The Punisher’s Surprising Tie to an Avenger Sends Shockwaves

The complete Defenders Saga is now officially MCU canon, meaning Frank Castle likely crossed paths with a brutal Avenger in his darkest hour.

A split image of Frank Castle in The Punisher and Thanos snapping in Infinity War

Now that The Punisher and the other shows of Netflix’s Defenders Saga are official MCU canon, Frank Castle’s quest to clear up the streets of NYC almost certainly had him cross paths with an Avenger’s short-lived vigilante persona. DaredevilJessica JonesLuke CageIron Fist, and The Defenders were originally marketed as MCU canon shows, but the connection always seemed one-way. The big-screen MCU didn’t acknowledge these street-level heroes as their shows were airing, and the restructuring of MCU TV seemed to imply that everything earlier was loosely canon at best.

However, that changed when the MCU’s head of streaming officially confirmed the Defenders Saga as full MCU canon in March 2024. Bringing the Defenders shows into the MCU in full has widespread implications for the franchise, but it also connects Frank Castle to Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye. It’s what the Punisher has been up to since audiences last saw him in The Punisher season 2, but the series’ final shots show Frank operating in an under-explored period of the MCU.

The Punisher And Ronan Were Both Active During The Blip

Jon Bernthal in The Punisher Season 2 Finale firing guns and using the skull logo

It is difficult to lay out an exact timeline for where the Defenders Saga shows take place, but it seems that The Punisher season 2 takes place at least partially between Infinity War and Endgame. The best clue comes from a calendar that’s briefly visible in The Punisher season 2, episode 7. It’s not explicitly clear which month and year is shown, but the month starts on a Tuesday, and holidays can be seen on days 13 and 28. Coincidentally, this aligns perfectly with May 2018 (Mother’s Day and Memorial Day), which makes sense with other MCU projects.

Punisher Season 2 Wall Calendar
A calendar shown in The Punisher season 2, episode 7. 

Moreover, the final scene in The Punisher season 2 jumps forward 3 months, presumably setting it in August 2018. Unfortunately, pre-Disney+ TV shows are not included in Marvel’s latest official MCU timeline book, so more official confirmation is hard to come by. However, the above can be juxtaposed with what has been officially laid out. According to The Marvel Cinematic Universe: An Official Timeline (2023), Thanos snapped sometime in Spring 2018 (officially March-May), so while most of The Punisher season 2 may have taken place days or weeks before the snap, the epilogue didn’t.

According to the official MCU timeline, Hulk’s snap to return everyone Thanos dusted takes place in the fall of 2023.

All this is to say that Frank is in full Punisher mode, enacting violence to clean the streets of NYC in any way possible after Thanos snapped away half of all life. However, he wasn’t the only one. Avengers: Endgame reveals that Clint Barton was doing the same thing in the same place (though worked outside of New York). Angry, depressed, and confused after his whole family was snapped, he left behind his Hawkeye persona and became Ronin, enacting a much more violent crusade on crime not too different from Frank Castle.

Punisher’s New Canon Status Makes His Vigilante Work Even More Tragic

Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, mostly hidden by shadow and holding an assault rifle in The Punisher

The fact that Frank becomes fully active as a more classic vigilante at the end of The Punisher season 2 sets him up for failure with the context that it happens during The Blip. In theory, Frank (as well as Clint) spent years navigating power vacuums in the NYC criminal underworld and made progress cleaning up the city. However, five years later, the sudden return of 50 percent of the population, which assumedly includes 50 percent of New York’s criminals, would instantly revert any stability into new chaos.

The MCU has hitherto avoided almost all depictions of life during The Blip outside of early scenes in Avengers: Endgame and a few scattered flashbacks. As such, it seems unlikely much more of his story during that time will be covered. However, Frank’s return in Daredevil: Born Again does open up the possibility of vague mentions. Moreover, should Marvel Studios so choose, a new season of The Punisher could happen and continue Frank’s story in more detail.

Will Hawkeye/Ronin And The Punisher Cross Paths On-Screen In The MCU

Clint Barton with Ronin's sword in Hawkeye

Even though the prospect of Frank Castle and an uncharacteristically violent Clint Barton teaming up seems fascinating on paper, the time for that kind of crossover has passed. While Frank is cursed to be forever stuck in a cycle of vengeance, Clint is long past his time as Ronin and seems to be either toying with retirement or having already hung up the bow and arrows. Unless Marvel Studios announces a surprise project set during The Blip, the pairing seems unlikely.

However, that doesn’t mean the two characters can’t meet. Hawkeye’s foray into lower-stakes street-level stories in Hawkeye set him up to appear again in similar projects, and Clint may actually be one of the few people who can relate to Frank. It’s unlikely that anyone will ever truly give the Punisher peace, but a new season of The Punisher and the dynamic could be interesting given Hawkeye was able to get his family back – something Frank can never do.

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