Despite not yet appearing onscreen with Oliver Queen, Ra’s al Ghul has become the bogeyman of the “Arrow” universe. So far, viewers have only seen brief glimpses of the master assassin, but his name has instilled concern and fear in many of the show’s characters. Now, on tonight’s mid-season finale, Ra’s steps out of the shadows, in full force. Along with his daughter Nyssa and the League of Assassins, he descends upon Starling City to determine once and for all who killed Sara Lance, and whatever the outcome, this does not bode well for Team Arrow.
With “The Climb” promising to forever alter the landscape of the hit CW series., we spoke with Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim about bringing Ra’s, traditionally Batman’s nemesis, into the “Arrow” fold, pitting him against Oliver. We also dig a little deeper into the development of Black Canary, how the “Arrow” take on Ra’s differs from Christopher Nolan and Liam Neeson‘s version of the classic character, Neal Adams’ influence on the Ra’s/Oliver fight scene, Ray Palmer’s agenda — and the much anticipated first glimpse of the A.T.O.M. suit!
CBR News: It must have been difficult casting an actor for Ra’s al Ghul. how did you settle on Matt Nable for the role?
Marc Guggenheim: Matt basically brings gravitas. He’s a very formidable guy. He holds the screen. You feel like Ra’s can hold his own against Oliver. You feel like he’s on an even footing with Stephen Amell.
At the same time, he brings a noble malevolence. That’s what’s interesting about his Ra’s. He’s not the perfect gentleman that Liam Neeson was in “Batman Begins.” He has a little bit of thug to him, but it’s very regal. It’s an interesting combination. It’s a little bit as if you were to combine Liam Neeson and Bane from “Dark Knight Rises.” If Bane and the Nolan Ra’s had a kid, that would be a pretty reasonable estimation of our Ra’s.
What can viewers expect from Ra’s, Nyssa and the League of Assassins?
First of all, It’s always fun to have Katrina Law comes back as Nyssa. She gives her best performance. We’ve always loved her on the show, obviously, but this is easily my favorite performance by Katrina. She has an interesting shape to her story. In large part, that comes from being the one who is, second to Laurel maybe, the most grieved by Sara’s death and certainly the most out for justice.
With the League of Assassins, we get to see why they are so formidable. We’ve seen them in little batches, but we get to really dig into Ra’s and what makes him a formidable fighter. Nyssa is right there at the center of it.
When he comes to Starling, Ra’s is on a quest to discover who murdered Sara. It’s an honorable gesture, even if his methods are twisted. Do you approach him as a ‘villain’ when writing him?
We always say that, on “Arrow,” the villains are the heroes of their own story. By that, I mean Saddam Hussein didn’t wake up every morning and go, “Oh, I’m evil today.” He thought he was doing the righteous thing. Just to be realistic, and keeping with the gravitas of the show, villains don’t consider themselves villains. Even in episode 309, Ra’s gives a little speech where he talks about replacing evil with death. For him, all the murders that he’s committed over the course of his life were really in the service of a greater good. Does that make him a villain? Quite frankly, I’d rather have the audience debate that than me weigh in on it for them. One of the touchstones for “Arrow” is that our villains are morally complex.
How does Malcolm Merlyn handle Ra’s being in Starling City?
I’m just going to go with “unexpectedly.”
One scene has Oliver and Ra’s sword fighting shirtless. How much of that was inspired by Neal Adams’ classic Batman versus Ra’s al Ghul duel?
One hundred percent. We knew from jump that we wanted to pay homage to that epic fight. Truth be told, we probably would have set it in a desert as well, except for the fact it’s very hard to do that convincingly in Vancouver in October.
You’ve stated the show will never be the same after “The Climb.” Can you elaborate on that and how the stakes have been raised?
I would say, I don’t know if Oliver has ever had as personal an agenda before. One of the things we tend to do with these big, epic episodes is that it’s all about saving the city and saving hundreds of thousands of people. Here, there’s only one person he’s trying to save. That makes it a very intimate kind of fight.
As far as how the show will never be the same, you’re going to have to watch.
In what ways do the ramifications of tonight’s episode set up the Black Canary arc and lay the groundwork even beyond that?
The one thing I want to clarify — and I don’t know how this happened — it got out there in the ether that we were doing a Black Canary arc. That’s not really the case. In episodes 10, 11 and 12, there’s some pretty huge growth for Laurel and big steps taken on the road to becoming the Black Canary. That said, it’s not the Black Canary show. I’d say episode 10 is all about Team Arrow and dealing with the ramifications and the aftershocks of 309.
Roy, Felicity and Diggs really come to the fore in 10, 11 and 12, for reasons I think will be pretty clear by the time you see episode 9.
What kind of discussions has there been about the Lazarus Pits, which is an important part of Ra’s al Ghul’s mythology?
I think the best answer to that question is to direct you to the end of episode 4, and the very first time we saw Ra’s. That’s the best way I can answer without spoiling things.
This is also a big episode for Ray Palmer. What can you tease about his plans and how they’ll impact Oliver?
We’re going to see the ramifications of the kiss that Felicity and Ray had. We’re going to learn a pretty significant piece of Ray’s backstory. We’re going to get a pretty nice glimpse of the super-suit he’s been building.
As far as how those developments impact Oliver, I’ll say in all honesty, I don’t think they are going to impact him very much in 309. But, the track is being laid for further developments between Ray and Felicity. By the end of their last scene, you’ll see what plans Ray has for Felicity.