SPOILER WARNING: Don’t read on if you haven’t seen “Black Widow”, currently in theaters and available on Premium Access on Disney Plus.

During most of his interview with Variety, Cate Shortland was an open book: candid and funny and thrilled to be able to talk about her experience as the director of Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow”. That is, until she was questioned about the film’s post-credits scene.

“Are you listening to this,” she asked the invisible (and totally silent) publicists overseeing the Zoom interview. “Are you listening to this, my friends? “

Even after reassuring that anything she said would not be released until after her film was released, Shortland practically collapsed with worry.

“I was told that I was not allowed to talk about it!

Shortland’s reluctance is understandable given Marvel’s legendary aversion to spoilers – and especially given what happens in the post-credits scene, after “Black Widow” ends with a reunited family and Natasha. (Scarlett Johansson) leaving to reunite the Avengers team once again.

In the scene, Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls up in a truck with a dog, parked in a bucolic, wooded setting. She walks up to a grave and we see it’s Natasha’s – we skipped the events of “Black Widow” (which took place between 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War” “) at some point after the events of 2019’s” Avengers: Endgame “, when Natasha sacrificed her life so that the Avengers could acquire the Soul Stone.

Her gravestone reads “Girl Sister Avenger”. The grave reminds audiences that the Avengers are celebrities: it’s covered in stuffed animals, which Yelena rearranges by crying (and hissing, like she did when she was a kid with her sister). While Yelena cries, a woman standing next to her naively blows her nose: it is Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which was presented for the first time in “The Falcon and the Soldier of winter ”on Disney Plus.

“Sorry,” the countess said to Yelena. “I am allergic to the Midwest. (This statement reinforces the fact that Nat was buried in Ohio, where the opening scenes of “Black Widow” took place.)

“You’re not supposed to bother me on my vacation, Valentina,” Yelena said.

” You disturb ? No, no, no, no – I’m just here to pay homage, ”replies the countess. “You know, coming here makes you look desperate,” Yelena said. With a barked laugh worthy of Selina Meyer’s “Veep”, the Countess said: “OK!”

The countess then takes a tablet out of her purse. “I have your next target – I thought I would hand it over,” she said. “Perhaps you would like to shoot the man responsible for your sister’s death.” She hands the tablet to Yelena, and the man in the photo is Clint Barton (AKA, Hawkeye, aka Jeremy Renner).

“Kind of cute, don’t you think?” »Asks the countess playfully.

The film ends with Yelena looking at the photo of Clint.

From this scene, we learn several key things about Yelena from the events of “Black Widow”: She works for the Contessa, possibly on the same team that Val recruited John Walker (Wyatt Russell) from “Falcon and Winter Soldier” for. And although Yelena is clearly annoyed by her boss, she seems to be living her life on her own terms, which she wanted after her release from her forced release as General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) assassin. It’s also emotionally satisfying to know that Yelena has stayed close to Natasha.

But what’s most important about this scene is how it indicates the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Yelena’s role in it. She is sent to kill an Avenger on the pretext that Clint – Nat’s best friend, and for whom she sacrificed herself so he wouldn’t die to get the Soul Stone – is “responsible” for Nat’s death. .

The scene sets up, in other words, Yelena resuming her MCU journey later this year on the “Hawkeye” TV show when it premieres on Disney Plus.

Pugh and Shortland spoke with Variety how the scene unfolded and how Johansson’s presence was felt even though she wasn’t there.

The scene was shot during the “Black Widow” covers in early 2020.

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Florence Pugh on the set of “Black Widow”.
Jay Maidment / Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Pugh said the end credits scene was not part of the film’s original production schedule, which ran from May through September 2019. “We actually shot that scene right as we were re-taking shots. of view for “Black Widow,” ”Pugh said.

The additional scenes were completed in the winter of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production everywhere. And for Pugh, working with Johansson during covers made the shoot on Natasha’s grave less emotionally devastating.

“I was doing scenes with Scarlett again, and I was hooked up to her on various machines, and we were laughing again,” Pugh said. “And then the following week, I was at his grave!”

“It was quite shocking to move forward so quickly,” she continued. “But wonderful to have seen Scarlett only the previous week. I think it would have been sadder if it had been several, several months later. “

Pugh was especially happy that Yelena was on the post-credits scene because she said, “I didn’t know there would be one.”

