Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Not Another Redemption Arc

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD

Agent Grant Ward has been a controversial character ever since the reveal that there was a “wolf in the herd the whole time”, and that he, in fact, was the wolf in question. The gruff action man seems to have acquired a legion of fans, despite his actions in the final arc of the season, many of whom are keen to see him redeemed. It’s certain that Ward is sticking around for the forseeable future, with Brett Dalton leading the charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. cast members at San Diego Comic Con, but it remains to be seen whether that’s as a recurring antagonist or as a reformed good guy. Given the number of his sins, the latter would be a disappointing and predictable choice.

The reason people seem keen to forgive the Hydra agent is obviously the attachment they formed to the character prior to the double agent twist. In the season’s earlier episodes, viewers saw Ward develop a reluctant romantic tension with Skye and an endearing opposites-attract friendship with Fitz. He was positioned as an efficient and determined hero within the team, with Ward and May leading most of the field work while Skye tapped aggressively at her laptop for vital intel, Coulson sat in his office brooding about that time he died and Fitzsimmons were finishing each other’s jargon-filled sentences in the lab. As Ward’s cool reserve softened through the season, he revealed a more playful streak (in F.Z.Z.T., Ward reveals to Jemma he overheard her impression of him by doing his own) and filled the tough older brother role within the team’s found-family dynamic.

Many of the responses to the plot twist note that it will be challenging for the writers to marry together that dorky charm with his more murderous streak, without acknowledging that his dorky charm – and literally everything he did before Turn, Turn, Turn – was nothing but an act. He did not pledge loyalty to Hydra in Turn, Turn, Turn. He had been Hydra the entire time. Any love for the Ward that had been shown before was for a person who turned out not to be authentic. The only Ward we know to be true existed in the final five episodes of season wherein we saw him killing Victoria Hand, protecting evil and deranged Garrett, attempting to bump off Fitz and Simmons, making sexually intimidating comments to Skye and holding May’s head disturbingly close to a chainsaw. It would be unreasonable to expect Fitz, Simmons, Skye and May to ever see his miserable face again.

Agents of SHIELD
Fitz and Simmons, before their trauma.

From the little we have seen so far since Fitz and Simmons’ trauma, they are irreparably damaged by the events of the previous season. Even though Fitz was forgiving up until the moment the pod dropped, how could he possibly continue to be after Ward put Simmons in such grave danger? And if Ward’s victims – Skye, Simmons, Fitz, May – are not in a position to forgive and forget (and why on earth should they be?), how do you begin to reintegrate Ward into the team? S.H.I.E.L.D.’s work is entirely reliant on trust and after Ward’s actions, it would be plain stupid for any of the team to trust him again. Ever.

Another reason that Ward seems to be excused, by many, for his numerous crimes is that the attempted murder of Fitz and Simmons was unsuccessful. If both had been killed after Ward jettisoned their pod from the plane, would Ward’s redemption even be a prospect? The narrative choice to have it be Fitz and Simmons who Ward near-kills meant that Ward’s poisonous act was highlighted further by their total innocence.

The science duo have proved to be the most pure-hearted characters on the show, with increasing courage as the season develops (most notably: Simmons fearlessly fighting to pursue the mystery of Skye’s survival in T.A.H.I.T.I., Fitz standing up to Garrett in both Turn, Turn, Turn and Ragtag). As far as Ward understood, he was killing them. That was that. There is no way he could have known that all the factors enabling their survival would come together. In fact, the fluke nature of Fitzsimmons’ rescue is weakest plot point of the finale, though it’s made forgivable by the necessity of the event. When examining Ward’s culpability, the survival of his victims is an entirely irrelevant detail because the focus should be on his intent. Even as Fitz begged for their lives to be saved, with faith in Ward’s character until the end, Ward referred to his reluctance to murder them as “a weakness” – before promptly ensuring they sank to the bottom of the ocean.

Grant WardWard was clearly a victim of abuse in his youth, but that does not justify his villainous acts. There are plenty of people, and characters, who experience troubled childhoods and grow up to not murder people. Skye, for example. The idea that one justifies the other is a troubling and damaging idea. Revealing more traumatic back-story while showing his remorse in an attempt to redeem the character seems an absurd idea at this point. People will argue he was an impressionable young teenager when he met Garrett, but ultimately, to be able to pull off the double-crossing for S.H.I.EL.D., he had to understand what good and evil was.

