Agents of SHIELD: 10 Theories For How Coulson Returned From The Dead

Published 2 years ago by , Updated October 27th, 2013 at 9:31 pm, This is a list post.


Agent of Coulson Alive TheoriesThe Avengers were deceived, as actor Clark Gregg told us, and at some point down the line, Earth's Mightiest may have to face the reality that Gregg's fan-favorite character of Agent Coulson is still alive.In the meantime, Coulson returns as the leader of the super secret (Level 7 clearance!) S.H.I.E.L.D. team in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. And by "return" we mean return from the dead. Coulson was literally stabbed in the back by Loki during the events of The Avengers and SHIELD boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) took advantage of the situation to unite The Avengers.How he survived is not explained in the pilot so we've gathered most of the theories fans and ourselves have come up with. Since Gregg said he's yet to see the correct theory online, we've expanded our list to 10 to include more extreme stories from the depths of Marvel Comics lore."I think that the answer people will get is cooler than anything I've ever read." - Gregg tells E!Keep that in mind as we explore 10 theories for how Agent Coulson survived the events of The Avengers...

Phil Simply Didn't Die

Agent of Coulson Alive Theory Simply Didnt DieCoulson actually surviving Loki's vicious attack would explain why Nick Fury showed Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) the fake-bloody cards to unite The Avengers instead of simply showing them Coulson's body during the events preceding the Battle of New York.Fury and select other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents maintained the secret and Coulson was put into hiding (in Tahiti, apparently) before being assigned to the special task force we see in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..But why then is Agent Maria Hill adamant during the pilot episode that Coulson never find out what really happened? They're keeping something from him and it's so crazy/horrible, that not even a high-ranking agent who's dealt with Asgardian demigods can know. Verdict: No. It can't be that simple.

Life Model Decoy

Agent of Coulson Alive Theory Life Model DecoysWhat if Coulson did die and he's now a robot?Life Model Decoys are a popular plot device in the comics used by characters including Tony Stark and Nick Fury. In The Avengers, Stark mentions Life Model Decoy as a joke to Coulson when he comes to Stark Tower, essentially confirming that Coulson at least knows about Life Model Decoys as if they're part of S.H.I.E.L.D. or at least present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.We can't say that it was a Life Model Decoy that Loki killed in The Avengers, because of the blood, medics and genuine concern for him... or maybe we can? Verdict: Nah, this would be too obvious.

Scarlet Witch

Agent of Coulson Alive Theory Scarlet WitchOne way to tie The Avengers in with a new character to be introduced in its sequel is to have the "cellist" that was intentionally written into The Avengers script by Joss Whedon in reference to someone Coulson was dating (Stark mentions it) be the Scarlet Witch. She has magical powers and in the Agents of SHIELD pilot, Whedon again intentionally uses the word "magical" in the script when Clark Gregg references Tahiti.What if Coulson was reanimated by the magic of Scarlet Witch? She raised the dead in the comics...It's not a coincidence that these choice words were used in these choice moments in both the film and TV series, both of which were written by Whedon. The question is whether or not they're connected. Verdict: A good one although if Marvel & Whedon are casting a very young Scarlet Witch, it would be weird to see her dating Coulson. Unless that was never their relationship...


Agent of Coulson Alive Theory VisionWhen the #CoulsonLives movement began the moment The Avengers opened in theaters to break box office records across the world, one of the most common theories from Marvel Comics fans was that Coulson could return as Vision - the android Avenger who has ties to Scarlet Witch and is created by... you guessed it, Ultron - the villain of The Avengers sequel (Age of Ultron).In some way, The Avengers will have to face the reality of Coulson still being alive - and there are now several characters who could have history with Coulson in the films and who do have history with Vision in the books.Clark Gregg tells E!:"I was a big fan of the Vision theory, although I wasn't sure I wanted to be an A.I." Verdict: If Vision is to be introduced, it would likely be after meeting Scarlet Witch and Ultron.

Doctor Strange

Agent of Coulson Alive Doctor StrangeDoctor Strange is at the top of the list when it comes to new leading characters most likely to be introduced in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as another member of The Avengers.While Guardians of the Galaxy will blow open the cosmic side of Marvel, Doctor Strange can open the mystical and magical. Strange not only has super powers but is a neurosurgeon - perhaps in the live-action adaptation his medical (and possibly magical) backgrounds could be behind Coulson's miraculous recovery.Do Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. already know about Strange? Verdict: Strange is definitely coming but his being behind the survival of the main character of this ABC TV is too extreme and doesn't fit.

