NOTE: There will be SPOILERS for Black Panther if you have not watched it yet.
For those that follow the MCU closely, you know that at the end of Captain America: Civil War, Bucky Barnes was put on ice in Wakanda, in order to try to be fixed. That was the last time we saw Sebastian Stan’s character, until Black Panther when he showed up in the post-credit tag.
But why wouldn’t he show up during the rest of the movie and what was he up during the events of the film? Well Coogler has those answers.
“That was something that was always—it was a Shuri thing, because in our world we kind of figured that Bucky Barnes would be her assignment. We kind of drop the hint at that when they bring Ross in and she’s like, ‘Oh another one.’ So we dropped hints in there, but what we kind of decided was that her cracking his mental code, if Shuri’s as smart as she is, that wouldn’t really be a big problem.”
I caught that reference when I saw the movie, but it didn’t explain why he wouldn’t have helped out during the climactic fight, unless he had already left Wakanda. But Coogler elaborated further:
“But Bucky would have horrible PTSD, he would need spiritual guidance. The last thing he would need to do is jump into that Civil War, and so that was kind of the thought process there. And it could be potentially problematic if it’s a bunch of Africans fighting and you bring in a White dude, he comes in shootin’ people (laughs). We were aware of that. Bucky’s not trained to neutralize people peacefully, he’s an assassin. We were like, ‘I don’t know if we can do that…’” (laughs)
I completely agree with Coogler’s choice here. Even if they decided that he should help, it could have potentially overshadowed the other characters, and that would have been a complete injustice to them. Bucky Barnes is a distinguished character in the MCU now, and it could have taken something away from M’Baka, Shuri or one of the characters that audiences weren’t familiar with yet if he popped up. Keeping him to a post-credit tag is perfect. It tells us all we need to know – he’s still there, hiding, and healing, but not quite ready yet.
We won’t have long to wait to see more of The Winter Soldier though, he’ll be back in action when Avengers: Infinity War drops in May.