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With those high cheekbones, a tragic backstory and moves that can literally kill, it is undeniable that Grant Ward’s puppy-dog eyes are virtually irresistible. So what is up with Grant Ward? With the new season of Agents of SHIELD on the air, this is a character who has had many personality changes throughout his time in SHIELD and HYDRA. When we first meet Grant Ward, he is painted as an aloof, professional operative who gets “the job” done. He is a no-nonsense man who has worked hard to rise through the ranks of SHIELD and who keeps his past to himself. But, as with all characters, we gradually start to learn more about his past and what makes him tick.
In the first season, we learn about the murder of Grant Ward’s family and their abusive nature. We also learn about how he came to be allied with HYDRA and infiltrate SHIELD, through the help (for want of a better word) of John Garrett (played by Bill Paxton), Ward’s mentor. In Season 2, Ward spends much of his screen time trying to reconnect with Skye, giving key operatives to Coulson’s team and waxing philosophical about what kind of man he intends to be for her. As the season progresses, he seems to accept his lack of success and move on.
By the end of Season 2, Ward has started what appears to be a genuine relationship with a Kara Palamas, also known as Agent 33. He works with her to help her overcome her own trauma as a result of HYDRA’s brainwashing. He seems to genuinely care for her future, releasing her back to SHIELD and asking that she be given a fresh start.
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By now, the viewers of the show have a picture of a complex character who is battling with his past and trying to make amends by any means necessary, even if he doesn’t ultimately benefit. It’s as though all the malignant influences that had plagued him for most of his life were finally being let go and he was trying to build himself anew. It seems like the perfect redemption arc, and yet the audience is in for more surprises where SHIELD’s hottest mess is concerned.
So far, we have seen Ward as the follower; the ideal soldier. He takes orders and his mind is always on the primary mission. Suddenly, things abruptly change when he accidentally kills Palamas after falling for a subversion by Agent May; a switch is flipped and Ward decides that HYDRA is his future after all. Suddenly, he has thrown all his efforts to the wind and is determined to rebuild the secret organisation. Grant Ward has gone from evil minion and secret spy to evil overlord. Ruthless, cold, calculating, and uncaring.
So are all these changes messy writing? Did the writers lose his character bible, or can they simply not decide what they want to do with this character that they really want to keep, and don’t want to make boring? Or maybe they just want to keep their audience guessing.
As inconsistent as Grant Ward’s character may appear to be on the surface, certain traits remain constant: His feelings of betrayal by the whole world and his need to feel that he belongs. Ultimately, if he cannot be accepted by a group of people, he will create a group of people who look to him for acceptance, and he will do this in a way that they understand: Strength, intimidation, and violence. Another constant is his moral ambiguity. His moral code seems to include only one thing, that being loyalty to whomever he feels will keep him grounded, and he will idolise them.
Ward works only for the benefit of his idol. Whether he is doing good or doing evil, for two seasons it has been exclusively for the benefit of that one person. If you are that one, he would tear the world to shreds for you just to build it anew if he thought it was what you wanted. What society says, what human morals say, none of that matters; only the object of his devotion matters. He could save the world or he could destroy it, but it would all be for that one person. Now, having lost the three people that he has fixated on throughout his life (two died, one by his own hand, the third rejected him completely), he is learning to be his own man. He is making his own decisions, finally accepting what Garrett told him all those years ago: “You can’t trust anyone”.
So, what do the writers have in store for Grant Ward in Season 3? Will he undermine HYDRA from within, or will he become the new Big Bad? I think that making him turn out to be ultimately good (if highly messed up) would be a major cop-out for the writers, so my own hope is that he will rise to be the greatest threat that Coulson’s team has ever faced, and that he goes down in a blaze of evil glory. Anything less would not be doing justice to all the violence and havoc which he has wreaked throughout the past two seasons. Either way, I hope the character finds some stability and is able to figure out who he actually wants to be, or at least who he has been all along. Hopefully, this hot mess of a man will make a real mess before we see the last of him.
Jenny Krohn is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @NimthirielRinon.