SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for the "Arrow" season four premiere, which debuted Wednesday, Oct. 7 and as of publication has not yet aired on the west coast.
Up until the last few minutes, things seemed to going relatively well for Team Arrow in the fourth "Arrow" season premiere, which aired tonight on The CW -- sure, they were dealing with the growing threat of Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), but Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) returned to Star City as a still-happy couple, with Oliver taking on the more PR-friendly identity of the "Green Arrow" and the team mostly all on the same page, despite some lingering resentment from Diggle (David Ramsey) towards Ollie.
And then the episode ended with a "six months later" flash forward, showing a mournful Oliver at the gravesite of -- well, your guess is as good as anyone's right now. It's a deliberate mystery as to who died in the interim period, but it certainly seems like someone who meant a lot to Oliver -- and to The Flash as well, as Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) runs by to pay his respects.
Naturally, that scene raises a lot of questions, and "Arrow" showrunners and executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle talked to press including CBR News last week at CW headquarters in Burbank to give the best answer they could at this early stage.
One message made clear? It's not a misdirection. "It's not a fake out," Guggenheim said. "That's not how we roll."
Even if the death is "for real," there's still the issue of how "for real" any death can be in the "Arrow'-verse at this point, since there's a Lazarus Pit in Nanda Parbat with the proven ability to revive the dead. That's something that will be addressed, according to the EPs.
"We want to bring stakes back to the show," Mericle said. "We'll be finding a way to handle the Lazarus Pit portion of season 3 in season 4, in a new, inventive way that I can't reveal."
"I'll feel very organic and very earned," Guggenheim added. "It's actually very elegant."
Guggenheim and Mericle also stressed that it's early enough in the season that even they may not be sure yet who's buried in that graveyard -- but they are sure it needs to have a profound impact among "Arrow" fans.
"We want it, obviously, to have resonance," Mericle said. "If it doesn't mean something to the characters, it won't mean anything to the audience, either."
Wednesday's "Arrow" season premiere also delivered a couple more major developments, including a late scene revealing Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne -- captain of the Star City Police Department and father to Laurel and Sara -- is, in what certainly seems like an out of character move, working in conjunction with this season's mystically powered villain, Damien Darhk; though the hows and especially the whys are an open question.
"You'll see later in the season that he did not know what he was necessarily signing up for," Mericle told reporters. "We're going to play it really as a crisis for Lance, in terms of why he chose to do it, and what it means for him -- he's always been the moral center of the show, and someone who's lorded his morality over Olvier's. When all of this comes to a head, it's going to be very interesting to see how those two characters work it out."
While there's plenty of upheaval in the present day, the flashback sequences also ended with Oliver in a less-than-desirable position: Back on Lian Yu, the "hellish island" that helped form him into the violent vigilante he became. Not only is the return to Lian Yu significant in itself, it's also set to have relevance to the present-day action, Mericle shared.
"He's going to encounter a woman he's going to fall in love with," Mericle said of this season's flashbacks. "He's also going to encounter a lot of magic and mysticism, and that is going inform what he's dealing with in Star City in the present day, with Damien Darhk."
This deep dive into magic -- after the rise of metahumans last season on both "Arrow" and "The Flash" -- is definitely deliberate, though it's a far distance from where the show started in 2012. It's certainly changed the show, but Guggenheim told the gathered press that he didn't see it as fundamentally altering what "Arrow" is all about.
"Obviously, we started out with a very clear intention of doing very grounded, no superheroes, no metahumans, no powers, no magic," Guggenheim said. "Then basically Warner Bros. and The CW said, 'Yeah, we really want you to spin off "Flash."' OK! I guess we're doing superpowers now."
"What we've tried to do on 'Arrow' is embrace that as much as possible," he continued. "I don't think it's affected the tone of the show. We always say, when we tone the episodes with the director, that 'Arrow,' as we've created, can sustain these fantastical elements, as long as our characters' reactions are realistic. I think it's the reactions of the characters that ground things. As an example, Diggle last year reacting to Barry's powers. If they react in a way that any of us would react, it makes the fantastical less fantastical -- or at least it makes the fantastical more believable in the context of the show that we've created."
Reading this, things may seem rather grim for Team Arrow, but the episode actually had more lighthearted moments -- like Oliver and Felicity's awkward meal with their suburban neighbors -- than typically seen on the series. That's intentional, said the showrunners, who for months have said this season will have something of a "lighter tone."
"We definitely did want to come into this season and change the tone," Mericle said. "It is the fourth season, you do want to change things up. But it's really grown out of who Oliver is. He's happier now, he's in love with Felicity, he's no longer the post-traumatic stress disorder-suffering soldier he was in the first three seasons. That's really where it's coming from. We want it to still play very much as part of the fabric of the show -- it's not a comedy."
Given how the season premiere ended, it's clear that despite lighter elements, the show will continue to be as serious as it wants to be -- and things are likely to get a lot more dire before long.
"Arrow" airs 8 p.m. Wednesdays on The CW.