Throughout the season that Ward spent within the team, it was clear that he could identify Coulson, Skye, Fitz and Jemma’s behaviour as fundamentally good. It is not as though he can now spend time with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team and see, from being around them, how he should behave; he’s been with them the whole time. That was his chance for redemption and reformation. He’s spent years working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and understanding how they operate compared to Hydra. His allegiance never switched. If it were to switch now, it would be hard to argue it wasn’t simply because his mentor was gone and it was certainly in his own best interests. Having been exposed to the explicitly creepy behaviour of Garrett, which he seems to recognise as such, Ward stuck with him. Garrett does not seek to be perceived as good and just. It becomes clear in Ragtag, when Garrett’s injuries are made known, that his poor health is news to Ward. Until this point, he can only have known Garrett’s motivation for power and so his loyalty can’t be explained by his intention to help Garrett survive by any means necessary.

For many reasons, Ward’s redemption seems inevitable. Dalton seems to be an ingratiated member of the cast, and some of the interview quotes certainly point in that direction. Ward’s actions should not be excused or forgiven, though. In the past, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proved to be a relatively optimistic universe, and while the show clearly seeks to produce a grittier second season, it would be a shame if it were completely lost to the dark side. Ward’s behaviour was unforgivable and positing him as a hero at any point down the line would be a betrayal of all his victims and of all good sense.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. YES! I can’t wait to see his redemption! All the haters see is black and white. Marvel and the Whedonverse NEVER make things that simple. No epic love story is ever happy-go-lucky. There are always huge issues that come up along the way! I cannot wait to see Ward rediscover who he is without negative influence; be that by his despicable family or Garrett’s conditioning. I also love that the team will turn to him as a valuable asset. He not only has intel on the inner workings of some Hydra plans (what little he was informed of or witnessed while with Garrett), but he has the best marks since Romanoff in espionage and combat.

  2. no redemption and no love interest no need to turn this into a soap opera.

  3. No no no…. Ward is EVIL no love!!!

  4. Thad G.

    Ward is a complicated character, and complicated characters are the best. Why can’t he be redeemed? Romanov did some horrible things, but now plays for the good guys. Looking back at the first season you can see Ward is conflicted. He is very loyal, but unfortunately was loyal to someone who was not worthy of loyalty and who manipulated and used him. I think he experienced real kinship for the first time while undercover on the bus, he mentioned several times how he wanted to protect everyone, but a few times he did not know how. He also did not shoot May knowing that she was a threat and he most likely would have to face her again. He did not shoot Buddy and put the med pod into the ocean with Fitz and Simmons knowing that if they stayed on the plane Garrett would kill them himself or have someone else do it. So yes, I think he was thinking by sending them into the ocean, he was giving them a chance. This is actual character development, why be so negative about characters evolving or changing? So many good characters have done bad things, but change and start doing good. Why hate on that?

  5. Starshine

    The author needs to rewatch at least the first season of AOS, as several of the points he/she makes are completely contrary to what we were presented on screen. Like for example the discussed survival of Fitz and Simmons, which is perfectly explained. All the ingredients for their survival, such as very low plane altitude (which Ward knew about) and the extra point that the pod they were in was designed to float upon ejection (which Ward, as a pilot for that same plane, also knew) were specifically stressed.

    My theory about the author willful ignorance of the entirety of the season is also supported buy the fact that he/she also failed to recognize other hard canon facts like Ward never having been affiliated with Hydra ideologically, and knowing about Garrett’s bad health since he was 20 years old (allow me to scratch my head at how could anyone miss this moment – Ward has a scene where he is the only one knowing how to reset Garrett’s bio prosthesis, and where he comments about Garrett not having had an episode “in a while”, which is when Garrett reveals that his health declined even further ).

    Kudos for writing a long post, I guess, but better luck next time. Also, if the author wants to be taken seriously, he/she should avoid insulting the actor by calling him “an ingratiated cast member”. Brett Dalton is a talented, loved and respected cast member, and has the third billing on the show behind only the heavy hitters playing Coulson and May. His character is here to stay, and he will be done justice. Which in every civilized society of the world includes the opportunity for a abused kid who was statutory kidnapped at age 15 and turned into a teen soldier to learn from his mistakes and strive to do better in the future.

    • Jessica Eve Kennedy

      The Fitzsimmons rescue did rely on a lot of coincidence, even with those things considered. How could he possibly know that Fury was just going to casually show up at the exact right moment when Ward had no idea Fury was even alive?

      I was referring to the extent of Garrett’s health concerns when in Ragtag, Ward acts totally unaware of his issue. He seems thrown by it, in fact. The fact that Ward does not seem to share Hydra’s ideology is not something I dispute particularly – but if he does not believe in what Hydra is doing, then why does he continue to act as a part of their organisation? That’s my problem. No matter what is motivating him, his actions are evil.

      “Ingratiated cast member” is simply meant to refer to the fact that he’s popular with his fellow cast, and is regarded as a core player in the cast.

