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. Coulson made the show. I’ll watch it because of him. Otherwise, it just felt a little mediocre.

    If I had to guess, I’d say he is really a life model decoy, but we’ll eventually find out, so no need to waste too much time theorizing.

    • By the way, it was also nice to see Ron Glass, from Whedon’s Firefly, in the show. Looks like he will be a regular cast member, albeit in a small role.

      • 100% agreed.

  2. Whatever brings Bucky back from the dead is what brings Coulson back from the dead, I’m assuming in order to keep tying the show to the movies.

    • i’d rather he survived than revived.
      if there’s a means of revival then no one would stay dead, and dying would lose its impact.

    • I don’t want to give away how that happens because it will be explained in The Winter Soldier, but no, the way Bucky survived could not work for Coulson.

  3. I was glad when they said there was more to his “death”.. At first when he said he never died I thought it was a cop out… I think the clone or life model theories are most likely

  4. I actually really like the Super Soldier theory. It would tie a lot together

    • Yes, it would be neat, but why must he “never know” that? Because of those words, I think it more likely that he is a life model decoy.

      • Yeah, surely if he hasn’t aged since the 40′s he’d kinda assume something was up. I guess if S.H.I.E.L.D wiped Coulson’s memory (or had a telepath do it) so that he didn’t remember being so old, then it could work. I really love that the kid in the first Cap movie was named Phil, that’s such a cool little easter egg :)

        • Yeah, and maybe it ties in to Lola as well. He said something about old things being rebuilt or reworked or something, instead of new. I think that’s a clue. Maybe he’s been partially rebuilt and is a cyborg? Doubtful, but I’d prefer him to be super-soldier, and now maybe he can’t die or something tragic like that?

        • Is there another source that says his name is Phil? Tumblr doesn’t convince me.

          • They say it in the films too. Most obvious example would be Avengers when Pepper calls him Phil and Tony insists that his first name is Agent.

      • Unless it’s something like that we kid from CA became a volunteer for the serum after Captain America ‘died’, but the serum didn’t quite work- it made him immortal or something. SHIELD knows it, but Coulson has been brainwashed and doesn’t know that. IDK, thoughts

  5. Guessing from dialogue he’s still alive because of something they did to him.

  6. I thought they placed alot of emphasis on how Tahiti was a “magical place”. Coulson also said something about his doctor while in Tahiti not speaking english (I can’t remember exactly what he said). I feel like the life model decoy is too much of a cop out/ obvious. It will be interesting to see if they would introduce the mystic side of things in the show.

    • Doctor Druid or Doctor Voodoo?

    • “…and a physical therapist whose command of English was… irrelevant.” Which sounds like the kind of physical therapy I could really get behind :D

  7. Shield took Coulson to get treated by Namor, in Tahiti. His survival meant that he lost some of his humanity because he’s now a hybrid.

    • Marvel Studios boss man Feige confirmed a few weeks ago that Universal owns Namor.

  8. I feel the clone or LMD would be too much of a cop-out, even more so than him just not dying.

  9. i like the super soldier serum theory also…why he cant know about it hmm…was he tested on as a young child cause if its him in Captain America as a child then he would be in his 60′s or 70′s now, plus wouldnt he know he isnt aging as fast….my heads hurting

  10. What’s with the Coulson was dating a cellist???

    The scene from Avengers:

    Captain America, “Was he married?”
    Stark,”Wha? No, he was a cellist..”

    They never said anything about him dating someone…

    • He was dating a Cellist, and ur re-wording of Stark and Rogers interaction is completely wrong.

    • Stark was talking to him about “let love live” (or something like that) when they both walked off the elevator in the heli-carrier, he (Stark) even says he will fly him to see her, (the cellist)

    • Pepper asks him as they’re leaving at the end of the scene in Stark Tower if he’s still seeing “that cellist”, and Coulson replies, “She went back to Portland.”

  11. In order of relevance, my theories would be:

    1.-Super Soldier
    2.-Scarlet Witch
    3.-Doc Strange

    l wouldn´t be surprised if Whedon uses theory 2 or 3 as an introduction of those characters into the MCU.

  12. Number 11: He was treated at the same hospital that Ian Malcolm went to after the end of the first “Jurassic Park” novel.

