'Arrow' Boss on Premiere Shocker: Aftermath Will Be "Brutal"

"It's our most emotionally gut-wrenching episode," says executive producer Marc Guggenheim of next week's follow-up
Cate Cameron/The CW

[Warning: Spoilers ahead from Wednesday's season-three premiere of Arrow, "The Calm."]

Arrow began its season with a bang.

The CW's comic book drama ended Wednesday's premiere with the sudden death of Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), who returned to Starling City in time to help Team Arrow fend off Count Vertigo. After having a heart-to-heart with Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Sara was struck by multiple arrows from an unknown (male?) assailant before falling to her death. Who killed Sara? What was she really doing in Starling City? It was the introduction of a brand-new mystery, along with a slew of questions, that led the writers down a path that would send Sara to her permanent grave. “We had this notion of starting the year off in the way that we typically end the year. It was part and parcel of our plan for the year,” said executive producer Marc Gugggenheim.

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That's not to say the decision to kill Sara was easy. As was the case with the deaths of Tommy and Moira, closing the door on any potential new storylines weighed on the producers' minds. "Every time we kill off a character on the show, it's always incredibly hard. We're not Game of Thrones. We're not Sons of Anarchy. It's really, really, really difficult," Guggenheim stressed. But by removing Sara from the equation, "the story implications ... are so far-reaching for the show and affect all of the characters. It really kicks off a mystery that will drive us for at least the first half of the year."

For one thing, Sara's death sets a whole new "trajectory" for Laurel, one that "she's never had before," he said. "It speaks to all the things that we want to do this year in terms of Laurel's character, in terms of Oliver's character, in terms of Felicity's character."

Though Sara is no longer among the living, Lotz will continue to appear in the second and third episodes, and Guggenheim is hopeful that she will return for more. "To be honest, we have stories that involve Caity Lotz," he said. "One of the beautiful parts of the show is we do flashbacks. We still want to tell the story of what happened when Sara washed up on the shores of Lian Yu after the sinking of the Amazo and how she met Nyssa and how she joined the League of Assassins. There is still a lot of story left to be told with Sara."

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Next week's episode, titled "Sara," focuses on the immediate aftermath of her death, with special attention paid to Laurel "who's at the center" of it. "It's probably our most emotionally gut-wrenching episode — as it needs to be, as it should be — because this character's death affects all of the characters on the show," Guggenheim previewed. "It's kind of brutal." The title, in fact, has double meaning. An obvious nod to Sara's name, could it also be a reference to the stages of grief (Shock, Anger, Resentment, Acceptance)?

With an unexpected death comes a bevy of questions. "What should be done with Sara's body? Whom do they tell? Do they tell Lance, for example, that his daughter died a second time?" Guggenheim asked. "There's emotional repercussions for everybody, but it definitely has repercussions for Oliver and Felicity, for Felicity and Ray Palmer, and obviously for Laurel." The team will also home in on a suspect for Sara's killing.

"With us, you'll never know how soon things will get resolved or in what way they'll get resolved, but it's one of our best episodes," Guggenheim said of the Oct. 15 installment. "Everything is laid bare and everyone is raw and naked. It was a very hard episode for the cast to shoot, particularly Emily [Bett Rickards], Stephen [Amell] and Katie [Cassidy]. It's really, really powerful stuff." It's also the first time the characters will be forced to deal with the gravity of their loss, something they weren't able to do when Tommy died or when Moira sacrificed herself simply because of where their deaths fell in their respective seasons. "This episode is the first time we've really taken our time and really spent time with these characters in the wake of a major character's death. As a result, it's definitely an episode with a different spin to it," he added.

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Later, Guggenheim warned of "Sara's" emotional impact: "It's a hard episode to watch. If you're prone to tears or capable of crying during a TV show, you'll probably be crying on this one."

Another crucial development from the premiere was a moment between Oliver and Felicity in the hospital corridor. After their disastrous date at an Italian restaurant ended with Felicity unconscious, Oliver and Felicity addressed their "are they or aren't they" situation with an intense exchange that ends in their first kiss. But the timing of that kiss is complicated thanks to the presence of new Queen Consolidated owner Ray Palmer — played by Brandon Routh — and this moment on The Flash.