      • Starshine

        The Fitzsimmons rescue did rely on a lot of coincidence, even with those things considered. How could he possibly know that Fury was just going to casually show up at the exact right moment when Ward had no idea Fury was even alive?

        – Well maybe he was relying on the POD NOT SINKING in the first place, as it shouldn’t have? Also, flight from Cuba to Miami specifically said to fly low to avoid detection by boarder police (plot point, hello). How long do you imagine a suspicious box would drift in these waters before it got boarded?

        I was referring to the extent of Garrett’s health concerns when in Ragtag, Ward acts totally unaware of his issue. He seems thrown by it, in fact.

        – OMG, precisely in Ragtag Garrett shows teen!Ward the metallic plate and explains how he got it. Precisely in Ragtag, adult!Ward knows how to operate it as he have been personally resetting it many times before upon other failures. And yet, you write in text that Garrett’s health wasn’t Ward main reason to be on Coulson’s team (and imply that he was what, doing it for fun while planning to kill them all off? Did you even understand the main plot of the season?). You’ve got to be kidding me. He was taken aback by the fact that the illness has progressed more quickly then expected, but he was spying on Coulson exclusively to save his father figure. As evidenced several times in dialogue (that I am not even going to quote, as I can’t write down entire episodes).

        Ii he does not believe in what Hydra is doing, then why does he continue to act as a part of their organization?

        – When exactly? When (as soon as Garrett is healthy) he repeatedly tried to get Garrett to leave them behind and run? When he insisted that they aren’t true believers? Look. As a fan, you can think whatever you want and even ignore canon if you want. But if you want to write an “article” on this and be taken seriously, you need to know your sources better than this, and also have some context comprehension. Which is sorely lacking here, I am afraid.

        “Ingratiated cast member” is simply meant to refer to the fact that he’s popular with his fellow cast, and is regarded as a core player in the cast.

        – “Ingratiated cast member” reads like he licked their asses to get into the cast. I have never seen this word used to mean anything positive. If you wanted to say “popular” you should have used popular. But you didn’t, right?

  6. “Ward was clearly a victim of abuse in his youth, but that does not justify his villainous acts. There are plenty of people, and characters, who experience troubled childhoods and grow up to not murder people. Skye, for example. The idea that one justifies the other is a troubling and damaging idea. Revealing more traumatic back-story while showing his remorse in an attempt to redeem the character seems an absurd idea at this point.” You hit the nail on the head here. Such a plot is toxic—when writers excuse villainous acts because of past abuse or trauma, it only serves to further the idea that the villain has no choice in their actions. A redemption arc like that would only cause more people to internalize the idea that a traumatic past justifies future violence.

    • I am, admittedly, not current on the events of the show, but I will say that one of the things I like a lot about the MCU is how they don’t treat their villains as if they were cardboard cutouts. In real life, everyone has an origin story, and to gloss over someone’s past is to dehumanize them. This goes or real-life villains, too. That said, I approve of how AOS dug into the motivations behind their baddies, though I similarly hope that they do not excuse evil actions in favor of a sentimental “satisfying” ending. I am not against Ward ever being forgiven, but it would be really hard to convince the audience he was sincere. His character has already spent too much emotional capital getting us on his side.

  7. Veronica Leeds

    “Ward’s behaviour was unforgivable and positing him as a hero at any point down the line would be a betrayal of all his victims and of all good sense.”

    Oh, you mean as unforgivable as Natasha’s burning down a children’s hospital in the past (as referenced in The Winter Soldier). I’d argue that the sick children she burned alive and their families would fell pretty betrayed after seeing her walking scott free from a congressional hearing. This article does not seem familiar with either the general workings of the Marvel Universe or the general concept of atonement.

    • Veronica/Starshine

      Appears the people behind the series are not a big fan of this article… no wonder =)

  8. Thank you!
    No redemption. I really hope the show doesn’t go that way. If the writers wanted to redeem him at some point they should have never shown him so cold, calculating, and misogynistic.

    I hate the argument about Fitz and Simmons and how people try and say he was saving them. The best way to have saved them was to have never taken them to the plane in the first place. He could have let them go. Instead he brought them Garrett.

    He was going to kill May if she hadn’t have picked up her bags and left. Later, he did try and kill her while gleefully talking about their sexual history. He tried to kill Coulson when he was rescuing Skye. Why do people expect these characters to forgive him and be friends again?

    He wants Skye to be on his level and be dark like him. He is currently trying to manipulate her and use her empathy by talking about his suicide attempts. He won’t offer any information to help the team, unless it is to her. So he still doesn’t want to be better. He is just using his situation to get to Skye. How can anyone want those two together just because he does? Does Skye not deserve better than him? That view is so reflective of women in emotionally or physically abusive relationships. “But he really loves her!” — who cares?! He is still a horrible person. His past can explain, but not excuse his actions. Skye’s character shouldn’t be sacrificed for his.

