After riding off into the sunset at the end of last season’s finale of Arrow, Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity’s (Emily Bett Rickards) blissful getaway is cut short when Thea (Willa Holland) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) pay them a visit to tell Oliver they need his help back in Star City. The team is in over their head as the city is being attacked by assassins led by the very dangerous Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough).
To celebrate the premiere of Season 4, a handful of press outlets were invited to The CW offices to screen the episode and chat with executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle. During the interview, they talked about Oliver Queen becoming the Green Arrow, whether the team learned from being so fractured last season, having a more democratic team leadership, how long Oliver and Diggle will be at odds, the overwhelming presence of Damien Darhk, what’s next for Thea, Laurel’s journey, what Malcolm Merlyn’s Ra’s al Ghul will look like, seeing Nyssa again, bad-ass Felicity, cross-over episodes, Mr. Terrific, and the appearance of John Constantine. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Question: With the Green Arrow debuting this season, will Oliver Queen be battling between who he thinks he is and who he really is?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: No, I think we played that last year. Last year was, “Am I The Arrow or am I Oliver Queen?” This year, it’s, “I’m the Green Arrow and I’m Oliver Queen. How can I be both, at the same time?”
How is Star City going to react to the Green Arrow?
WENDY MERICLE: We’re hoping that this will be a change, in that they will embrace him, but it’s not going to be easy. We can’t make it easy for him. It’s speaking to him trying to be more of an inspiration and less of the judge, jury and executioner that we’ve seen in the past.
Is Season 4 for the Green Arrow the timeline you were always thinking about making that transition?
GUGGENHEIM: We were always very upfront about our intention that this was an origin story, and we were very deliberate in our choice that he was The Hood, at first. Then, he became the Arrow, and eventually, he was going to become the Green Arrow. We didn’t have a specific season in mind, as to when it was going to happen. For us, it felt very organic to make this the season that it be Green Arrow. Certainly, we’ve been developing that. If you look at Laurel’s trajectory, we always said that we were headed towards her becoming Black Canary. There’s just been a slow, organic incorporation of the comic book elements. We don’t ever bring in the comic book elements just to bring in the comic book elements. We don’t sit here with a checklist of the comic book tropes. We’ve just got the comics in the back of our mind. We know where we’re headed with the character, and the comic books are there as inspiration, but not as a to-do list.
Did the team learn from being so fractured last season?
GUGGENHEIM: I think everyone has learned their lessons from last year. The way we’re finding conflict in the show this year is very different from the past three years. It’s not as much about Oliver being angry, or people being angry at Oliver. It’s not as based in secret-keeping as it was. Everyone has learned from their mistakes, some quicker than others. I felt like the team was pretty cohesive with their operating, before Oliver gets back into town, and I think you’ll see that cohesion in future episodes. Diggle and Oliver have to resolve their issue, which is probably the biggest fracture point on the team, so far.
What does that mean for leadership of the team?
MERICLE: It’s going to be more democratic, for sure. Oliver can’t walk away, and then come back and expect that Dig and Laurel and Thea have not found a new dynamic and a new way of working. They’re all very capable. It’s a very different way of doing the show, and it puts Oliver in a very different position with the team, which we found interesting.
Diggle doesn’t seem to have any qualms about killing people. Will that come back to haunt him?
GUGGENHEIM: Honestly, the way the gunshots play on the show, it’s very hard to tell who’s dead and who’s just badly injured. In our minds, Dig is not really killing anybody.
MERICLE: He’s not shooting to kill.
How long will Oliver and Dig be at odds before they’re on the same page again?
MERICLE: We’re going to resolve that. It’s something we wanted to explore, seeing them at odds and really honoring what Oliver did at the end of Season 3, which was pretty egregious. So, it’s going to take some time, but they will get back on the same track.
Can you talk about the change in tone and humor for Season 4?
MERICLE: It’s really more coming from where Oliver is, as a character. We definitely did want to come into the season and change the tone. It is the fourth season, so you do want to change things up. We are excited that it’s really grown out of who Oliver is. He’s happier now, he’s in love with Felicity, and he’s no longer the PTSD suffering solider that he was in the first three seasons. That’s where it’s coming from. We want it very much to play from the fabric of the show. It’s not a comedy.
How present will Ray Palmer’s apparent death be?
GUGGENHEIM: Ray Palmer’s apparent death was five months ago, as far as Star City is concerned. If Ray died yesterday, it would be acknowledged in a very different way than the fact that he died five months ago. It’s there, but it’s not at the core of any of the episodes.
What can you say about Thea’s journey and the effects that the Lazarus Pit has had on her?
GUGGENHEIM: That’s something that’s going to come into play. We’re going to acknowledge, very directly, that she went into the Lazarus Pit and it’s been six months, so why is it only showing up now.
How open is Thea to having another love interest?
MERICLE: We definitely put Roy to bed, for all intents and purposes. So, we’re hoping to introduce a new love interest for Thea. The intention for her this season is not only to explore the side effects of the Lazarus Pit, but also to talk about her life as Speedy and how she balances having a personal life with being a vigilante.
With Damien Darhk being such an overwhelming presence, will you have other villains show up, as well?
MERICLE: We’re going to work a few of those in, here and there. But one of the things we really wanted to explore this year was seeing a big bad from the get-go, and giving him a lot of room to play and to really challenge Oliver and the team. We’ve done a lot of gradual reveals of the big bads in previous seasons, but by front-loading it, we felt like it presented a challenge, both to us as writers and to the team, and we’re intrigued to see where that takes us.
