Based on the final turn of events, there was really no other choice: Loki (Tom Hiddleston), having journeyed to the furthest point in spacetime with his variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) to meet the founder of the TVA, a scientist-turned-survivor-of-multiversal-war known as He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors), finds himself zapped into a new reality when his lady self slays the omnipresent being. The mind reels!
Creator Michael Waldron takes delight in the endless possibilities of Loki’s core premise. And as a veteran of Rick and Morty, he knows what anchors a mind-bending show, and what will keep Hiddleston’s character hurtling through his chaotic, rewritten future. Below, Polygon talks to Waldron about landing on the key choices of Loki season 1, what to expect from season 2, and a bit on his next project, the wrestling drama Heels, which is set to premiere on Aug. 15.
Did you know there’d be a second season of Loki from the beginning or was that choice made later in the process?
Michael Waldron: We always knew that it was a possibility. We always knew that we wanted to propel Loki and these characters out into the MCU after this, into further stories. But that didn’t really crystallize as a sure thing until we were in production and everything. And as we were really figuring out the finale.
So you were still cracking the ending as you shot the show?
There was a hiatus due to the pandemic. So things were constantly being retooled because of that. I think, by and large, everything with He Who Remains and the Sylvie-Loki conflict was always there. But that cliffhanger was the sort of thing that suddenly became a really appealing opportunity, a chance for that to lead into a second season.
What element of the series helped you crack the macro story of Loki, and made all the other pieces fall into place? Each episode almost feels like a standalone adventure, similar to Rick and Morty, but what helped it all click?
The first couple of weeks in the writers room was just laying out the individual episodes. It was very important to me that each episode stood on its own, and you could say “This is the Lamentis episode,” “This is the apocalypse moon episode,” “This is the Void episode.” I didn’t want it to just be cut up chapters and have one long continuous story. Obviously, we had to figure out the time travel for things to slot into place. I think a big idea for us was the way you get around the TVA by hiding in apocalypses. That felt like such a big, cool, exciting idea that it drove the action of episode 2, episode 3, and in a way it’s like Alioth is the ultimate apocalypse that He Who Remains is hiding behind. That sci-fi idea cracked a lot open for us. I know that after we had that I went home and I slept a little sounder.
Did adding the multiverse to the Marvel Cinematic Universe feel like blowing something up or expanding it, in terms of narrative possibilities?
In the same way that after the first couple Iron Man movies, and with the first Avengers, suddenly these movies were kind of going to space. Then we had Guardians. I think of the multiverse as another version of that. It’s new ground to cover, and particularly interesting because characters meeting other versions of themselves and other versions of people they know is... cool. That’s just a cool sci-fi concept! But I think with anything, as you expand outward, it only works if the humanity remains. It’s exciting to watch characters dealing with big crazy multiversal conflicts because we can see ourselves in them. I think you just have to hold on to the humanity that makes these stories work in the first place.
Did you go back to the Thor movies for Loki? Was there anything to find in the past of Marvel as you were paving the future?
Absolutely. I mean I watched them many times, contrary to what Twitter might think because I did some bits on there saying that I’ve never seen Avengers and I upset some people [laughs]. I have seen it many times. “Confirmed: Loki writer has seen Avengers and saw it before writing Loki show.”
In fact, I was watching all these movies on a loop in the writers’ room. I gleaned so much because you watch the evolution of the character. Avengers was particularly informative because our story picks up Loki right after that, but I also I found a lot of inspiration in Thor: The Dark World, a maybe sometimes maligned movie that I actually really enjoy. I just think there’s great stuff with Loki being tangentially responsible for the death of his mother, how he reacts to that. That is the start of his journey of that version of Loki’s redemption, so I was inspired by that.
What’s propelling the characters into season 2? Where are you headed in basic terms?
In season 1, you saw a lot of characters reckoning with and questioning their own glorious purpose, and that glorious purpose changing, [characters] realizing that that can change. Everybody except for Sylvie. I think she holds onto hers, which is vengeance, and to the detriment of us all, perhaps. And we’ve got a Loki who, at the top of our show, assessed himself as a villain and, I would argue, at the end of our show, has become a little bit of a hero. There’s nothing more heroic to me than fighting for the right thing and losing. You see that washing over him as he’s there back at the TVA, after Sylvie has knocked back there. And then he gets up because that is what heroes do — they keep going. So I think that you’re gonna see a Loki that looks at himself in a different way certainly that at the top of this.
Do you hope to explore more of Sylvie’s backstory in season 2?
I guess we’ll see. We certainly have our own rich backstory for her, stuff that didn’t get to make it into the show. Elissa Karasik, our episode 2 writer, wrote a lot of amazing backstory for Sylvia and everything. So those ideas exist out there.
And her version of Thor?
How did He Who Remains come about? Did you bring the character to Marvel or was that a character Marvel hoped to introduce?
I was pushing and our team was pushing early on in the writers’ room that it should be a version of Kang up in that Citadel, sort of fusing the mythology of He Who Remains with a little bit of the Immortus mythology. And that was a thing we were excited to do. And it became clear that it actually made sense for our story. The only way we were going to do it was if it made sense, but it was like, who had a better argument for creating the TVA to prevent other versions of themselves from existing then a guy as evil as Kang the Conqueror?
You wrote the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — did Marvel hire you for that after Loki? Does the movie feel like a continuation of the show?
Yeah, that opportunity came as we were getting ready to start production on Loki. It was a pleasure. I got to work with Sam Raimi, a hero of mine. I was in London for five months making that movie at the top of this year. We had a blast. I think that it’s a continuation in as much as ever every Marvel movie is to some extent a chapter in an ongoing story, but these things are meant to stand alone and the most important thing about Doctor Strange too is making the most kick ass Doctor Strange movie we could.
Is Loki a two-part show now or are you invested in telling a longer story with future seasons beyond season 2?
Time will tell, but I do my hope is that season 1 stands on its own. We always wanted to tell a complete story there. And in whatever the next chapter may be will stand on its own as well.
Your next show, Heels, is already on the way. We got a big preview out of Comic-Con this year, but I’m curious about the scope of this story. You’re starting with two brothers running an independent wrestling franchise, but you’ve dropped the name “Vince McMahon” a few times — is this about the building of an empire? Would you liken it to The Godfather or Breaking Bad?
I always thought about it a little bit of a Scorsese-sort-of rise, and we’ll see if there’s a fall. Starting from humble beginnings and trying to build some crazy. Wrestling was certainly not always the empire that it is and that’s what’s interesting, to watch the evolution of a family-run wrestling business from something you do in your small towns and perhaps a national, even global empire. That would be a really compelling arc for a show over the course of several seasons. I’d be excited to explore that.
What’s the most dramatically fulfilling wrestling moment you’ve witnessed? What’s the bar for the wrestling drama of Heels?
It’s gotta be Hulk Hogan turning heel in the WCW. There was an invasion storyline, these guys from WWF, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, came over and they were the bad guys. It was at a Pay-per-view and and they were beating up on the good guys that you love, and here comes Hulk Hogan in the yellow and red and he’s the hero. “The Hulk’s gonna get ‘em! The good guy’s here!” And then the Hulk just leg drops Randy Savage. That was the original Red Wedding. I just think about the boldness of turning him heel. To a little kid... I wasn’t even like a massive Hulk fan, but he was just such a mythological figure. What a chance that Hulk Hogan took as a performer, as a bankable kind of movie star at that point. That was bold, risky storytelling and it set off two years of amazing storytelling with Hogan just playing a craven, cowardly heel and just being so evil. I really respect the hell out of them for doing that. That was a great storyline.