no it’s cool you’re trying to understand here and that’s fair. Okay. Let’s try to make this go…step by step. Ish.
this is long but I’m not putting it under a cut because it’s important and everyone in this fandom should read it if you’re going to talk about Ward.
Now, let’s make some things clear about abuse as a whole first. Abuse is not just physical abuse, though the threat of it can exist—and physical demonstrations of violence can also exist in abuse. A parent can never lay a hand on their child but they can throw a table across the room to illustrate that they COULD hurt the child if they wanted.
Things that are abusive are not just limited to the expression of violence on a child. Things that are abusive:
- withholding rights; food, water, school, access to other people, money, phone, computer. (phone and computer access are absolutely rights in this day and age. there’s a difference between ‘you’re grounded for a week no phone’ and ‘i’m going to check all your search history and read all your texts and i’ll take your phone/computer for months at a time.’) This also can mean that these rights are treated as a ‘privilege’ by the abuser. example: ‘you don’t own this I do/since you live under my roof /I/ pay the bills and /I/ LET you live here.’ acting like things you deserve as a person being cared for by your guardian are fucking privileges is a clear sign of emotional abuse.
- Restricting contact to outsiders; friends, other family members, etc. Basically, encouraging isolation. Saying “you don’t need anyone else/don’t you love me and want to stay with me” is emotional abuse. Like the most common trick in the abusive handbook is isolation.
- Manipulation of emotions and mental state; gaslighting is the most common one (wikipedia, urban dictionary for a more concise explanation, then the national domestic violence center. for sources.) It can really be pretty much anything that centers around making the victim feel inferior, hopeless, and desperate to continue staying with the abuser.
Things to also understand about abuse:
- Abusers can sometimes look like nice people. Abuse does not always happen in public. Abuse victims can look like normal people. Abuse victims are putting themselves in danger by looking like they are abused—raising questions from adults that might get them in trouble—and are ACTIVELY DISCOURAGED FROM SEEKING HELP. Through the behavior of the abuser, even if they never explicitly say hey don’t go telling people, they sure as shit know the consequences of doing so. Abusers are usually charismatic and openly friendly/charming. With that in mind.
- Abuse is a cycle. There ARE usually positive periods in the cycle; commonly referred to as “honeymoon periods,” in which the abuser apologizes, promises to change, usually plies the victim with gifts and trinkets. Then tension builds through manipulation and emotional belittling. After that, the abuser snaps and loses their temper or does something that makes the abuse victim have some kind of breakdown which then prompts a ‘tightening of the noose,’ so to speak. And then the honeymoon period starts up again.
- Abuse victims can love and care for their abusers. They might not even be aware they’re being abused. People who are ACTIVELY BEING ABUSED have a different mindset than people who have managed to escape, but even then, due to the honeymoon periods/initial period of happiness that usually happens in an abusive relationship, seeing that it’s not common for a relationship to START OFF abusive, as abuse escalates, abuse victims can totally still care about/love/think fondly of their abusers. This is important. They do not deserve to be shamed for that. They’ve been manipulated into loving that person through things such as plying them with gifts, through the abuser threatening suicide/telling them how they “need’ them because they’re sick/weak/whatever.
With this in mind, let’s tackle Ward.
As for his childhood, it was absolutely abuse. Even if he did ever raise a hand to his younger brother it was coerced; he was also under threat of further violence and pain. He was an abuse victim being used as a tool and a weapon. And considering Dana being harmed in episode 8 is literally the worst thing Ward can imagine, it is safe to assume he loves his brother. Regardless of what he was forced to do, he loved his brother. And THAT MAKES IT ABUSE TO HAVE HAD HIS ELDER BROTHER FORCE HIM TO HARM HIM. And Ward had no one to turn to; we can assume his parents are also awful considering they allowed the abuse to happen and then tried to press charges and throw Ward in jail for life to keep him quiet.
Ward loved his little brother and was forced to hurt him as part of his abuse. Make no mistake.
As for John.
Let’s go down the list of everything I described and map out how it occurrs.
- Withholding rights: John left him out in the woods with some clothes and a dog. John placed himself in the role of Ward’s caretaker by busting him out of prison and then promptly dropped him off in the woods to either die or…????? If Ward hadn’t resorted to stealing in desperation he would’ve been dead. As for making Ward feel like he owed him, John gave him Buddy, who was held over his head, and John repeatedly acts like he was the one who “made something” out of Ward. John makes Ward feel like he owes him for “saving” him from prison, and he treats living someplace that isn’t the fucking woods like it’s something Ward doesn’t deserve.
- Restricting outside contact: Okay, here’s the thing. HYDRA was not this big organized network in terms of contact. Passing notes in class would’ve gotten them caught much earlier, basically. So John had this prime opportunity to isolate Ward, and did so.
- It’s unclear if Ward was literally out in the woods for an entire fucking decade. For my own sanity I pray to god he wasn’t but even if he wasn’t and he and John only visited after the initial approximately six-month long period of isolation, Ward specifically mentions in episode one that he was trained to work alone. John made sure he would not do team work. He was a sniper, as we see in episode 1; he’s a specialist. He has no team. No one he trusts. He has no one to tell and no connections in SHIELD that aren’t connections John has made for him. And obviously John’s connections are all fucking HYDRA. And even if they WEREN’T—like, say, if Ward met Phil prior to the big fuckfest—Ward sure as shit wouldn’t know. So he would be terrified to approach them.
