WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Punisher #16 by Matthew Rosenberg, Szymon Kudranski, Antonio Fabela and VC's Cory Petit, on sale now.
As Matthew Rosenberg's latest run on The Punisher comes to an end, it concludes Frank Castle's war against Baron Zemo. However, while Frank killed the Mandarin in the past for trying to weasel his way back into the public limelight, he doesn't get quite the opportunity he hoped for to take Zemo out once and for all. He does cut a bloody path to the Captain America villain but, sadly, someone else decides to take the tyrant out before Frank can do it.
As fate would have it, this act isn't carried out by some other hero or anti-hero. In fact, it's not even a vigilante. Zemo's killed by one of his own Thunderbolts members, all at the behest of none other than Wilson Fisk himself.
Fisk retired as the Kingpin, and since then, he's been playing political games with the one percent of America, hoping to make his marijuana business a reality. But he has still been making side deals, aiding and abetting certain villains such as Zemo and his pseudo-Hydra gang. Fisk knows they can help his rise to power. When they destabilize the country, he can ascend beyond the mayor of New York. But when Zemo fails to kill Frank and flees Bagalia in hopes that Fisk will offer him haven, it all comes undone.
Frank ends up using his own superhero team, led by Black Widow, to take down Zemo's soldiers. And he enlists Danny Ketch, the Ghost Rider, for a separate mission, as Widow's crew mops up the streets after they beat the Thunderbolts. Zemo manages to grab Rachel Alves as a hostage, though, knowing Frank cares about her and would come running.
So as Danny deals with the other thugs outside Fisk's tower, Frank finds and punishes Zemo in the worst way possible. He shoots him through Rachel's shoulder because, hey, Frank knows how not to kill someone while they're being held at gunpoint. Then in combat, the Punisher cuts off Zemo's arm and makes it clear the killing blow is coming next in return for the terror Zemo's wrought since Secret Empire as well as his push to take Hydra global again. Frank is pissed he was used as their symbol. But just before he can execute Zemo, Ghost intervenes. The villain warns Zemo the time has come to leave America because things have gotten out of hand, and is then wounded by Frank who simply needs the kill.
It comes to a head when Zemo reaches Fisk's rooftop and asks the ex-Kingpin to secret him away. Fisk, though, finds the cowering Zemo to be a pathetic shell of himself and, more so, a liability to his future aspirations. Before Zemo can lash out, Ghost phases through the roof and disintegrates Zemo into ashes.
By the time Frank rushes in, it's too late. Fisk took his target out to clear himself of any wrongdoing, even by association, and Ghost exits stage left. By the time Frank is starting to take his rage out on Fisk, Widow and other Avengers arrive on the scene, forcing him to escape with Danny.
It's a very shocking turn of events, but after Zemo was defeated, Fisk couldn't use him anymore to inflict fear on New York. He realized the trail was leading back to him, and so, he bought Ghost's services. Nonetheless, we can't put it past Fisk to have planned this with Zemo. Fans have speculated that maybe Zemo was teleported away. After all, Ghost was nothing but loyal to him before this incident, so there's a chance it could all have been a ruse.
Still, Zemo was begging Fisk for help, so either he's a great actor or he's truly gone. Either way, Fisk is looking after himself as usual, and with the breadcrumbs gone, the notorious gangster's in the clear for now.