He's a Super Soldier

Agent of Coulson Alive Theory Captain America Super SoldierThere's a reason Coulson is Cap's biggest fan - it's because he always wanted to be like him, and in a way he became him. Those Captain America cards Coulson collected? What if the "vintage" set is his from when he was a boy during WWII?Coulson's character fits all of the requirements Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) outlined in explaining to Rogers (in Captain America: The First Avenger) why he chose him to be the one man to get the super soldier serum, so what if Coulson got some other version of it later, after Cap disappeared (we know the military still wanted a super soldier serum. See: Hulk)?Fun fact: the kid in Captain America: The First Avenger who sports the painted garbage can Cap shield is named Phil. The serum explains the slower aging. Hat-tip to JaneVerdict: A great idea that's true to the character. Why it's being kept secret from Coulson we have difficulty explaining unless it's something SHIELD isn't proud of because something went wrong.

Alternate Realities

Agent of Coulson Alive Theory Alternate UniverseIn Marvel Comics there are multiple versions of many of the characters and that's thanks to the in-canon plot device of there being multiple universes and therefore, different versions of characters and stories.The main Marvel Comics universe in the books is the 616 universe; the Ultimate Universe (where the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury was introduced) is designated 1610. Even the Marvel cinematic universe has a designation of 199999. Pre or post-death Coulson (or both) could be from alternate realities. Heck, even the entire Agents of SHIELD series could be written away as a separate universe than the films if they can't maintain continuity with the films.If Guardians of the Galaxy follows the Marvel Comics, even it could take place in an alternate futureVerdict: It's too early in the franchise to start branching out into other universes. We've not even explored this one yet.

He's Captain Mar-Vell

Agent of Coulson Alive Captain Mar-VellThere were a few rumors long before The Avengers hit theaters that there was more to Coulson than what meets the eye. Back in the days when reports had the Skrulls and Kree in The Avengers, some unsubstantiated whispers had Coulson possibly being an alien who worked for SHIELD as a liaison between Earth and whatever aliens are out there that we're going to meet in Guardians of the Galaxy.We even asked if Couslon was not exactly human to a Marvel insider long ago who was taken aback and asked us where we heard that...Mar-Vell was sent to Earth to spy on humans for the Kree and while this theory is a stretch upon a stretch, Coulson being an alien agent does explain his overly calm demeanor and kick-ass abilities from Marvel One-Shot titled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's HammerVerdict: There's definitely something different about Coulson.

The Clone Saga

Agent of Coulson ClonesThe idea of cloning isn't new to the Marvel universe. There was the infamous "Clone Saga" in Spider-Man comics and on the X-Men side, the time-travelling mutant known as Cable even had a clone. SHIELD experimenting with clones would be an weak plot device compared to the sheer amount of other (more interesting) lore to draw from.Coincidence or not, Coulson stars in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, voiced by Clark Gregg. Still, the concept of clones is arguably obsolete and quite a bit less fitting than the Life Model Decoy. Verdict: With Life Model Decoys on the table, cloning would be a weak and odd substitute. 

Shape-Shifting Aliens

Agent of Coulson Alive Dire WraithsMarvel Studios President Kevin Feige explained why introducing the alien race of shape-shifters known as the Skrulls early in the franchise (in reference to the alien invaders in The Avengers) would be problematic for story-telling purposes, so introducing the Dire Wraiths - also an alien race of shape-shifters - would pose a similar issue. That is, assuming if either species were introduced in the live-action franchise they'd closely follow their Marvel Comics origins, abilities and unique designs.Marvel is always looking far head and aliens are a big part of the franchise's future. Their involvement in Coulson's origins and return from the dead however, seems very unlikely. Equally unlikely is the idea of an alien being put in charge of an all-human black ops team. Verdict: Shape-shifting aliens would offer a very interesting story come time for Phase 4 (or beyond) for the franchise, and would allow them to play with and alter the history of the films. For now, it doesn't fit and wouldn't serve the story of the show.


Joss Whedon ABC Marvel TV ShowAgents of SHIELD is the first of many live-action Marvel television shows that Disney and Marvel Studios will launch in the coming years but it's the only one Joss Whedon helped conceive. Whedon of course, is not only writing and directing the The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but is overseeing the entire Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where the show takes place in, meaning he's the one making all the connections over the next few years. There are very good reasons why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes place in the same continuity - whether or not Coulson's return from the dead place into upcoming events in the films remains to be see.Which theory makes the most sense and are you hoping there are deep science fiction roots behind Coulson's return? There's a secret SHIELD is keeping from Coulson so it can't be as simple as him surviving Loki's back-stab or Asgardian "magic" bringing him back to life, right?Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays @ 8pm/7c on ABC. Read our premiere review.Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!
TAGS: agents of shield, the avengers


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  1. Plus, remember when he was impaled? He was still calm as he was dying. Detached. His reflexes when he dodged the van door. The magical Tahiti trip is just misdirection. What if his trip was a mental simulation, and the ‘magic’ involved was reconstituting his consciousness as the Android body was being repaired. Or maybe magic is involved and the Scarlet Witch was used to put his consciousness and android body back together. His memories could have been programmed.


