Grant Ward’s allegiance is a mystery no more. In the Season 2 finale of “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” Brett Dalton’s character took the reins at Hydra as a means to get the “closure” that’s been his driving motivations for a full season.
In some ways, the first two seasons of “Agents of SHIELD” acted as a supervillain origin story for Ward — just like the first season-and-a-half set up the superhero origin story of Chloe Bennet’s Skye. Though some fans are disappointed that Ward didn’t get a redemptive arc, Dalton is thrilled at the opportunity to play a villain who is not only complex but who audiences have seen be a “good guy.”
During a lengthy conversation with Zap2it, Dalton discusses his response to the finale’s Hydra twist, what he hopes it means for Ward and how much fans can expect to see him in Season 3.
Zap2it: How did you feel about Ward’s turn in the finale?
Brett Dalton: I think it’s exciting to take a character who in Season 1 was the muscle of the group and, in some ways, the one we knew the least about, and who seemed like he just had a bad attitude but was really a hard-working good guy underneath it all. To take that person, who was part of the original six, and to make him now the head of the evil organization that’s now working against SHIELD, I think is pretty amazing. He’s had an incredible arc, and I think it’s good for him to go from one of the original cast members to now the Big Bad. It’s been quite a journey. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun to play.
People have been very torn about Ward, and tend to view him as black and white. But in Season 2, he’s been in a gray area. Do you think the finale knocks him more toward the black side, or do you think he still resides in that gray area?
It seems like something has snapped, and it seems that moral ambiguity that he may have had is gone. I would say that that is a good point. He has been in that gray area for a while, and with the death of 33 [Maya Stojan] it seems he’s a completely different person now. He’s crossed over into the dark side, and I’m not sure that there’s any getting him back. We’ll have to see. We have a whole other season to explore that as well, but it definitely seems like whatever he is, he’s out for vengeance now. He’s crossed over for sure. We’ll have to see where Season 3 picks up and where he decides to go.
If we were to track his progression, this guy was an embedded guy, meets somebody, has this relationship that he didn’t anticipate to have, and he knew that’s a weakness of his; that he actually does have a heart. And then, despite his best efforts, she wasn’t able to really forgive him for this. Then he has this new relationship with Agent 33 where she’s incredibly devoted to him and he seems devoted to her, and they seem to be on this chaotic path of closure — and then he’s burned a second time now, and I’m not sure if he can allow that anymore.
The second you say “I’m not sure that there’s any getting him back,” it automatically feels like a challenge for the writers of, OK, how do we bring him back from that point and make him a character who’s a good guy?
I think it’s a brilliant thing that the writers have shown his backstory. I have been surprised that I have people who seem to be standing with Ward no matter what he does. I think people feel like they’ve seen the real Grant Ward, and they know that there’s a good guy deep down in there somewhere. I certainly think that’s true as well. They’re getting glimpses of his backstory, of his troubled childhood and all these other things that have led him to who he is today.
I just think that it’s incredible that there are people out there who just seem to be following this character wherever he goes. I think that’s brilliant. I’ll take some credit [laughs] for the acting part, but also the writers have allowed this guy to be an incredibly complex, completely unpredictable character. There isn’t any character like him on the show, and I would say even within the Marvel canon. It seems like they’re creating this person who flip-flops all of the time. … I think the writers are really good with that. As soon as you think you know who he is, he’ll turn that assumption on a dime and all of the sudden you’re sitting there wondering who he is again.
In the finale, Kara says “Stand with Ward,” which is sort of the catchphrase for the real-life Ward support movement. Can you talk about how that made it into the script?
I think it’s like the coolest fan shoutout I can imagine. I was surprised. I was reading the script and I was like, “Wait a minute!” All that was missing is the hashtag. I think that is just a testament to the fans, this incredibly loyal fanbase that has now influenced the script of our show. That’s a huge, huge thing that I never could have imagined, and yet the writers are taking a cue from what’s happening in real life and now putting that in the show. Not even just a show, not even just snuck in there, but it’s in our two-hour season finale. I think that it’s an Easter egg on one level for the people who are aware of the Ward Warriors, but it’s also a wink to the fans that have created the campaign in the first place.
The theme of the episode for Ward was closure, and fans got some themselves when they learned he actually did kill Buddy the dog. Were you surprised by that revelation?
I know, there was a debate. It seems like the character Grant Ward is obsessed with this idea of closure. It wasn’t enough for him to get it to himself. He also feels like Agent 33 needs her own sense of closure, and then at the end we also find out Kara never received that herself, and so he’s taken it upon himself to make sure she does get that.
