In Avengers: Endgame, the following is part of the dialogue between Bruce Banner (who traveled back in time) in astral form and the Ancient One:

ANCIENT ONE: I can't risk this reality on a promise. It's the duty of the Sorcerer Supreme to protect the time stone.
BANNER: Then why the hell did Strange give it away?
ANCIENT ONE: What did you say?
BANNER: Strange. He gave it away. He gave it to Thanos.
ANCIENT ONE: Willingly?
ANCIENT ONE: [long pause] Why?
BANNER: I have no idea. Maybe he made a mistake.
ANCIENT ONE: [long pause] Or I did.

I'm unclear on what mistake she is referring to. I suppose her mistake might simply be not immediately giving Bruce the time stone, but that doesn't seem profound enough for this dialogue.

Also it's odd that she knows Dr. Strange's future, but doesn't know she gives Bruce Banner the Time Stone. Maybe incorrectly perceiving the future is relevant to her mistake.

Question: What is the Ancient One's mistake?

8 Answers 8


Question: What is the Ancient One's mistake?

The mistake the Ancient One was referring to was her initial intent to not give the Time Stone to Banner.

Before explaining, it's important to mention/keep in mind that the Ancient One has the ability to see the future (but only so far).

Going into the events of The Avengers (as shown in Avengers: Endgame), the Ancient One most likely foresaw Banner asking her for the Time Stone. However, as the OP quoted, it's the duty of the Sorcerer Supreme to protect the Time Stone at all costs. That being said, her initial intent was to not give the stone to Banner.

The reason why the Ancient One didn't already know about Strange's actions (i.e., Strange willingly giving the stone to Thanos) during the time of her and Banner's conversation is because she died in Dr. Strange; and, just as she told Strange right before she died, she wasn't able to see past that moment in time (nor was she able to see Strange's actual future... only its possibilities).

ANCIENT ONE: I've spent so many years peering through time, looking at this exact moment. But I can't see past it. I've prevented countless terrible futures. And after each one, there's always another. And they all lead here, but never further.


I never saw your future. Only its possibilities.

So, her coming to learn about Strange actions in Avengers: Infinity War was new information to her, and, with her knowing that Strange is the best Master of the Mystic Arts, she then says that perhaps she made a mistake [in judgement] when initially not wanting to give the Time Stone to Banner (and then immediately gives it to him).

  • 4
    She might be speaking even more generally, in the sense that at some point she decided she would protect the time stone no matter the cost, and now she realizes that decision was a mistake (the cost might be too great).
    – Dan Staley
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 0:05
  • @DanStaley I agree with that line, because, according to Strange, not giving the time stone means everybody dies. Giving the time stone was the only way to save the universe.
    – Nelson
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 4:22
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    "the Ancient One most likely foresaw Banner asking her for the Time Stone." But then she would've seen him mention that Strange gave the stone away? Commented May 8, 2019 at 7:42
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    @FrankHopkins But then she wouldn't have forseen Banner asking her for the Time Stone. Either she saw the meeting and conversation or none of it. Commented May 8, 2019 at 10:32
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    @DanStaley Just throwing it out there, but coveting and protecting have subtle differences. One can attempt to protect an object without having it in their possession. After Banner talks with the AO about the multiple, splitting realities, if Banner returns the Time Stone back to that reality then not only does he preserve that original reality, but he also protects/preserves the Time Stone by defeating Thanos. So, if anything, the AO could be saying that she was wrong in thinking that she needs to physically hold on to the Time Stone in order to "protect" it.
    – Charles
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 10:34

Her mistake was refusing to give Banner the Time stone.

Strange had to give it willingly to Thanos so she would be convinced that things really were that serious. Presumably in other futures he saw Thanos eventually gets it anyway, and then the others are unable to complete the time heist.


