SPOILER ALERT: Warning, this article contains spoilers from Black Panther. Proceed at your own risk.
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is one of the most complicated and compelling antagonists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and new commentary from Black Panther director Ryan Coogler give insights into why he murders both Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) atop Warrior Falls.
In the exclusive clip, Coogler reveals that Zuri’s fate is tied to what he represents — the past.
“I come from the same place Killmonger comes from in the film. We often don’t see people like us grow up and get old. We have a shortsighted view of things,” Coogler explains.
“This idea of the shortsightedness for the future, and the painful reverence for the past is personified here how [Killmonger] kills Zuri, who is the storyteller who represents tradition and represents old knowledge,” he adds, describing the scene where the elder shaman steps in and sacrifices his life for T’Challa’s.
Killmonger impales Zuri with a spear while calling him “Uncle James” — the name Killmonger referred to him as a boy.
Zuri and Killmonger’s father N’Jobu were sent to Oakland, Calif. as Wakandan spies aka War Dogs. After spending time with the disenfranchised, N’Jobu believed Wakandan technology could lift them up and overthrow their oppressors. Zuri aka “James” informed T’Chaka — N’Jobu’s brother and the king of Wakanda/Black Panther — about his plans. T’Chaka was forced to kill N’Jobu, radicalizing his young son Erik.
By murdering Zuri and T’Challa, both of whom represent the old, Killmonger is able to usher in the new. “Is this your king,” he boasts as T’Challa falls. “He’s supposed to lead you into the future?”
Shortly after, Killmonger throws T’Challa over the waterfall. Believing him to be dead, he becomes the new king of Wakanda. Of course, T’Challa recovers with the help of allies and is able to defeat his cousin in combat to reclaim the throne.
Coogler’s commentary further rounds out an already multi-faceted character. As FANDOM’s Drew Dietsch points out, Killmonger “is just a hair away from being the hero in a different story.” Coogler’s Bay Area roots also influenced his first feature film — Fruitvale Station — back in 2013.
To hear more of Coogler’s commentary, pick up a copy of Black Panther, on digital May 8 and Blu-ray/4K on May 15.