Is that how you interpret that final “closure” line?
Yeah. I guess it can be open to interpretation. The idea of closure is incredibly important to him, and I think that speaks to his ability to rewrite his own history. He does have a past, but it seems like at times we’re never really sure what was the truth of that. There was the episode with his brother the senator. We would hear the senator’s side of the story, and we’d hear Grant Ward’s side of the story, and those two scenes would play against each other. We never really found the truth of how that story actually went down. We heard two people’s sides of it, and then I ended up killing my brother and my family, so we’ll never get to hear their sides of it or exactly what happened.
It seems like at times he picks and chooses from his past what will help him, I guess, in moving forward. We get glimpses of it and we get people’s sides of their story, but I’m not sure if we’ll ever really get the exact truth of what happened. The past seems, for Ward, like something he can pull from when he needs to, or rewrite when he doesn’t like what has happened before.
It’s a little surprising that of all the places Ward could go, he went back to Hydra. Why did he choose that, and is he really the top of the food chain?
Maybe he saw a business opportunity and he took it. He saw that they were failing in the leadership department and decided to elect himself. The way I look at it, if we go back to the whole idea of closure, he probably sees a lack of closure in the world around him. It’s not just Kara’s story that he’s trying to tie up, but he also probably sees injustice all around him, and that there are things that need closure. If he has to join an evil organization in order to see that through, I guess he has to.
With you coming back as a series regular in Season 3, do you imagine you’ll get more screen time than you did in Season 2?
This season was really different, but I think it had to be. The first season I was part of the original six, going through all these missions, and then three-quarters of the way I’m a spy and you can’t really use me as much. I think moving forward I will probably have a bigger role than I did in this season. I’m not sure how much I can say about that.
Having a villain as a main part of a story can be fascinating. “Daredevil” just proved that with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, who is the best part of that series.
I agree. He played the role so well. And I think that now you have to earn a bad guy who has that much screen time. There needs to be a relationship with the heroes of the story, and there needs to be a compelling enough backstory. It can’t just be a villain of the week, or a mustache-twirling, cat-petting bad guy. If you were to just see him when he pops in and sort of does his bad guy stuff and monologues all the time, it’s just not terribly interesting.
Grant Ward, I think, has earned that because he was a good guy. There’s this whole big backstory that we know about, there have been so many twists and turns, so now it’s not just a new bad guy popping up. It’s a bad guy who used to be a good guy popping up, and that’s infinitely more fascinating, and something that I think would deserve much more screen time.
Now that you are calling Ward the Big Bad, is there any end for his story other than death? Is that too morbid?
[Laughs] It’s not too morbid. It’s something that’s certainly the fear of any actor. I’ve had that fear since I started “SHIELD”; it’s a Joss Whedon [show], and I know not all his characters survive. That’s just the reality. I would much rather have him come to end in an interesting way rather than have him just be a fixture on the show that is just kind of there. If it serves the story and it makes the most interesting story, then maybe that’s it. But they’ve been teasing the whole idea of if he’s a good guy or if he’s a bad guy for so long. He is, I guess, officially a total bad guy now, and the head of the bad guys, but I think there’s always that chance. I think what keeps you tuning in every week is there’s still that chance that he might still be a good guy underneath all of that.
OK, last question: What do you hope for Grant Ward in Season 3?
The last scene does signal a new direction for Ward, just as Agent 33 is picking him up and walking off with him [in the Season 2 fall finale] was a new direction as well. I like this idea of someone who is so hurt that he feels that he needs to hurt the rest of the world. There is a wrong that he feels like he needs to correct, and it doesn’t matter how many people have to go down in the process, he is going to do it. What we were trying to do in the last scene, and I think that we got there, is that with this person there isn’t the question of, “What do I do anymore?” At the end of Season 1, after Garrett died, there was an episode that I call the “Hamlet” episode which [asked that question]. That’s no longer here.
I feel what we have now is someone who really has crossed the line, who has nothing to do anymore. That’s a really fascinating place to be. One of the things that the director was talking about was [Ward’s] so far gone that his pulse doesn’t even change. … He has a plan, he knows how to execute it, and there’s a kind of coldness in there that is scary that I’d like to really explore in Season 3; somebody who doesn’t have those questions, who isn’t in a relationship with someone else, who is just a man with vengeance on his mind. I think that’s fascinating to play, and that’s where I think Season 3 will hit the ground running. This is just the beginning of a whole other chapter, and that’s what I think is so exciting. When you do have a character that is this far gone, to see a glimmer of maybe he is still a good guy, that would be fun too just to remind people — or just to confuse them even more.