As Mericle reveals, Season Five poses the prospect of some serious change for Team Arrow, as its members have either moved on, have one foot out the door or, in Oliver’s particular case, find themselves struggling to effectively serve as both street crusader and Star City’s Mayor. But there are many fresh new faces – but also familiar ones to comic book fans – about to join the ongoing battle for justice.
But the new costumed heroes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arrow’s evolution, Mericle promises in her wide-ranging conversation with CBR. In fact, by the end of the upcoming season, a full-blown reinvention will be imminent.
CBR: Wendy, let’s talk about the new faces you’re introducing in Season Five: these new, young vigilante heroes that may or may not end up as part of Team Arrow. First, The Vigilante, who I suspect may not be in the fold. He seems like he’s more of an outsider.
Wendy Mericle: He’s an outsider, yeah.
Tell me about the show’s take on him.
He’s an amazing character because he really throws in Oliver’s face the question of “Are you being effective?” He goes out and kills bad guys. He is who Oliver was when he came back from that island. Now that Oliver has evolved, and he has a different sense of his own morality, he’s got this guy coming in, and basically taking care of business in a way that he has decided a long time ago that he would not. So I think it raises some interesting questions for him, personally and morally.
And really, to the point of: if he’s there to save Star City, is he saving it by not taking these guys out? Actually, that gets into a sort of death penalty-esque moral grey area. These are interesting questions.
Tell me about some of the other younger crew that he’s taking under his wing.
We have a couple characters. First and foremost, we have Artemis that we’re introducing. She was Evelyn Sharp we saw in [Episode] 419 last season, played by Madison McLaughlin. She’s really young, naive, but has that drive to be a fighter. Oliver’s going to be shaping her, and I think goes a little bit easier on her in some ways than maybe on the others.
Then Wild Dog, who is a character from the comic books. No one actually knows exactly who Wild Dog is from the comic books, so we’re going to play a little bit with that. He is played by Rick Gonzalez, who’s gangbusters! The guy, he completely loves the role, he’s inhabited this character. He’s just been so much fun, and he’s having a great time up there.
And then we’ve announced Joe Dinicol playing Ragman, too. He brings this very interesting spiritual element to the show. We’re really leaning into the fact that he has a religious history, a Jewish history, and he’s going to provide some moral clarity I think for the team.
In regards to Ragman, he’s a semi-obscure character in some ways, but everybody who knows of him is fascinated by him – at least by his dramatic visual appearance. Tell me how you want to interpret Ragman for this show.
This is our usual way: we take the comic book version, pick what we like, turn it and twist it, and hopefully find different inspiration in it. We are really embracing his rags as a sort of power. It doesn’t play like a meta-power, but it is a power, so that part is fun. He’s the only member of the team who has that. And so far this season, he’s really the only person we’re seeing with anything like that power, which is fun.
And really, what we’re mostly leaning into is the spiritual component. Dig has always been the moral conscience of the team; now we have a new person who has a different perspective, and seeing them kind of clash in the bunker. And then where does Oliver fit into that? It’s going to provide some really fun, cool dynamics with the characters.
What I remember of Wild Dog from that '80s miniseries, he seems like a character that would fall somewhere in between Oliver and the Vigilante. Does he get a little push/pull between them?
Oh, yeah! It’s so much fun with him because, on the one hand, with Vigilante in particular, he’s kind of like, “Is this guy so bad? I mean, why are we fighting this?” He’s from the military. He has a military history. He’s a soldier in some ways. But he’s also a really loose canon, and I think for him, he’s going through [something]. He and Dig have some overlap in terms of he’s wondering is he a good person? He did commit some crimes. He has seen the inside of a jail cell. He’s wondering: is he a good guy or not?
And we’ve got some strong hints that Mr. Terrific will finally be showing up!
Oh, heck yeah! Echo Kellum – oh yeah, he’s going to be there. Echo, I’m a huge fan of from Season Four. I think the fans love him as well. He’s amazing, and we are. We’re going to really see the origin story of a superhero through Mr. Terrific and get into a gay marriage, basically, and talk about what is it like if you come home one day and you find out your husband’s out fighting crime? What does that look like?
Let’s talk bad guys: Prometheus was, I think, a character never quite used to his full potential in the comics after Grant Morrison first introduced him. A really great concept that nobody’s jumped on since. Tell me what you guys saw in that for the show.
We knew he’s a long-standing Green Arrow villain – and again, we are taking him from the comic books, and then making him somebody who will really give Oliver a run for his money in terms of all these questions about legacy and morality that we worked on in the earlier. He’s really going to, in many ways, be the dark mirror of Oliver in Season One.
Is he the season’s Big Bad, or is there an even Bigger Bad?
If I told you that, the writers -- we take this blood oath at the beginning of the year. He’s definitely, he’s up there. He’s up there for sure.
Let’s talk about some of these great utility players that will be used across all the CW/DC shows: Katie Cassidy, Wentworth Miller and John Barrowman. What’s exciting for you about that prospect to be able to shuffle the chess board around a little bit?
It just gives you a bigger canvas to play with. When Barrowman goes over to “Legends” and becomes part of this Legion of Doom, and when he comes back to “Arrow,” maybe we’ll be informed by that, and maybe we won’t. I think it’s just the fun of having, it’s fun for the actors to play multiple different characters, it’s fun for us to write them.
How soon do we get to some clues about the secret Laurel shared with Oliver before she died, and what’s coming as a result?
We’ll get it right away, because it’s going to inform the whole season. It’s in 501.
