The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Why We Hate John Walker So Much

SPOILERS for The Falcon and The Winter Soldier through Episode 4, “The World is Watching.”

Note: When I talk about how much we hate John Walker and why, I’m talking about the character, not his actor, Wyatt Russell. Some people online cannot distinguish between character and actor in this case. Please don’t attack Wyatt Russell as a person.

Okay, if there’s one MCU character we all despise right now, it’s John Walker, the Captain America impostor on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

From the beginning, the show has subtly let us know that John Walker is not a worthy successor for the mantle of Captain America. A lot of the fanbase had that feeling from the beginning. We also didn’t like that he was replacing Steve Rogers, a beloved character, and that he was hand-picked by the government rather than Steve himself. However, a few people, like this BGR blog’s writer, Chris Smith, seemed to give John Walker the benefit of the doubt: “Oh, he’s not so bad. I think he has what it takes to be Captain America.” And the rest of us are like, “Oh, HELL NO!” It looks like Chris Smith is a white man, and I think a lot of people who supported the idea of John Walker as a legitimate Captain America are either white men or women and minority members who align themselves with white men to become adjacent to white male power (the Battlestars of the world, basically). Why? Because a lot of people out there who aren’t white and/or male have noticed lots of things about John Walker that subtly signal his unworthiness.

An FB friend of mine has been sending me Marvel analysis TikTok videos from non-white and non-male creators that include @dr._c, @ravendoloris, @amazingnickanger, and @straw_hat_goofy. These TikTok creators all make great points about John Walker, Bucky, and the presence of the Dora Milaje in the show. For example, @dr._c points out in one of his videos that in the Episode 2 locker room scene, Battlestar/Lemar Hoskins says that he and John Walker recently performed special ops missions in Chile. According to @dr._c, that line could be a reference to how the U.S. military helped far-right Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet conduct a military coup to overthrow democratically elected socialist leader Salvador Allende. Pinochet’s regime did many horrible things to people who opposed them, including throwing their opponents out of helicopters. After watching @dr._c’s video about that, I noticed that in Episode 2, Walker and Battlestar show up to fight the Flag-Smashers by jumping out of a helicopter. MEEP.

Here are the things I noticed about John Walker that made me believe he was never worthy of being Captain America:

