Surprise? There was a time when Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 was in doubt. But not only is ABC airing that this coming summer, it has already decided to announce the existence of Season 7. However, it looks like Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson) is officially off the list.

ABC President Channing Dungey announced the Season 7 order today, with no episode count or premiere details. However, the network did report these stars as returning -- Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Henry Simmons, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, and Jeff Ward.

Season 5 ended with the dying Coulson leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. with Melinda May to spend his last days in Tahiti. Ming-Na Wen's Melinda May is listed as returning for Season 7, and she may have top billing moving forward, but no Clark Gregg as Coulson. However, Gregg has been announced as directing the Season 6 premiere, titled "Missing Pieces." Also, he responded to the Season 7 renewal with this tweet:

Read into that what you will, because we have nothing more concrete at the moment.

Season 6 was announced six months ago, with an abbreviated 13-episode count to premiere in summer 2019. Every previous season had 22 episodes. No exact air date has been set by ABC, but star Elizabeth Henstridge reportedly said the season would start in July.

Since Season 5 had particularly low ratings, it was a relief to fans to know there would be a sixth season at all. And now we know a seventh is coming -- although we don't know when.

While this renewal comes as a surprise, it's also good to get some positive Marvel news this week. As you know, we just lost Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. cast joined other Marvel stars in mourning his passing.

But maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise to get this Season 7 news, since a new study recently suggested S.H.I.E.L.D. is actually more popular than any of the high-profile Marvel Netflix shows.

S.H.I.E.L.D. is produced by ABC Studios and Marvel Television and set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the MCU now stands, half the planet has been snapped away by Thanos. With its summer 2019 premiere, the next season of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be able to avoid any awkward questions by airing after both Captain Marvel and Avengers 4. Those films are expected to change the MCU landscape, and we'll have to see how this TV series is affected.

Captain Marvel opens in theaters March 8, 2019. Avengers 4 follows on May 3, 2019. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 6 premieres summer 2019, reportedly in July. And Season 7 will follow ... whenever it feels like it on ABC. Keep your TV schedule updated with our fall premiere guide.

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