Originally published in the Avengers: Endgame special issue of Birth.Movies.Death magazine in 2019.
Russ Fischer, Birth.Movies.Death: I do need to confirm something about the outcome of Infinity War…Are half the animals dead? Are half of the horses gone? Half of the ants?
Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios: Yes! Yes. All life.
The world changed when Thanos snapped his fingers. The mad titan had his theories about resources and overpopulation, but he hadn’t considered the full gravity of his decision – the decision to make half of all life vanish into nothingness. Dubbed The Decimation, despite the technical inaccuracy of the term, it changed everything – far more than, and in different ways to, what Thanos intended. We only have records of what happened on Earth, but we can presume similar events unfolded on alien worlds as well. Here’s what happened on our turf.
For one thing, half of Earth’s plants vanished – not initially the most pressing issue for human beings, but in the long term, one of the biggest impacts. Based on official records, Wakanda’s foliage was left miraculously untouched (aside from one prominent, named tree), but that statistical aberration was balanced out by other areas taking more than a 50% hit. Huge swathes of land became deserts without sufficient flora to hold in the soil and water. Elementary-school lima bean experiments failed spectacularly. Crops followed suit. And the balance of the food chain was put on shaky ground.
Animals, too, disappeared. Lions found themselves pouncing on nonexistent wildebeest, and wildebeest were suddenly freed from certain death. Pets were left without masters, and masters without pets. Some threatened species, though halved in number, made a comeback without so much human or predatory encroachment upon their territory. Other species, on the brink of extinction, were left without a sufficient viable breeding population. The world’s bee population, already on the decline, more or less vanished within months, with several flower species following suit soon after. Were Noah around, his Ark would have been a sad and lonely place indeed.
Not even bacteria were immune from the snap. In ways initially imperceptible, the absence of these tiny life-forms made enormous ripples in the biosphere. Some survivors were left with crippling gastrointestinal issues after half the digestion-aiding bacteria in their bodies disappeared; conversely, some terminally ill people got on the road to recovery. (Viruses, as they are not technically alive, continued to run amok.)
Society came to a grinding, panicking halt. Governments, companies, and other organisations were left scrambling to function, with half their staff suddenly missing – including individuals central to the operation of vital services. Reactor accidents were common in the early days. Countless road and air accidents occurred, with suddenly-unmanned vehicles killing many of those who made it past the initial wave of disappearances. Looting of vanished persons’ belongings was common enough to eventually get written off by authorities. The world’s various religions briefly came together in shared agreement that a profound religious event had occurred, before descending once more into squabbles and wars over what exactly it meant.
In pop culture, countless works were left forever unfinished, and what work and creators were left took on new significance. The Leftovers was suddenly hailed as prophetic, becoming the first television show to be used as a religious text. Only a single Beatle now remained, and more horrifying still, just 3.5 members of S Club 7. Tom Cruise started to disappear, but through sheer force of will managed to stop the process, losing only an arm. The surviving Wachowski and Coen teamed up to make movies together in solidarity of the other’s loss; tragically, both Jake and Logan Paul lived to make insensitive YouTube videos about the incident.
Contrary to Thanos’ stated goal, Earth’s food shortages were unmitigated by the snap, due to two principal factors. For one thing, famine was always caused at least as much by unequal distribution of resources as by a lack of them. More obviously, plant and animal food sources – i.e. all food sources – were halved, too, meaning Earth was left with the exact same ratio of resources to population, and more or less in the same geopolitical distribution. If anything, inequality grew worse after the snap, as the billionaires that remained gobbled up the assets of those who had vanished into dust. In addition, despite a reduction in carbon-producing human beings, carbon emissions remained high, and thanks to continued corporate greed and a vast loss of carbon-absorbing trees, the planet found itself more choked by the greenhouse effect than ever.
At least there was more water to go around, more oil to burn, and more land for the remaining people to spread out as they either overindulged, starved, or choked to death.
The psychological toll was the worst. The moment of the snap would universally be ranked as the most confusing and traumatic moment of every single living person’s life. People vanished mid-conversation, mid-stride, and mid-coitus, causing widespread existential panic among those who remained. Survivor’s guilt was near universal, and though society eventually got shakily back to its feet, many individuals never truly recovered. Inevitably, the random distribution of survivors meant that some were more affected than others; losing anywhere from none to all of their friends and family members. Eventually, people began to move on, resigned to their friends and family members being gone forever. The calluses that formed on their souls would, unlike their fellow human beings, never disappear.
Among the few individuals to soldier forward through the tragedy were the Avengers, whose original team was left intact. As the group closest to the Decimation’s ground zero, and the group that had failed to prevent it, they gained newfound purpose in seeking a way to reverse its consequences. Searching Earth, the cosmos, and even time itself for a way back to the status quo, they laboured so single-mindedly they barely had a chance to mourn. Unresolved emotional issues continued to plague them. But they carried on.
And out in some other dimension in the sprawling multiverse, audiences watching the motion picture Avengers: Infinity War were left gasping in shock as their finest actors acted out these events for their entertainment. They walked out of movie theatres stunned and mournful, still unsure what fate exactly had befallen some of their favourite characters. Were they really dead? Had they been vanished away to some alternate universe? Would the remaining Avengers rescue them from that whatever-fate, bringing everything back to its right place? And what sacrifices would be made to do so? They got no immediate answers. They could only wait…and speculate.