Warning: SPOILERS FOR THOR: RAGNAROK INSIDE!
Over the weekend, Thor: Ragnarok dominated the box office. The film was a much-needed breath of fresh air in a world that increasingly feels like we’re living in the darkest and grittiest timeline. Director Taika Waititi and writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost infused both humor and humanity into a mythical saga about prophecies and the end of the world. But in-between Chris Hemsworth stretching his comedy chops and Jeff Goldblum “Jeff Goldbluming” all over the place, there was a pathos about pain and loss. No, I’m not talking about Loki, though Tom Hiddleston played the dichotomy between wanting love and wanting to be selfish well. I’m also not talking about Hela, though much could be said about her arc as a daughter scorned for being too ambitious. No, I’m talking about how Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is an avatar of suffering as a human (or Asgardian) reminder that Gilded Ages are built on blood and war.
Thompson gets a chance to play a character audiences are very familiar with, though one rarely played by women: That of a loyal soldier who realizes her country lied to her and betrayed her, costing her everything. And I’m not just talking about her comrades, the other Valkyries who died in glorious battle only to be shunted into the annals of history by Odin. I’m talking specifically about her lover. But wait, I hear you say. There was no romantic subplot for Valkyrie! Oh, but there was. Hela killed her girlfriend. Thompson has been very open about Valkyrie’s bisexuality. And while Marvel shied away from overtones–frankly a disappointment in the year of our Lord Cthulhu 2017–that didn’t stop Thompson from playing the character that way. Don’t believe me? From Rolling Stone:
Thompson even summoned the courage to pitch Waititi on making Valkyrie bisexual, based on her comic book relationship with anthropologist Annabelle Riggs. [S]he convinced Waititi to shoot a glimpse of a woman walking out of Valkyrie’s bedroom. He kept it in the film as long as he could; eventually the bit had to be cut because it distracted from the scene’s vital exposition.
Pay attention to her agony in a flashback where Blanchett’s Goddess of Death murders the rest of Valkyrie’s warrior clan. “There’s a great shot of me falling back from one of my sisters who’s just been slain,” says Thompson. “In my mind, that was my lover.”
And boy does Thompson sell that moment when her lover–a Valkyrie that looks strikingly like the blonde Nordic version from Marvel comics–jumps in front of Thompson’s warrior to save her from Hela’s blades. That is true love right there. Another hint as to the depths of Valkyrie’s feelings for her fallen lover is her current state when the audience first meets Thompson in Thor: Ragnarok. Belligerent and drunk, Valkyrie is a classic example of a trope that’s as old as time: the former warrior who lost their spouse to violence turns to apathy and alcohol to drown their sorrows. It’s just that usually that character is a man, and usually he’s the protagonist. Without those obvious narrative markers, Valkyrie’s pain is harder to see. But not impossible. And it lays a foundation that can be built upon in future films, if only Marvel chooses to.
So there it is. Marvel’s first official in-universe queer character is a bisexual warrior woman of color. One whose actress and director tried to bring represention to the forefront only to have it buried in subtext in the editing room. Now, we could all get annoyed about that, and trust me, I’m fighting the urge. But even if Valkyrie wasn’t openly bisexual in Thor: Ragnarok, the groundwork is there. Disney has been inching towards more LGBTQA+ inclusion, most recently by making Le Fou openly gay in the live-action Beauty and the Beast. Having creators and actors behind the scenes to champion these characters as vital to the narrative is a step that couldn’t have been made even a decade ago. As recently as 2015, Marvel Studio President Kevin Feige was still kicking the can down the road, telling Collider that hopefully they’d have a gay superhero by 2025. Then Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn tried to force Marvel’s hand last year, telling The Guardian in May of 2017, “There are gay characters in the Marvel Universe” but that Marvel just hasn’t outed them yet.
Well, 2025 is too far off, I say, and it looks like the men and women behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe cameras agree with me. The iron is hot for Tessa Thompson to team up with Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) for a Lady Liberators spin-off. There’s a 100% chance Black Widow is also a queer woman. Have Nat get into a relationship with Valkyrie. Heck, bisexuals have claimed Steve Rogers too, so here’s hoping Marvel has the ovaries to just let Valkyrie wake up in bed sandwiched between Captain America and Black Widow. The ship name can be Cold Space War. Hey, a girl can dream.