So far, Marvel‘s What If has gone in some surprisingly dark directions, with the first few episodes including a zombie apocalypse, a near-total wipeout of the Avengers lineup, Killmonger assassinating Tony Stark, and Doctor Strange becoming a supervillain. But episode 7 is getting a lot of positive attention for its silly, upbeat premise: A story where Thor is a “party prince” instead of an intergalactic hero.
“What If… Thor Were an Only Child?” builds on Thor’s origins as an immature, fun-loving jock. In this universe, Loki grew up among Jotun ice giants rather than joining Thor’s family, resulting in a very different childhood for both princes. So when Thor’s father goes into the Odinsleep, Thor doesn’t pick up the reins as a responsible leader. He uses his newfound freedom to take a chaotic party vacation to Earth.
This episode is basically a comedic, low-stakes reboot of Thor’s MCU origin story. But fans are mostly excited about this glimpse into Thor and Loki’s uncharacteristically warm relationship—and the fact that Loki gets to be a blue-skinned Jotun, a popular piece of Marvel lore that doesn’t get much screentime in the movies.
Without Odin pitting Thor and Loki against each other, and without Loki feeling like an outcast in Asgard, both brothers seem a lot happier—albeit lacking in dramatic tension. The episode reintroduces them as “brothers from another mother” in a less literal sense, with Loki rolling up to Thor’s Las Vegas party with a bunch of Jotun warriors in tow.
Focusing on relationships and hijinks rather than major MCU conflicts (until the final scene, that is…), this episode appeals to an under-served corner of the Marvel audience: Fans who just want to see the characters hang out. The franchise relies on audiences building an emotional attachment to the heroes, but the films inevitably spend more time on high-stakes action than on relationship stuff.
Compared to the comics, this can be disappointing if you want to see more emotional depth. “Thor and Loki are besties” is a similar premise to plenty of wish-fulfillment MCU fanfics, showing that What If‘s thought experiments don’t have to be deep to be popular.