Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) has been absent from “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” since the show’s midseason finale in December, but the March 24 episode sees the turncoat agent make his triumphant return in an action-packed hour titled “Love in the Time of Hydra.”
While his former SHIELD teammates are still trying to get to grips with Skye’s (Chloe Bennet) Inhuman transformation following her exposure to the Diviner, Ward has been AWOL with Agent 33 (currently wearing the face of Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May), a SHIELD agent who was brainwashed by Daniel Whitehall (Reed Diamond) to work for Hydra before his death.
Variety spoke with Dalton to find out what Ward has been up to following his confrontation with Skye in the midseason finale, and what’s motivating the troubled operative now that he’s no longer aligned with SHIELD or Hydra.
“The last time we saw Ward, he had just fulfilled his promise to Skye by reuniting her with her father and, in response to that, she shot me three times,” Dalton notes with a laugh. “Ward [was] hobbling out into the sunset with Agent 33, who is kind of in a similar position to Ward in season one after he lost his mentor/father figure, Agent Garrett [Bill Paxton].”
Now that Agent 33 finds herself without a purpose, Dalton compares the duo to “two dented cans walking off together into the sunset. I think they are interesting. There’s a million different similarities between them. I think that Ward sees a lot of himself in 33 … someone who is on a different step of the same journey. Obviously Agent 33 is brainwashed. Agent Garrett never brainwashed me, but both of these figures have been really good at following orders and have attached themselves to the leadership of a powerful male figure who then disappears on them, and they are left with the questions of, ‘what do I do now? Who am I without this person, without someone else telling me what to do?’”
Unlike Agent 33, Dalton says that Ward is now “on the other side” of that identity crisis following the character’s journey so far in season two. “Ward had to wrestle with all of that stuff in-between season one and season two. He was in the jail for six months. He was wrestling with a lot of his demons, took a lot of that out on himself, attempted suicide a number of different times… I think he sees someone who is on a similar journey, who perhaps he could provide some guidance to through a mentorship.”
Despite Ward’s penchant for manipulation, Dalton maintains that his interest in 33 is “all coming from a place of love… [They might] do some morally questionable things along the way. But I really do think that, at least on Ward’s end, it is coming from a good place in trying to help someone else move their life forward in a positive way.”
Now that Ward is a free agent, so to speak, Dalton has his own theories on what’s motivating his character. “I’ve had little hints along the way,” he muses. “There were a lot of things in the writing, particularly in the episodes when I was in jail, and some of those things gave me an idea about, ‘oh, maybe he actually has more of a plan other than just reuniting Skye with her father.’ Obviously that was the promise for 10 episodes, that he was hell-bent on fulfilling this promise, and he did. But he’s never going to not be a politician. He’s never going to not see all of the angles. That is something that he’s just brilliant at, as good as his brother is. Maybe it’s a family trait because, you know, the senator’s also very good at that stuff.”
As for how that relates to his relationship with Skye, Dalton hedges, “While he is definitely helping Skye, I don’t think he’s not helping himself in the process. Just like he’s definitely telling the truth to her, but maybe he’s leaving some stuff out. But he’s not telling lies. He’s incredibly smart and I think that’s what makes the options sort of limitless because he’s like the biggest human Swiss Army knife there is.”
Although Ward and Skye didn’t part on the best terms (to say the least), Dalton doesn’t think all hope is lost for the duo yet. “I mean, if I were in that position [where] somebody shot at me, I think I might not enjoy it… There was a question at the beginning of season two: ‘can these characters ever get together again? Is there too much water under the bridge? Have they turned the corner on SkyeWard? Is the SkyeWard ship still alive and well? Or is it sinking?’ It appears that she has given her side of that story,” he laughs. “I think that perhaps Ward… he sees every angle. I think he’s gotten a pretty definitive answer, so I think that he may be onto the next chapter in his journey. But I don’t think that will really ever die. I don’t know if that ship will ever really, really sink, but I think that right now, he’s on the lifeboat.”
“Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC. Come back to Variety after the episode for more from Dalton.