HYDRA emerged as one of the big bads of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Two. They were the primary antagonists of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and much of Agents of SHIELD, and even had a prominent role in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The final head of HYDRA was lopped off by Ultron during that movie, leaving a pretty massive power vacuum that Grant Ward may or may not be able to fill. Even if he does though, don’t expect him to stick around for too long, given the life expectancy of a HYDRA commander is apparently pretty dismal. A look back at the organization’s history reveals a fairly dramatic turnover in leadership over the past few years, and while there haven’t been a ton of character deaths in the MCU yet, that rule-of-thumb definitely does not extend to HYDRA.
So with HYDRA basically in ruins at this point (it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing them as an Avengers-level threat again for a long, long time), let’s take a moment to remember all of those good times with these bad guys.
Cause of Death: Tesseract-ed into parts unknown.
The founder of HYDRA in the MCU, Red Skull was the primary antagonist of Captain America: The First Avenger. A prominent Nazi officer and genius-level scientist, the former Johann Schmidt turned a bit crazy after taking a bad batch of Super Soldier Serum.
He eventually met his end during a fight with Captain America, after unwisely grabbing the Tesseract. A portal in space-time opened, and he was sucked into it, never to be seen again. While the Red Skull might not be dead-dead, Hugo Weaving has stated that he has no interest in reprising that role, which makes it all the more unlikely that the character will ever return (never say never though).
Cause of Death: Shot in the back by Phil Coulson.
By the time Agents of SHIELD rolls around, Whitehall (formerly known as Werner Reinhardt) is likely the oldest living member of HYDRA, having been one of its earliest members in the 1940s. He was captured by the SSR towards the end of WWII, but was later freed by HYDRA sleeper agents within SHIELD.
He returned to the research he had begun in the 40s, and as a result of his experiments on the Inhuman leader Jiaying, he was able to de-age himself some 60 odd years. Under the assumed name of Daniel Whitehall, he became the leader of the HYDRA faction in the US, until a SHIELD raid ended with him taking a few bullets in the back.
Cause of Death: Body death in the 1970s when he transferred his mind into a computer system; was later blown up by missiles in an attempt to kill Captain America and Black Widow.
Armin Zola was the Red Skull’s top scientist, and following HYDRA’s apparent fall after WWII, he was recruited by SHIELD as part of Operation Paperclip. Using SHIELD’s resources, Zola continued his research as a HYDRA sleeper agent, playing a big role in the creation of the Winter Soldier.
After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Zola created an insanely complex computer system (on tape no less!) that stored his consciousness. Computer-Zola helped HYDRA agents to infiltrate SHIELD’s ranks for the next forty some years, until the facility he was stored in was destroyed in a missile attack.
Cause of Death: Shot in the chest by Nick Fury.
Alexander Pierce commanded all of HYDRA’s operations within SHIELD, eventually playing a big part in developing Project Insight, a program that would allow his organization to target and kill anyone on the planet who could potentially pose a threat.
Pierce started out as a pretty decent guy. He fought in WWII before joining SHIELD and befriending Nick Fury. After a hostage incident involving his own daughter though, Pierce’s worldview shifted, and he was recruited by HYDRA. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the liaison between SHIELD and the World Security Council (and even turning down a Nobel Peace Prize in the process). His plan eventually goes awry thanks to Captain America’s intervention, and he’s shot dead by Nick Fury at the Triskelion.
Cause of Death: Vaporized by Phil Coulson using the Peruvian 0-8-4.
Garrett was a high-ranking SHIELD field agent who used his clearance to masquerade as a villainous mastermind known as the Clairvoyant. In addition to creating the Centipede Project, an ill-fated attempt at making Enhanced HYDRA agents using an off-brand Super Soldier Serum, Garrett was also responsible for training Grant Ward, and thus, sort of responsible for all of the batshit insanity that’s come out of that guy since then.
Garrett finally met his maker on the receiving end of the Tesseract-powered weapon SHIELD discovered in Peru.
The Baroness, The Banker, and the Sheikh
Cause of Death: Petrified by poison created from a Diviner, Splinter Bomb-ed, and killed by poison gas respectively.
These three heads of HYDRA didn’t even last long enough to get names. All three were assassinated in quick succession after Octavian Bloom and Sunil Bakshi were tricked into issuing kill-orders on them, leaving just Bloom and Wolfgang von Strucker as the only remaining leaders of HYDRA.
Cause of Death: Shot in the head by Lance Hunter.
We don’t know a whole lot about Bloom, aside from the fact that he was one of the heads of HYDRA that emerged after the SHIELD Civil War. He only appeared once in Agents of SHIELD, ordering the assassinations of three of his colleagues, under the mistaken belief that they were gunning for him as well. He took a bullet not long after that as SHIELD raided his home (Lance doesn’t mess around).
Cause of Death: Disintegrated by a Splinter Bomb courtesy of Jemma Simmons.
Sunil Bakshi joined HYDRA at a fairly young age, and soon rapidly rose through the ranks to become Daniel Whitehall’s right-hand man. Unfourtunately for Bakshi, he would be double-crossed by Grant Ward, leading to his incarceration by SHIELD. Things would turn from bad to worse for Bakshi after he was duped by SHIELD into placing kill-orders on three of the heads of HYDRA, further damaging his own organization.
If that wasn’t enough, bad luck Bakshi was then captured again and held in a military base, before being “rescued” by Grant Ward and Agent 33, and subsequently brainwashed. The brainwashing really stuck, and despite every opportunity to escape, he ended up giving his life to protect Ward from an assassination attempt.
Cause of Death: Iron Man-ed in the face.
List was Baron Strucker’s top scientist, and frequent envoy on behalf of that head of HYDRA. After doing a bit of globetrotting on Strucker’s behalf, List eventually returned to Sokovia to finish his research on the Maximoff twins, who gained powers as the result of his experiments. He was killed during the Avengers’ assault on that base, taking a repulsor ray to the head while attempting to escape with his research data.
Wolfgang von Strucker
Cause of Death: Killed off-screen by Ultron while imprisoned by NATO.
Baron Strucker got his formal introduction to the MCU in the mid-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, ushering in the “Age of Miracles.” He was subsequently name-dropped a ton on Agents of SHIELD, before appearing in Avengers: Age of Ultron and its prelude comic. He wasn’t able to do much in the face of an Avengers assault, but he certainly left his mark on the world, inadvertently causing the discovery of a new Infinity Stone.