Peggy Carter is one of the cornerstones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since Peggy’s introduction in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), actress Hayley Atwell has gone on to portray the character in a One-Shot film, three movies, and two TV shows. It’s no wonder that Peggy is the most frequently recurring character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Howard Stark is the runner-up for that title, but unlike Atwell’s sole portrayal of Peggy, three different actors have brought Stark to life.
This past May, fans were heartbroken when ABC canceled Agent Carter after two seasons. That, coupled with Peggy’s recent death in Captain America: Civil War, suggested that her time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe might have finally come to an end. With Civil War about to arrive on home video, let’s look back at the defining moments of Peggy Carter’s life.
1. Michael Carter’s Death
Before she was a kickass spy, Margaret “Peggy” Carter was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park. The Agent Carter episode “Smoke & Mirrors” revealed how she became a field agent. In 1940, Peggy was engaged to Fred Wells, who worked for the British Home Office and thus avoided deployment. With World War II raging across Europe, Peggy’s older brother Michael recommended her for the Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.), an espionage agency that was recruiting women as field agents.
At the time, Peggy didn’t believe she was meant for field work. Neither did Fred, who simply said, “That’s not our Peg.” Peggy’s refusal of the S.O.E. position disappointed Michael, who believed she was destined to fight. Michael questioned whether Peggy’s childhood dream — to have a life of adventure — had changed, or if she had merely let others define her life plans. All of this happened at Peggy and Fred’s engagement party, so it understandably strained the Carter siblings’ relationship.
After Michael was killed in action, his loss hit Peggy hard. In her grief, she found herself mulling over her brother’s hard-hitting questions. Did she really want a boring life with Fred? Or did she crave something more? In a symbolic move, she removed Fred’s engagement ring, and instead picked up the S.O.E. recruitment letter.
Michael’s death was a defining moment in Peggy’s life. It was the reason she would go on to become one of the leading agents of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R.). It also forced her to admit that Fred was not the love of her life, which was why she broke off their engagement. Moreover, the late Michael’s parting words to his sister still ring true: “Don’t worry what other people think. You are meant to fight.”
2. Shooting Steve Rogers
As the Allies’ WWII campaign continued, Peggy Carter became a British liaison to S.S.R. Colonel Chester Phillips. That role led her to meet a man who would change her life. However, one of the most striking moments of Captain America: The First Avenger was not when Peggy first meets Steve Rogers. It was when she shot him.
After Steve had proved his worth as Captain America by single-handedly saving a unit of Allied prisoners of war, Peggy took part in his growing campaign against the Red Skull and HYDRA. However, Peggy’s growing attraction to Steve was cut short when she caught an S.S.R. secretary, Lorraine, kissing him. Added to Steve’s utter cluelessness about how to speak to women, that made things rather complicated.
Shortly thereafter, Steve asked Peggy’s opinion on a shield of vibranium that Howard Stark had built for him. Still fuming from the Lorraine incident, Peggy grabbed a pistol from a nearby table. She fired three bullets at a shocked Steve, who blocked them with the shield. Peggy then laid down the gun and remarked, “Yes, I think it works.”
That moment was more than just Peggy letting off some steam. It spoke to her character since she refused to let the men in her life determine who she was. She was more than capable of holding her own while serving alongside Steve’s Howling Commandos. Peggy was also the one who initiated her and Steve’s first kiss — right before Steve climbed aboard the Valkyrie and disappeared for the next 70 years.
3. Reinhardt and the Obelisk
As a follow-up to Peggy’s WWII adventures, Hayley Atwell had a guest stint on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Atwell appeared in flashback sequences in two episodes of the series’ second season. In “Shadows,” Peggy and the Howling Commandos raided Hydra’s last known base in 1945. They took Nazi scientist Werner Reinhardt into custody, along with an obelisk of unknown origins that Reinhardt had been studying.
Peggy’s appearance in “Shadows” set up Reinhardt and the so-called Diviner as the main threats of season two. It also planted the idea in Peggy’s mind that in order to regulate technology like the Diviner, the S.S.R. needed to become a peacetime agency. Also, Peggy appeared in the aptly-titled episode “The Things We Bury,” in which she interrogated Reinhardt and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Though Peggy’s role in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was minimal, it showed her character’s extensive impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both episodes exemplified how Peggy’s actions changed both S.H.I.E.L.D. and the world. While it’s unknown if Peggy will ever return to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., she’d certainly be a scene-stealer.
4. A New Partner
The first season of Agent Carter picked up in 1946, with Peggy Carter settling into a new life in post-war New York. With the men at the S.S.R. marginalizing her, Peggy began covertly assisting her old friend Howard Stark, who had been framed for the theft of his weapons. Howard gave Peggy a new ally: his butler, Edwin Jarvis.
