Grant Ward has returned to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and while fans' opinions of the double agent-turned-Inhuman overload may vary, no one was more excited for the character's revival than star Brett Dalton.
"It was an unexpected surprise for me, after having two deaths on the show I wasn't sure if they were going to bring me back," Dalton recently told ET of returning to the ABC series. "But of course, as soon as [they] called, I was like, you had me at hello. I'm always happy to have an opportunity to work with those guys, they're my family... So whatever they want me to do, I'm game."
The actor's portrayal of Ward began in season one, when the gruff, anti-social S.H.I.E.L.D. agent was eventually revealed to be HYDRA infiltrator. After spending the next two seasons terrorizing and antagonizing his former teammates, Ward was killed by Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the middle of season three.
But that wasn't the end of Dalton's time on the show, as the villainous agent's lifeless body was inhabited by Hive, an ancient, parasitic lifeform created by HYDRA, whose main motive was to return to Earth and raise an army of Inhumans to overthrow S.H.I.E.L.D. The actor's second on-screen death came when newbie agent Lincoln Campbell (Luke Mitchell) sacrificed himself to save Ward's ex Daisy (Chloe Bennet) and the world, flying Hive into space and detonating a nuclear warhead.
Now, in the alternate Framework reality created by Dr. Radcliffe (John Hannah) -- where the absolution of each character's greatest regret has led to a world in which HYDRA overtook S.H.I.E.L.D. -- Ward is back as yet another version of himself.
"This one is different, because it's similar enough to be confusing at times, for me to play," Dalton admitted. "But [it's] different enough that it's kind of this really fun combination of all the iterations up until now. He's not the guy in season one who didn't play well with others and was clean-shaven, or anything like that. He's still a capable agent."
And still a double agent, as it turns out. But this time around, Dalton explained, that "actually makes me a good guy."
"Now that HYDRA has taken over the world in the Framework, by being a double agent, which should be a bad thing, he's actually a good guy, protecting the Inhumans whose rights have been systematically taken away," he added of his character, who is once again involved with Daisy (though in this reality, she's still known as Skye). "I think that the fun in watching this character and the whole story unfold is that we're still unsure. Every once in awhile there's enough twists and turns in there that, just when we think we can trust him, there will be some small thing that maybe makes us or [the characters] question our loyalties to him."
While Ward seems to be a good guy this time around, Dalton admitted that he's had fun watching co-stars Iain De Caestecker and Ming-Na Wen inhabit their evil Framework alter egos.
"I think that they're both doing an incredible job," he said of Wen and De Caestecker's performances, joking, "Or maybe they'd just seen how it was supposed to be done."
In the Framework reality, Wen's Melinda May has turned to the dark side as a high-level HYDRA operative, while De Caestecker's Fitz has transformed from a mild-mannered engineering genius to Madame Hydra's lover and second-in-command, a ruthless killer known as The Doctor.
"Fitz, in particular… it's a complete, 180-degree turn from who [Iain] is in real life, but also the character that he's developed over four seasons," Dalton marveled. "It's pretty awesome to see him all of a sudden just dead behind the eyes and menacing and a force. I think that's a really exciting thing to see."
While many of the characters inside the Framework are alternate versions of their real-world selves, Dalton confirmed that "Grant Ward, as we know and love him, is no longer" in the outside world, which adds even more mystery to the character's alternate reality existence.
"In some ways, the stakes might be even higher because there's not a real-world equivalent," he hinted of his character's new arc. "He exists in the Framework. Not to say that it's an impossibility, since we are in a comic world, that he would stay there forever, but as far as we know, he only exists in the Framework. This is his life. He doesn't know of a life outside."
The actor was more coy, however, when it came to an explanation of Ward's greatest regret, the life-changing moment that was altered to construct his existence within the Framework.
"You will have a better understanding of that in future episodes," Dalton teased. "It's part of the conversation in the future, so I don't want to give it away too much. That question will be answered."
He was, however, as certain as Bennet that the conclusion of S.H.I.E.L.D's Framework storyline at the end of season four will cause fans to "lose their sh*t."
"I think that we can expect a very satisfactory conclusion to this story arc/pod that we have developed here," said the actor, who witnessed fans' reactions to the first Framework episode at WonderCon earlier this month. "I think fans are going to love it… They're going to lose it even more with how we tie things up."
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.