GUGGENHEIM: Our sense of the fan reaction to Season 2 was that it didn’t seem like there was a whole lot of love for the villain-of-the-week episodes, so you started to see us steer away from them in Season 3. But, I always think the audience sometimes wants what you’re not giving them. The pendulum has probably swung back the other way. It’s an interesting balance. And we like the villain-of-the-week episodes, but what we’ve discovered is that those episodes are only as good as the casting. You’ve really got to cast someone great, otherwise the episode does fall flat.
How much fun is it to have Neal McDonough as your villain?
MERICLE: He’s amazing!
GUGGENHEIM: We love him. He’s a wonderful guy. We found ourselves writing more and more to him. The thing we said to him was, “You’re not only evil, but you enjoy being evil.” There’s a real glimmer in his eye whenever he’s putting the screws to somebody. It is something we haven’t seen on the show before, and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to go in this direction. In Malcolm, in Ra’s and in Slade, you had bad guys who all thought they were doing the right thing and they had their own nobility. Not so much with Damien. Damien really could give a fuck whether you think he’s noble.
MERICLE: He has no conscience, whatsoever.
GUGGENHEIM: And he’s really enjoying having no conscience. It’s very freeing for him. And there’s not a lot of actors who could pull that off, and make it compelling and interesting to watch, every week. It’s not Team Arrow versus Damien every week ‘cause that would get really stupid and repetitive, but we’ve found all these really interesting ways to keep the character of Damien involved in the drama of the show, and that’s really to the credit of Neal. There’s really nothing that we can write for him that he can’t pull off.
Damien Darhk is your big bad, but at some point, are you going to move towards Vandal Savage, as you get closer to the cross-over with Legends of Tomorrow?
GUGGENHEIM: Suffice it to say, the cross-over will really platform Legends of Tomorrow in a really swell way. It’s just a little premature for us to start talking about the cross-over just yet.
How much of The Flash can we expect to see on Arrow this season?
GUGGENHEIM: Well, we’re certainly going to do our annual big cross-over, which will be Episode 8. It will be like last year’s, in the sense that we’re crossing over both shows with a good chunk of both casts, but it will be more of a two-parter than last year’s was. Beyond that, we’ve made deals with all of the different actors to cross over characters and moments. We’ll find our spots, like we did last year, but we really try to do it when it’s motivated by a story and we’ve got a really good reason to do it. If you do it in every episode or all the time, then the cross-overs become less special. This last one very nearly killed us, and is still killing us because it’s not over yet.
How is the new Ra’s al Ghul, aka Malcolm Merlyn, doing and when might we see him?
MERICLE: You’ll see him early. His arc for this season really revolves around Thea and trying to be a good father while also being a very evil, bad-ass Ra’s al Ghul. I don’t know how you work that out, but if anyone can do it, it’s Malcolm, and John Barrowman playing him.
Will we see a different Malcolm Merlyn now?
MERICLE: He’s going to be different with respect to Thea, we hope. We would like him to find a way to be a father. He doesn’t really know what that means, as a character. That said, we do want to restore him to more of the Season 1 Malcolm, who is going around and messing up Oliver’s plans, and anybody else he can cross paths with.
Is it safe to say that we’ll see Nyssa again?
MERICLE: Yes, absolutely. We will definitely see Nyssa.
What will her role be?
MERICLE: She’s definitely not going to be on board with Malcolm as Ra’s. We’re hoping to take that in a very fight-oriented direction.
What is Laurel’s journey this season?
MERICLE: When we come back, she’s the full-fledged Black Canary, so she’s going to be a crucial part of the team, going forward. The over-arching theme for the season is about family, and chosen family versus blood family. She’s going to be dealing not just with Sarah coming back, but also with her family on the team and with her dad.
Is bad-ass Felicity back?
GUGGENHEIM: With a vengeance. She’s so funny. Emily [Bett Rickards] is just on the top of her game. She is hysterical. We’re definitely writing jokes for her, but she’s also finding humor in lines that weren’t intentionally humorous.
With Donna Smoak coming back, will we get some information about Felicity’s father?
MERICLE: We’re hoping.
GUGGENHEIM: We’re always talking about it, but we have to find the right story in the right moment. We trust our own process that it will come to us when it’s meant to come to us. We don’t sit there with a list of cards we want to turn over. We have a deck of cards that we know we can turn over, but it’s about finding the right moment and not just doing it to do it.
What can you say about Mr. Terrific and what Echo Kellum is bringing to that role?
MERICLE: Echo Kellum is amazing. He’s just fun, and we love him. He really is a way for us to eventually bring on a new member of the team who has a strong tech background, but he’s also someone for Felicity to talk to and have scenes with. With Ray Palmer moving on to other pastures, we needed somebody. We pulled Mr. Terrific from the comic books and cast Echo, and it just turned out to be one of those things that’s just everything we hoped for. It’s very magical. They’re great together.
What can you say about the John Constantine episode?
GUGGENHEIM: We can tell you that it’s really cool. We got all the props, we got all the original costumes, and we got the original Matt Ryan. For us, when we finished watching the first cut of the episode, we were like, “This feels like a legitimate cross-over. This feels like we crossed over to the other show. The other show is just not crossing over with us.”
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.