DC TV Watch: New 'Arrow' Showrunner Dives Deep Into Those Flash-Forwards

Arrow S07E01 Still_DC Watch - Publicity - H 2018
Jack Rowand/The CW

Welcome back to The Hollywood Reporter's weekly DC TV Watch, a rundown of all things DC Comics on the small screen. Every Saturday, we round up the major twists, epic fights, new mysteries and anything else that goes down on The CW's Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl and Black Lightning, and Fox's Gotham. The new seasons of all the Arrow-verse series are (finally!) here, so this week new Arrow showrunner Beth Schwartz spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in depth about all those season seven premiere revelations ...

Those flash forwards: Viewers were left reeling when the end of the Arrow season seven premiere revealed that those island "flashback" scenes throughout the episode were actually flash forwards. Taking place 20 years in the future, Oliver Queen's (Stephen Amell) now grown son William (Ben Lewis) journeyed to Lian Yu to link up with a now middle-aged Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) for a mysterious reason that will be explored throughout the entire season (and future seasons as well). 

"I've been on the show since the beginning and we had always in the room discussed the possibility when the flashbacks ended that we would do the flash forwards," executive producer Beth Schwartz tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Especially since we knew about William and we thought that would be really cool to see how he's been affected by his childhood and his father. We always wanted to do something like that and then this season I pitched it to Greg [Berlanti] and he was like, 'Yes!' We knew we wanted something fresh and new for season seven and my favorite part of the show was always the flashbacks and the mystery of how Oliver became the Green Arrow and his origin story."

While Schwartz doesn't remember which writer or producer originally came up with the flash forward idea in the early days of Arrow, it was set in the core mythology of the series years ago. "It was when we realized this show might go on beyond five seasons and I know that Marc [Guggenheim] had always said the flashbacks were five years," she adds. "What do we do after five seasons? It just made sense to go forward into the future instead of continuing flashbacks. We're kind of breaking two shows. We have a whole separate mythology for the flash forwards and we have a lot of new characters and that's why it feels so fresh; we're doing two shows in one."

The flash forwards will not be in every episode, but they will be in most. "When we had flashbacks in every episode, sometimes it felt like a little too much," Schwartz says. "I wanted to make sure that we were telling the story we needed to tell instead of being forced to tell them in every episode. With the flash forwards, we're able to see the consequences of what our team has done in the present day story. In the future storyline you're going to be able to see were vigilantes effective? How did that affect Star City in the future? How did it affect The Glades? How did it affect all the characters we love? Are people going to be the same or different? It opens up the world a lot."

And for those keeping track, while Lian Yu was blown up by Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra) in the season five finale, it wasn't completely destroyed. "We definitely talked about that," Schwartz says with a laugh. "He blew up the island but he didn't decimate it. We figured that 20 years in the future, life finds its way back on the island so that’s why we had some greenery having grown over the graves. And he just didn't burn Robert Queen's grave."

Key changes: Aside from the game-changing addition of flash forwards, season seven is a new chapter for Arrow as Oliver Queen is now behind bars. Don't expect to see him freed from prison anytime soon as the show doubles down on the creative choices made in the season six finale when he outed himself as the Green Arrow and chose to turn himself in to the FBI.

"I love the prison story and it's what separates it from the previous seasons," Schwartz says. "Oliver is away from his team, away from his wife and child and he's with some old characters and some new characters. This allows us to tell a different kind of narrative. He's not the Green Arrow anymore. I always wanted it to be a longer arc – I loved Prison Break and I thought it was such a great opportunity to see how our hero reacts to being in prison. There is so much story to be told there so it's a longer arc and the studio and network were extremely supportive. It's one of the strongest stories we have, at least in the first half of the season."

Larger theme: The overall theme this season is redemption, and that doesn't just apply to Oliver serving time for crimes he committed as the Green Arrow.

"It's focused on Oliver but it will hit on all the characters, just in the choices they've made this season by becoming a hero in a different way," Schwartz says. "It affects Laurel/Black Siren [Katie Cassidy], she has a large way to go to redeem herself from last season. It will even affect some of our characters in the future story as well."

New villain: For the first time in history, Arrow is keeping the same villain around for a second season as Diaz aka the Dragon (Kirk Acevedo) will continue to hunt the separated Team Arrow out of revenge for destroying his empire last season.

"It is the first time we've done this and it's the first time we've had a big bad going after our team while Oliver is in prison," Schwartz says. "Oliver is very much isolated on the inside and he'll struggle with trying to go after Diaz while he's stuck in prison so he'll have to get creative. Our team on the outside isn't really a team anymore either so having them trying to figure out their new normal and take down Diaz is also very challenging so they'll have to do things in a different way than they've done before." 

And with the addition of the Longbow Hunters, taking down Diaz will prove to be a lot harder than they all think. "Diaz will be their leader, so he'll have this fierce group of assassins that are on his side for him to fight the team with," Schwartz adds.

New main character: Colton Haynes returned to Arrow as a series regular once more this season, but in a surprise twist, he's playing an older version of his original character in the flash forwards after riding off into the sunset with Thea (Willa Holland) last season in what was supposed to be his happily-ever-after sendoff. 

"You'll see a lot more in episode 2 that he's much darker," Schwartz says of the 20 years older, Lian Yu resident Roy. "He's definitely been burned. There will be a lot of mysteries to reveal throughout the season about what happened to him in that time span. We don't like the happily-ever-afters, apparently."

And now that the adult version of William has found Roy on Lian Yu, expect to learn more about why he's sought out his father's first protege and what's happened to him over the past 20 years as he and Roy develop a mentor/mentee relationship. "Last year we spent a lot of time with Oliver as a father, and those stories were extremely dynamic," Schwartz says. "Trying to figure out what it's like for a child to have a father who is Oliver Queen has been endless with the amount of stories we can come up with. How that affects a small child with all the trauma he's been through, it's interesting to see how William turns out when he's an adult."

The future: As Schwartz takes over the reins of the series from former showrunners Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, she's bringing six years of experience as an Arrow writer with her to shape the show as it begins its next chapter.

"What I brought [to this season with my promotion] is extremely collaborative," Schwartz says. "I've known a lot of these people for a long time. I'm just focusing on season seven right now but with the flash forwards, it feels like now the stories are endless. There's a lot of material."

Fun fact: While Shadowhunters star Katherine McNamara was previously reported as a new cast member for this season of Arrow, not much is known about her role, even after the season seven premiere. Schwartz wants to keep most of the details about Maya, a skilled street fighter in Star City, secret but promises that the character will debut soon. "We'll see her in the first half of the season," she reveals. "There are still many surprises to come."

Arrow season seven airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.