Ward isn’t the man you thought he was (Episode 1×17: Turn, Turn, Turn)
We’d had a long time to get to know Grant Ward by this point, and we thought we had him all worked out. He was the serious secret agent with a weakness for the family he’d found for himself on the Bus. He’d gone from the guy in the pilot episode, who offered to shoot first and ask questions later, to the man who worked so well in a team. We’d seen him gradually turn from the robot that Skye accused him of being to the man who shared a laugh with his friends and put his life on the line for them. He was Agent Grant Ward, and we trusted him. So did they.
In a brief moment of happiness, perhaps one of the few Ward ever had, Skye kissed him for the first time. This was the lead into what is still one of my favourite action sequences ever seen on the show: brilliant fight choreography showcasing Brett’s expanding range as an action star. We saw Ward apparently digest the information that his mentor was one of the architects of SHIELD’s undoing, as he shared looks of hopelessness with members of the team, before leaving on his mission to ensure that Garrett got what he deserved. Just when I thought that it was done, and that SHIELD had found their mole, the show finally played their trump card.
On a small jet with John Garrett, Victoria Hand, and two guards, we finally met the real Grant Ward. Hand delivers a stark monologue outlining the many ways in which Garrett has betrayed both SHIELD and Ward. There’s an incredible moment where see something change in Ward’s eyes as he weighs the gun in his hand. It’s as though he’s coming to terms with his destiny and what must be done to survive. Then, just as you think he’s going to finish Garrett off, he does the complete opposite. A bullet each for the guards, another two for Hand, and Grant Ward stands with features almost devoid of any emotion, revealing his true allegiance for the first time. It was phenomenal acting and a never-to-be-repeated shocking twist which changed the show forever. It was all Grant Ward, the perfect soldier, finally becoming the weapon John Garrett always meant him to be.
Ward’s long march to freedom (Episode 2×06: A Fractured House)
Ward’s life up to this point in season two has been lived in a cage. He’s a prisoner of war as far as SHIELD is concerned, and he’s treated as such. He wears on his skin the marks that tell a story of hopelessness louder than words ever could. He hoards his intel like it’s gold dust, doling it out a little at a time in return for an audience with Skye. It’s a far cry from the man who stood defiant in front of Coulson and May at the end of season one, reconciled to his choices and fighting to the last. But he still has a mission, he’s a soldier and there’s always another battle to fight.
The whole episode has been spent throwing doubt on Ward’s entire history. This is something which became more pronounced as season two, and subsequently season three, progressed. At this stage we had a background for Ward. We knew who he was. He’d made terrible choices with terrible consequences, but we knew where he came from. It wasn’t an excuse, but it was a reason. And then this episode brought us Senator Christian Ward. And with him came doubt. Suddenly there was a whole new side to the story of Grant Ward and it was up to the audience, much as it was up to Coulson and SHIELD, to decide which brother to believe. Coulson ultimately elects to use Ward as a bargaining chip in a much bigger game, and Ward’s background then becomes largely irrelevant to anyone but Ward.
Ward, however, doesn’t want to be a pawn in anyone’s game. He wants to be the master of his own destiny. And, for all Coulson’s words of warning, Grant Ward is still the man trained by SHIELD to be the best since Romanoff. He’s still a man to be feared. I loved the entire sequence starting from Ward’s march out of the vault. He walks past the team that he betrayed in so many ways, and the depth of the emotion from everyone is palpable. There’s the voiceover from Christian Ward, speaking of light and dark and the evil that hides within, telling of the traitors in our midst, and through it all, Grant Ward is paraded past the people that used to love him. Every look that’s shared tells a story. The disgust from Trip. The disappointment from Fitz. The final plea from Ward to Skye as he truly sees how thoroughly he’s broken his former team. Then a beautiful act of defiance from Jemma before a sack finally hides the team from Ward’s sight.
