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At the end of the Avengers movie, Tony shoves a nuke up the Chitauri's space hole. It goes boom and all of the Chitauri soldiers immediately drop dead.

BOOM - baddies die

My thought was that they're robots but in an earlier scene they appear to be some sort of scary lizard creature.

Lizard guy (Chitauri)

Why did they all suddenly die?

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    Tony nuked their only coffee machine. – Radhil Jul 28 '17 at 10:55
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    @TorstenLink - It says that they all shut down when their mother ship got blowed up. My question isn't if they did (they did), it's why they did – Valorum Jul 28 '17 at 11:07
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    @Edlothiad - No, that's when, not why. – Valorum Jul 28 '17 at 11:16
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    @JonSnow - I spotted that, but I wasn't especially impressed with the answers. The one about the commentary is interesting, but they haven't included a transcript, only their own version of it – Valorum Jul 28 '17 at 12:45
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This was apparently explained in the pilot episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where they depict a Chitauri neural link that Agent Grant Ward liberates from Vanchat in Paris.

This S.H.I.E.L.D. evidence sheet provides more details (which, despite the numerous misspellings, seems to be an official artifact of the series).

S.H.I.E.L.D. Evidence File - Chitauri Neural Link

The Chitauri Neural Link is a communication pathway between the Chitauri soldiers and their technology. Neural links are often used to assist, augment, or repair cognitive or sensory-motor functions. They can also be used as a type of mind control and manipulation prostheses. The link connects all Chitauri to each other, to their weapons, and to their vehicles. All information and commands are routed through the Mother Ship which guides the Chitauri forces during their invasion. This makes them a rather formidable fighting force.

....

The Chitauri Mother Ship acts as the main communication hub for the invading Chitauri forces. Not only does it allow their soldiers to communicate but also directs them in battle. The Chitauri are of a hive mind, a singular collective of alien cybor-like creatures working as one to overwelm their enemies.

Fury orders Iron Man to intercept a nuclear bomb and dispose of it. Stark takes it to the portal and blows up the Chitauri Mother Ship, severing the link between the Mother Ship and it's army, thus killing all the Chitauri in New York with a immense feedback discharge.

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    Ah, so it wasn't that the link was severed, it was that the explosion sent additional energy along the link into their brains. – Valorum Jul 28 '17 at 11:23
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    I think the implication is that breaking the link violently caused all the energy of the link to "rebound" back to the host and kill them but it's still kind of vague – KutuluMike Jul 28 '17 at 11:35
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    Everyone knows that if you have a neural link set up, then severing it without the proper precautions in place will immediately kill you. Sort of like how you can make a computer literally explode by feeding it a logical paradox. – Steve-O Jul 28 '17 at 12:59
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    @Steve-O: In computer engineering, we call that halt and catch fire. – tonysdg Jul 28 '17 at 14:18
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    Fortunately, all alien invasion forces always have a single point of failure and appear to never have heard of redundancy and robustness. – ths Jul 28 '17 at 16:04
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+50

Writer/Director Joss Whedon spoke to this scene in the director's commentary. In short, the goal was (from filmmaking perspective) to show that the fight was definitively over once Tony had made his hail-Mary sacrifice.

And then we get into the inevitable sort of "Queen bee, uh-huh we killed the head and all the soldiers fall down dead". I'm not proud of that either, Okay? It was necessary to make sure we understood that they didn't have to clean up for the next 17 hours by still fighting. So they could actually have their moment of triumph but it's a device that I'm not fond of (and probably shouldn't have brought up!). (MP3 Link)

Had they not had the "drop down dead" scene, they would have needed additional scenes to explain what happened to the Chitauri soldiers after the spacial fissure closed. There's also a great deal of difference between killing an invading army and killing a soldier who has no hope of escape.

  • Valorum, do you just want to go ahead and accept your answer? :-D – FuzzyBoots Sep 24 '17 at 17:18
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    @FuzzyBoots - I like yours better. It's got in-universe charm – Valorum Sep 24 '17 at 17:23

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