    • Jessica Eve Kennedy

      I absolutely agree. Redeeming him would have such a negative effect on Skye, May, Fitz and Simmons. I can’t imagine a scenario in which any of them could even come close to trusting him in a believable way. I guess we’ll see as the show heads further into the season because so far Ward’s appearances haven’t really cleared up either way what they are planning for him.

  9. Amanda Dominguez-Chio

    Great article! I especially enjoyed reading your discussion about Ward as a victim of abuse.

  10. Jemarc Axinto

    I love your take on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and wholeheartedly agree. A redemption for everything he did would be inexcusable. It is right up there with why people should stop fawning over Loki because he was “misunderstood.” That still does not change how awful a person he was. Love the villain for how much of a villain he (or she) is, not because they had it rough as a kid.

  11. I honestly admit to being on the fence. Once again, the show is trying to accomplish too much; there’s an awful lot going in the first two eps of the new season. But what keeps me coming back is the acting. Ian (Fitz) is amazing this season. Tripp is quickly becoming one of my fave characters, and the scene with Mack and Fitz and the hallucinatory Simmons was amazing. I will admit that while I’m eagerly waiting for the Peggy Carter series, I’m hoping the two shows don’t get so intertwined you have to watch both to understand what’s going on in either; that happened last season with the Winter Soldier tie-in, and I was NOT a fan of that little stunt.

  12. Charlie Lang

    I hate when they do this crap. They did it on Pretty Little Liars and now this, for once let the guy be evil. don’t redeem him just so Skye can have a love interest . I want to see action and superheroes, not romance.

  13. You turned a corner. Making Ward evil was part of that. Don’t undo your good work.

  14. Isa Obryan

    You know what’s worse? If doing this “redemption” they keep the Ward/Skye pairing…

  15. This show is really a disappointment. I like the Marvel movie universe very much. AOS is such a bland, light, inconsequential nothing — my mind can’t reconcile that Whedon made both AOS and Avengers. AOS only very slightly almost kind of sort of maybe got just a teensy bit interesting right near the end. This comic con news didn’t really give me any hope for season 2.

  16. Let’s be fair, Marvel Studios LOVES the redemption angle.

  17. Jacqui Wu

    I don’t know..I actually enjoyed last season, but right now it seems like they’ve changed every single thing about the show, to the point where I just sit there missing the show we had. I’m going to give it two or three more weeks, but right now I don’t really see it going anywhere terribly interesting…

  18. I enjoyed last season.

  19. Jamie Tracy

    I’m sure redemption is coming. If we think of the greater source material and universe it comes from, redemption is inevitable. Dr. Doom has worked with the Fantastic Four, Magento has led the X-Men and S.H.I.E.L.D. employs former Hydra agents.

    I enjoy the show and loved Absorbing Man in these first 2 episodes.

  20. Ward, and his redemption… I love me a good redemption story… whether we get one, and whether it’s good or not…

  21. You know I suddenly remember the AOS showrunners recently claiming that they *could* tie-in with GOTG this season.

  22. Tyler McPherson

    I thought the integration of Ward being Hydra was a good strong turning point in the direction of SHIELD. It helped give them a solid run over the end of the season, however I agree that Ward can’t be redeemed. To redeem him after what he has done would be to basically just ignore it all. The creators have done a good job though of bringing him into the show as an informational character, only popping up to help out the team, maybe they have plans to bring this more into focus, into situations where they need him to help out. We just have to trust them to get it right. Anyway good read found it really interesting.

  23. Abhimanyu Shekhar

    Hmm… I was thinking about skipping it, but now I think I better watch it… Never liked the concept of SHIELD though.

  24. this show has really started to lose me as of late with stuff like this.

  25. Stephanie

    I agree with the writer and now Ward has murdered his brother and parents and it would be irresponsible to give him a redemption arc at this point.

  26. MELSEY

    I have come late to this discussion. I love the article and I think it raises great questions that time has given further relevance. (SPOILER: Now that Ward is inhabited by the strange thing from another planet).
    The questions that remain for me are:
    How bad can you get and still get a shot at redemption?
    Is a character entitled to redemption?
    Are the SHIELD writers just messing with audience expectations around the theme of redemption?

  27. AOS writers are better than that and that’s why the show was the best super hero show to come out of the 2010s it was probably one of the most underrated shows on television, period. And all throughout the 6 seasons so far has proven they don’t do th cliche stuff. Wards gone and didn’t come back, everything about his character never fell into “oh another one of these”.

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