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. I think the big secret is that Coulson died and was brought back. Tahiti? Or some other “paradise”, controlled by a “god” (Thor or his father)? I think eventually it will end up that Phil died, went to Valhalla, and was brought back when he was needed.

    • That’s a good one too. He did mention on the show when we first see him “it was dark in that corner.” So he may very well have been dead. But why keep it secret from him? Not so sure it was Odin’s doing, though. S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to keep Earth independent of the other worlds.

    • Nick Fury faked his death.

    • That’s kind of in line with my theory…Coulson hinted at facing giants and the lengths that he went to do so. But my theory has always been that once the tesseract was returned to Asgard, the true guardians of the tesseract would reunite Coulson’s soul. After all dying in honorable combat he would be in Valhalla so his soul could easily be reunited with his body.

  2. I think these ideas touch on several conclusions to Coulson’s resurrection,
    and it should include Scarlet Witch, Wonder Man(Simon Williams), and The Vision.
    Seeing that Scarlet Witch is being introduced in Avengers 2, and also Vision is such a great story that touchs on Ultron, which is now also being included in said sequel!!
    But, The whole drama and dynamic story that involves Scarlet Witch, The Vision, and Wonder Man is just to good to be ignored!!
    That’s my thoughts.

    • Like!

    • Quicksilver’s in it too.

  3. Life model decoy seems like the best bet. The real, original Coulson could even still be alive but in a coma of sorts, not unlike Gyllenhal in SOURCE CODE.

    Thus, it would be the real Coulson’s mind in a surrogate body, but he would be unaware of this.

    When he eventually finds out he will most likely have a few sad days but be okay with it because he is still serving Shield and tra la la, thats all he cares about.

    • Yep, I like this idea the best: he’s still alive controlling the LMD, but he’s in a coma… while doctors and scientists possibly try to use Extremis to fix him.

      I think he’s definitely a LMD because he easily dodged that van door that flew off.

      • I’m not sure we can take his Neo-like dodge of the van door as proof that he’s an LMD. Even in the pre-Avengers one-shot “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer”, when Coulson is presumably human (or whatever Original!Coulson is :’), he’s got some serious moves.

    • “I like to look at Coulson’s journey to the answer as a sort of existential crisis with a Marvel twist.” From an interview in another article on this site. Life model decoy with Coulson’s consciousness seems to match up pretty well. “How can I be me if I’m not really *me*?”

  4. Read this wiki page on LMD and this seems absurdly plausible.

  5. I have a theory, it could be bunnies!

    Or maybe midgets.

    • Nah! Midgets aren’t that powerful… I could go with bunnies but I’m sure they’ve sworn not to interfere with human history.

      I reckon it’s the penguins, nobody truly knows how powerful they are and can become, keep an eye on the media, the penguins are making a play too take over the world, you’ll see they’re everywhere.

  6. Whoa… Bucky… you done solved it.

  7. He is a LMD who is secretly under the control of a higher secret evil organization. He will steal secrets from SHIELD and Avengers then betray them leading to creation of Ultron.

    How crazy would it be to have the 1 man that brought them together in Avengers become the one man that almost undid them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kind of like Maxwell Lord and Justice League International or Baron Zemo and the Thunderbolts.

  8. Idk if its been brought up but LMDs were in the marvel universe pre avengers. Tony makes a LMD joke when Nick Fury calls him in Avengers.

    • And now I see its right in the article…

      • and wasn’t it when Coulson calls him that Stark refers to LMD? Then the elevator door opens and Coulson is standing right there on the phone.

  9. Wouldn’t many of these theories go against the premise of the show? Not all heroes are super. An AI qualifies as super as do aliens and cyborgs. It could be he is still human but whatever was done to him involved done dirt of sacrifice that most honorable people couldn’t live with. Deal with the Devil so to speak. Armin Zola or heck mephisto.

    • * involved some sort

      • It was my understanding that the show would be about SHIELD agents dealing with/investigating issues of A.I./robotics, high tech science/gadgets (as was case with discussing Extremis in the pilot episode), the paranormal, magic, aliens (alien “centipede” tech in the pilot), monsters, etc. but the agents themselves would be “ordinary” in terms of super powers. However, I don’t think that means the agents themselves cant be exposed/or revealed later as having been changed by any of that. Especially with all of the flow of superheroes /supervillains in and out of the series. Thus, with Coulson, it could be revealed later that alien tech, paranormal, magic, extremis, A.I. etc. is how he was brought back.

