Avengers: Endgame - How Thanos' Snap ACTUALLY Worked

The anatomy of the MCU's Decimation event...

Marvel Studios

When Infinity War's devastating end seemingly brought an end to Thanos' mission to rebalance the universe - at least in terms of allowing him to achieve his objective of wiping out half of the universe's life - the loudest question on most fan's minds was what the actual f*ck was going on. As the initial pain wore off, we all began to pose more questions, like Captain America stuck in a loop and unable to move on from the Decimation.

How would the Avengers undo the snap? How could they possibly hope to fight Thanos again? If they decided to time travel, how would they make sure they didn't wipe themselves and their allies out of the timeline entirely? And how would they even time travel in the first place?! It's all very concerning and while Endgame is just around the corner, that's no medicine for the anxiety. The questions are just too big.

But what about that one big question nobody seems to be asking because of the mythology of the film we've been fed for the past ten years or so? What about the question of how the Infinity Gauntlet actually allows Thanos to kill half of existence?

On the paper the MCU has printed, the answer is something along the lines of the following: the Infinity Stones are hugely powerful elemental crystals borne out of the big bang, which control an essential aspect of existence. They don't have total control over those aspects, but are powerful enough to be able to manipulate them. It stands to reason that controlling all together means the ability to control every aspect of existence.

Thanks to the need for dramatic limits, it was established in the MCU that no two Stones should be kept together, because of their volatility (even alone in the wrong hands they're dangerous) and that even the most powerful of wielders would need a Gauntlet (or another specially made artifact) to allow them to temporarily harness that full power. And of course, it was firmly established that while all of the Stones are individually powerful and can be amplified by others, they cannot reach full potential until they're all together.

That wasn't introduced solely because it meant Thanos had to hunt each of the Stones, it was also introduced to fit in with the idea of the Avengers themselves being far stronger as a unit than they are individually. Even the Gods, supermen and aliens. It's a clever little conceit that is the key to taking down Thanos.

Thanos Infinity War
Marvel Studios

But none of that explains how the Decimation worked. It explains the narrative context of the Stones and sort of leaves the real explanation to a hand-wave of magic. They're infinitely powerful merely because they're infinitely powerful. But in a comic book movie universe that seeks to be THIS grounded, and which has more often than not come up with a scientific explanation for everything (aside for Doctor Strange's mysticism, but even then, that's rooted in inter-dimensional travel so it's not entirely unscientific), there needs to be an explanation. And that's what we're here for. You lucky devils.

So let's pick apart from each of the Stones works together to allow Thanos to achieve his Decimation, because while each controls an aspect of existence, their powers also combine perfectly to create a mass extinction event possible.

But first, a real world science lesson that seeks to work out how an essentially magical artifact can work in a grounded work of science. And it all comes down to quantum energy.

Quantum Theory is a broad spectrum banner that basically allows theorists to posit lots of wild ideas because it is a field geared consciously around ignoring conventional laws of physics. That's why the Quantum Realm is called what it is and positioned as a sort of anything goes realm of chaos where time doesn't matter. In fact, there's a very good chance that all of the aspects of existence that the Stones control do not affect the Quantum Realm. If time has no meaning that's already a fairly big indication and the time vortexes mentioned in Ant-Man & The Wasp probably suggest Space Stone like behaviour occurs naturally.

Using the hand-waving "Quantum Energy" excuse might as well be an indication that there is a whole dimension in the MCU where science means nothing. Where all bets are off. Want to know why the Infinity Saga writers and diret=ctors have talked up the importance of the Quantum Realm in Endgame? Because it's where science doesn't matter, where the Stones don't matter and where the explanation for the Stones' power has its roots.

Quantum Theory might as well mean fringe science and that's precisely where the Gauntlet's mechanics come in. Because the Gauntlet is powerful even beyond metaphysical ideas like the essential characteristics of existence - hence being able to control them - the science here is... atypical. It exists, most logically, by its own established rules.

So how do we explain it all using the Stones?

4. The Power Stone

Infinity War Thanos Power Stone
Marvel Studios

It would be easy to simply consider The Power Stone as merely the energy supply for the Decimation. There's a big clue, after all, in the name. It can control the destructive force of the universe - hence Ronan's desire to control it to help him destroy Xandar.

It isn't just a power source though: the key characteristic of the Stone is its ability to amplify existing powers, as well as anyone who uses it's strength and durability. Thanos uses it for various small feats of power in Infinity War, including torturing Thor and uses it in battle with the Avengers to project destructive energy beams similar to those that destroyed the Collector's home within Knowhere.

For the Snap, the Power Stone amplifies the energy signatures of the other Stones at the same time as making Thanos durable enough to withstand the impact of the Decimation himself. It is both energy supply and insulator.

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Executive Editor
Executive Editor

Executive Editor, chief Gunter and the most read writer on WhatCulture. Like ever.