The sentimental “time heist” part of Avengers: Endgame acts as a way to give closure to many of the original six avengers. As Steve Rogers sees a picture of himself on Peggy’s desk, and Tony Stark has a conversation with the father who was always distant from him, and Natasha Romanoff sacrifices herself to show gratefulness to what Clint Barton had done for her, Thor realizes that the day he’s returned to Asgard in order to retrieve the reality stone is the same day that his mother dies.
Because of the emotional weight of the day, he tells Rocket that he can’t go through the mission. From the start of the movie until then, it was made clear that Thor blamed himself most for Thanos’s universal genocide, since he had beaten the Mad Titan but failed to kill him. That failure drove him into depression, and when he’s reintroduced after a five-year leap, he’s shown to be dealing with his emotional pain by drinking heavily, eating badly, shutting himself off from the world, and pretending that he’s fine when he isn’t. (Gods, they’re just like us.) Returning to the day that his mother died, while suffering from his feelings of failure to save billions of people, was too overwhelming.
Instead of going with Rocket, Thor hides in a hallway behind a column as his mother and servants walk by. Then the most beautiful scene in the movie happens, at least for me: With Thor hiding in the foreground and looking around the corner to make sure that Frigga doesn’t see him, Frigga (in the background) tells the other women to go ahead without her, and then she dallies for a second, as if she can feel Thor nearby, before approaching his hiding place.
Thor thinks that he’s successfully avoided her, but when he turns his head, she’s right in front of him and scares him by asking him what he is doing. She warns him that he should leave the sneaking to his brother, Loki. She asks him about his shabby clothes, holds his face in her hands, and asks about his eye, and as he stammers for excuses and lies to avoid her figuring out that he’s from the future, she caresses his head and says, “You’re not the Thor I know at all, are you?”
He tries to lie that he is, and she says, “The future hasn’t been kind to you, has it?”
He tries again to deceive her; she tells him that she was raised by witches and that she sees him with more than eyes. Then Thor breaks down, admits that he’s from the future, and says that he needs to talk to her. They talk while sitting on her bed. He reveals to her his failure to stop Thanos. He says that he was just standing there, “just an idiot with an axe.” She tells him that he isn’t an idiot but “a failure, absolutely.”
Crucially, she then assures him that everyone fails, and the measure of a person lies not in becoming who you’re supposed to be, but in who you are.
When it’s time for him to leave, he tries to tell his mother about her impending death. But she stops him. She tells him that he’s there to repair his future, not hers. She knows that she is going to die.
It’s almost a reversal of the story of Achilles and his mother, the goddess Thetis. Thetis knew her son would die if he went to fight in Troy. She tried to prevent it by sending him away to king Lycomedes’ court in Skyros, disguised as a woman. But when he does go to Troy, she spends her time mourning his impending death, trying to soothe him and make his living moments as bearable as possible.
Thor knows Frigga’s death is impending, but where Thetis couldn’t do anything about fate, Frigga has seen it and is comfortable with where her story ends.
In her limited time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Frigga has always been the nurturing mother. Though she’s noted to be a strong fighter, her role was to console her sons, Thor and Loki, and defend them to Odin. When Thor is nervous before his coronation in the first movie, she calms him down. After Odin banishes him, she rebukes her husband.
When Loki is imprisoned and it’s declared forbidden to visit him, she still goes to him through a hologram. After her conversation with Loki, Thor asks her if she regrets teaching him magic, to which she replies: “No. You and your father cast large shadows. I had hoped that by sharing my gifts with Loki that he could find some sun for himself.”
If her clairvoyance is canon, it could mean that beyond having a motherly optimism about Loki’s nature, Frigga knew that in giving him magic, she would be creating the conditions for her own death, since it’s Loki that brings the Dark Elves to Asgard. But even with the knowledge, she couldn’t abandon her son.
It’s hard to praise Frigga for her role without inevitably praising the gender stereotypes that saw her be a minor character whose identity was tied to nurturing her sons. But her scene with Thor in Endgame is a wonderful representation of the best mother-and-son relationship and her importance to his story, even while she's barely in it. That relationship is also why, in his lowest moments, Thor had to see his mother and not his father, who had played a much more prominent role in his story.
Thor is a classic mama’s boy. His complicated relationship with Odin is based on the dynamic of admiration and competition. He idolizes his father and wants to be like, or even better than, him. In the first movies, this admiration and trying to live up to his father is what drives his development. It’s the burden that he sheds at the end of Ragnarok, when Odin helps him embrace his full power.
There’s an emotional distance that comes with a relationship based on idolization and strength. When Thor needs to be stronger, it’s his father that he talks to. It’s his father who drives him as a leader and as a warrior. But he’s also a person of emotions. Sometimes he needs to be consoled, not driven to more power. Odin can’t do that for him.
The particular importance about the conversation that Thor has with Frigga is that she’s not telling him to be stronger or to work harder, or reminding him that he’s king of Asgard; she listens to him, and then tells him that he’s a failure. Absolutely. She tells him that he probably won’t live up to the idea that he has of himself, which is based on him trying to live up to his father, but that’s all right. He doesn’t need to. Most people never live up to what others see them as, or even their own ideal self. It’s not advice that could be expected to come from a conversation with Odin.
Thor’s change in Endgame doesn’t come from a climactic moment where he reaches a new power level. His problem was one of giving his best and failing, and needing someone who could listen to him without judgment. Someone who didn’t have the image of him as Thor, god of thunder, the strongest Avenger, the king of Asgard, or the chosen son. Frigga allows him to be vulnerable in a way that he can’t with anyone else.
Thor needed his mother, who saw him as he really is, her son who's full of nerves and anxieties and who is trying his best to live up to incredibly high expectations. It’s because she truly knows him better than anyone else that her consolation allows him to forgive himself for his failure.
It’s a testament to the power of art that even in such a blockbuster like Endgame, which deals with so much surface-level emotionality, such a profound relationship can find itself showcased. It felt bizarre at first to see Thor almost having a panic attack at seeing his mother, considering that she never had a huge role in his movies. It seemed like the scene was even setting him up to have an encounter with his former girlfriend, Jane. But as any mama’s boy will tell you, the best way to deal with and cure the worst sadness and feelings of failure is to curl up with your mother and have her tell you that things will be all right. That goes from the smallest of us to the strongest Avenger.
Originally Appeared on GQ