While "not immediately giving the stone to Banner" is a sensible answer, I agree with the OP's original feeling that this does not seem to carry the amount of gravitas this exchange has. So I propose an alternative. She made a mistake with the dogmatic assertion of protecting the time stone at all costs, and moreover she failed to even execute that properly if it was even possible for there to be a future where the best possible option available to the best possible Sorcerer Supreme is to give up the time stone and rely on a complicated time travel plot to fix things.

The rigid dogma would have constrained original, out-of-the-box thinking, which are the hallmarks of a successful Sorcerer Supreme. It may not be clear from the movies, but they are often tasked with warding off threats of vastly superior strength, and clever exploits like with Dormammu, who was radically stronger than Strange, are necessary. And with better planning and training, maybe a situation like this could have been averted in the first place. So her successor inherited a bad, inflexible situation from her and had to take drastic measures to have even a slight chance to fix it as a result, and now she must trust Dr. Strange's unknown plan, and to rely on a time traveling Hulk to succeed both in his reality and in returning the stone.


The Ancient One is referring to her taking Stephen Strange as a student. She states that it is the Sorcerer Supreme's duty to protect the Time stone. Since Strange apparently willingly gave up the stone to Thanos she is worried that she chose wrongly in her successor as Sorcerer Supreme.

The dialogue of the scene continues thusly and further explains her fear:

Ancient One: Strange was meant to be the best of us.

Bruce: So he must've done it for a reason.

Ancient One: I fear you might be right.

The Ancient One believed that taking Stephen Strange as her student was the right decision. She believed he would become the best of them. Bruce Banner has just told her that Strange apparently shirked his most important duty. She is now questioning whether she is making a mistake in choosing Strange.

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    Then why does she immediately hand over the stone at this point?
    – Josh
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 21:42
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    Have to agree with Josh. The fact that Strange gave it over swayed her to giving the stone to Bruce. She was saying that since Strange is the best of them, and given the fact that he gave it to Thanos, indicates that there's something she's not aware of / able to see. So, she trusts Strange's actions and hands the stone to Bruce.
    – Charles
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 21:53
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    @Legion600 It's known by the Ancient One that Strange is destined to be the best Master of the Mystic Arts. At no point was she questioning her decision to take Strange on as a pupil. Instead, she was saying that her own initial judgement of keeping the stone was wrong, given that Strange later willingly relinquishes the stone to Thanos.
    – Charles
    Commented May 6, 2019 at 23:18
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    @Charles Her emotional reaction on finding that Strange gave away the stone and her statement that Strange was "meant to be the best of us" show she is questioning her expectations of Strange. She isn't questioning what she didn't do 30 seconds ago. The Ancient One said in Doctor Strange that she never saw his future, only it's possibilities. She's worried she may be placing her faith in the wrong man.
    – Legion600
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 0:15
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    @Legion600 sorry but it seems like you have an alternate timeline of your own...
    – Mr.J
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 3:07

Marvel seems to have established some form of "many branching worlds" time travel rules for its universe. No "Back to the Future" rules, where time travel to the past can rewrite your own timeline. Time-traveling to the past, and mucking around, can't change the Avenger's future, or undo the snap.

Banner and our Avengers come from a timeline where The Ancient One did not give the Stone to Banner - that is what she implied was her mistake.

The Ancient One that Banner met will now live in a timeline with no Thanos. The Avengers killed him in the final battle of Endgame. By giving Banner the Stone, she saved her reality/timeline from the Infinity War.

