[This story contains spoilers from the Arrow season six finale, “Life Sentence.”]
Arrow is going to look considerably different when it returns for its seventh season in the fall.
The CW’s gritty comic book drama said farewell to not one but two major players in the Arrow-verse. Onscreen, Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) died after he was shot by Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo). Offscreen, Arrow-verse co-creator Marc Guggenheim is stepping down as showrunner.
While Lance’s death may not have come as much of a surprise after word of Blackthorne’s departure leaked, Guggenheim taking a step back from his leadership role on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow will impact the series in a larger sense. As one of the architects of Arrow and of The CW’s now-massive DC universe, Guggenheim will continue as an executive consultant on both shows while Beth Schwartz has been promoted to serve as Arrow‘s lone showrunner in season seven as executive producer Wendy Mericle also exited after Thursday’s finale.
After six years on Arrow building out The CW’s super slate, which now includes Black Lightning, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl (as well as CW Seed animated series Vixen and Freedom Fighters: The Ray), Guggenheim dropped the mic on his way out. In the season six finale, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) publicly confessed to being the Green Arrow and turned himself in to the FBI, a twist that the veteran writer-producer and comic author planned on doing from the start of the series. Oliver ended the season on a chilling note, in prison surrounded by all the criminals he helped put in there. What’s worse: He no longer has his secret identity to keep him safe. With Lance’s death and Oliver’s imprisonment — on top of Thea’s (Willa Holland) exit earlier this season — the only remaining original Arrow character from the pilot left to carry the torch is Diggle (David Ramsey). (Emily Bett Rickards’ Felicity joined in episode two.)
Below, Guggenheim — in his final interview as Arrow showrunner — gets candid about that big finale, how much life is left in the series given all the cast departures and what he’s doing next.
After six years of helping create the Arrow-verse, what’s next for you?
I’m pitching a couple new shows. I am working on two movies. And I am continuing on the Tales of Arcadia series, which is the Trollhunters series that I’m doing with Guillermo del Toro [for Netflix]. And I’m also still writing X-Men Gold and Swashbucklers, which is a new comic book series. I’ve got plenty to do.
What has the transition been like moving on from being a showrunner in The CW’s comic book lineup?
It’s been easy because I’ve moved into this consulting role that I’m enjoying. In large part, the reason that it’s been so easy is that Beth Schwartz on Arrow and Phil Klemmer on Legends were already doing such great jobs in their respective capacities that I get to just come in and if I have an idea I can throw out the idea. I still get some creative satisfaction out of working on the shows. And then I also like that they come to me and ask me questions.
Looking ahead at season seven, Arrow is entering a new chapter after losing a number of series regulars. How much longer do you see the show running with so many changes happening?
We’re in that point for network television where you start to look at the ratings and go, OK, how many years does the show have left? We’re going into season seven, Beth and the team have a fantastic game plan and something that I think will both reinvigorate the show and set us up for seasons eight and beyond if that’s what we end up doing, or at the same time, will provide the basis for some closure if we end up ending in season seven. We’re all going into this interesting, uncharted territory where we don’t know how long the show can go for. [Laughs.] There are literally plans for every contingency, which is nice. Beth is a lot like me, we both really like having multiple plans and backup plans.
Season finales always include huge game-changing moments for Arrow and this was no different with Lance’s death and the Legends crossover with Sara (Caity Lotz) coming to the hospital. Where did the decision to kill off Lance come from? Was that always the plan or did that come as a result of conversations with Paul about the future of the character?
I wouldn’t say it was always the plan. It was something that we slowly came to. Sometimes we know exactly what our plans for a character are and other times it’s a slow discovery. In the case of Paul, it was a combination of two things. We started thinking about Lance’s character in season seven and coming to the conclusion that we felt like we told all the story there is to tell with Lance. We ran out of story with him while at the same time we were thinking about Katie Cassidy’s character, Earth-2 Laurel, and thinking about if Diaz were to kill Lance, what does that do for her character? It opened up a lot of very exciting storytelling possibilities for us and it fit in with a lot of things we were already thinking about in terms of the trajectory for Laurel’s character in season seven.
Oftentimes, we do what we call story math: If we killed off Lance, X, Y and Z happen. What are X, Y and Z? If we get excited about X, Y and Z, the idea starts to develop its own momentum. The more we talked about it, the more it felt like the natural and right thing to do. It’s always hard but at the same time, the show has always had an element to it where no one was safe. Unlike some of the other Arrow-verse shows, we’ve killed off more characters on Arrow than all the other Arrow-verse shows combined. There is something in the DNA about the show that makes that resonant and makes that visceral. As a result, we’re less precious about holding on to characters past their expiration date. But it’s hard because I will really miss working with Paul.
With Oliver now having publicly confessed to being the Green Arrow and getting sent to prison, after so many fake-outs in the past, what does this mean for the series moving forward now that he can’t go back to leading a double life?
When we were doing the pilot, I had a bucket list of ideas for the show. The identity reveal in my original conception happened in a very different way, but the idea of him revealing his identity, that was my penultimate card to play. Going into this season, we knew that that’s how we wanted to end the season. We were cognizant going into season six that if the show was going to be a six-plus-season show, it needs to constantly evolve and change. Oliver revealing his identity at the end of the season would be a great way to fundamentally change the series going into season seven.
He’s not going to remain in prison for the remainder of the series. When he gets out of prison, the fact that he now has to deal with the consequences of the public knowing his secret identity, that is huge. It’s not just Oliver, it’s also Felicity (Rickards) and his son, William (Jack Moore). She’s now married to the Green Arrow. William’s dad is the Green Arrow. That’s going to be huge for their family. That just creates so many cool stories to tell, interesting complications, challenges, dangers. It makes the prison storyline so much more visceral. If we wanted to just stick Oliver in prison, we could have done that without revealing his secret identity, but for us what always made the prison storyline exciting was he’s not just trapped in prison, but he’s trapped in prison with all these people who know that he’s the one who put him there. That’s such rich, exciting territory for us to be able to undertake in season seven.
Arrow is beginning to repopulate the ranks with Colton Haynes returning as a series regular for season seven. Where did the decision to bring Roy back next season come from and what does that mean for Thea since they just left town on a mission together only a few episodes back?
Colton and I got to talking and he said he’d be interested in coming back to the show. We could not have been more excited. When we wrote him off with Thea at the end of season six, we knew we might be writing ourselves into a little bit of a corner vis a vis Roy because he was going away with Thea. At the same time, we knew that Colton would likely come back as a series regular in season seven without Willa.
There are some interesting writing challenges that the writing staff has had to juggle in season seven but I think they’ve come up with some really interesting solutions. Their planned trajectory for Roy in season seven is really exciting. It’s something that we’re not just bringing him back to the show and picking up where we left off with him. He’s really going back in a new, really cool and interesting way. One of the many consequences of Oliver revealing his identity, especially revealing his identity in the way that he does in the finale, is it gives Roy a new lease on life. Roy has had to go underground as a result of the events of season three and because of the way Oliver outed himself at the end of season six, Roy has his whole life back and his whole identity back. That’s very interesting territory for us to play. We haven’t been able to do that with a character yet, where someone gets their whole life returned to them in one fell swoop and will now have to deal with the consequences.
Arrow will return for season seven in the fall on The CW.