WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, in theaters now.
When Thanos extinguished half of all life in the galaxy at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, fans were shocked that Black Panther was one of his victims. Considering the impact of Ryan Coogler's record-breaking film, few expected this move from the Russo brothers, especially due to the superhero's rising popularity and recently established role as King of Wakanda.
Of course, given that a Black Panther sequel is already in the works, it's not a matter of if, but how T'Challa will return from the afterlife. The question remains, though -- was he and the other superheroes really killed (as the directors have implied), or have their souls simply been displaced from the plane of reality in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The answer to this may well lie in the Black Panther ancestral plane known as the Djalia.
A recent addition to the Black Panther comic lore, the Djalia debuted in Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Sprouse's run on the title. It's a mystical plane of Wakandan memory, a reality existing outside of time and space, that forms a sort of limbo world. Here, all the history of the nation is stored so that whoever enters can garner infinite knowledge about Wakanda's past, present and future, and grow spiritually. However, it is an afterlife of sorts as well. In the comics, we saw T’Challa’s sister Shuri stay in the Djalia after her death at Thanos' hands. There, she learned about the myths and culture of her people, even managing to unlock new abilities ahead of her inevitable return to the land of the living.
In the MCU, the realm of the Djalia is slightly different. Here, it's part of the rite of passage for those chosen by the Black Panther god, Bast, to become Wakanda's ultimate protector. It allows new candidates to meet their ancestors and garner wisdom, with this advice readying them to ascend to the throne. We saw T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) meeting his father T'Chaka there a couple of times in Black Panther, and we were able to glimpse past Panthers as well. Clearly, the Djalia is a repository of their dead souls, a collective of individuals whose time on Earth has ended. And so, with the Djalia acting as a connection to the souls of dead Panthers, one could assume this link can be used to determine if T'Challa is truly dead.
With Wakanda needing a new leader come Avengers 4, the mantle can be passed to Shuri (as it was in the comics), which would allow her to visit the Djalia and make contact with her brother. If he's there, then we know that he (and by theoretical extension, Thanos' other victims) are all really and truly dead and have indeed passed on into the afterlife. If he isn't, then that more or less hints that his soul is being housed elsewhere, with the prevailing theory being that the folks Thanos wiped from existence are actually being stored in the Soul Stone.
Now, if T'Challa's not in the Djalia, that means that Shuri might still be left in the dark and clueless. But with the Djalia being a tether to her brother's soul, it's more likely she'd be able to make brief contact or extract some kind of information there. It might not be a full-on conversation with T'Challa, but maybe he can hear her calling out to him and in a fleeting moment, establish a glimmer of contact she can use.
There's also the possibility she can learn something from the other Panthers that supernatural heroes like Wong, cosmic heroes like Thor, or scientific geniuses like Bruce Banner, Tony Stark or Shuri herself can utilize to pinpoint the locations of the missing. In other words, Shuri trying to make contact here could produce the clues that the remaining Avengers, Guardians and Asgardians need so that they can now embark on a quest in the Infinity War sequel, not just to defeat the Mad Titan, but also to free the 'dead' from wherever they've been placed, all in the name of balancing the galaxy.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Infinity War stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Tom Hiddleston, and Josh Brolin. The film is in theaters now.