'Arrow' Boss Explains Grave Shocker: "We Knew That It Would Enrage a Lot of People"

A core member of Team Arrow was revealed to have been in the flash-forward grave. Here, EPs Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle break down what's next in the wake of the major loss.
Courtesy of The CW

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Wednesday's Arrow, "Eleven-Fifty-Nine."]

Arrow is flipping the script on what comic book fans expect to see.

After the season-four premiere teased that someone close to Oliver (Stephen Amell) would die at the hands of Damien Dahrk (Neal McDonough) during a flash forward, speculation ran wild about the identity of who would end up in that grave. That question was put to rest on Wednesday when, despite her long and iconic journey in the comic books, the identity of the victim turned out to be Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy).

When Team Arrow tried to stop Damien from escaping Iron Heights prison with his magical idol, he was able to gain access to magic again and stabbed the Black Canary with one of Oliver's arrow. Oliver immediately took her to the hospital, and while she seemed to make it through surgery just fine, she died while in recovery. In between her surgery and death, Laurel was able to share a heartfelt moment with everyone on Team Arrow, including Diggle (David Ramsey), Thea (Willa Holland) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards).

But while talking with Oliver in private about how he was the love of her life, and asking him one last favor (which was spoken offscreen and won't be revealed until next season, producers said), Laurel suddenly coded and died.

The shocking episode ended with Laurel's father, Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), arriving at the hospital only to see the devastation on Oliver's face in the hallway. He then collapsed on the floor after realizing his daughter didn't make it. 

"Arrow is always a show that's evolving. Every character arguably except for the Arrow is fair game," executive producer Marc Guggenheim told reporters following a recent screening. "We started off this year with a promise of a death and when we worked our way through our various creative choices, we realized that the thing that will give us the most pop going into the end of the season, going into next season, unfortunately would be Laurel."

While Laurel has always been a huge character in the comic books, fans have been critical of the way she was written on Arrow — specifically that she didn't end up romantically with Oliver as the character does in the comics. But producers felt that that was a road they weren't interested in going down a second time on The CW drama.

"We knew that it would enrage a lot of people," Guggenheim said. "We're not immune to the [fans rooting for Oliver and Laurel] and we're not blind to it. We knew people would think, in the season where Oliver and Felicity get engaged and Laurel dies, that's clearly making a choice about who's going to end up with who. We told the Laurel/Oliver romance story in season one. We never really thought about going back to it. [Fans rooting for them] was not an element or a factor for us."

Guggenheim, who also has a prolific writing career for comics, novels and the big screen, stressed that The CW series uses the DC source material as inspiration. Arrow, like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, refuses to take the page-for-page approach to its storytelling and opts to remix its source material in a bid to keep things interesting for both fanboys and new viewers alike. 

"We recognize that that upsets a lot of fans, particularly the comic book fans," Guggenheim said of Laurel's death. "In the comics, Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen are in a romance together in various iterations. To some people, that is considered canonical and iconic. We respect that, but at the same time, we've always made no bones about the fact that we are telling our own version of the Green Arrow mythos. ... But it made the most creative sense for us going forward despite the fact that we love Katie. Every time we've killed off a character on the show, it's really been for the affect on all the characters left behind."

The producer also stressed that Laurel's death does not mean that Cassidy's time is has come to an end in the DC Comics universe, which also consists of The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and web series Vixen.

"Not getting a chance to work with Katie day in and day out is tempered by the fact that we now live in a world and universe where there is resurrection, parallel earths, time travel and flashbacks," Guggenheim said. "We have all these different ways of keeping Katie in the Arrow-verse family. In fact, you will see her on an episode of Flash playing the Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance. Katie is reprising her role as Laurel of Earth-1 to be in Vixen season two. Death does not mean goodbye on any of these shows."

For her part, Cassidy said she's happy to remain connected to the world that Guggenheim and fellow exec producer Greg Berlanti have created. "I go onto The Flash on Earth-2 as the [DC Comics character] Black Siren. I'm always happy to come play with them."

But while Cassidy will continue to make various appearances in the universe, that doesn't mean viewers should expect the character to see a miraculous resurrection similar to Laurel's sister Sara (Caity Lotz). That character was resurrected before moving on to Legends of Tomorrow. Case in point: Laurel Lance of Earth-1 is dead, and she's staying dead on Arrow.

"We made a creative choice and we're sticking to it," Guggenheim said. "We're recognizing that Black Canary and Laurel have an incredibly loyal fanbase and Katie has an incredibly loyal fanbase but the show has never been just about the comic book history. It's never been just about one or two different particular fanbases. We make the creative choices we feel benefit the show as a whole and the story we're telling overall."

For her part, Cassidy told reporters that she learned about Laurel's fate only two episodes before shooting began on "Eleven-Fifty-Nine."

"Since season two up until now, Laurel has had a truly amazing journey and they've written so well for me," she said. "I've had such an incredible arc, so it made sense to me, creatively, that we've told Laurel's story. It has come to an end in the Arrow-verse. I think the shock value is good. It's such a jolt and such a turn in the story that it gives them so much more to do and places to go. Otherwise I feel like shows can get stale."

While Cassidy's last scene was actually a reshoot of when Dahrk stabs Laurel in the prison, it was the scene in the hospital room with all of Team Arrow that felt the most special to her.

"That [last] scene [in the hospital] was so real shooting it because it was my saying goodbye to the team and all of us," Cassidy said. "It definitely wasn't difficult for me to get to that emotional point. It was hard but it was very real. It was genuine. There was no other way that I would want it to go. But in the next episode, 19, I'm actually in the episode and it's a lot of flashbacks."

Episode 19 will focus heavily on the search for another potential Lazarus Pit, the question of whether the title of Black Canary will get passed to someone new and the impact of Laurel's death on Team Arrow.

"[Laurel's death] will have a huge impact on [Felicity]," says executive producer Wendy Mericle. "If you think about Felicity and what she would in the wake of something like this, you can draw your own conclusions and you'll find out in [episode] 19. Everyone is going to be compelled to try to fix this and figure out what happened and try to get revenge."

While Oliver said in the flash forward that he doesn't blame himself for Laurel's death and he only blames Damien Darhk, expect the entire team to feel guilt over the major loss.

"That's all a part of the show: secrets, guilt, death," Guggenheim said. "Diggle especially, like he says in that hospital, he'll never forgive himself. I would say the biggest consequences emotionally are felt by Thea and by Diggle. Diggle, you can draw a straight-ish line from his decisions in this episode to Laurel's death. That's certainly a fact that's not lost on him."

As for Laurel's sister, Sara is currently hopping through time on Legends of Tomorrow, but news of Laurel's death will make its way to her. "Sara will find out in Legends about what happened with Laurel and I think we give it its due," Guggenheim said. "Paul was very gracious to lend his time to Legends to really allow us to explore that."

So how is Laurel's father going to take losing another one of his daughters, this time without the promise of a magical resurrection or fake out?

"This death is just devastating for Lance because this is not the one that was ever supposed to happen," Blackthorne says. "I was almost as devastated as Lance with the news, because Katie and I have had such an amazing working relationship. It really is hard to accept that I'm going to have to go into work without this fabulous lady. In terms of Quentin, he's going to have to pick up the pieces and not pick up a bottle and reconcile what's left in his life. He's got his Arrow family and that will have to be where he finds his anchor now from here on in without his beautiful daughter."

What do you think of Arrow's latest death? Hit the comments section below to weigh in on Laurel's death. Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.