After Steve’s presumed death, Peggy was reluctant to let others get close to her — even more so after her roommate, Colleen O’Brien, died from a bullet meant for her. Yet, Peggy’s partnership with Jarvis changed both of them. In a remarkably short time, they became lifelong friends. To quote Jarvis: “Your desire to help others is noble. But I doubt you’ll find much success unless you allow others to help you.”
Peggy’s partnership with Jarvis helped her realize she was not alone. Though many people idolized Steve Rogers and saw him as infallible, Jarvis pointed out that Steve had his own support: Peggy. By allowing Jarvis into her life, Peggy admitted that everyone needed a friend to help stitch up their wounds.
Peggy also found a friend in aspiring actress Angie Martinelli. Angie became a shoulder for Peggy to cry on after a fellow agent died in “Time and Tide.” Angie also showcased her burgeoning acting skills by putting the S.S.R. off Peggy’s scent in “A Sin to Err.” Unlike Howard Stark or Edwin Jarvis, Angie might have lacked an overall impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But to Peggy Carter, she mattered.
5. “You Think You Know Me”
After the S.S.R. caught on to Peggy’s private investigation into Howard Stark, the bureau arrested her. Things came to a head in “Snafu,” when Peggy’s fellow agents accused her of espionage and complicity in the deaths that Howard’s missing weapons had caused. Chief Roger Dooley, Jack Thompson, and even the charismatic Daniel Sousa interrogated Peggy, brashly searching for answers.
Dooley, Thompson, and Sousa all underestimated Peggy in different ways. In response, Peggy coldly said, “You think you know me. But I’ve never been more than what each of you has created. To you, I’m the stray kitten left on your doorstep to be protected. The secretary turned damsel in distress. The girl on the pedestal transformed into some daft whore. You’re behaving like children.”
After an entire season’s worth of workplace misogyny, it was cathartic to see Peggy vent her frustrations with the S.S.R. She called out the myopic nature of her colleagues’ investigation of both herself and Howard. Even though she had broken the law to help Howard, she did so because she believed it was the right thing to do. It was a defining moment for Peggy, as well as a high point of the entire season.
6. “I Know My Value”
In “Valediction,” Peggy and her colleagues foiled Leviathan‘s plot to attack Times Square. The morning after her hard-won success, Peggy walked into the S.S.R. to a standing ovation. For the first time, her all-male coworkers acknowledged her actions and offered their congratulations. Yet, no one piped up when a U.S. Senator walked in, and Jack Thompson accepted all of the credit for saving New York City.
Thompson’s undue commendation exasperated Daniel Sousa since Peggy deserved recognition for the S.S.R’s victory. Peggy told Sousa that it didn’t bother her. “I know my value,” she said. “Anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.” It had taken Peggy a long time to move past the need to have others respect her. Nevertheless, she learned to rely on her own inner determination instead of external validation.
Hayley Atwell said she was amazed by how that moment resonated with fans, especially younger ones. She recalled how young boys and girls came up to her at conventions and said, “I know my value too!” Atwell felt humbled that people responded in that way, and she said it gave her character depth.
This was truly a defining moment of Peggy Carter’s life. It was the reason she was able to endure so much sexist scorn from those who underestimated her. It was also why Sousa finally mustered up the courage to ask her out. But more on that later.
7. “Bye, My Darling”
Agent Carter‘s first season had an unexpected focus on Steve Rogers. In “Valediction,” Peggy had to convince Howard, who had been hypnotized into thinking he was saving Steve from the Valkyrie, that he was actually about to attack New York. Peggy got through to Howard by telling him that Steve was gone and that both of them had to let him go. Those were words that both she and Howard sorely needed to hear.
Back in “The Blitzkrieg Button,” Howard had Peggy retrieve the last sample of Steve’s blood. In “Valediction,” Jarvis returned the vial of blood to Peggy, touchingly telling her that she was the only person who knew what to do with it. That evening, Peggy walked over to the Brooklyn Bridge. A tear ran down her cheek as she emptied the vial into the East River, saying, “Bye, my darling.” Bing Crosby and Dixie Lee’s achingly beautiful “The Way You Look Tonight” (1936) played in the background.
It was a pivotal moment for Peggy Carter for it revealed that up to that point, she had been trapped in mourning for Steve. By letting go of Steve’s blood, Peggy could move on from her grief. That chapter of her life, in which she had imagined a future with Steve, was over. My inner crybaby still tears up from just thinking about it.
8. Two Quality Suitors
Even though I enjoyed Agent Carter‘s first season the most, season two still had its moments. As Jarvis said, Peggy quickly went “from famine to feast, vis-à-vis quality suitors.” In 1947, two potential candidates entered the running to become Peggy’s eventual husband. The first was Dr. Jason Wilkes, a charming scientist who became infected with Zero Matter. The other, of course, was Daniel Sousa.