        LOL, so I guess what I meant to say is I don’t think the theories go against the plot of the show.

  10. Was it just me, or did anyone else see Coulson pull a Neo when the guy busted the van door open. Did he side step it or bend backwards to dodge it? If so, that should help narrow alot of things down. No normal human could do that with the calmness he did.

    • Of course he could, he’s Phil Coulson.

  11. I think the best theory so far, is the Super Soldier Serum. That’s just my opinion, a few of the other ones seem too obvious. But, I will agree his ‘death’ may tie into Scarlet Witch, Vision, or Ultron somehow.

  12. Here’s a question WHY did they bring him back. From the point if view if the Agency why did they have to use extraordinary measures (I assume) to bring hi. Back? It can’t be he was just good at his job. There are and will be plenty of good dead agents. Would they bring them all back? Could the source be Nick Fury’s youth formula or a variation?

  13. There is one theory you forgot. Thor the God of Thunder with his hammer can bring back people from the dead. He has done it more then once in his history as a Marvel Icon. I have seen it myself in the comic and cartoons. It seems to make the most sense to me. :)

    • Except there is no reason they would want to keep that from him.

  14. If you want to get crazy, he was brought back to life by super soldier serum. Scarlet Witch if you want to get wild. I’m of the belief he’s Vision.

    • If he is vision wouldn’t that imply that no one at Shield knows who he is? And since Hill says “he can never know” she obviously knows. If she knew he was vision she would lock him up, wouldn’t she?

  15. You really do need an editor or at a minimum-a proofreader

  16. After watching the pilot…
    3 times the word magic (magical) is mentioned.(hint, hint?)

    But even if magic has nothing to do with the “resurrection”… How is Marvel supposed to explain S. Witch and Quicksilver powers in AoU since, as we know, they can´t use the (magic?) word -Mutant-?

    • Yep, he mentioned that word… along with Tahiti, a little bit too much. It’s really making me curious

    • Why can’t they use the word “mutant”?

  17. I don’t know if the plot is connected but the movie Wolverine has this after credits of Professor X being alive and since Wolverine is also in the same universe maybe something was altered in the past that changed everything though have the same outcome.

    • I believe that Phil Coulson is the HUMAN TORCH body that was shown in the 1st Captain America movie. The tie in would be the flying car which Howard Stark perfected, as well as the fact that there were references to LMDs. Where did the technology come from? I surmise from the man who created the android version of the Torch, Phineas Horton. SHIELD would have access to that technology. This would also open the door for Ultron to create the Vision. Seriously though, IMHO, it’s a bit of a shame to make Stark responsible for the creation of Ultron as opposed to doing an ANT MAN film and bringing him into Avengers 2, but oh well.

      • I totally agree with assessment. If you noticed in the second episode, Coulson was talking about walkie-talkie wrist watches from 1936 (only 20 of them made) and he had a certain reverence in his voice for vintage items. Additionally, he drives a vintage Corvette, the trading cards he had in the Avengers movie were all old collector’s items, and we had the “cameo” of the original Human Torch in the Captain America movie when Steve and Bucky are at the Stark Expo (check the background). When you look at Coulson’s personality altogether, there is something cold and detached about him, almost like a machine, even though he puts on a polite exterior. Whatever the eventual explanation is, it has to fit within the context of the current movies and the TV show. This would also go a long way to explaining the genesis of LMDs. Just my opinion.

  18. I assumed it was going to be LMDs as they’re a SHIELD staple and Hill’s comment would imply that Coulson doesn’t know he’s a robot. The Super Solider idea is intriguing (nice catch on the little boy the CATFA being named “Phil”). For the Captain Mar-Vel theory, I just remembered that the Captain Mar-Vel from the Ultimates universe (which this Marvel Cinematic universe seems to be based on) took the identity of a physicist named “Philip Lawson” so either of those could be possibilities.

  19. Personally I find this mystery very intriguing, so despite many people disagree to his ‘resurrection’, it does add another mystery to the universe and that’s delightful.

