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Agents of SHIELD bosses on death twist and what's next

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ABC/Richard Cartwright

Warning: This story contains major spoilers from the season finale of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Read at your own risk!

The prophecy that one of S.H.I.E.L.D’s own would die came to fruition in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale, but — twist! — that wasn’t the only death.

After a game of hot potato of death with Yo-Yo’s necklace, it was revealed who ended up in the space-bound quinjet: Lincoln (Luke Mitchell), who was also joined by Hive (Brett Dalton). Yes, both Lincoln and Hive have died, with Mitchell and Dalton no longer series regulars. (Read our postmortems with Mitchell here and Dalton here. Plus: The cast reacts to those deaths on set here.)

However, the double dose of death wasn’t the only twist in the two-hour finale. After preventing Hive from dispersing the serum that would turn most of humanity into Primitives, a.k.a. swayed Inhumans, S.H.I.E.L.D. went through some changes.

A flash forward to six months later revealed a very emo Daisy (Chloe Bennet) on the run, helping Inhumans and being tracked by S.H.I.E.L.D., which Coulson (Clark Gregg) is no longer the director of. What?! EW turned to executive producers Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeph Loeb and Jeff Bell to get the scoop on what’s next:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What came with the decision to have Lincoln be the Fallen Agent?

JEPH LOEB: It was the most heartbreaking decision.

JEFF BELL: He earned it.

MAURISSA TANCHAROEN: He did earn it. With Lincoln, like Daisy, he has always struggled to find a place to belong. He found a place in Afterlife and realized, “No, not so much.” Then he was floating on his own. Then right when we see that he is finally at home with S.H.I.E.L.D., he’s given himself over to them and he’s committed to the cause, and he also admits to himself that he can’t offer Daisy anything — I mean all these things that gain him points…

BELL: After what she felt with Hive, and as Hive says to him, “She thought she loved you until she was with me, and she understood what it truly means to be connected and to belong,” which is true. As an Inhuman who has been swayed, these people truly feel better than they’ve ever felt.

JED WHEDON: It’s the addiction metaphor. He’s someone who has gone through it. The other thing that the decision was based on was that we don’t want to be a body count show, but it is a real world with real stakes. What we had not done is the heroic death and the full-sacrifice death. This was a conscious decision. We also think that there’s a poetry in the fact that the person doing it doesn’t consider himself a hero. That’s the beauty of the moment — it’s not just for her, but it is, and it’s not just for him, but it is.

BELL: We say every Inhuman has a purpose. We thought Lash was to stop Hive, but it was to save Daisy. He gets to a place where he knows what his purpose is now.

WHEDON: And he knows hers is something else. It’s the most romantic gesture, it’s the most heroic gesture, and it comes from someone who doesn’t believe he’s any of those things. That, to us, was heartbreaking, and sometimes that’s what we’re trying to do. At the same time, we’ve done that a lot with FitzSimmons. I think everybody who sees FitzSimmons getting together are going, “Oh no,” because they’re used to joy being the lob-up for the spike of sadness. We don’t want to be a show that’s mired in that kind of heartbreak, but we wanted to have that moment, and we felt like we’d get it from him, and boy did we. We feel like we had to earn it and give him a lot of stuff to do in the last episodes to get it to a place where the audience is rooting for him but not sure where they stand. Then, by the end, you do not want him to go.

BELL: You wanted it to be the most painful, the most meaningful, otherwise why do it?

LOEB: I do love when he says at the very end, “I got to save the girl, I got to save the world.” It’s the best.

That final scene with Daisy and Lincoln on the comms seemed to mirror Captain America: The First Avenger with Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. Was that on purpose?

WHEDON: No. [Laughs.]

BELL: No, actually someone else pointed that out recently and I went, “No, we suck.”

WHEDON: There’s something heartbreaking about not being able to be face-to-face with the person.

TANCHAROEN: And having the comms be the lifeline to the other person.

WHEDON: Something heartbreaking about, “I can’t even see you right now. I’m losing my connection, and I’m being pulled away from you.” It’s the reason that Captain America did it and other movies do it, “I just want to see your face and I can’t.” It’s not like, this is your last goodbye; we didn’t even get one. So that’s the idea behind it.

BELL: The other part of it, beyond their tearful goodbye, there’s a really beautiful moment between Hive and Lincoln where they’re in this together. Lincoln is like, “If you want to turn me now, I guess.” “No, that’s all right.”

WHEDON: They’re sort of resigned.