"Oliver and Felicity have a very emotional scene together in episode two," Guggenheim said. "This is not the last time we'll hear the words 'I love you' in connection to Oliver and Felicity. But I never want to turn to the back of the book and read to everyone the last page because part of the fun, or the agony, of watching these two people is the fact they're together, they're apart, they're together, they're apart."

The hospital scene, if anything, showed just how complex Oliver and Felicity's relationship is. "They're both conflicted. That's what makes their relationship so tortuous is they're both so conflicted about it. Our goal in writing that scene was to make it even-handed in terms of who's ending it," Guggenheim said. The following episode will include a moment between the two that is "a sequel," which "clarifies" the hospital exchange "a good deal more."

Oliver and Felicity's story is "something we'll be dealing with over the course of the season," Guggenheim said. "The end of that hospital scene didn't take Oliver and Felicity and put them back in a box. The repercussions of that scene and that storyline is going to follow them over the course of season three. It's not over. We didn't just hit pause or reset on their relationship. This is a development in an ongoing relationship for them."

Guggenheim discusses five more developments following Wednesday's premiere, including what the first half of season three will entail. (Don't forget to read Guggenheim's lengthy primer, covering everything from Thea's return and Ray Palmer's motives with Queen Consolidated to Roy's Team Arrow integration and Ra's al Ghul.)

1. Nyssa's journey becomes even more important.

When Nyssa returns to Starling City — she'll be seen in episode four — the al Ghul will have a lot on her plate. "Her finding out that Sara's dead is going to be a big deal," Guggenheim teased. "With Sara's death, Nyssa becomes so much more important. One thing that Sara did was provide us with a cool, ass-kicking female character on the show, and Nyssa definitely fits that bill quite well."

2. Diggle isn't entirely done with Team Arrow.

At the end of the premiere, Diggle conceded to Oliver that with a new baby, it was probably in his best interest to stay out of the field. "It did mean he's off the team," Guggenheim said. But Sara's unexpected death may change that. "The circumstances of Sara's death changes up a lot of things for all of our characters," he hinted.

3. Laurel and Oliver grow closer.

If you thought things would be tense between Laurel and Oliver in the aftermath of Sara's death, you'd be wrong. "Sara's death probably pulls them closer together than further apart," Guggenheim said. "That's not to say there aren't some significant moments of conflict between them also. That's one of the reasons why we killed Sara off — the amount of richness that we get out of it [is priceless]." Guggenheim previewed scenes from next week's episode where Laurel and Oliver "are going at it and can't stand each other" but also a moment "when they're the closest that they've ever been." "It doesn't feel schizophrenic. It doesn't feel inconsistent. Each moment feels earned because of the emotional roller coaster these people are on," he added.

4. Oliver Queen's non-Arrow persona is a mystery.

Oliver Queen began the series as a billionaire playboy, but at the start of season three, all of that is gone. So who is he without Queen Consolidated or a fortune or a typical family? "That's a big question of the season. It speaks to this issue of identity. This episode, Oliver decides, 'I can't be Oliver Queen.' This is the struggle over the entire season," Guggenheim said, adding that the third episode "will demonstrate how important Thea is to him and how Thea is the one last tie to his persona as Oliver." "But this is his season-long journey: Is there an Oliver Queen anymore? If there can be, what does that look like? It's a real conundrum."

5. Count Vertigo may return.

Arrow has now introduced two iterations of the Count and Guggenheim left the door open for the villain's possible return to Starling City, either with Peter Stormare or via someone else. "I personally would love to see Peter Stormare back on the show," he said. "I don't think we've completely written out that character." As Guggenheim explained, the Count was a tangible way for the heroes to confront the theme of identity — "that Oliver is struggling" between being Oliver and the Arrow. "We struggled with it in the writers room. Would people think we were doing the same thing as Batman Begins? ... We [decided that], 'No, we're doing our own thing.' If we were connecting it to Ra's, it would be very Batman Begins."

Who killed Sara? What did you think of Ray Palmer's entrance? Are Oliver and Felicity done? Sound off in the comments below.

Arrow airs 8 p.m. Wednesdays on The CW.

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