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“Grant! Help me! Grant! Please! Help me! Please! Grant!”
The first ten or so episodes of Agents of SHIELD’s season 1 are widely regarded as boring as hell, but I always come back to rewatch this particular moment from 1x08 The Well. Seeing Thomas desperately beg for his life and Grant running away and coming back with a rope to help only to be stopped by Christian was such a haunting scene to me that immediately sparked my interest over the character of Grant Ward and by extension his family.
The Ward Family has been my particular obsession since that episode, and the big, shocking reveal that Grant Ward was a murderous psychopath mole for HYDRA only furthered it as it became clear as day how much his family life really messed him up. Because they revealed Ward as a villain in the end of season 1 and they deliberately had May break his larynx so he couldn’t utter an apology and thus end the season as that, I figured Villain Ward was in for a while. I expected, then, that they’d be delving into his family life to explain how he became like that in season 2B; as it turns out, I got a bit of it in season 2A already, but I was left incredibly underwhelmed as it seems Christian was not the big evil villain he was seemingly described to that point but someone who’d been just as abused by his parents as Grant was and was reacting to that. Worse, the end of the episode featured the ultimate insult: barely introduced, Christian was already dead and with the parents to boot, both of which we don’t even know the name!
That depressed me to no end. I couldn’t understand why the show would sweep such an intriguing backstory under the rug so quickly. I was left for months with mere dreams of what could have been, what’d be Grant’s relationship with Thomas, the sister, the parents, and lamenting that it was something that I’d never be seeing on screen. Then one day I found myself absently minded reading one very rare fanfiction featuring Thomas. The author chose a rather curious take on the little brother: made him a gifted. I found that interesting, because given how easily Grant handled Christian, being a Specialist and all, it made me realize that to have a more satisfying fight between Grant and Thomas the latter would then necessarily have to be made a Specialist as well, which would be redundant and awfully convenient, or a gifted. I was dwelling at this for a short while, opening myself to the idea of Thomas being a gifted, when an incredible realization struck me like lightning:
“HOLY ****, THAT’S WHO THEY INTEND LINCOLN TO BE – THOMAS WARD!!!!!!!!”
My obsession with the Ward Family was renewed all over again. It was maybe a week or so before “Afterlife” would air, but I immediately cast aside any restriction I was having with the character to the moment – the character was then being portrayed in the media as a boring CW-like obvious love interest - and started to really pay attention to his scenes, looking for clues. With season 2 done, I can honestly say that I’m now VERY confident that I nailed it, that Lincoln is indeed Thomas and I’ll finally be getting the backstory of the Wards I’ve been waiting to see for so long!
But enough with exposure, let’s go to the foundations of theory already!
Physical Appearance and Personality
Naturally, being intrigued as I was on Thomas I had my own vision on how the character would look and act, one that’d be best summed as the perfect hybrid of Ward and Fitz.
Fitz, for all intents and purposes, was effectively Ward’s little brother during season 1, a fact only reinforced by the greatest tragedy of their relationship. When you think about it, it was no coincidence that the betrayal of Fitz by Ward came through dumping the container he and Simmons locked themselves into in the ocean: it was a very deliberate attempt to parallel it with The Well. In this great tragedy, Garrett plays the role of Christian, manipulating Ward into killing his little brother, here played by Fitz, and doing so by dumping him into a deep well (or in this case, the ocean) where he’s fated to die by drowning without external help. It’s self-evident, then, that the very next step to take to heighten this parallel would be to have Thomas have a lot of Fitz in him.
As it turns out, that’s exactly who Lincoln is. Played by Luke Mitchell, Lincoln is tall and athletic built like Ward, is blond like Fitz, has emotional scars from a former life and is prone to being manipulated because of it like Ward, is charismatic, friendly, selfless, intelligent like Fitz and has the same taste in visual appearance as Ward, with both going for unshaved beard and hair spiked up front. Okay, that last bit may be just a coincidence, but a neat one! J
As Lincoln Campbell the character is pretty much meh to me, but as Thomas Ward? Seriously, he’s better than I ever imagined. I originally envisioned Thomas as black haired and wearing glasses as a geeky take on Ward, but choosing blond haired Luke Mitchell for the role really highlights how much Fitz inspired the character’s conception. Fantastic casting all around!