BELL: It’s these two guys who have been on the opposite sides both realizing they’re going to meet the end, and there’s a real beauty in how they come together. For Hive, it’s this notion of, “I’ve never experienced death; this will be interesting.” For Lincoln looking down on this small planet: “Well, I’ve always wanted to see the world.” To me, that scene is really as beautiful and poetic as the Daisy-Lincoln one.  

WHEDON: It’s heartbreaking for us. In a lot of series, characters will come and go based on the actors. You’ll have an actor who suddenly dies on a show. You go, “That was a weird story point,” but then you hear stories about how that person behaved and you go, “Oh, I know why they did that.” Whereas, this decision is story based.

TANCHAROEN: So it’s a very hard decision to come to.

WHEDON: We hate seeing these two go. They’re both a pleasure to work with.

What about for Hive?

WHEDON: There’s a different emotion for both [deaths]. You haven’t been rooting —

BELL: There are some people who are still rooting for Grant Ward.  

LOEB: #StandWithWard.

WHEDON: But he’s been the antagonist, he’s been truly evil, and he’s done terrible things, but you’ve spent your three years with him. Regardless of whether or not you like the character, like what he’s become, love to hate him, hate to love him or whatever it is, he’s been there since the beginning. While one is getting the full hero treatment and the hero’s death, the other one, who’s our villain, is being taken out, but he’s been on the show since the beginning; he’s one of the first people we cast.

BELL: He was the first guy we shot [on set].

WHEDON: It’s emotional here right now. His last line is, “I only wanted to feel a connection, and you must feel that already to sacrifice for them.” That’s Ward, too. Ward always wanted that. He didn’t know how to do that. He’s talking to the guy who got the girl that he didn’t get, who had a connection with her, and is sacrificing for her. There’s a lot in that moment.

BELL: Luke’s been here for a year and a half. Brett really was plucked from obscurity and came onto the show, first gig, super green, stepped up.

TANCHAROEN: We were his first screen test, I believe. And he was the first guy on set that we shot in that giant empty hanger on day 1. That was his first day.

BELL: To watch him grow up, mature as an actor and make the turn from square guy to dark Hydra agent who shot Victoria Hand, and then going from that to watch him being manipulated by others to come into his own.

WHEDON: And yet you’re still rooting for him, still being appealing while he’s being evil. Then going through the wringer of season 2, trapped, then the villain, then the supervillain. Now he’s gone through another transformation, and he’s fielded it all.

TANCHAROEN: You can’t really sustain an antagonist for very, very long, but with him, we’ve been able to. It’s just a testament to how much we like Brett Dalton the actor and how much he also brought to the table.

At the same time, given Ward’s death in the midseason finale, did you feel like you had to kill Hive?

BELL: Yeah, the question is…

TANCHAROEN: Where do you go from here when he is the ultimate evil? We were basically saying he is the incarnation of the first evil.

BELL: Unless they wake up from a dream…

TANCHAROEN: Yeah, if we were to try to continue his arc, there will be many people who are like, “Come on guys, let go already.”

WHEDON: Also, the one way you can generate more story is redemption. It was important for us from the beginning with Ward not to do that, because the thing that made the turn feel legitimate and made it impactful was that it was real. We never wanted to buy him back. That being said, we bought him back in little bites. He never lied to Skye when he was in prison, but we always played with, “Is he going to?” Ultimately, he’s the baddie. We literally took him to another planet and have him possessed by something even more evil. We felt like we had to defeat him also so we can move on to other things we want to do next year.

How much guilt do you think Daisy feels in the wake of Lincoln’s death? While she’s dealing with that guilt, she was also ready to sacrifice herself, so how does that change her?

WHEDON: Even after it happened, if she could’ve chosen, she would’ve chosen option A, where she would not have to live with any of this pain and she doesn’t have to live with any decisions and she was the one who did the heroic act to solve all the problems she created. She would definitely choose that option.

TANCHAROEN: That very question is what we’ll explore in season 4.

LOEB: The hardest thing for a hero to accept is if they fail in what they believe is the ultimate resolution to the problem and then someone else sacrifices themselves, they then have to continue on and live with that. One of the things that the writers have done so extraordinarily well is maintain a truth in all of our characters, so that you’re not just following the story as it currently is, you’re following the story of this young woman who came on the show originally as a hacker that was trying to get into S.H.I.E.L.D. and find out the truth about her parents in a van, and now has come to a place in her life where she’s a powered person who is a capable team leader and realizes that there are no easy decisions. It’s the thing that Coulson knows in his heart, which is that every single time you make a decision to save people, you run the risk that someone is going to get hurt.

Why the six-month time jump?

