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Why is Gamora (in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)?

I’ll do you one better

Gamora (Zoe Saldaña) looks apprehensively into the distance on a starship in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Photo: Jessica Miglio/Marvel Studios
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

As great scholars have asked, “Where is Gamora?” “Who is Gamora?” and “Why is Gamora?” And with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 rocketing toward theaters, and Vol. 2 six years back in the rearview mirror, you may well be asking yourself, “How is Gamora alive in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3? Didn’t she die in Avengers: Infinity War?”

Yes, she did. And then some other things happened, and now she’s back. Sort of. It’s complicated. Let’s refresh.

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Marvel Cinematic Universe movies up through Thor: Love and Thunder, but not for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.]

Who is Gamora (in the MCU)?

If you’re a die-hard Marvel fan, some of this is foundational, but let’s go over a few basic cornerstones of Gamora lore (Ga-lore-a).

Introduced in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and played by Zoe Saldaña, Gamora is an assassin with the sobriquet “the deadliest woman in the galaxy.” When Gamora was young, the intergalactic warlord Thanos conquered her planet, killed 50% of its population, adopted her as his own daughter, and brought her into a life of space murder. But in Guardians of the Galaxy, she was on the run from her adoptive father, after defecting from his forces. She teamed up with the Guardians to keep the Kree general Ronan the Accuser from obtaining the Power Stone, and over time she encouraged her sister Nebula to defect from Thanos as well.

Where is Gamora (in the main MCU timeline)?

Gamora dead at the bottom of the Vormir Soul Stone sacrifice cliff bleeding green blood on to stone in Avengers: Infinity War Image: Marvel Studios

Technically, Gamora is dead. During the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos abducted her and took her to the planet of Vormir, home of the hidden Soul Stone, which demanded the sacrifice of a loved one in order to wield it — and apparently, the possessive affection of an abusive father explicitly willing to kill his own daughter to gain power counts as love.

He threw Gamora to her death, and not even the Infinity Stones can turn back a Soul Stone sacrifice, so she did not return to life with the rest of the people who had been killed by Thanos’ snap.

Why is Gamora (alive again)?

The real-world answer is that Zoe Saldaña is under contract to star as Gamora; she’s a main character of the Guardians of the Galaxy subfranchise; and passing up an opportunity for Saldaña to play Gamora is leaving star power, money, and negotiating power on the table.

The in-universe answer involves the nonintuitive way in which Avengers: Endgame built the rules of time travel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

How is Gamora (alive in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)?

Gamora in Avengers: Infinity War, staring off into the distance on a spaceship Image: Marvel Studios

As one of the interlocking parts of the Avengers’ attempt to gather a full set of Infinity Stones from the past, Nebula and War Machine traveled back in time to intercept the Power Stone before the Guardians, Kree, or Thanos obtained it.

Now, logistically, the way all this Gamora stuff works is a lot more like visiting an alternate universe than traveling back on one’s own timeline — as Bruce Banner explains in Endgame, it’s nothing like Back to the Future rules. When the Avengers went back in time to grab the Power Stone and were discovered by a past version of Thanos, the time heist created an alternate universe where, years before it happened, Thanos became aware that there was a timeline in which he gathered all the Infinity Stones and snapped half the universe dead, which caused the Avengers to time-travel to collect the Infinity Stones in an attempt to do their own snap in their own present.

So, after kidnapping the Main Timeline Nebula, Alternate Thanos of the parallel universe stole the Avengers’ time travel technology and followed them back to their own “present” (i.e., to their own universe) to steal the Infinity Stones back. His plan — given evidence that snapping half of all life had inspired so much resistance — was to do an even worse snap, destroying all life in the universe so he could remake it as he saw fit. And he brought his still loyal assassin daughters, Alternate Gamora and Alternate Nebula, with him.

During the final battle of the Avengers against Alternate Thanos’ Chitauri armies (which, let’s never forget, took place in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley), Main Timeline Nebula killed her alternate self and convinced Alternate Gamora to fight for the good guys. After all, Alternate Gamora was already quite close to defecting from Alternate Thanos on her own, just like Main Gamora had been at the same time in her life.

And so, at the end of Infinity War, when Iron Man sacrificed himself to snap away all of “Thanos’ forces,” Alternate Gamora remained in the main MCU timeline. The hitch for her friends in the Guardians of the Galaxy was that this Gamora had never met them, never shared their adventures, and never fallen in love with Star-Lord. She declined to join up with the group and went her own way in the galaxy. And as we saw from their introductory appearance in Thor: Love & Thunder, it has kind of left a hole in the group, and certainly a hole in Peter’s heart.

While we can’t say what that means for Alternate Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, we know she’s in it. And it’s hard to imagine a universe, alternate or otherwise, where the way she feels about a group of weirdos she’s never met who insist they miss her very much isn’t a big part of the movie.

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