Longing. Rusted. Seventeen. Daybreak. Furnace. Nine. Benign. Homecoming. One. Freight Car.
The above sequence of seemingly disconnected words will be instantly recognizable to any Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, or at least anyone who saw this year's Phase 3 kicker Captain America: Civil War.
The string of code words used to activate the Winter Soldier programming in the mind of the brainwashed Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) was an intriguing part of Civil War and an important plot point. It also launched a string of internet memes, because welcome to 2016.
The words seemed to have some meaning hidden within them, and fans took to the internet to try and puzzle out the meanings of each one. One specific question was raised here: Was there a Spider-Man related Easter Egg hiding in the Winter Soldier activation code?
1. a return to one's home; arrival at home
The name of the upcoming Spider-Man solo vehicle was revealed to be Spider-Man: Homecoming a mere couple of weeks before Civil War released in the US. So naturally many fans wondered if the word "Homecoming" was a nod toward the upcoming movie, given that the wall-crawler himself — Tom Holland — made his debut in Civil War.
In an recent interview with the Huffington Post, Civil War and The Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo finally answered that question:
HuffPost: "One of Bucky’s trigger words is 'homecoming.' The new movie is called 'Spider-Man: Homecoming.' Is there a connection?" Joe Russo: "There’s no connection. It’s completely an accidental connection."
It's not exactly a surprise to learn this. Remember that the Civil War script was in the works well before it was even known that Spider-Man would be joining the MCU in the first place. Rather "Homecoming" is more likely to represent Bucky's personal homecoming — both physical and mental — as he returns to the wider world and tries to reconcile who he is now with who he was in past, alongside his best friend Steve Rogers (Chris Evans).
It's also worth noting that Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) refers to the Winter Soldier code book as Bucky's "real home" during the interrogation sequence in the German Ops center, so "Homecoming" could also refer to his transformation from Bucky Barnes into the Winter Soldier.
Baron Zemo: "Why don't we discuss your home? Not Romania, certainly not Brooklyn, no. I mean, your real home."
So the meaning of "Homecoming" seems pretty clear, but what about the rest of the words? Let's break it down.
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1. strong, persistent desire or craving, especially for something unattainable or distant.
Pretty much all Bucky does to be honest, Longing is likely a reflection of his mental state. Like Steve Rogers, Bucky is a man out of time, longing to return to his past and who he was before he (literally) fell from grace and rose again as the weapon of his greatest enemy.
The basis of his character now is a fractured one, as the Russo brothers have repeatedly affirmed. He's no longer Bucky Barnes, nor is he HYDRA's Winter Soldier. He's transforming into somebody new, as Joe Russo told Empire:
"[Bucky's] also different now. There’s a part of his personality that was under mind control, and he murdered a lot of people. So he’s got a very complicated history. Who is that person? How does that character move forward? He’s not Bucky Barnes anymore. He’s not the Winter Soldier anymore. He’s something in-between."
1. any film or coating on metal caused by oxidation.
2. any growth, habit, influence, or agency tending to injure, deteriorate, or impair the mind, character, abilities, usefulness, etc.
Rusted could be a nod to Bucky's bionic arm, given that it's made of metal and likely needs regular upkeep. But more likely it could also represent the Winter Soldier's function as a tool of HYDRA, kept locked away and literally iced over when not in use.
It could also represent his rusty social skills, 'cause let's be honest, he's got to work on those. Friends don't try to crush friends in a falling helicarrier, dammit Bucky.
Seventeen, Nine, One
We're lumping these three code words together, because the numbers make the most sense when you string them together as one, nine and seventeen — 1917.
The year 1917 has a few significances when it comes to the Winter Soldier and to HYDRA. Firstly, it was the year of the Russian Revolution, which led to the rise of the Soviet Union in the wake of the fall of the Tsar Nicholas II. It was the also the year Bucky was born, going by Captain America: First Vengeance (the canon comic prequel to Captain America: The First Avenger).
Nine could also be a reference to HYDRA itself, as the mythological Hydra has nine heads. And for One, this could also be a nod toward Bucky being the first Winter Soldier in the program.
1. the first appearance of daylight in the morning; dawn.
Bucky v HYDRA: Dawn of the Winter Soldier? Daybreak is a bit of a foggy one, but it could be a nod toward the "dawn" of Bucky's new life, going hand in hand with Longing. Civil War and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War mark another turning point in Bucky's life, when he begins to figure out who he is now, which could be taken as a new chapter dawning in his life.
1. a structure or apparatus in which heat may be generated, as for heating houses, smelting ores, or producing steam.
2. a place characterized by intense heat.
Furnace is an interesting one as it represents extreme heat, which is pretty much the polar opposite of the connotations that the code-name "Winter Soldier" has. Likely it is symbolic of his awakening from the cold of cryostasis — the code words being the warm furnace that bring him back into the world of the living.
We could also perhaps look at it as representative of the forging of the Winter Soldier himself. Despite the fact that he was born of the cold, it certainly was a trial-by-fire for Bucky in both mind and body. It could also perhaps be a nod all the way back to The First Avenger, when Steve and Bucky have to cross the burning, exploding inferno in the Red Skull's (Hugo Weaving) base.
1. having a kindly disposition; gracious.
2. not malignant; self-limiting.
Benign is a pretty straightforward one, likely representative of Bucky's status when he's in cryostasis — benign and safe to handle. And while the Winter Soldier is a deadly weapon, he's rendered meek and safe, contained within the body of the brainwashed Bucky, who doesn't struggle against his HYDRA captors.
We saw this in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when he was getting slapped around by Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), without reacting or attempting to defend himself. The Winter Soldier may be deadly, but through their brainwashing and subjugation techniques, HYDRA has rendered him benign — at least when it comes to them.
1. any car for carrying freight.
Perhaps the most obvious of the bunch, Freight Car is almost certainly a reference to Bucky's "death" when he fell from Arnim Zola's (Toby Jones) freight car in the Alps. This was his last heroic act as Bucky Barnes, before he was polluted by HYDRA and turned into the Winter Soldier.
Having this word be the last in the sequence could be a way of reinforcing that near-death and rebirth trauma, which Bucky relives through flashbacks in The Winter Soldier. The freight car incident was the major turning point in his life, and through this the Winter Soldier was born.
What do you think the Winter Soldier code words represent? Sound off in the comments, and check out the Captain America: Civil War Winter Soldier deleted scene below!