When “Agents of SHIELD” debuted its fourth season, the series introduced a beloved comic book character played by Gabriel Luna, a Ghost Rider named Robbie Reyes. While fans loved the flaming skull special effects and the fresh take on his story, the series limited his story arc to eight episodes, bringing it to an end in the midseason finale. In recent chats with the press, the producers have explained why.

Flaming skulls are expensive

There’s one very practical reason for limiting Ghost Rider to an eight-episode arc, and that’s the money involved in bringing him to life.

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While hiring Gabriel Luna probably wasn’t going to blow the budget for the ABC series, digitally creating a flaming skull for him in every episode adds up.

Producer Jeffrey Bell told TV Line during a recent set visit that the new story direction, which involves the comic book subject of Life Model Decoys, doesn’t cost as much as that flaming skull every week. Viewers will note if they go back and watch the season four episodes that have aired so far that Marvel and ABC definitely didn’t skimp when it came to Robbie’s effects.

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VFX supervisor Mark Kolpack and his team have consistently been praised for their work on the show this season, and with good reason. Not only did Ghost Rider’s flaming skull appear in every episode he was in, but his flaming car did in nearly every episode as well. Even Henry Simmons (as Alphonso Mackenzie) got his own turn with a fiery skull for an episode.

Money isn’t the only issue

It’s not all about the money though as creative concerns also came into play.

In the past, “Agents of SHIELD” has stuck with one or two primary storylines throughout their season, with smaller threads spinning out of the larger story. This season, a different creative approach is being taken, breaking up each set of episodes into a few big stories to tackle. While Ghost Rider had the honor of being the subject for the first set of episodes, it’s Life Model Decoys that will take center stage next.

In the same TV Line interview, Bell noted that sticking solely with Ghost Rider for the season would have felt like “one flavor” for the fans, and showrunner Jed Whedon explained that now, the writers are “getting to play with a lot of toys” they’d wanted to in the past, including those LMDs, and that they wanted everything to feel like its own “mini world” while still connecting storylines to one another.

After all, the Life Model Decoy at the center of the story is Aida (Mallory Jansen) who has gained extensive new knowledge thanks to her exposure to the Darkhold, a magical volume that also played a large role in the Ghost Rider storyline. The book will continue to be a big part of her story as she pursues that knowledge.

Robbie Reyes might not be gone for good

Despite the Ghost Rider seemingly lost forever, producers noted in recent press interviews the reminder that Robbie Reyes wasn’t killed off on the show, but simply trapped in “another place.” Those who have seen “Doctor Strange” are aware that Marvel is now ready to play with those other places - namely, other dimensions.

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What does this mean for the Ghost Rider? Perhaps he’ll get that spin off series so many fans have been clamoring for, or maybe he’ll pop up in a teaser at the end of the season for future storylines. It’s too early to tell, but we do know Marvel isn’t quite done with him yet. Bell confirmed that the writers “certainly left it open” for his story to be revisited.

Agents of SHIELD” returns from its holiday break with all new episodes, focusing on Life Model Decoys and trust in a spy organization, on January 10.

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The series will continue to air Tuesdays at 10PM on ABC.

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