Natasha Romanoff’s shifting allegiances have never been more conspicuous than in Captain America: Civil War, when she initially fought alongside pro-regulation advocates in support of the Sokovia Accords right up until the moment she betrayed them and allowed Steve Rogers and James Barnes to avoid capture. Naturally, she went on the run herself shortly afterwards, generously given a headstart by Stark himself, and remained underground for nearly two years before reemerging in Scotland with platinum blonde hair, fighting aliens alongside pararescue airman Sam Wilson and a bearded, shieldless Rogers in Avengers: Infinity War.
This May, the superspy thriller Black Widow will fill in part of that two-year gap, with trailers indicating that Romanoff will flee the United States to Europe and reconnect with several figures from her Soviet past to deal with their mutual history. This makeshift family includes the parental Alexei Shostakoff, AKA Red Guardian, and Melina Vostokoff, as well as the foster sibling Yelena Belova, the last two of which are also products of the Black Widow program.
The fact that Romanoff reunites with Rogers and Wilson by the time of Infinity War means that she eventually parts ways with the characters of Black Widow, leaving us to wonder why. Some have theorized that Natasha will, ironically, be the sole survivor of her posthumous interquel, though some of the rumors and leaks that we’re hearing indicate that won’t be the case. But even if she isn’t the only character to make it out alive, whatever happens may leave her believing she is.
A new theory, however, suggests that an additional part of reason that Romanoff is still so devastated in the early 2023 segments of Avengers: Endgame is because she discovered that whatever was left of her Russian family was turned to dust when Thanos snapped his fingers. The theory implies that she left Shostakoff and Belova, both very much alive, after completing their mission in Black Widow, only to discover that after failing to prevent the Mad Titan’s decimation, they too were among the billions of lives lost just on Earth.
If true, the theory would give additional significance to Natasha’s comments to Steve at the largely abandoned Avengers facility five years after the team’s catastrophic loss in Wakanda. “I used to have nothing,” she told him, “And then I got this. This job. This family.” The comment is meant to explain why she continues doing a job that Steve is beginning to believe may no longer need to be done, but if the “family” she refers to also includes Shostakoff and Belova, who were taken away in their defeat, then it explains not just her determination to go on, but the unimaginable grief that drives her to make that ultimate sacrifice on Vormir.
Either way, we’ll know who lives and who dies when Black Widow hits theaters on May 1st.