- It’s safe to say for the next fifteen years of his life, minus the approximate…eh, six months or so that the team has been together, (assuming every mission is a once a week thing, or once every two weeks), Ward was alone. Ward had John, an occasional person John worked with that Ward couldn’t trust or make contact with, and that’s about fucking it. That is literally the most basic isolation case. Fucking textbook. Not any less terrifying for it, but if you can’t see that John deliberately isolated Ward for his own purposes you’re not watching the same show.
- Manipulation of emotions/mental state: Okay, literally about two lines in, John’s taunting Ward’s masculinity. It’s very blatant; “Mommy and daddy aren’t coming for you/aren’t you going to be a man?” He plays to the very clear fact that Ward at that moment is a desperate, terrified little boy looking for control. That was why he burned his house down and tried to kill his brother; as a victim of abuse, he was desperately seeking some form of control over his situation, and had been pushed to the point that killing his brother felt like his only option. He was looking for control, so John taunted him in an attempt to force him to reassert his masculinity-by going with John. Admittedly, Ward was in a shitty situation as it was; he’d have ended up in prison and everything, but like…jesus fuck, talk about a rock and a hard place.
John spends literally ninety percent of his dialogue with Ward taunting him or guilting him. He pretty much bullies Ward into saying yes to him in prison, then once they’re reunited post-17, his dialogue boils down to the exact lines; “Why can’t you just be happy for me?” and being angry at him for “not being able to finish what I asked you to do” (he means killing Buddy for all you people who still for WHATEVER REASON think Ward shot the only fucking thing that had ever loved him unconditionally)
Not only that, but all his talk about being sick and dying and shit is pretty clearly also designed to affect Ward and convince Ward to stay. Not that it’s not true, but John has very clearly been manipulating Ward with his illness into staying by his side for a long time, based on Ward’s reaction when he needs treatment after Fitz attacks him. Fitz—who Ward truly loved and wanted to protect, and probably projected his younger brother onto—was shoved aside because Ward’s decades of abuse had told him that John being sick meant he had to be there. Ward was kept close because John told him he needed him because he was ill. He made Ward feel relied on and guilted him into staying. It wasn’t quite like the common abuser tactic—“oh if you leave me I’ll kill myself”—but it was pretty close. More like “if you leave me I’ll die without you” which is still horrendous. And totally manipulative.
As for things to understand about ABUSERS, and why John is 100000% an abuser
- I don’t care that he was totally charismatic. Abusers don’t wear a fucking sign on their head that says they’re abusers. The media has fucking lied to you; not everyone who is evil looks like it, sorry. Monsters are just as human as everybody fucking else. John was friendly and chatty and bffs with the Director and Phil Coulson and also an abuser. Because here’s the thing; if you don’t think the fact that John, as the Level 8 agent who was Nick Fury’s personal protege and the best friend of the DIRECTOR and Phil Coulson, who very clearly was one of the Director’s closest friends, held all that power and prestige over Ward, who was his junior officer and also had a criminal record due to trying to protect his siblings (not that anyone would care, since abuse victims retaliating and trying to protect themselves are usually treated like shit by the courts), you’re wrong. “No one will believe you/I have the real power here” are so fucking common as an abusive tactic. Ward was made to feel like he had no one to turn to and nowhere else to go.
- Abuse is a cycle. So John being friendly and sweet towards Ward sometimes doesn’t fucking mean he wasn’t a total abusive piece of shit. He left him out in the fucking woods and didn’t give a shit if he died—EXPECTED HIM TO, if “I didn’t expect you’d still be here” is any indicator.
- Fuck him. Fuck any implied kindness he showed. It was all an absolute fucking lie and a way to make Ward feel guilty for any resentment or negativity he harbored. And that’s all.
- As for John not LOOKING abusive, and that he managed to act as Trip’s SO without abusing him either; abusers know what a good target looks like.They are like predators—they ARE predators. They go after the metaphorical “Sick and weak” of the pack. Trip, the grandson of Director Carter and Gabe Jones? Not a weak target. Grant Ward, 15 year old child with a criminal record and nowhere else to go/an abusive family who wouldn’t come looking for him? Target of the century.
John chose Ward as a target specifically and groomed him. And that’s why Ward still cares about John. John manipulated and belittled and tormented him until Ward didn’t see any other option, any other place to go, or any other person who cared about him, and John made Ward feel like John NEEDED HIM due to his illness/injury. Ward was gaslit until he fucking suffocated. He cares about John because he’s terrified of what might happen if he didn’t. And in a twisted way, John’s convinced Ward that he OWES HIM; that Ward would be in prison or dead without him. It doesn’t matter what else he’s done. John’s twisted Ward until he’s terrified of any kind of retribution from John, so he does as he’s told because it gets him hollow rewards that make him feel safe in an unsafe system. He is frightened, but he has been belittled to the point that he truly genuinely has NO IDEA WHO HE IS OUTSIDE OF JOHN’S INSTRUMENT.
I don’t know what else to tell you. I don’t know how much more clearly I can explain it. I hope that’s enough. I need this fandom to understand that everything that happened with John was absolutely fucking abuse and if you don’t agree, I don’t give a shit about what else Ward has done, fuck you you’re absolutely wrong. Everything else is another argument. This is abuse. And he was abused.
For some more reading on abuse: this is a good place to start.