A mere character comparison, of course, wouldn’t be enough to sustain my argument. It was only amazing for me, then, to see the show drop four very subtle and one big in-your-face clues that I’m really onto something:
- "I felt lost before I came here, too, looking for answers in all the wrong places." Lincoln, 2x16 Afterlife. Sounds like how Grant was before Garrett took him under his wing.
- "Dinner with my parents can stress me out, too." Lincoln, 2x18 Frenemy of my Enemy. Yeah, I'm sure it can if your parents were Wards! It's also the only moment in his talk with Skye where he doesn't keep eye contact, which shows how much it’s still a painful subject to him.
- "It's nice having someone normal to talk to." Skye, 2x18 Frenemy of my Enemy. You never say this in a show, Skye, EVER, it always comes back to bite you in the ***.
- "Who the hell's that guy?" Grant, 2x18 Frenemy of my Enemy. The show deliberately wanted Grant to notice Lincoln's existence here. Assuming Grant cut contact with his family at 15-16 years old and age gap between him and Thomas being the same as Brett Dalton and Luke Mitchell then Thomas would be around 13-14 years old at the time, it's very possible that he wouldn't recognize his little brother right away, even more so if he believes Thomas to be dead (more on this later).
- "Are you forgetting your life before we found you?" "Of course I haven't forgotten." Gordon and Lincoln, 2x22 SOS part 2. A life with much pain and suffering before someone took him away from that and gave him purpose? Sounds an awfully much like our own Grant Ward.
I already delved a bit in this in my fifth point above, but I feel I can take it further. As stated, both Grant Ward and Lincoln Campbell share the common backstory of having had a life with much pain and suffering and that only ended when someone, Garrett for Ward and Jiaying for Lincoln, took them away from that and gave them purpose in the form of a larger-than-life organized group, HYDRA for Ward and Inhumans for Lincoln. The parallel in their lives apparently end here, with Ward delving further into his own corruption, effectively becoming a force of destruction, while Lincoln visibly took a more relaxed stance in life. That’s, however, only apparent.
In 2x22 SOS part 2 we have the following dialogue between Gordon and Lincoln:
Gordon: Beautiful, isn't it?
Lincoln: I don't know about beautiful, but I'm guessing it's dangerous.
Gordon: In the wrong hands, lethal to our people. It's better we have control over it.
Lincoln: And what about us? How dangerous are we?
Gordon: Very. We've always been. Now they know it.
Lincoln: What Jiaying did in there was ... that was murder.
Gordon: That was necessary. She'll do whatever's needed to protect our people. You know that better than most. Are you forgetting your life before we found you?
Lincoln: Of course I haven't forgotten.
Gordon: Then you remember how far she went to save you and know how far she will go to save all of us. We're not doing anything that SHIELD itself wouldn't do. They have turned Jiaying's own daughter against us. We have her locked up now, but given how lethal Skye is, it could get worse. You'd be wise to remember that.
This particular scene reeks to me of another, from 1x21 Ragtag:
Garrett: I need you to do something for me.
Ward: Yeah. Anything.
Garrett: Put down Fitz and Simmons.
Ward: What? No. There's plenty of time. I won't leave you.
Garrett: And I'm telling you to cross them off for me. That's not a weakness, is it?
Garrett: Then take care of them. I'll take care of me. I've cheated death plenty of times.
In both cases, we have two people Ward and Lincoln cared about, Garrett and Gordon, ask them things that makes them uneasy and use emotional blackmail to get them to get over their second thoughts. In particular, Gordon’s “You’d be wise to remember that” has pretty much the same effect in Lincoln as Garrett’s “That’s not a weakness, is it” has in Ward: he buries all his doubts about what they’re doing and is pretty much company man the next time we see him:
Lincoln: How did you get out?
Skye: Lincoln. I-I can explain.