The scene is where Pugh realizes his character is continuing in the MCU – and soon.

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Florence Pugh in “Black Widow”.
Kevin Baker / Courtesy Marvel Studios

“Black Widow” is almost certainly the end of the MCU road for Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff. In an interview with Variety, the actor said, “I’m really happy with the job I’ve done over my last decade and more at Marvel. I feel like I’m coming off on a high note with a movie I’m incredibly proud of. I feel like my work with Natasha is over, if it is.

But that’s probably just the start for David Harbor’s Red Guardian and Rachel Weisz’s Melina Vostokoff – and we know we’ll see Pugh as Yelena soon. But How? ‘Or’ What soon seems to have come as a surprise even to Pugh. “There are always discussions, but I never really imagined it would continue so quickly,” she said.

And the scene itself gave Pugh some direction on what Yelena is doing these days, as well as what led to the grave scene.

“She’s going to continue what she’s good at, and although her sister isn’t here, she’s back to work,” Pugh said. “If you look at her costume and the way she dresses, it shows someone who is thriving.”

After all, as Yelena told Nat, she dreams of what she wants her life to be, if ever she is truly free from the Red Room – as Pugh said, “because she doesn’t. has never had control of his life “.

“So for me it was really wonderful to jump forward and see that she survived,” Pugh said of the scene, which also specifically points to Yelena’s future on a mission to kill Clint. “But, of course, that sets up a whole other challenge – who is Natasha’s combat partner.”

The location of the stage was based on a suggestion from Johansson.

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Scarlett Johansson in “Black Widow”.
Jay Maidment / Courtesy of Marvel Studios

“Black Widow” ends with Natasha still alive, her ever-changing blonde bob cut hair that she sports in “Infinity War,” as she flies off to reunite with her fellow Avengers and ultimately fight Thanos. The public know, of course, that this will be the most important assignment of his life – and the one that will end with his death. Shortland viewed the post-credits scene as the best way to honor this sacrifice.

“I know the fan reaction to Scarlett’s death in ‘Endgame’,” the director said. Yelena’s visit to her grave served as a final reminder of Natasha’s lasting impact on her sister’s life. “The fact that we got to see that moment between her and her sister, that means to me she’s forever, you know?” “

Or this burial place turned out to be just as important in achieving this goal. Throughout “Black Widow,” Natasha remembers how famous she became as the Avenger, and the MCU has previously described how the Avengers’ fame continued after their deaths, like the ubiquitous Tony Stark memorials. in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and the museum exhibit dedicated to Steve Rogers in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”.

Johansson, however, knew that Natasha would want to avoid that kind of attention as much as possible. “Scarlett told me about it: her character would have hated a public funeral,” Shortland said. “So I felt like the fact that she was buried in a really private place, somewhere in the boondocks, was perfect.”

Yelena’s whistle almost got an answer.

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Johansson and Pugh in “Black Widow”
Courtesy of Disney / Everett Collection

When Yelena whistles as she stands on Natasha’s grave, it’s the same pattern she used with her sister as a child – and the one Natasha always responded to with her own whistle. Shortland reserves the moment in agonizing rhythm, as Yelena – and the audience – wait to see if Natasha magically reacts.

She doesn’t, perhaps the final proof that the character is well and truly gone. But that was not always the case.

“I heard that hiss too,” Shortland said, referring to Natasha’s phantom response. “I think we ourselves – no, we never put it on. But we talked about it.”

Working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus is exactly as you think.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the role of Countess Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine in “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”.
Screenshot courtesy of Marvel Studios

Before the pandemic, “Black Widow” was going to debut a few months before “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” premiered on Disney Plus. So when Shortland shot the post-credits scene, it was the first time Louis-Dreyfus played the Marvel Comics icon who historically had ties to the infamous Hydra organization – and a complicated history with the leader of SHIELD. Nick Fury.

So what direction did Shortland have for the multi-Emmy-winning actor?

“Nothing,” Shortland said with a laugh. “I think I told him I really love him. I think sometimes I just asked for very, very little things between them. But she has become a fully trained genius. I couldn’t have done much except spoil it.

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