SHIELD collapsed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, causing a massive shakeup for Agents of SHIELD, which was developed with this in mind.
The status quo in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is obliterated in season 1 when SHIELD collapses, something that the showrunners had in mind when developing the series. Agents of SHIELD began as a science-fiction/spy television series, exploring the death and resurrection of the popular MCU supporting character, Phil Coulson, and having him lead a team of elite SHIELD operatives. Towards the end of the show’s first season, SHIELD collapses, having been infiltrated by the terrorist group, Hydra, decades ago. While the twist might seem to have ruined long-term plans for the show, it’d always been planned by Agents of SHIELD’s creators.
The sixteenth and seventeenth episodes of Agents of SHIELD take place concurrently with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The critically-acclaimed Captain America solo film shows the fall of SHIELD after Steve Rogers thwarts the master plans of Alexander Pierce and the other Hydra operatives hiding within SHIELD. In an MCU twist on the real-life Operation Paperclip, SHIELD employed former Hydra members in the 1940s, allowing their Nazi ideology to fester within their ranks in secret. Although The Winter Soldier saw the death of Alexander Pierce and the failure of Project Insight, Hydra endured. SHIELD, unfortunately, collapsed in an official capacity.
The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe explores how the events of The Winter Soldier affected Agents of SHIELD, revealing a fascinating detail. As the book explains, “…in The Winter Soldier, everyone agreed to revisit SHIELD and tear it all down. (Marvel Entertainment and ABC Studios, despite popular misconception, also knew this before developing their Agents of SHIELD TV series).” This highlights the fact that Agents of SHIELD was developed with The Winter Soldier’s twist in mind, allowing the showrunners to establish a status quo for almost an entire season before delivering a gut-punch twist that further intertwined the series with the MCU’s continuity.
A mysterious organization called “Centipede” plagued Coulson and his team throughout season 1 of SHIELD. Centipede was led by an enigmatic figure known as “The Clairvoyant,” but when SHIELD collapsed, Centipede was revealed to be a sub-division of Hydra. The Clairvoyant turned out to be John Garrett, a veteran SHIELD agent, and high-ranking Hydra sleeper. Garrett wasn’t the only hidden villain, however, with one of the Hydra twist’s biggest gut-punches being that Grant Ward was part of Hydra all along. Some of Agents of SHIELD’s showrunners, such as Jed Whedon and Brent Fletcher, felt that they had to take advantage of The Winter Soldier’s twist by making at least one of Coulson’s team members a Hydra sleeper. It was a devastating twist when Grant Ward, who had no doubt become a favorite of many viewers by the end of season 1, murdered a fellow SHIELD agent and revealed his loyalty to Garrett.
The synchronization between Agents of SHIELD and The Winter Soldier is one of many examples of how interconnected the MCU is. Moreover, SHIELD’s showrunners made excellent use of the forthcoming twist to show the true impact of Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD. The Winter Soldier only shows a fraction of Hydra’s treachery, with Pierce and STRIKE team members being the most prominent sleepers. With its creators being aware of SHIELD’s collapse beforehand, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD shattered a team of fire-forged friends with the shocking twist of Ward’s allegiance to Hydra.
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