Peggy has always been responsible for initiating the first kiss with a man. That was the case with Steve Rogers, and also in “A View in the Dark,” when Peggy connected with Jason Wilkes during her investigation of Isodyne Energy. Peggy chose not to pursue Jason after he threatened to kill her while under Zero Matter’s influence. Still, they parted amicably. Peggy told him, “I’ve learned that dwelling on what might have been… It’s no way to live.” Her words had overtones of her lost future with Steve.
As for Daniel Sousa, there was an endless series of hurdles between him and Peggy. After Peggy initially rejected him, Sousa moved to L.A. and began dating a nurse named Violet. However, Violet ended their engagement when she realized he was still in love with Peggy. After that, the next obstacle was Jason Wilkes. In regards to choosing between Jason and Daniel, Peggy confided to Jarvis that she had no idea what to do.
Season two delivered a “Hollywood Ending,” with Daniel calling Peggy reckless, and Peggy kissing him in retaliation. Because Agent Carter ended after that, we may never know if Daniel actually became Peggy’s husband. Still, regardless of whom she married, Peggy never changed her name. Peggy Carter was always Peggy Carter.
9. Founding Member of S.H.I.E.L.D.
One of the most important events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, sadly, something we’ve never seen on screen. Along with Howard Stark and Chester Phillips, Peggy Carter reformed the S.S.R. and founded S.H.I.E.L.D. The international agency changed the world many times over, from its dedication to superhuman-related protection to its corrupt nature due to the fact that HYDRA infiltrated its highest ranks.
Even after she retired from S.H.I.E.L.D., Peggy Carter was an inspiration to many. Agent Jemma Simmons was proud that like her, Peggy happened to be British. In “The Things We Bury,” Simmons got rather giddy when she found a case file that Peggy had signed. Moreover, “Emancipation” revealed that Peggy was a childhood hero for Phil Coulson, who would one day succeed Nick Fury as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Within her own family, Peggy inspired her great-niece, Sharon Carter, to become a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Whereas Sharon’s mother tried to persuade her daughter not to enlist, Peggy gave Sharon her first thigh holster. After S.H.I.E.L.D. rescued Steve Rogers from the wreckage of the Valkyrie in 2012, Sharon accepted Director Fury’s assignment to monitor Steve from an apartment across the hall. Clearly, there were never many degrees of separation between Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers.
10. Reunion With Steve
In 2014, Peggy Carter was reunited with the man who owed her a dance. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers came to visit Peggy at her retirement home in Washington, D.C. Peggy, now 93 years old, spoke with Steve about his role in S.H.I.E.L.D. Steve had doubts about being part of S.H.I.E.L.D., but he said that half the reason he stayed was because Peggy was one of its founders.
In that moment, everything came full circle. Steve, the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who became Captain America, had an impact on Peggy’s life in the 1940s. Now, Peggy, the feminist pioneer who always did what she believed in, was influencing Steve. It was poetic, and it became a defining moment for both Peggy and Steve.
Seeing Peggy frail and forgetful from her developing case of Alzheimer’s, one can’t help but wonder how things might have been. Peggy admitted to Steve, “I have lived a life. My only regret is that you didn’t get to live yours.” Peggy had married, had two children, and now experienced memory lapses every few minutes. Steve was thrust into the modern world, then joined the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. to make a difference.
In a moment of clarity, Peggy told her old friend, “The world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best. And sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.” In a way, that’s what Steve did when he dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. after he found that HYDRA had seized control of it.
Peggy Carter’s Legacy
Margaret Carter died peacefully in 2016, passing away in her sleep. She was 95 years old. Her funeral was part of Captain America: Civil War, with her great-niece, Sharon, speaking at the service. According to Sharon, it was difficult to live up to Aunt Peggy’s reputation, which was why Sharon kept quiet about them being related.
What was Peggy Carter’s legacy? She helped create S.H.I.E.L.D., but Hydra corrupted the agency and its reputation. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. featured a newspaper obituary that called Peggy a “Trailblazer for Women,” and that was certainly true. Still, I’d like to specifically examine how Peggy’s death affected Steve.
Through Sharon’s eulogy, the late Peggy inspired Steve to oppose the controversial Sokovia Accords. Sharon quoted her aunt: “Compromise when you can. When you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move.” That was how Peggy Carter succeeded in the fields of espionage and diplomacy, even when men did not want women to do so. Steve took those words to heart, fighting for what he believed was right.
In 1953, as part of the subtext of The Winter Soldier, Peggy was interviewed about Steve Rogers. She spoke about how her husband was one of many whom Steve saved during the war. “Even after he died, Steve was still changing my life,” she said. It’s fitting that now, the late Peggy Carter has that same impact on Steve Rogers’s life. That was part of her legacy, too. In the hearts of fans, Peggy Carter lives on.
Captain America: Civil War is due for digital release on September 2, and on various home media on September 13.
If your life has a Peggy Carter-shaped hole in it, we took a look at the ways in which we’re going to miss our beloved kickass spy.