  13. Agent Hill saying “he must never know.”? That’s whe biggest clue of them all.

  14. Coulson says “it’s a magical place” twice in the pilot when Tahiti is mentioned. Almost as if he was programed to answer that way. LMD makes the most sense to me, but resurrected by magic would work too. I can’t imagine they would bring in Doctor Strange or the Scarlet Witch since they have films coming soon. Maybe Brother Voodoo? Morbius? Doctor Druid?

  15. Maybe he is a Deathlok?

  16. Not one mention of extremis???

    • Yeah exactly! It would work so well because extremis was in this pilot episode and seeing as they didn’t catch the people using it, I would assume that The Rising Tide would be the main villains of the season (maybe working with AIM?).

      Anyway, if extremis was a season arc, then we might see more people lose control with it, or see how dangerous and unstable it is, which is why Coulson will flip out when he finds out thats what they used to save him.

      Any one else agree?

      • Knowing from what we seen in IM3, it could be replicated and reversed and it helped Stark not be dependent on arc reactor tech anymore. However, the timeline doesn’t quite fit.

  17. Coulson was brought back to Asgard by Thor when he took Loki back at the end of Avengers, and they used their superior medicine/healing powers/healing chamber, whatever they had Odin laying in in Thor. When he woke up in Asgard he thought it was a “magical” place but they just told him he was in Tahiti. So he remembers it fondly… Bam!

    • Haha nice!

  18. He is actually the original beta form of ultron with all abilities turned off to make him seem human even to himself and when he finally finds out he died and his brain was copied into the machine he goes insane becoming the ultron enemy we all know and love…. This allows ties to the movies an introduction for hank pym and others and allows the actor who plays culson to not have to stay tied to the series for it to survive and breathing room to do other movies and shows not to mention if so chosen to leave the marvel verse on a high note as an ultimate villan who can return any time in various forms

    • No because then there’s no point in having Jame’s Spader play Ultron.

      I think that Coulson is such a fan favourite because he’s the only person of S.H.I.E.L.D thats relatable (so far), and I think to turn it into an easy origin story for a fan loved superhero would be a cop out – even more so if Coulson became a super villain.

  19. Coulson died in The Avengers.
    This one is a LMD programmed with all of Coulson’s memories and brain patterns. The “Tahiti” experience and all that is programmed in.
    Future Vision.

    • I think you might be right.

  20. Khan blood.

    • That’s a good one.

  21. Not sure some of these make sense in the context of what Maria Hill said. Like #1, “He must NEVER know” ….. he lived?

    • That he’s actually a robot programmed to think he’s a man makes the most sense in that context.

      If he was simply revived by any means, or even if he’s a clone, that wouldn’t explain her line. My opinion.

  22. The Fan’s brought him back from the dead !
    Very easy,after that it was..”Damn,how can we bring him back Joss?”

  23. To me, all signs point to him being a LMD… and I’m hoping Vision down the line after Avengers 2.

  24. Why isn’t “lame cop-out” on this list?

  25. Life Model Decoy. You say it’s too obvious, but to whom? General audiences have no idea. Plus that’s more dramatic if Coulson is a robot programmed to think he’s human.

  26. Thought the show was pretty lame. Honestly, I heard a lot of buzz that it wasn’t that great, and could potentially get cancelled despite riding the coattails of Avengers. I didn’t believe them, but now I do. The show better pick up some steam.

  27. I think he went to Wakanda – and just thought he went to Tahiti. Wakanda’s map showed up in the Avengers on a screen on the heli-carrier. Totally Plausable! Wakanda has advanced technology and could probably heal an injury better than S.H.I.E.L.D. medics could!

  28. Lazarus chamber, people. Deal with it. :sunglasses:

  29. Is Coulson . . . Wonder-Man or The Vision?

    Wonder Man remained in suspended animation for years, and it is during this period that Ultron, the evil robot creation of Henry Pym, steals the brain patterns recorded by the Avengers for use as a template for the synthezoid Vision. It is later revealed that Vision is built from the original Human Torch, an android created by Professor Phineas Horton. We know the Human Torch exist in the Marvel movie universe because his chamber is seen at the World Fair at the beginning of Captain America.

    • PS, The Vision eventually married the Scarlet Witch so it makes a nice tie if she was dating Coulson.