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Warning: Spoilers for the “Absolution” and “Ascension” episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
And just like that, it was over. Not with a bang — there wasn’t enough atmosphere that high up to make much noise — but not with a whimper, either. Grant Ward, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most dogged adversary, tries to enslave all of Earth, but instead dies in the vacuum of space far above it. We spoke with Brett Dalton about leaving the show after three years, how he feels about his exit, and what it would take to get him back.
Hive gets to do a lot in the final two episodes, but Dalton says his favorite scene is when he’s floating with Lincoln just before the explosion. “It’s really a touching scene,” says the actor. Staring down at the world, all of the hatred that has fueled Hive appears to drain away. “Of course you’re going to have perspective on your life and what you’ve done with it and what you’ve managed to achieve and what you haven’t.”
It’s an especially poignant experience for the character on screen: For thousands of years, Hive has only experienced one-way connections with people. And now, “These two people who aren’t normally in a scene and don’t really have any business sharing their own feelings with each other — suddenly, they’re up there and that’s exactly what they’re doing.” It’s an unusual moment for an action show, even one as comfortable with quiet moments as S.H.I.E.L.D. “We’re in this strange, dire circumstance and both of us are being incredibly self-reflective,” says Dalton. “It was such a strange, unlikely scene with these guys, but at the same time, really vulnerable, really moving.”
“I knew it wasn’t going to last forever,” continues Dalton about the role of Hive. “But it doesn’t make it any less sad.” He didn’t have Daisy’s clear vision of a floating cross, but still. “I kind of had a feeling when they called me into the office the third time — because they’ve done this twice before with the other big, significant changes for the character. But this time, I thought ‘Aw, man. There’s something different about this one.'”
“I was sad to see him go,” says Dalton, but he’s glad to have had most of the last twelve episodes with the character. “I got to have a journey with Hive,” and though he would have liked more time with him, “I trust in the writers. They’ve made the most interesting choice and always have… I’d much rather be in service of that than to be wearing out my welcome in season 4.”
So will he be back? It’s a tricky question — especially in this genre. In comic books, nobody is ever really dead, and Grant Ward — whose ribcage was cracked like a spatchcocked chicken just half a season ago — is a textbook example of that. Marvel places so much value on secrecy that Dalton wouldn’t tell us even if there were plans to see his face on S.H.I.E.L.D. again. So when we ask, the actor opts for the diplomatic response: “I love these guys so much. I would come back in a heartbeat if that’s the most interesting storyline. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
A fun way to bring Ward and/or Hive back would be with the LMDs that were dropped as an easter egg right at the end of the episode. In the comics, Holden Radcliffe (John Hannah) designs the titular android in Machine Teen, but on TV, the writers have made him the creator of Life Model Decoys — lifelike androids with a long history of impersonating people in Marvel continuity. “That could mean a million different things,” muses Dalton. “It would all depend on if S.H.I.E.L.D. got to that technology first or Hydra did.” And the possibilities extend far beyond a return for Dalton, as he notes that he’s not the only person who’s died on the show. “They could bring back B.J. [Britt, who played Trip]. They could bring back Bill Paxton. They could bring back Powers Boothe.”
Dalton has his fingers crossed that he returns. “It would be worth it just to see the look on Clark Gregg’s face,” he laughs, “Agent Coulson’s face as he sees Hive — the problem that just won’t go away!” At this point, it’s probably up to the audience. “The reason we have this TV show is because fans loved Coulson so much, they were tagging #CoulsonLives and all that stuff,” says Dalton. “If my fans start tagging #HiveLives and #HiveSurvives, I think I just might make it back!” Okay fans, on your marks, get set, tweet!