Image Source: Everett Collection
Warning: are you ready for some Avengers: Endgame spoilers? No? Then you better stop reading right now.
After watching Avengers: Endgame, you'll likely come away with a few thoughts. Like, "Wow, I can't believe we sat through all of that without peeing!" Or maybe, "Wow, I can't believe I'm still hyperventilating and crying, this is getting out of hand!" Either option is acceptable, for what it's worth, and if you are indeed an emotional wreck by the end of things, then know this — you're not alone. We all knew some big deaths were coming, but they still managed to take us by surprise. In addition to the gut-wrenching loss of Tony Stark, we also watch Natasha "Nat" Romanoff (aka Black Widow) die during her journey to find the Soul Stone.
Scarlett Johansson has played Nat ever since first appearing in 2010's Iron Man 2, when she poses as a new personal assistant for Tony Stark named Natalie Rushman. Later, of course, Nick Fury arrives and tells Tony that the badass woman who's been "working" for him is actually a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, which sets into motion the ever-expanding MCU.
We've since seen her develop intimate friendships with new friends on the team, particularly with Steve/Captain America and Bruce/Hulk. (The latter bond nearly verges on dipping into romance at one point in Avengers: Age of Ultron, though that's a plot point that many fans like to forget ever happened.) She also introduces Clint/Hawkeye to the group, having worked with him for years previously. Given how integral Nat has become to the Avengers, there's a bitter irony to the fact that she's the first of the group to die in Endgame.
Much of the film's plot hinges around the team's effort to figure out a way to reverse Thanos's snap and bring back their dusted friends, a cause that Nat is particularly obsessed with. All of the remaining Avengers deal with their loss in different ways — leading group therapy sessions, becoming deadly vigilantes — but Nat seems to give up caring about anything but finding a way to bring people back, throwing herself entirely into her work. (This includes her blond hair, by the way, which she lets grow out into an, um, interesting blond-red ombre.)
Image Source: Everett Collection
Fortunately Tony figures out how to successfully time travel using Pym Particles, and they're able to go back in time and collect the Infinity Stones before Thanos does in hopes of using the gauntlet themselves. That way they can reverse the villain's murderous snap and cancel out his plan of vengeance entirely. The group splits up in pairs to retrieve certain stones, with Nat and Clint (aka Hawkeye) on the hook for the Soul Stone.
The orange Soul Stone makes its first MCU appearance in Infinity War, when we learn that Thanos tasked Gamora with finding the stone some time before the events of Guardians of the Galaxy. She discovers a map to the stone's location on the planet Vormir and burns it in an attempt to keep Thanos from collecting all six stones. He still does, and the Soul Stone is the most brutal to retrieve — he ruthlessly trades Gamora's life for the stone, which requires a soul for a soul.
When Nat and Clint arrive at Vormir and encounter the Keeper of the Soul Stone (aka Red Skull), he informs them of the price of taking the stone, igniting a fierce, passionate argument between the two longtime friends. Nat insists she throw herself from the cliff so that Clint has a chance at reuniting with his family one day, while Clint says he wants to sacrifice himself in hopes of giving his family a better life (with Nat to watch over them, presumably).
After a violent scuffle that involves each of them saving the other from jumping, only to try to fling themselves off instead, they both end up dangling off the cliff — Clint is attached to the rope thanks to a mechanism on his suit's belt, and has one hand holding Nat up. He refuses to let her go over and over again, until she simply says "It's OK" with tears in her eyes and pushes off. She plummets off the cliff to her death, laying at the base of the cliff in a similar position to Gamora when she suffered the same fate.
Image Source: Marvel
Clint wakes up to find the glowing Soul Stone in his hand and his best friend gone. Later, when all the stones have been collected in Tony's custom made Iron Gauntlet, the Hulk puts it on and decides to try to snap himself to bring everyone who dies at the end of Infinity War back. He succeeds, bringing back everyone from Clint's family to T'Challa to the birds tweeting outside. He later admits to Steve that he also tried to will Nat back to life, but like Gamora, her death occurred before the stones were collected and thus cannot be reversed.
Black Widow's death is definitely an unexpected one, but it packs nowhere near the emotional punch that Tony's untimely demise does later on in the film. Part of that is because her friendship with Hawkeye is one of the more underdeveloped relationships in the franchise, and part of it is because Nat is an underdeveloped character, period.
She's consistently been relegated to being the tough, stoic supporting figure to leads like Captain America and Iron Man despite being the only female Avenger and boasting a rich backstory. Even in death she has to make another sacrifice for a male character, one who wasn't even important enough to be included in Infinity War, we might add. It's frustrating, and Nat deserved better.
There's an argument to be made that her sacrifice is hinted at from the start of the film, since she's consumed by saving the new "family" she lost in the snap, and of course it's a valiant way to go out no matter how you look at it. It's just that, for a character that has been a part of the MCU since Iron Man 2, her death has a surprisingly small impact on the emotional core of the film.
The studio dragged their heels for years when fans begged for Black Widow merchandise and an origin film of her own. Luckily, that all changed when the Black Widow standalone film was finally announced in January 2018. So, even though she's gone for good (at least in this timeline), we still have more Nat to look forward to. Let's hope Marvel uses it as an opportunity to give the character the depth she should've gotten years ago.