  • He’s introduced to the public with two acts of cultural appropriation: First, the Secretary of Defense tells Sam, “You’re doing the right thing” when he gives up Cap’s Shield in the first episode. Then, that Secretary of Defense takes the Shield and gives it to a white guy we’ve never heard of and introduces him as the new Captain America on national television. The Secretary’s implication is that a Black man shouldn’t be Captain America; the Shield belongs to a blond, blue-eyed white man because Steve Rogers was blond and blue-eyed, and that’s what America expects from their Cap. The second act of cultural appropriation is how John Walker is introduced to the public in the second episode. He runs out onto the football field at his old high school in Custer’s Grove, GA while he’s surrounded by a Black marching band. Black marching bands move differently than many white marching bands do. In a Black marching band, each individual member has many individual choreographic movements that sync with those of the other members around them. Most white marching bands focus on stiff individual movements to emphasize the larger pictures that the band makes as the move around the field. Black marching bands also make large pictures with the members’ movement, but their performances also highlight smaller individual movements. There are cultural differences between Black and white marching bands’ performance styles, and I’m pretty sure it’s no accident that this new Captain America shows up in all his blond glory at his Southern high school with a Black marching band backing him up as he appears on Good Morning America*. It’s another reinforcement of where the US government in the MCU thinks Black heroes belong.
  • He completes his Captain America missions by piggy-backing off a black man’s labor: John Walker has this odd habit of swooping in just Sam and Bucky (the titular Falcon and Winter Soldier) make headway in tracking the Flag Smashers. We find out in the second episode that Walker and Battlestar can do this because they use their government clearances to hack Sam’s Falcon wings and Redwing tech (RIP Redwing) to get information that he’s gathered and figure out what the Flag Smashers are doing. He gets a drop on the Flag Smashers in Episode 2, “The Star-Spangled Man,” by jumping out of a helicopter after technologically eavesdropping on Sam and Bucky. Walker used their labor–mainly Sam’s because he was following up on data that Redwing collected; he just let Bucky tag along because Bucky wouldn’t stop staring at him, and Bucky is old and lonely and needs something to do–to get leads on the Flag Smashers. He never actually does any of this labor himself. When he tries to do some investigating with Battlestar on their own in Episode 3, they try to question a man who gave the Flag Smashers food and shelter. They question the man for about 30 seconds before John Walker shoves the guy and shouts, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!?!” That shout reeks of white male entitlement, like the Flag Smashers’ collaborator is supposed to do what Walker says because the government gave him the mantle of Captain America, a mantle he didn’t even earn. Then Walker says he and Battlestar should rely on “someone who has a better hand than we do,” meaning they’re going to leech off Sam and Bucky’s work again. In this scenario, John Walker’s behavior hearkens back to many white male slave owners in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and white male CEOs in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries who exploit BIPOC, female, and other minorities’ labor to further their own success. He uses Sam and Bucky’s legwork to complete his missions because he doesn’t want to do the labor himself.
  • John Walker forcibly ends Bucky’s court-mandated therapy to keep him available for potential missions: This may seem like not a big deal at first, but forcing someone to end their therapy before they’re ready and before their therapist is ready to release them from their care is not good. At all. I’m in therapy right now, and I can honestly say that I do not want a blond man with a severe underbite to show up and tell me I can’t attend therapy anymore so I can be available to help him track down a radicalized group of people. Bucky is in therapy because he is traumatized by his experiences working as the Winter Soldier for HYDRA. Also, he’s not choosing to attend therapy. It’s court-mandated, and it’s part of his presidential pardon. So John Walker thinks he can circumvent the U.S. courts system and the President of the United States to get Bucky out of therapy to serve his own ends. (And the government apparently lets him do it.) Walker disregards other people’s mental health needs and their current legal issues to use those people for his own ends. He doesn’t help other people. Other people serve John Walker, and he will bend the rules to make sure those people are available when he needs them. YIKES.
  • He does not empathize with Karli Morgenthau at all: One big difference between John Walker and Sam Wilson is that Sam can empathize with Karli and the Flag Smashers’ motivations, even if he doesn’t approve of their methods. Sam understands that they’re marginalized people who have been displaced, and they’re using extreme methods to grow their cause and help other displaced people. John Walker, on the other hand, see Karli Morgenthau and the Flag Smashers as one-dimensional villains and can’t see their larger objectives or why they might have become radicalized. But of course John Walker won’t see the Flag Smashers’ side of the argument the way Sam would. Walker has never been marginalized in his life, so he can’t see the world from a marginalized person’s perspective. It’s important to note that Steve Rogers was able to sympathize with the Maximoff Twins in Avengers: Age of Ultron very similarly to how Sam sympathizes with Karli. To truly wear the mantle of Captain America, a person must be able to see the other side of the argument, but still have conviction in their beliefs. John Walker cannot see the other side of the argument at all.
  • Battlestar is only defined by his relationship to John Walker: We never see Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar away from John Walker, except late in the fourth episode, when the Flag Smashers tie him up shortly before his death. He’s also introduced alongside John Walker at the beginning of the second episode while Walker practices his Captain America Voice and says, “That’s why you failed drama class.” So they’ve probably known each other since high school, and they served in the military together. I think some people see Battlestar as representative of Walker’s conscience, so Walker is completely untethered from morality, but that’s part of the problem with Battlestar. He’s never his own independent person. While Sam worked with Captain America, he seemed to go off on his own at times (like when he appeared by himself in Ant-Man), and he could disagree with Steve Rogers. An example of a disagreement is when Steve is determined to save Bucky in Winter Soldier, and Sam says, “I don’t think he’s the kind you save. He’s the kind you stop.” He still helps Steve stop Hydra and look for Bucky, but they do have that difference of opinion that carries through to this series. Battlestar, on the other hand, never has a difference of opinion from John Walker. When Walker asks if he’d take the Super Soldier Serum if he could, Battlestar quickly answers yes. To me, Battlestar reminds me less of a mirror of Sam Wilson and more of an echo of Billy Lee, George Washington’s slave-valet in the AMC series Turn: Washington’s Spies. (Oh, and the character of Billy was based on Washington’s actual slave-valet during the Revolutionary War, William Lee.) In Turn, Billy exists to serve Washington and to deliver information about Washington’s thoughts and feelings to two of the main characters, Ben and Caleb, when Washington won’t admit these thoughts and feelings himself. Like Billy, Battlestar exists mainly reinforce a white male character’s opinions and help share them with other characters. He’s an extension of John Walker rather than his own person, which is why Walker is so upset when he dies: he’s sad that he lost an extension of himself. Battlestar is a token, rather than a fully-formed person like Sam.
  • John Walker condescends to everyone, particularly the Dora Milaje: John Walker speaks in a friendly condescending tone to Sam and Bucky when they meet in the second episode, until the end, when he says, “A word of advice, then: stay the hell out of my way.” From there on out, his condescending tone only gets angrier and more intense until he meets the Dora Milaje in the fourth episode. When they appear, he’s already trying to tell Sam what to do, and Sam and Bucky aren’t having it. Then, when the Dora Milaje show up, he says, “Hi, John Walker, Captain America,” and Ayo and the other Dora Milaje have none of it. He calls their spears “pointy sticks” and then touches Ayo’s shoulder in a way that clearly comes across as condescending, particularly if you’re female viewer like me. Several of the TikToks I’ve watched have pointed out that this scene is loaded with racism and imperialism/colonialism from John Walker, and that’s true. However, it’s also loaded with sexism. He touches Ayo the way he does because she’s a Black female warrior from an African nation. If, say, T’Challa had shown up, I’m not sure John Walker would have been so forward. Then, the Dora Milaje kick his ass, and that’s what prompts Walker to take the Super Soldier Serum he found. He needs to feel superior to everyone around him, particularly the Dora Milaje. Losing a fight to a group of Black warrior women from an African nation fuels his need for supremacy. He no longer feels better than them, and he doesn’t know what to do if he’s not better than the people of color around him. That’s also probably why he likes Battlestar so much: Battlestar is clearly his sidekick, and he’s happy in that inferior position. John Walker’s brain cannot handle Black people who are at least as competent as he is and confident in their competency.

