SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for the season finale of The CW’s “Arrow” lie ahead!
Viewers of The CW’s DC Comics-inspired drama “Arrow” spent a good amount of time during Season 1 connecting the dots between the on screen version of Oliver Queen and the superhero Green Arrow he’s destined to become. But in the season finale that aired two weeks ago, that path took an unexpected turn.
While many fans expected Colin Donnell’s character Tommy Merlyn to eventually take up his father’s mantle as the Dark Archer, Queen’s best friend instead died heroically to save their shared love interest from a manmade earthquake. The move is set to send shockwaves through “Arrow” in its second season, but executive producer and show runner Marc Guggenheim revealed exclusively to CBR the fallout begins this week in issue #35 of the “Arrow” digital comic — part one of the series’ own season finale before it goes on hiatus until “Arrow” returns with new episodes this fall. An exclusive previewed of the issue can be read below.
Guggenheim explained to CBR how the two-part tale came to be as the producers of the show worked to keep the death tightly under wraps, why the comic is the only place to see specific events in the “Arrow” timeline before the show bows for Season 2 and what the death of Tommy Merlyn means for Oliver Queen’s quest away from vigilantism and towards Green Arrow.
CBR News: Marc, when the season finale came around for “Arrow,” I’ve got to admit — I thought Malcolm was going to be the one to bite it instead of Tommy. No matter what people expected going in, you likely swerved in a direction that surprised many. How has the reaction been to the story from your end?
Marc Guggenheim: I’ve got to say, this has really exceeded my wildest expectations on so many levels. First of all, people seemed genuinely surprised. In this day and age of spoilers and the internet, you feel like it’s impossible to keep a secret. We actually kept this one, and that’s very gratifying. What’s also gratifying is I feel everything we were trying to do with the finale, the fans got. They appreciated the emotion we brought to it and the scope. The internet is a dangerous barometer, but I have to say I really scoured the internet after it aired for everyone’s opinions, and everything seemed to say we exceeded our wildest expectations in terms of the response. And my expectations were pretty wild. I felt really good about the episode as it was coming together.
It’s super exciting, and of course I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t already worrying about how we’re going to top it next year. [Laughs] But that’s definitely a quality problem. There are two different kinds of challenges after Season 1 of a show. You’re either trying to top the previous season or you’re trying to rehabilitate the show from a lackluster season. Both endeavors have their challenges, but in the case of “Arrow” we’re trying to live up to a very high bar we set for ourselves across Season 1. The goal is to exceed that bar and take the show to the next level. It’s best when you continually raise the stakes — performances, characters, plot, production. This show kept finding new gears, and we want to keep doing that in Season 2.
The death of Tommy throws a lot of things up in the air for Season 2. Did you move towards that moment as a way of shaking up what the show could be moving forward?
It really wasn’t so much about surprising people. When you get to the end of a season and you know there’s another following, you want to strike a delicate balance between making the audience feel like you’ve wrapped up their story and closed a particular chapter, but at the same time you want them leaning in and wanting to come back for Season 2. There’s a whole bunch of different ways to do that. For us, our big question is always, “What’s going to give us the best story and the most story?” and when we did the “creative map” on killing off Tommy, it made us realize all these different stories that can now be told, along with different character dynamics that can now be played. It really was a stone thrown in the pond of “Arrow” and the ripples continue to extend. They’ll echo throughout Season 2. We didn’t kill off Tommy just to end the season with a bang. We did it for all the long term effects it will have on Oliver and the rest of the cast.
June 5 you’re debuting a new digital comic that’s the connective tissue between the finale and what will be Season 2. Where did the desire for this extra bit of story come from?
It’s funny. This two-parter came about in a way that was different from the other “Arrow” digital chapters I’ve written for the show. Usually when I’m doing a digital chapter myself as opposed to working with one of the other writers on the show, I’m trying to scratch an itch I’ve had from the story room. I’m usually trying to fill in what I call “grout” — the missing gaps between episodes. Ben Sokolowski just wrote this great chapter where he explains how Oliver got a plane and someone to pilot it in episode 21 when the Arrow rescued Walter. It’s always fun filling in those blanks and writing those moments we didn’t have the budget and time to shoot.
In the case of ending Season 1 of the digital comic, I wanted to go out with a bang. I wanted to end the comics season with the same sort of muscularity as the televised version. We kicked around a whole bunch of ideas in service of that, and a lot of those ideas were the kind of thing where we said, “Let’s save that for the show.” Some of the ideas were impractical for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, I was the last to show up to the party with the idea of extending past the season finale mainly because at that time we hadn’t broken the story for the season finale, and I couldn’t figure out how it would all payoff. I didn’t see how it could be extended in the digital comic because one thing you always want to avoid is making it feel like padding. I didn’t want to just extend Season 1 of “Arrow” arbitrarily. I wanted you to feel like you were getting new information — valuable information.
What I ended up settling on was to make this a two-parter. All the other digital chapters #1-34 have been self-contained stories. So by making this a two-parter, we’re already making it a little more special. Then in a departure for me, I approached this story from having a visual in my head. That’s rare for me. I had this image of Oliver during the finale racing from Merlyn Tower to CNRI [where Tommy died] and experiencing the earth break through his POV. That just stuck with me, and as it continued to take shape as the story of Oliver getting from point A to point B, all these other ideas flooded in. It included this non-linear storytelling where we would flashback and flashforward to moments beyond the season finale. It allowed us to play with time in a way comics can do that can’t be done in a TV show. But Oliver running from the tower to CNRI is the spine.
Once the episode had come together, this idea took a furtive shape in my head as a story. It was one of those writing jobs where things came together in a very organic way rather than being all planned out. The reason it works is because I was writing to the moments I thought the audience would be most curious about seeing post-season finale.
Even though you were the early holdout to extending the show’s finale forward into the comic, it sounds like you got to be the guy who showed up and said, “This is how we do it.” You were the hero of the day!
[Laughs] I suppose so! What was weird is when you talk about keeping the season finale a secret, it was tricky to write descriptions for artist Allan Jefferson because certain portions of the finale script were censored. I tried to hold on to the reveal and the fact that Tommy died until the very end. So he had to draw several pages with panels missing and with dialogue balloons self-censored. In fact, this morning I just went back through and did a pass at the lettering to make sure it all makes sense. It was tough to get the digital comic out in time but still maintain the secret.
I’ve got to say, everyone from our editor Alex Antone on down has been amazing about putting these digital comics together. It was a lot of fun for us on the show to do, and Alex really wrangled a lot of great artists, inkers and colorists to create a series that’s fun and hasn’t ever been done before — telling a story in comics that is cannon to the story you’re telling in the TV show. It’s been a blast.
Last time we spoke, you said how in Season 1 the journey of Oliver went from one of a man trying to get vengeance and cross names off a list to one of a man trying to save a city. In light of Tommy’s death, what can we expect Oliver’s journey to be in Season 2?
Actually, in the digital comic there’s a moment we’ll look back on as the very last time Oliver was the vigilante. Season 2 is all about him going from vigilante to being a hero. There really is a difference. Especially in comics, we tend to use those words interchangeably, but Season 2 really spells out the difference between what it means to be a vigilante and what it means to be a hero. That’s something we grab by the throat and don’t let go of starting in episode 1 of Season 2. The digital comic presents the final, final moment of Oliver truly taking the law into his own hands and being judge, jury and executioner as opposed to being a more inspirational figure in the form of a hero.
“Arrow” #35 is available digitally June 5 from DC Comics