WHEDON: We’ve done it each season, so we just wanted to do it a little early. It happens in the room where sometimes you’re discussing a problem with story or character and you can’t come up with a solution, sometimes that solution is to put all of that that you just talked about on screen. We’ve done it with Malick. We decided to have Hive ask him that and make that the story. After that has happened, after that emotional ending, which hopefully will be as impactful as it was as writing it and talking about it, there’s that question of: What’s the next scene? What’s next? How do you follow? One of the solutions is to go [with a flash forward].

BELL: Coulson’s arc this season was about a man who struggles with losing his humanity. By the end, he’s also willing to sacrifice himself, or at least seemingly so. He had a hologram there, but he put himself in harm’s way in trying to right what happened. FitzSimmons were torn apart at the beginning, spent the year coming together, and now they’re this couple. They’ve had a nice arc. We can go through that with everyone. Mack and Yo-Yo are beginning with something and May has come back into the fold and accepted her role next to Coulson. We’ve done those arcs, but we still have a lot of plot. Emotionally, their arcs are done. What the jump lets you do is to do a reset. Game of Thrones picked up exactly where they left off last season, so they have to pick up every [story line]. It allows us to put down a lot of old plot and pick up a lot of new.

WHEDON: Which we would’ve done in episode 1 next year, but what we wanted to do was tease.

TANCHAROEN: We’ve trying to put a spin on our usual cliffhanger.

Kelsey McNeal/ABC

Daisy has gone totally goth and is on the run. She’s not with S.H.I.E.L.D. She’s with the family of the Inhuman who gave her the premonition in the first place. What’s going on there?

TANCHAROEN: She’s keeping a promise.

WHEDON: She did promise that she would take care of them. She set out to take care of Inhumans, even though it morphed into a leadership role.

TANCHAROEN: I think it’s maybe an example of what she may be doing now. Lincoln said, “I think you’re meant for more than this.” I don’t think she’s going to take his sacrifice lightly and crawl up in a ball — maybe she did for a while — about what that meant. She didn’t get to do the one heroic act that would erase all that she had done, so now she’s going to have to do a ton of little ones for the rest of her life.

TANCHAROEN: With that six-month jump, we know a few things going into season 4. We know that she’s on her own, we know that S.H.I.E.L.D. is going after her, and we also know that while being on her own, she’s still doing good works, and that’s keeping an Inhuman that meant a lot to her, because he made her see the future. She said, “I’ll take care of your daughter.” She’s following through. We still know at her core, even though she’s riddled with guilt and she looks different, she still has Daisy’s heart.

LOEB: And also, in many ways, we’ve come back to —

WHEDON: — who she was.

LOEB: The girl who she was on the very beginning, which is someone on her own trying to find her place in the world, and trying to do it without S.H.I.E.L.D.

What is the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. dealing with? They spent the last five episodes of the season trying to save her, and now she’s not with them anymore. I have to imagine some of them aren’t happy about that.

TANCHAROEN: Uh-huh. That’s right.

WHEDON: You’ll have to imagine it.

LOEB: That’s a fun thing to imagine.

BELL: And Coulson’s no longer director.

Yeah, what’s going on there?

TANCHAROEN: I don’t know. Do you know why?

WHEDON: The first scene of next season is they turn to each other and go, “Just kidding, you’re still the director.” [Laughs.]

BELL: We just call everybody director now.

Does that tie at all to Coulson’s reluctance with the Sokovia Accords or why they’re going after Daisy and Coulson’s reticence to be a part of that?

LOEB: Let’s just say that as a result of what’s happened, there will be some changes that happened to the organization.

With all that’s happened, is this the end of Secret Warriors, or is there still hope for it in the future?

BELL: We’ve got cool people with punchy powers, so we don’t want that to go away.

WHEDON: They’re in the world, but right now they’re not banded together in any way. There’s always hope in the future.

Dr. Radcliffe has been working on a Marvel staple: Life Model Decoys! Spill!

LOEB: LMD’s have always been part of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s history in the comics so it felt like the right time to intro them into the show. As to how and where and most importantly who, that’s what Season 4 will bring. It does ask that question: Who, or what, can you trust?

Do you plan to have John Hannah around next season?

TANCHAROEN: We like John Hannah.

WHEDON: We like him very much. We love how he interacts with our people.

TANCHAROEN: He’s an interesting character.

Do you have any sense of who might be the new big bad for season 4, especially now that Hydra is really gone?

WHEDON: We’re having those conversations. They’re going nowhere, but we’re having them.

LOEB: Look, what we have is an extraordinary library. The idea is to be able to find out who that’s going to be and make that person work within the story that we have.

For more Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. scoop, read our postmortem with Brett Dalton here and our postmortem with Luke Mitchell here. Plus: The cast reacts to those deaths on set here.