  3. Didn’t read all the comments so maybe someone brought this up already. Playing on the kid in WW2 scenario, and the fact he idolizes Cap, how bout U.S. Agent, who if I remember was Caps replacement then became a pseudo Cap, I have always thought that would be cool.

    • It’s funny you say that, because people have been saying for quite a while that it would be a great plot twist if the little kid playing with the shield in Captain America was actually coulson.

  4. Answer is much simpler than any of this. The character became popular, so they resucitated it for the series. This is very common when it comes to Marvel comics, the death of a character hasn’t meant squat for decades: they kill and kill to resucitate when convinient under a number of excuses/methods
    The point is, they wanted it back, they resucitated it. Don’t try to give it more thought: it’s Marvel. They do this. All the time

    • You sir deserve a cookie.

    • Although you are correct about the Marvel ‘resuscitation’, you have to remember this is Whedon we’re talking about. Now I’m no Whedonite, but I do know that when he ‘resuscitates a character’, due to either creative inspiration or studio pressure, he still likes to put a spin on things. It would be a missed opportunity for this story teller to just bring back the character and not care to explain any of it and just say, “He’s back because Marvel made me bring him back, that’s it.”

  5. I thought that maybe he did die, but Thor/Odin/other asgardian bought him back from asgardian heaven(don’t remember the name) as thanks. Coulson does not remember and thinks he was on an island (Tahiti). The other agents are worried about his mental state if he finds oout he really died

  6. What if he is a live model decoy that was implanted with the consciousness of Phil Coulson, but something happens and he turns into Ultron?

  7. please stop us slideshows

  8. Here’s my suggestion for how and why Agent Coulson is still alive. Does anyone remember a rather questionable character called “Deathlok the Demolisher”? The early issues of that comic book were great. But that was about 40 years ago. Nowadays Coulson should be a cyborg that looks human, but is mostly machine. He should have super strength, and enhanced eyes and ears. But he has to have enough of his human brain and heart so that he still has human feelings, and the personality developed in the movies. I like agent Phil Coulson, and apparently other fans do too. He has a charming humility for a man in his position, and don’t lose that. But add to it some super strength from bionic limbs. And since so far, he himself doesn’t seem to know, several episodes can be partially dedicated to him being told he has machine parts. This should include part of his brain, so he can communicate with a central computer at SHIELD HQ, which can have a mystery location for now. Something along these lines, and make it so he can be added to.

  9. Most of the theories don’t make sense. If he was brought back by magic, why must he never know? If he was an alien or a supersoldier, he would know it already. Those theories are about as ridiculous as saying he needs his head cut off with a sword for him to die because there can be only one. I think the main clues to the truth are that he’s very attached to the past, both in the form of the Cap trading cards and the mementos he showed on the plane in the second episode.

  10. Hello All. I know I am going to burn for this and if I may add this is my 1st post about anything online. So please be gentle (lol). Here is a “what if” with a twist. What if Coulson is dead. Stark having feelings for Coulson decides to bring him back as this robot that wants to protect the world. Having this sense of protecting mankind, robot Coulson sees things and starts evolving. With me so far? Cool.. Stark made Iron Man (robot suit) and blew all his suits to Hades (hmm no one to protect mankind now) Stark had Jarves (awesome AI with wit). Put them together you have robot Coulson. ok.. why? Well.. What if robot Coulson evolves in the AGENTS series and becomes self aware of his nature. What if he evolves into Ultron for an upcoming movie? Ouch.. feeling the flames now on the back of my neck. Really thin k about it.. faster than any human reaction time. And the former agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. from episode 4 “Eye Spy” was really shocked. “But what did they do to him?”.. this is all just a what if. TY for letting me vent my thoughts here.

  11. There is no magical explanation for Coulson’s resurrection. He’s not a clone, not a super-soldier, not even a life-model decoy, he just came back to life. He feels different and is different because no one would ever be the same after that. We’re human, and this shouldn’t be possible, but it happened and Coulson has to learn how to deal with it.

    • Well, that’s what Episode 6 “F.Z.Z.T.” tells us, and I’d be cool with that, but it seems a trifle too straightforward for a Joss Whedon story. I just can’t imagine what twist on the tale he might have planned out for the season.