Lincoln: Don't bother.
Skye: You've got this wrong... Very wrong. Listen, please.
Lincoln: I just found you trying to reach out to your SHIELD friends. You planning the next assault?
Skye: That attack didn't happen, Lincoln. Jiaying staged the whole thing. She murdered Gonzales, then shot herself to frame SHIELD so we'd follow her to war.
Lincoln: Do you even hear how crazy that sounds? Shot herself?
So we can clearly see right here that Lincoln’s not that much different from Ward in how easily he is manipulated into corrupting himself due to his life experiences. The only reason, I think, that Lincoln managed to not become twisted like Ward is because for all these years that he’s been a part of the Afterlife community Jiaying has played the persona of a wise and benevolent leader who has her subjects’ best interests in mind, so he was allowed to just be himself there. The moment she started showing her true colors, though, he could’ve easily been led into the same destructive path Ward did, but thankfully for him Skye managed to break through his blind loyalty to Jiaying.
Ward and Lincoln’s lives parallel to an almost perfection, how can they NOT be brothers?
What does this mean for Grant Ward?
Chances are, a LOT.
The show has been pretty tight lipped about Grant’s relationship with Thomas so far. All that we know to this point comes down to the following:
- Manipulated by Christian, Grant pushed Thomas down the well. We see Thomas desperately begging Grant for his life. Grant then runs away and comes back bringing a rope, but when he was about to throw it down to Thomas Christian stops him. Only when Christian is far away does he actually do it, and we see tears coming out of his eyes.
- Throughout their youth Christian would force Grant to beat up Thomas for reasons.
And that is what made Grant Ward become so troubled that he’d burn down the family house with one of his brothers inside and get arrested only to end up being recruited by John Garrett for the service of HYDRA.
Of course, the underlying question that hasn’t been answered and that I believe to be key to understand who Grant Ward is as a person is, why? Why does being forced to abuse Thomas “hollows” him out to the point of becoming a murderous psychopath? The potential answer, I think, is simple: he loved Thomas, very, very much. Though they’ve kept the exact age gap between the Brothers unclear, it’s very obvious in 1x08 The Well that it’s substantial between Grant and Christian, likely to be at least ten years given how adult Christian is played by an actor twenty years older than Brett Dalton, and very small between Grant and Thomas. Age plays little to no role in adulthood when you make friends and build new relationships, but when you’re that young it matters a LOT, so it’d only be natural that young Grant and Thomas would be drawn towards each other, the relationship between them being more meaninful than between any of them with Christian, maybe even with the mysterious sister as well. They were, then, each others’ world, so it’d only be logical that the abuse Christian forced Grant to do on Thomas destroyed the brothers’ relationship.
How far destroyed? The answer may very well reside in Gordon’s “then you remember how far she went to save you and know how far she will go to save all of us”, the implication of which, I think, is that him and Jiaying faked Thomas’ death (suicide?) to get him out of his abusive family environment in a most definite way. At this point the relationship between the brothers must’ve been so broken that Thomas didn’t even care to consider the effect his death would have on Grant, but if we take in account the other key event in Grant’s life that led to him becoming a HYDRA agent, the arsoning of the family house, it may very well have been huge.
Being forced to abuse his younger brother, whom he loved very much, broke Grant, tore him apart, but receiving the news of his beloved brother’s suicide? The one person he cared most in the world was gone, and all because of Christian and the parents that didn’t put a stop to the abuse; it was, for Grant, the ultimate straw. He lost all that mattered to him, and all that he had left is his rage, fury, hatred for everyone and everything. He became an avatar of vengeance, a destructive force, furiously stealing a car to drive more than a thousand miles with the deliberate intention to murder the person he considers to be responsible for Thomas’ death: Christian. That plan, to burn down the house with Christian inside, failed, he got arrested for it and the rest is history. In sum, this is why Grant says his family hollowed him out: he loved his little brother very much and lost him forever him, it tears him apart that he played a role in what led Thomas to apparently take his life and he’s been lashing out violently at everything and everyone ever since because of it.
