Long ago, back in the days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 1, we devoted viewers could never have suspected we’d ever truly mourn a character like Loki of Asgard.
But the brilliant yet conniving youngest son of Odin—the one we met in the first Thor who schemed to steal his brother’s throne, the one who attacked Earth in Marvel’s The Avengers, the one who faked his death and deposed his father in The Dark World, the one ignoring his kingdom at the start of Ragnarok—is not the Loki whose loss we grieve over after Thanos snapped his neck in Infinity War. More than any other character in the entire MCU, he grew into someone worthy of being remembered. And someone worthy of our tears.
Like most great villains, Loki was someone we could empathize with, and someone whose motivations were understandable even while his detestable actions weren’t. He grew up feeling he was “different,” as though he didn’t even belong in his own home, and inadequate in the shadow of his communally beloved older brother, despite the latter’s flaws. In fact, Loki wasn’t wrong that the Thor we met originally would have been a terrible king. Trying to annihilate an entire race to prove his worthiness to his father, on the other hand, was not exactly the best decision.
Things got even worse when he turned up on Earth with the Chitauri Scepter and a drive to enslaved and slaughter countless innocent people. Sure, Loki was as just charming and brilliant as we remembered him, but this time without an empathetic thread.
But then came Thor: The Dark World, the first step in Loki’s earnest journey of personal growth. Here, he was forced to face the consequences of his selfishness as he sat in an Asgard prison for his crimes while his mother was killed by the Dark Elves. He had used his anger at his father—who, right or wrong, had tried to protect his son from a painful truth—as a shield to deny his love for her. But when she was gone, in part because he wasn’t there to save her, it left Loki broken. The great and powerful god destroyed his cell like a child. Only then did he stand with his brother to avenge their mother he had loved.
We mourned Loki at the end of the film, when, like Thor, we thought he died fighting bravely beside his brother. But we mourned him as a villain who grasped redemption—hardly a great hero. Of course it turned out he faked his own death and cast his father from Asgard so he could rule in his stead. (So, again, hardly a great hero.)
When we met him again at the start of Ragnarok, he had turned out to be at least as terrible and selfish ruler as he ever could have predicted Thor would be. He abandoned his responsibility as Protector of the Nine Realms to bask in his own heroics. Everything he had done prior to make us believe he had grown seemingly went out the window. The selfish god had tricked us, and Asgard, into rooting for him.
But something happened in Ragnarok that finally got through to Loki. In between efforts in winning favor of Sakaar’s maniacal Grandmaster and trying to double-cross his brother yet again, Loki and Thor had a conversation that would ultimately prove to be the most important Loki ever had in becoming the person Thor believed he always could be:
After Thor submits that Loki is perfect for the “savage, chaotic, lawless” world of Sakaar, a dejected Loki said, “You truly think so little of me,” to which Thor responded, “Loki, I thought the world of you. I thought we were going to fight side by side forever. But at the end of the day, you’re you and I’m me. Maybe there’s still good in you, but let’s be honest—our paths diverged a long time ago.”
In a single moment, we watched Loki learn that he was both loved and admired by the brother he always felt inferior to. It’s crushing, and you can see a lifetime of regret come over his face before he tries to ignore what he has learned.
Despite the hiccups in judgment that followed, what was said between the brothers did do something to Loki, who ultimately arrived to fight side by side with Thor to protect their people. After finally accepting that he didn’t have to be the villain he convinced himself he was, he showed up as the hero he always could have been. The citizens of Asgard survived because Loki saved them. In accepting that he was loved, he was able to finally love someone besides himself.
But like a great tragic hero, Loki was taken down by greatest flaw. He took the Tesseract with him as he fled his home, which is what led to his death. In death, though, Loki earned his place in our memories. He traded this incredible power to save his brother’s life, and when his great plan failed he tries to kill Thanos himself, marking his final acts selfless and brave.
We never would have mourned the God of Mischief we met long ago, and we still aren’t, as that’s not the man Thanos killed. He killed the Loki that Thor always believed he could be.
How did you feel when Loki died? Did you ever think you would feel like that about him? Hopefully you aren’t too sad to tell us why in the comments below.