally, the Mad Titan’s death wasn’t the only decapitation idea that was being thrown around in the early stages of development. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Avengers: Endgame co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely revealed that they also suggested a scene where the alternate reality Thanos presents the severed head of Captain America after killing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in his own timeline.
For better or worse, the Marvel team ultimately decided not to go there, but hey, maybe the inevitable Deadpool reboot can some day give us the gory MCU movie that so many fans crave.