    I can’t say much to add with my own theory (considering I’m nobody in the Marvel fanbase), and seriously I never even noticed that kid named Phil in Captain America *jawdropped*. But all I can remember the one thing that is still lingering on my head was one particular line in The Avengers by Black Widow to Coulson:

    “They need you on the deck, they’re starting the retinal scan”.

    Considering that statement doesn’t have any follow up beside his seemingly ‘death’, it must’ve mean something, or hinted about something (my previous thought would be Life Model Decoy considering Stark mentioned it). Then again, it might just be me trying to be assumptive haha

    • Actually, Black Widow’s line is about a “phase trace”, not a retinal scan. I assume S.H.I.E.L.D. has complete biometric data, as well as DNA samples, on all of its agents.

  20. I feel like this is so obvious. The scientist and Maria Hill were talking, and the scientist said “he must never know”. This tells me that the real Coulson died and SHIELD reconstructed him as an LMD.

  21. Sleight variation on the lmd theory. Starks ref to himself as an lmd was an in-joke for us fans, I believe, and won’t be used again. How about if another artificial being was imprinted with Coulsons personality and memories? Namely one Professor Hortons creation(last viewed in the opening scene of Captain America the first Avenger?)
    Which could also, in keeping with Marvel history, be used later to create the Vision (by Ultron) if required in the next Avengers movie?

  22. Consider these…

    - Thor is shown throwing a bloodied knife
    - A politician starts complaining about the destruction in New York
    - Captain America 2 will show Steve beginning to disagree with S.H.I.E.L.D. Methods/projects

    Does anyone see a Civil War plot developing?

    • Eventhough the clone theory is lame, it connects the stuff mentioned.

    • This definitely is a big event in marvel, so I can see that happening with tweaks made to fit the movie universe.

      • I’m talking about the civil war comment, sorry

    • - In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot Maria Hill refers to Mike Peterson as an “unregistered gifted”

  23. i think they just used extremis to resurect him.
    the human brain still has a small electrical charge even months after death and some cell production still excists in the body (hair and fingernails still grow after death).
    if shield put coulsons body on ice (cool but not freezing) extremis could “jumpstart” the body’s cell production thereby resurrecting him.
    it’s a long shot but that could explain it.

    • Have to disagree with you about hair and fingernails growing after death. As the body decays and dries out, the skin pulls back from hair follicles and cuticles. Please don’t make the same mistake that people made a long time ago when they would dig up bodies and say that they see “proof” that the bodies were alive, therefore the buried people were vampires.

      • Thanks, you saved me from having to point that out :)

  24. The life model decoy seems most reasonable since that happens to be a trademark thing with SHIELD (ex. Secret Wars – Nick Fury “killed” by Wolverine, but turns out to be a LMD). This is definitely the most likely way. But being by far one of the biggest Vision fans ever, I’d love if he became the coolest android ever. Maybe they transferred HIS brain patterns, not Simon Williams’. This would save time for Marvel making Wonder Man. Unless Grant becomes Wonder Man.

  25. Coulson died and he’s now a LMD. That makes the most sense.

  26. I love the idea of hm being the Human Torch, it sure would explain his love for memorabilia, all that needs to happen to cement this theory is for him to unexplanably turn up in a cameo in captain America 2s flash back scene with Peggy Carter.

    Ill jeep my fingers crossed lol

  27. I still say Phil Coulson is the original Human Torch. Detached demeanor, love of old things. The original Torch was an android. Vision is a synthezoid, apparently an upgrade from Android. Of course, his origin has been retconned a couple of times, but originally he was made from the Torch. That would explain Coulson’s apparent death, as Phineas Horton would have made him as human like as possible including blood. The Torch appeared [sort of] in Captain America one, which also showed LOLA [in prototype]. Tie in? Hmm. Phil, the kid [and I know this one is a stretch]could have grown up, tried to become a super soldier [which failed without Horton, although they kept trying], something went wrong, his consciousness was placed in the Android body [which SHIELD would have had access to]. Remember, the body in the Glass case [so no air could get in and to keep it from catching fire]. Coulson is the Torch, who will more than likely eventually become THE VISION.