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    it actually really bothers me that they explicitly state that there can be no back to the future rules, and then don't turn it into a stable time loop...
    – Baldrickk
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 15:48
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    She likely will still have to deal with an Infinity War. The Thanos that died was from a 2014 that branched from the main timeline. The Ancient One was from 2012. Her decision to give up the Time stone would have resulted in a new timeline so the 2014 part of the time heist would not have happened in her reality. Therefore, her timeline still would have had a Thanos who likely would have went on to seek out the stones.
    – aleppke
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 15:50
  • The Infinity War will still happen, as they say in the movie their actions cannot rewrite their own timeline, and the time stone will be returned to the exact moment it was borrowed. The only way the timelines would have diverged would have been if the stone wasn't returned. Although it is interesting to wonder if there is a timeline where she never gives Banner the stone or whether it is even possible she could make a different decision since Banner will always tell her Strange gave it way to Thanos.
    – AndFisher
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 16:53
  • @Baldrickk There are three major models of time travel: tenseless stable loop (Terminator, 12 Monkeys), branching (Star Trek 2009; Endgame) and rewritable (Timecop, Back to the Future). Sometimes it isn't fully clear which model is in play. For instance, T2 is either rewriteable or branching, but it isn't stable loop. (It doesn't use the same rules as the original movie.)
    – Kaitain
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 16:01
  • @AndFisher not quite - the Infinity war still happened - in their past. Thanos however decided to travel to the current from the past (the future for him) and well, never made it back. We have a branch in the past now with no Thanos, so on that branch, no infinity war.
    – Baldrickk
    Commented May 8, 2019 at 16:22

I believe the answer is as Legion600 suggested, that the Ancient One is considering whether it is a mistake to trust Stephen as the future Sorcerer Supreme. But I don't think that answer explains what is going on in the Ancient One's mind very well.

Giving the Stone to Thanos sounds, on the surface, like a terrible idea. The shock of that is making the Ancient One question whether the core underlying mistake was to trust Stephen with the Time Stone in the first place, if that's the sort of bad decision he would make.

But the dialogue continues:

Ancient One: Strange was meant to be the best of us.

Bruce: So he must've done it for a reason.

Ancient One: I fear you might be right.

This shows the Ancient One coming back around. She considered whether she might have made a mistake about Stephen. Hence all the long pauses in the dialogue in the OP's question; she's thinking hard there. But she concludes in the end that she does trust Stephen, and believes he is "the best of us". Therefore Stephen must have taken the course of action that would have the best hope for a good outcome, strange as it may seem. Therefore, she should give Bruce the Stone, as that seems to be the path that Stephen was trying to steer towards.

That moment of doubt and then reconfirmation that she trusts Stephen is the crux of the scene. It's what breaks through to her to convince her to give away the Time Stone.


This is a bit out of left field.

The Ancient One contains in her knowledge futures that never came to pass, because she has avoided them.

Among them is going to be a future where Thanos gets the other infinity stones and comes for the Time Stone. The Ancient One would never, ever consider handing it over; so in examining futures from her perspective there was no way to prevent the destruction of half of every living being (or maybe worse; as demonstrated, Thanos considered destroying all of reality and recreating it; maybe events leading up to that where basically certain as well, even if it wasn't the Avengers).

The Ancient One discovers that all futures where she interacts with Thanos lead to ruin. So she carefully postpones this and passes the stone to her heir, Dr Strange, with possibly some evidence that he finds another solution.

That was the moment when she discovers the alternative solution that she'd never think of herself without Dr Strange doing it. Willingly giving up the time stone in order to save the universe from the time stone. And then considering what happens as a consequence of that.

Some people have wondered how Dr Strange could see past his own death. And maybe he cannot; but he can consider the consequences of his own death in the past, and from that find the thread of being recreated, and from that see the path to victory.


I think her actual mistake was not understanding how the Infinity Stones work.

She states to Bruce that "The Infinity Stones create what you experience as the flow of time. Remove one of the stones, and that flow splits. Now this benefit your reality, but my new one, not so much. In this new branched reality, without our chief weapon against the forces of darkness, our world would be over-run".

But this isn't true. The flow of time is controlled by the Kang variant "He Who Remains" under the guise of the Time Keepers, using the TVA and Alioth to do so, and that in fact, the Infinity Stones don't have any powers beyond their own timeline.

And that when Strange gave Thanos the Time Stone, he also knew this to be true, as he had looked into every possible future.

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