[SPOILERS for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. up to Season 3, episode 10 ahead]
Agent. Hero. Friend. Traitor. Prisoner. Villain. Zombie. It is safe to say that Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) has gone through more than his fair share of drastic transformations on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout the last two and a half seasons. Introduced as the loner super spy, it was the surprising reveal that Ward was actually an undercover HYDRA agent that helped launch the show into its creative resurgence at the end of Season 1. Ward spent much of the following year locked in the Playground’s Vault D prison, then escaping to become a new head of HYDRA. His turn as the full blown antagonist to the team had him torturing Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird (Adrianne Palicki), and killing Director Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) love interest Rosalind Price (Constance Zimmer) in an effort to take down the S.H.I.E.L.D. team.
During the Season 3 mid-season finale ‘Maveth‘, Coulson used his prosthetic hand to kill Ward, only to have a mysterious alien possess and reanimate his body, presumably gaining access to all of his memories. With his decaying body now taken over by a creature from an alien planet, rumors are swirling that Ward will become the supervillain Hive when the show returns. With Dalton poised to tackle yet another version of this character, some are questioning if this new Zombie-Ward will be his final act. However despite Ward’s many failings, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs him to stay on.
Keeping Ward on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, ideally, somehow reanimating his body after his stint as an ancient being/zombie, has far more benefits than simply killing him off (again). Originally created to center around six agents living and working together on a plane, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pivoted to become a much larger ensemble show in the second season. With so many more characters thrown into the mix, there is plenty of action and mythology to go around, but far less history and deep relationships between the characters. For better or worse, Ward is a huge connector piece who has a colorful backstory with all of the core cast members (save Mack) that viewers are already invested in. He brings not only grudges, but also the history of what came before – something that no other villain or antagonist possesses.
Many might argue that the character of Grant Ward has run its course. He has exhausted his novelty, and perhaps range, as a villain after spending over 30 episodes in a game of cat and mouse with Coulson. If they kept Ward on as the show’s Big Bad, they would be right. The writers have played that angle every which way, and we haven’t even seen him as an alien invader. However, bringing him back into the fold – in any non-adversarial capacity – would actually be a fresh use of the character, as Ward has been completely separated from the rest of the team since late season 1. That’s not to say he would immediately transition into good guy – Ward has committed far too many atrocities for that – but he could certainly function on the team without being trusted, or trustworthy.
Ward’s continued presence would be an interesting point of emotional development for Coulson as well. Ward’s death was completely driven by revenge, largely for Rosalind but also for the heartache he has caused the team. Having killed someone purely out of hate is likely something we will already see impacting Coulson, and having Ward reintegrated would bring his struggle with the dark side back to the forefront. It would also spark a bit of drama into the fairly tepid romance that has been slowly blooming between Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell). Getting to see a relatively sane, very much alive Ward interact with Daisy would bring about some conflict, and showcase Dalton and Bennet’s consistently great chemistry.
Not that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was ever that relationship-focused, but romance will be in especially short supply now that May and Andrew have separated, and Rosalind has been killed. Bobbi and Hunter have their own on again off again routine, but both agents will soon be departing to headline Marvel’s Most Wanted. Bringing Ward back onto the team would not only add to the possible pairings, it would also fill the void created by losing two of their strongest assets, without adding in new characters. As we’ve seen with the newest Secret Warrior Joey, and the criminally underdeveloped Tripp, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has struggled to integrate new team members and give them enough screentime for viewers to connect with them. This move would keep the team dynamics fresh with a character audiences already care about.
Of course there are obstacles preventing this from becoming a reality. Ward has performed so many heinous acts – with such enthusiasm – that it is possible he is beyond redemption, and therefore would only revert to his played-out role as the antagonist. He is also currently degenerating physically, and while that might offer some fun sight gags, it doesn’t speak to his longevity. Even if he were brought back to a more human state he might not keep whatever powers this imbues him with, making him expendable to the team. However, even with all of that working against him, Ward is still one of the most developed and complex characters on the show and brings much to the table. Hopefully the writers are again able to transition his storyline to take advantage of all of Ward’s abilities – and bring him back to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel’s Agent Carter season 2 airs Tuesdays @9pm on ABC. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns Tuesday, March 8th, 2016 at 9pm on ABC. Marvel’s Most Wanted currently has a pilot order but no scheduled debut.