As one can very well see by what I wrote above, Grant’s reunion with Thomas may very well be a defining character moment for Grant Ward, in the same way that undergoing Terrigenesis was for Skye this season. That’s why, I think, the show’s keeping its cards so close to the chest as to what Lincoln’s ultimate purpose in the story is, because the moment Grant meets his little brother again would inevitably mark the end of his days as a villain, his story then becoming more about his relationship with Thomas than actively antagonizing SHIELD. He’d, thus, be on his road to redemption, which most people after the finale firmly reject as a possibility on the assumption that it’d be about either Coulson, Skye, SHIELD or even SkyeWard, but as I never thought of it that way, strongly believing it to be about THOMAS, about doing the right thing for the brother he wronged so much in life, I’ve always thought it’d come no matter what bad things he did in the show, and boy, did he do a lot!
And for the Ward Family as a whole?
The obvious question that’d come with Lincoln being Thomas is: what about the rest of the family, are they Inhumans too? Technically speaking, Thomas could be an affair’s child and the father would be the one with the Inhuman genes, thus he’d be the only Ward who’s Inhuman. I don’t particularly like this angle for two reasons:
- It’d make Thomas too much of a special snowflake in the family. Already potentially bearing so many positive qualities in comparison with Grant and Christian, he’d definitely cross Mary Sue territory if he was the only one with powers;
- It’d dumb down the brothers’ conflict into “my mother loved my little brother more than me because he’s the son of her true love”.
As such, I’d like to think that, yes, ALL Ward siblings and at least one of the parents are potential Inhumans. Two questions, then, arise:
- Will any other Ward undergo Terrigenesis? I think we’d pretty much violating Chekrov’s gun if they do reveal Grant Ward to possess the Inhuman gene and not have him face that at some point next season. Of all the comic book characters the one Grant most closely resembles is arguably Hellfire, who dated Daisy Johnson/Quake (Skye in the series) and became a HYDRA traitor, so giving him fire powers would only reinforce the connection between the characters. That said, I don’t believe for a moment that he’d get them for the sake of getting them. Grant Ward doesn’t strike me as someone who’d be all too eager to adopt Inhuman ideology; should he ever choose to become one of them, undergoing Terrigenesis, I’d again be about Thomas, because his little brother’s in great danger and he feels his specialist skills are not enough to protect him. For everyone else in the Ward Family becoming Inhuman is up in the air.
- Were the Wards as a whole ignorant of their Inhuman lineage or did at least one of the parents knew about it? In other words, do the Wards and the Johnsons, namely Jiaying, have a bigger history with each other than “my son once dated your daughter”? Gordon claims Jiaying saved Lincoln from a terrible past life, so if he’s Thomas they had to know in some level how bad was that, and that could’ve included personally knowing his parents.
So, where do we go from here?
When the show began, almost two years ago, were were presented with four big character mysteries that they intended to explore in the coming seasons: Coulson’s resurrection, Skye’s origins, May’s Bahrain tragedy and Ward’s family conflict. Two seasons later, the first three of those have been answered, leaving only Ward’s family conflict as the dangling thread and I am confident the time has finally come for this to be answered. Season 3, I think, will feature a big focus on it, especially in the latter half, in the same vein that Skye’s origin shaped season 2 and Coulson’s resurrection, season 1. It’s only logical, then, that they’d jump start it by finally introducing Thomas, seeing how crucial the younger brother may very well be to understand this puzzle.
As I said before, the tragedy of the Ward Family is the one story in the show that I’ve been waiting since ever to be revealed. I’ve spend the whole of season 2 in greater frustration having only gotten scraps of it and only in the first half. With Lincoln apparently shaping up to be revealed as Thomas Ward it seems they’re finally going to tell that story and I can’t wait about it. Season 3 couldn’t come sooner enough! J
I’ve been having all these thoughts for a very long time now, but I wouldn’t have structured them all in this blog post if it wasn’t for Bratpack suggesting it. So thanks, Brat, for the idea, feels so great to finally organize all of these in a well rounded theory! J