Standing in an underground parking lot, Coulson delivers a warning to his troops about Ward. They’re dealing with one of the most dangerous men they’ll ever meet and Coulson knows it. He believes that Ward is a threat, even handcuffed and unarmed. Of course, he’s right. Ward’s been training for this ever since he realised SHIELD wasn’t going to let him kill himself. He’s been waiting for his chance to take control of his own destiny again. We watch as Ward takes a deep, steadying breath, before effortlessly taking out the heavily armed guards beside him. The sheer physicality in this scene reminds you that Ward is truly a threat even when it seems as though there’s no way he can overcome the odds. It’s what makes him the man he is. It’s why, ultimately, Coulson makes the choices he does. He’s seen enough to be afraid of what Ward could become.
Ward’s slow march to death (Episode 3×10: Maveth)
So everything Ward has done brings us here. To a blue planet on the other side of the universe. To the home of an unnamed destroyer of worlds and a place that we’ve just been unexpectedly informed that Hydra’s origins lie. Ward has finally reached a place where he’s pure purpose. There’s no emotion left. The lesson that John Garrett started all those years ago, that feelings are a weakness, has brought us to this moment, with a Grant Ward who has bought in to the new Hydra mythology without murmur. It’s an abrupt change for a character who always seemed to hope that maybe he could one day make people understand him. But perhaps it’s understandable in the face of everything he’s lost. Malick has finally turned him back into the soldier he’s always been most comfortable as. He has a mission and it’s familiar territory for Ward. It’s nothing personal.
I should say that much of what I’ve loved about Ward is the complexity of the character, and a lot of that has been converted into the narrative making the choices for me this season. It’s not a direction that I particularly enjoyed, but it does make for some interesting parallels in this episode when viewing the actions of the “good guys”. Ward’s monologue about finding a greater purpose was artfully delivered, but raised more questions about Ward’s state of mind than it gave me answers about anything. And it was all overlayed with the threat of continued violence from Coulson.
It feels as though we’ve had a huge number of reminders of the “good old days” of season one leading up to this point. The montage of scenes from last week’s episode nearly made this list purely by virtue of the fact that they served to remind us that there was a time when Ward believed that he could be forgiven by a man who constantly spoke of second chances. This episode was no different. Although much of the action took place on an alien planet, it felt more like familiar ground than this show has since late season two. Ward and Fitz on a mission with Skye and Simmons as their only chance of making it home? Someone Jemma Simmons loves turning out not to be who you thought? Someone allowing their emotions to destroy their world? Check, check, and check.
In the distance we have Fitz, struggling to prevent the unknown Hydra Inhuman threat from entering our world (and I should say that it was a great moment seeing Fitz battle to complete his own mission in a way that Ward would be proud of), but front and center is the fight that’s been a long time coming. The parallels are undeniable. Coulson’s vision of Rosalind is what drives him to ultimately become everything he used to fight against – a murderer hell bent on revenge. As Ward takes his last breath, Coulson finally becomes a man exactly like Grant Ward, one who will go to any lengths to complete his mission.
It’s an interesting choice to have Fitz be the silent onlooker here. The man bearing witness to the scene is almost unrecognisable as the person Ward almost killed in a pod that sank to the bottom of the ocean. He’s hardly the same guy who had a panic attack as he sucked the air from Ward’s cell as retaliation in early season two. And yet he’s the one staring as Coulson finally steals the air from Ward’s lungs in a very final way. But you don’t get the sense that Fitz feels any kind of closure as Ward finally dies on a distant planet, so very far from where his journey started. It seems somehow fitting to me that the person who once believed that Ward ‘the friend’ could overcome Ward ‘the weapon’ is the one to see that revenge makes monsters of us all.
And so Grant Ward’s journey ends at the hand of a man who used to give everyone second chances, but never truly believed that Ward was capable of change. It’s a bittersweet reminder that Grant Ward chose this path because he finally believed that there was never truly enough good inside of him. It seems rather ironic that Coulson’s actions will be what leads to Hydra getting their own second chance at destroying the world, whilst inhabiting the body of Grant Ward. I’ve never been so delighted to see a parasite as I was when Malick’s car headlights lit up Ward’s newly undead face, but it’s never going to truly be the same.
I’ll leave you with this from General Talbot:
“It’s always a shame when a good soldier falls.”
Goodbye Grant Ward. We’re going to miss you.