*Fun fact: my high school marching band briefly appeared on Good Morning America as part of a quick montage about the different aspects of the Tournament of Roses Parade, which we marched in on January 1, 2005. I was a fifteen-year-old band geek with a trombone back then.

These are just some of the microaggressions that lead to John Walker’s fall from grace at the end of the fourth episode. At the end of the episode, he doesn’t look like Steve Rogers. He looks like Derek Chauvin, Darren Wilson, Jonathan Mattingly, and Kim Potter. Google those police officers if you don’t know who they are. They are brutal and unrelentingly, just like John Walker at the end of Episode Four, “The World Is Watching.”

John Walker represents the worst of America. He also represents how palatable white supremacy has become for most white Americans. His white supremacy is subtle at first, but becomes more overt as the series goes on. That’s part of the reason so many of us hated him from the moment he appeared: not only is he not Steve Rogers, he’s the exact opposite of Steve. Something has been off about him from the beginning, and we knew that. Now we know why.

6 thoughts on “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier: Why We Hate John Walker So Much

  1. You made everything unnecessarily about racism and sexism. Like you literally talked trash about white people and males the entire essay, and then accuse John walker of being racist and sexist with subtle things from the show that could be taken any number of ways. Also, just in case you say, “Oh he must be a salty white male,” I’m not = ).

  2. [If Zemo was black.] John Walker devalues Zemo by addressing him in the third person and refusing to speak to him directly upon his discovery of the escape. He is immediately hostile and outraged and remains uncompromising in his opinion. Even when Zemo proves valuable to the mission, John remains intent on returning him to prison, seizing on each opportunity to restrain or assault the temporary ally. Though Zemo is a violent sociopath who only assists the protagonists because their mission happens to align with his personal philosophy and grants him a short time of relative freedom, Walker is clearly unwilling to seek a deeper understanding of a black person, and instead resorts to demeaning him and mistreating him on a constant basis, constantly trying to reduce Zemo from a human being to merely his criminal status.

    [If the official at John’s hearing was a woman.] John has an outburst after his removal as Captain America, clearly feeling the effects of his very fragile masculinity when confronted with a woman of authority. He becomes so frustrated at having to answer to a woman that he lets his misogyny take over and shouts at her and leaves the room before she is even finished talking.

    I’m not defending John Walker, but your essay was just racial paranoia and aggravation in the name of analysis and “wokeness.” Even though he was unlikable for most of the show, it was refreshing to see the MCU introduce a sort-of grey character with some internal emotional conflict and moral ambiguity. Walker was a highly motivated individual who became quickly overwhelmed when he found that the title of Captain America was almost more of a burden than a guarantee of immediate esteem, and that the challenges he would face as Cap would be considerably more difficult than anything he’d faced in military service. He does not lose his drive to succeed, and takes the serum as a means of becoming worthy of the position of Captain America and the legacy of Steve Rogers, not to mention being able to actually pose a threat to the Flag Smashers. I completely agree that there are many reasons to hate him, and I myself was not a huge fan. But sounding the sexist-racist-white-man-is-so-sexist-and-racist alarm is just so tired and given the fact that his most emotionally intimate relationships — his own wife and Lemar, not to mention Lemar’s family — are both with black people, racism or sexism don’t really seem to be among the cardinal reasons to hate him. He’s not really written as a racist. He’s just an entitled asshole. And given the fact that you went out of your way to find or contrive some sort of negativity in his partnership with Lemar — his best friend and moral compass — I have no doubt that you would have found an abundance of racism and misogyny in his interactions with other white male characters in the show had they been women or minorities.

  3. “Battlestar, on the other hand, never has a difference of opinion from John Walker.”

    Factually incorrect. When John is resistant to Sam’s strategy of reasoning with Karli rather than immediately resorting to making a forcible arrest, Lemar openly disagrees with his partner and tells John to give Sam a chance, at which point John relents. After reading the other comments you’ve made, I can’t wait to hear how I’m wrong and how a correct approximation of Lemar’s character actually makes it even more racist and white men even more evil. Good luck.

    1. If my assessment of a Disney+ show bothers you this much, the problem isn’t with me. To quote novelist John Green: “If you have a worldview that can be undone by a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.” The same goes for blog posts.

      1. Just emphasizing the importance of being even slightly informed if you’re going to make such bold and incendiary claims that constitute fundamental and objective misreadings of important characters 🙃

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