The Tragedy of Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger and What Could Have Been

Don’t read this if you haven’t seen Black Panther.

Once the lights came up and the Black Panther end credit scenes played, chances are you let out a bit of a breath you didn’t realize you were holding. It wasn’t one of a nervous contemplation or an excitement, it was one of anguish.

In Black Panther, Erik Killmonger wasn’t the big villain, it was Klaw. Killmonger did serve as a conflicted character, an opposite of T’Challa – but he wasn’t the kind of evil you want to see destroyed. He was the kind of villain who drew you into his own story and there you found a place of reflection.

Were you part of the evil he wanted to bring down, were you part of the problem by not helping to find a solution or were you too – like him – a victim of circumstance? He went about it all wrong, that whole trying to kill T’Challa, actually killing Zuri, and destroying Wakanda as they knew it was bad. We aren’t saying he was some angel in disguise.

Just that there was something to him and that something could have been something great.

While Killmonger would have made an incredibly interesting addition to the MCU, it just wasn’t an option as far as Coogler was concerned, and with good reason.

‘No, for him we always – that wasn’t something that we went back and forth on. His end was the same as draft one that it was in the film. Just because the idea was that these two things can’t coexist; if T’Challa and him… you know, that was a great tragedy of it for T’Challa, I think. But Killmonger was too far gone.’

When given the chance to ‘be saved’ Killmonger asked for a burial like that of his ancestors, refusing to live life in chains. Both figuratively and literally, he was a man who knew that no matter what fight was next, his would be laced with revenge. He knew he couldn’t coexist with T’Challa, which was a heartbreaking realization because there was too much hurt and pain.

Not just his hurt and pain, but the hurt and pain of those he saw fall around him. His story makes him one of the greatest villains in Marvel’s history, and one of the most tragic. Things could have been so different for him, and if that’s not the greatest heartache of all time.

What could have been?

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Ashley Dye
'...but I knew him'