  13. Hey guys the answer is on the Season 1 episode 1 if you watch it and try to understand the underlying meaning with some of Phil Coulson’s dialogue. The old (vintage) CAR is a metaphor of the “OLD” Phil Coulson. Listen to his dialogue in the part when a person tried to touch the old car he said “Don’t touch LOLA, Lola is not just a collectible you know, People tend to confuse the word NEW and IMPROVED”. Now, why would he say NEW and IMPROVED when in fact the car is and was a vintage in appearance.

    Moving to the end of episode 1, Skye said “we almost died” then Coulson said “we have some experience with that too…”. Moving with the dialogue, Skye: it’s a brave new world and a really OLD car, Coulson: It can keep up! Then after some more talk, the supposed vintage CAR rise to the air then flew like a jet plane. So quoting from the previous dialogue regarding the vintage car named LOLA as being NEW and IMPROVED, it was then in fact a vintage car in appearance while the upgrades is next generation space age technology.

    So to wrap things up, it was actually a metaphor about how and why Paul Coulson survived and lived. He used to be a human (vintage car), but the NEW and IMPROVED Phil Coulson is now an ANDROID and Tahiti was “magical” because it is the place where he was “repaired” or built.

  14. Don’t you think if he was an android, the episode with the x-ray eyes thing would have revealed him? His old woman buddy was looking right at him and talking to him for a while. Not to mention they made a replica. I don’t know what the storey is going to be but it will be enjoyable finding out. 😀

  15. He went to a magical place (In the chamber on Asgard – Thanks Thor – We saw Odin in there before).

    • He couldn’t have been healed in Asgard, for the simple reason that bifrost was destroyed at the time, and it would have required the use of the tesseract to bring him there. Thor and Loki returned that way, and for Thor to have brought Coulson there instead doesn’t wash with the rest of the scenes. In hindsight from Thor 2, he wouldn’t have been healed in Asgard anyway for the simple reason that Odin would have been too pissed to allow it.

      I’d be irritated with Whedon if he altered the character in any way to suggest Coulson is anything but the quintissential Everyman.

  16. Me thinks it was some wacky SHIELD experiment that reanimated him, hence the need for secrecy. Probably with super soldier/chitauri tech…

  17. I don’t think the clone theory is as far-fetched as described here. A Life Model Decoy is susceptible to EMP, not a great idea to have someone like Coulson out in the field with a bunch of weapons that do just that (one was used in the last episode). And the first time Coulson visits a non-SHIELF doctor, the jig is up.

    A clone implanted with Coulson’s memories, and a Tahiti ‘cover story’ memory tacked on the end gives SHIELD back a very human and a very real actual Phil Coulson, one of their top agents. In my book it’s cloning or Asgardians/Thanos/Skrull (Resurrection Stone?) resurrection.

    • I think Maggie’s right. Remember the AOS episode where he’s awkward with a weapon and May makes a comment about muscle memory? A clone with Phil’s consciousness implanted (perhaps courtesy of The Scarlett Witch or Dr. Strange) would have that exact issue. Also, Phil, despite being an Agent, is a moral kind of guy. It would be important to keep from him the fact that his consciousness was from a body that died and that perhaps it’s not possible to transfer a soul along with a consciousness. I think Phil would have a hard time living with the idea that perhaps he no longer has a soul. I vote for clone!

  18. Phase 4? Wow, you really think this is going that far? I can barely believed theres going to be a phase 3.

  19. It was so simple! The mind of Agent Coulson was connected to the livingmind apparattus from the REPOMEN and send to Tahiti, in that mean time, his DEAD bad shaped body is under a very complexed regenaration with some new upgrades by humans scientists onto the ArgardCureHall, so, when the damaged body of Coulson had been upgraded and cured by humans e asgardians gadgets, his mind was transferred again to that new Coulson Body 2.0 with very and interesing gadgets and body powers!

  20. After tonight’s episode, I think the super soldier theory makes total sense.

    These are just my theories, I’d like to believe they make sense though.

