The second half of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 was centered for the most part on the resurrected Grant Ward, following his dead body becoming host to the Inhuman known as Hive. Given that ABC already had Brett Dalton in place as Ward, it makes sense that the Hive's true from wasn't part of the weekly adventures of Agent Coulson and his team. And, from a purely budgetary standpoint, it makes sense to eventually phase out what little makeup was put on Dalton to give him that slightly zombified look and to pull out all the stops with an emaciated chest piece just in case anyone thought he might get better.
As it turns out, that pale, sunken-face look wasn't the last form Dalton would take before his character's second swan song on the series, as Hive's true form was eventually revealed for the audience in the season finale. However, as is usually the case when special effects are involved, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. seems to have at one point considered going a slightly different route with the tentacled menace, offering fans a creature that was more Hive and less Ward, and one that would have required a lot more time and effort (and money) from the effects department.
The Hive concept art comes from artist Joshua James Shaw, whose work was previously seen with his designs for Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool, and some costume designs for X-Men: Days of Future Past. As was the case with Shaw's previous efforts, his work on Hive is pretty much exactly what was delivered. The only difference is perhaps in the level of detail Shaw was able to put into his concepts that didn't quite make it onto the screen. For one thing, the tentacles on Shaw's hive appear to resemble those of an octopus more than they did in the broadcast version. The suction cups give Hive a Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean vibe, so perhaps the effects department eschewed that design for something more alien and less cephalopod-like.
Shaw's artwork is impressive and the level of detail he goes into in certain pieces is perhaps an indication of why the character was successful in the first place. Shaw even goes so far as to show where the human skull would fit under Hive's tentacled head, giving animators and viewers a quick Inhuman anatomy lesson. Another sketch raises a question as to whether or not the series ever flirted with the idea of making Hive a more menacing figure who walked around under a hood to hide his visage. That would have made for an interesting change to the character – placing him in a position more like Lash (in non-human form), where his physical nature would play a larger part in his overall persona.
Still, while that design would have been impressive from a visual standpoint, it might not have played so well with the emotional side of the story, especially considering the impact Hive's actions had on team members like Daisy and Mack and Coulson – who was still reeling from what Ward did to his ladylove. At any rate, the concept art demonstrates the thinking that goes into creating the special effects of the series and in making the look of the Big Bad something memorable for the viewers.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 will air in the fall on ABC.