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When audiences first meet Groot and Rocket in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Guardians of the Galaxy, the latter is the only character who can understand the former. While we (and the other Guardians) hear simply “I am Groot,” Rocket is able to insinuate his meaning — because according to writer-director James Gunn, the language referred to as Groot is learned through getting to know the creature himself.

Gunn explained this on April 24, 2020, following a virtual watch party of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Fans of the comics asked him about an explanation that has to do with the character’s anatomy (his “hardened larynx,” specifically,) but Gunn preferred to have the communication be dependent on “connecting with Groot.” But what about Thor?

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ introduces Thor to Groot

Chris Hemsworth as Thor (with Rocket and Groot) in 'Avengers: Infinity War'
Chris Hemsworth as Thor (with Rocket and Groot) in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ | Marvel Studios

This explanation seems a bit different when viewed in the context of subsequent films. In Avengers: Infinity War, the Guardians rescue Thor. Though not everyone is a big fan of him at first (Star-Lord, in particular, is a bit turned off by the God of Thunder), he quickly befriends Rocket and, along with a now-teenaged Groot, they set out for Nidavellir.

While en route, Rocket converses with Groot, telling him to pee into a cup if he needs to go. When Groot protests, Thor replies (notably calling him “Tree” for the first time), to which Rocket asks, “You speak Groot?” Thor says, “Yes, they taught it on Asgard. It was an elective.”

‘Guardians’ director James Gunn believes this was a joke

By this point, all of the Guardians are fluent in Groot. Years passed between Vol. 2 and Infinity War, making them familiar enough with him to understand him when he curses at them. However, in the scene with Thor, the Avenger has only just met Groot. Does taking a class in a language that is meant to be learned through connection make sense?

According to Gunn, Thor was just joking. “Being a god of sorts he doesn’t have the same high bar for understanding Groot as the Guardians do,” he told a Twitter user the day after the watch party. In other words, he was merely able to infer Groot’s meaning — he doesn’t actually “speak Groot.”

Does this dispel a fan theory?

If Thor doesn’t actually speak Groot, this may dispel a fan theory, as previously shared on Reddit. Thor, as it’s been mentioned, refers to Groot as “Tree” throughout the film. Some fans wondered if maybe that is Groot’s real name, and Groot is just the name of the language he speaks (presumably named for the word he says).

This theory now seems to fall apart. But it didn’t hold much weight to begin with. After all, Thor calls Rocket “Rabbit,” and Groot himself has had other nicknames — Yondu notably called the smaller version of him “Twig” in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Perhaps “tree” was meant more literally.

The ‘Infinity War’ writers enjoyed writing for Gunn’s characters

These watch parties have become a pretty big phenomenon during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Just days later, on April 26, 2020, one was held for Infinity War. And the film’s writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, were able to answer fan questions via the Twitter account.

One fan asked it if they had “any anxieties” when it came to writing for Gunn’s distinctive characters. “Not really,” wrote Markus. “He’d set them up so well that it was just great fun to play with his toys.” So while Thor’s joke may have confused some fans, it seems as though it was a smooth transition for the Guardians, who will come back to Gunn in the franchise’s upcoming third film.