    Okay first, “The Clairvoyant” is actually Samuel Sterns aka The Leader. He was seen in The Incredible Hulk, and the MCU prequel comics before Avengers after Black Widow found and shot him in his leg. It makes sense though, his name, “The Clairvoyant” leads to The Leader’s superhuman probability skills which have been described as, “close to clairvoyance”. He also doesn’t like to be touched because he can transfer his mind into a person’s by touch. So i’m thinking he is either inside Po’s head which is why Po is the only one who can talk to or see him, while Sterns is still in prison or whatnot. Another idea is that could really be tied into my first one, is that The Leader uses his ability to make others see what he wants them too to hide in plain sight. Like in the beginning of episode 10 “The Bridge” when Po says to an inmate that an empty seat was actually “taken”. Maybe Sterns was sitting there, or just projecting himself from Po’s mind that is being shared. The Leader also used spies to steal science related information in the comics, because of his obsession with gamma radiation (or in this case, super soldiers). Leading me to think that Coulson is actually some sort of super soldier, because he immediately recognizes Coulson, not Mike, as the “key” to phase 3. So maybe Coulson got a formula that didn’t work all the way but gave him incredibly slow aging and loyalty, etc. This would explain his fascination with older things and how he had the vintage Captain America cards. So does that make sense to anyone else but me? The only other thing I thought of that is a stretch is that centipede is helping to create Bucky or The Winter Solider for the upcoming Captain America sequel. (also I think in avengers 2 captain america is gonna die and bucky is gonna take his place on the team, not important to this, but another of my theories.)

  21. So after reading a lot of the comments, and racking my brain, I realized on “key” player that has not been introduced, would have a secret that must be kept from him, has an alter ego that is a normal mortal, and would have scared the crap out of SHEILD. This is just a theory but what if Coulson is the human alter-ego of Sentry. It would make sense that the Sentry would have to “wake up” to save himself from death, but that his memories would have to be altered so that Coulson would never know who he was. It would also explain his enjoyment of old things (age is an ongoing theme for Sentry), and if the rumors are true and the Avengers and Hulk movies are moving towards the events of Civil War and World War Hulk, then Sentry plays a role in both of them and could be introduced in this way. Just a thought.

    • After reading up on Sentry a little more, I could actually see Coulson being Sentry

  22. PLUS … he still has the big scar (so that rules out clone or android)

    • Actually, the scar doesn’t rule out cloning. S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn’t let a detail like that derail their plans. It would be easy enough to duplicate only the surface wound. The android theory is disproven by the x-ray eyes episode.

  23. “Well, yeah! Yes. Here’s what we did. In the pilot, they go, “Tahiti. He really doesn’t know does he? He can never know.” We’re telling you right there, card up, something is up with Coulson, or something happened to Coulson, something more than, he didn’t really there. From there, there’s only a handful of things that people can realistically guess. There’s only so many plausible answers.

    For us, whatever we say, whatever it is, you’re not going to get people saying, what! There’s no way I could have seen that coming, because there’s only a handful. For us, the question has been more interesting, as Coulson comes to an awareness that he’s been lied. As Coulson comes to an awareness that he keeps saying, ‘It’s a magical place.’ As Coulson comes to this questioning what’s happened, that’s really interesting story stuff for our character.”

    So if it was already reveled by the hints earlier in AOS and only a few people know what it is then are we one of those few people? LET US GUESS THIS MYSTERY

  24. First things first, GREAT article! And sorry if this has been posted earlier. I wasn’t even considering the Dr. Strange angle and when it was presented, I automatically thought about Agent Coulsen’s surgery. He was getting brain surgery (by a NEUROSURGEON) & was taken to a MAGICAL place. The person performing the surgery has to be Dr. Strange right? He was both a neurosurgeon and possesses magical powers. Thoughts? Thanks again for the article.

  25. so its already revealed that
    – he was dead for days (by doctor who operated him)
    – had 7 surgeries on him (6 of which failed)
    – they altered his memories because he became some THING that didn’t want to live??? (mentioned by doctor)

    so guess it’s safe to say he’s lmd now? or what?

  26. I haven’t read all the postings. I have a few of my own theories. Most stay in the Marvel universe. Thing is, Coulson was NOT impaled through the heart. He would have died instantly. His scars are also to the left and bracketing the critical area. What appears to have happened was the pericardium was damaged. Or the descending aorta. That would give him about 4 min and account for the small amount of exit wound blood..So Fury, a non medic, presumes thats it, medics may or may not have done anything more, but I suspect they would have. No paramedic or EMT that I know would have just presumed his condition on first glance. Moving along,, considering him dead, ‘they’ are in combat, no time for an autopsy, but they are going to want to know EVERYTHING forensically possible about the weapon from the damage it did, so Coulson most likely wld be put in some sort of. Stasis if they have it or,like Skye, low pressure ‘ice. ‘ untill they were stable and had time to check it out. At which point. My theory relates to the. Tesseract and the soul/life force, but thats not fully “Marvel” but it does mean Coulson would revive when the weapon was removed from earth. Should Coulson. Have a ‘last Gasp’

  27. Funny to go back after the fact and read these theories. Even better is that what was revealed on the show was so much better than any of these, and I am glad that I wasn’t disappointed with the tahiti project revelation