And we still get some Katie Cassidy in the show?
Yes, we’re really excited. Nobody ever really dies on “Arrow.” She’s going to be kind of across the shows, and we’ll see her in the premiere, and we’ll see her later in the season as well.
Did you ever look back on the decision to kill her and sort of adamantly, publicly say ‘She’s dead?” and wonder about it?
I think we look back at that decision and felt creatively it was the right thing to do. I think that one of the things that we’ve really, the show has, that was a really good broad example of how we don’t follow the comic books all the time. And how comic books are, they’re great and they’re our inspiration, but they're limited. Literally, the writing is in a bubble, it’s contained, and we have to deal with flesh and blood through characters.
This is one of those areas where we chose to depart. Some people loved it, some people didn’t. But we love Katie, and we’re glad to have her back on the show.
You have 75 years of Green Arrow stories to use as resource and for inspiration. What’s been the fun of that for you, to really take a long look at all of the great stories that have been done with the character – and sometimes not-so-great stories that still had a gem of a good idea in them?
You know, it’s interesting: I came from the perspective not as a comic book person. I was familiar with maybe a few of the “Green Arrow” runs when I came on the show. I find that they’re really good starting points, and I mean that in the best possible way. 75 years is a really long time. That’s canon.
I think that for me personally, it’s reassuring. It’s a place to go back to, it’s a place to draw from, and then make it your own. The show is so in its own universe, and the way that even show was conceived from the get-go was very much not meant to be drawn from the comic books. And that’s something that’s a constant tension.
There are many people in our room who know these runs inside and out, and we have a lot of dialogue about “What’s the best way to do this story, and can it be informed by it?” I for one like the fact that we have this thing to go back to and this kind of source material. I’d like to do more of that in the future.
In Season Five, do you feel like you’re closer to the end than to the beginning of Oliver’s television story?
What’s interesting about Season Five, just having been there from the beginning and knowing Marc [Guggenheim] and Andrew [Kreisberg] and Greg [Berlanti] as well as I do, the show was conceived in many ways as a five-year thing. Those flashbacks will be gone after this season. I think it is going to be a different… not a different show, but it is going to have to be reinvented in Season Six, because we’re closing a chapter for sure.
Knowing that you’re letting go of flashbacks soon, did that make you really want to use them to the upmost effectiveness this time around?
Mericle: Yes. We are all… I think the fans love the Russian [storyline], the fact that the Bratva’s such an intriguing and interesting place, thing to explore. We’ve learned our lessons from the things that we’ve tried. We’ve had to sort of try different things over the past four seasons. We’re going to try them thematically with the front stories, which I think will help them feel of the world.
It’s just fun. I mean, you watch a movie like “Eastern Promises,” you go into this really dark, gritty world that we haven’t seen before. Everyone’s waiting to find out where he got that tattoo anyway. So it’s going to answer a lot of questions, and it’s going to be fun. It’s not the island.
Are we going to see DC Universe Russia – elements of what we know from the comics about DCU Russia come into the show?
I think, that’s a good question: it’s a yes and no. I think it will bring some things in. It’s so story-dependent. I think if it works for the story, where we want to take Oliver, we have a very specific trajectory for him emotionally because we have to get him, we have to sync up with the pilot. So no matter what, we know where we’re ending. If those elements can help us, then yeah, absolutely.
Do you guys have long game ending? Have you starting thinking, when we are ready to wrap it up, we know we want to hit these beats in Oliver’s endgame?
Having not created the show, I don’t know. That feels like a pilot question. I think they do have something in mind. I think the guys have always felt that there is an endgame. For me, I know what their thought is about that, and I agree with it. I do think there several markers along the way that have to be hit before we can get to… it’s basically, he’s going to hang it up. He’s going to walk away. How are we going to get him there, and what are the things that going to have to happen for him to make that decision?
This can be just wild wish-fulfillment on your part, but is there a character you’ve run across in the DC canon, you’re like, “Boy, I’d love to figure out a way to do that,” either on “Arrow,” or in some other context?
Well, there’s Wonder Woman, obviously, but they figured that out – somebody took that one! It’s interesting. There’s this character called, there’s this run, there’s a comic book called “Prez.” So ridiculous and like kind of goofy. They just did a new one where she’s this teenage girl who somehow randomly becomes the president of the United States. I think that would be, especially in the context of our current political climate, maybe something interesting to explore.
And it seems perfect fit for The CW.
It does, right? Maybe – who knows?
Are you at the point where you are interested in spinning off something else? Or even just doing an entirely different project? Or are your hands just too full with this show?
Right now, this is only my second year as showrunner. I’m fully on this. I’m fully on board “Arrow.” You always, as a writer, you’re constantly thinking of ideas. Any sort of things that I would want to do on my own, they’re not in this, they’re so far removed that it’s hard to develop other… it’s hard to find the time.
And just creatively, it does, it takes a lot of your focus. You want to give it everything that you’ve got when you’re here. And it’s important, I think, for everybody that you are fully committed thinking about the show. Also, you waking up at three in the morning and that’s all you’re thinking about! There’s no bandwidth for anything else.
Your anchorman will always be Stephen Amell. Tell me about writing for him, and knowing what he’s capable of, both as an actor, and as a physical presence on the show, and coming up with things to keep him interested and challenged in the role.
It’s always a dialogue. Every year, Stephen will come to LA and we’ll sit down and talk about what he’d like to do, and what we were thinking. So it’s symbiotic, which is good. He’s very invested. He knows the character in some ways, especially what physically he’s capable of. He loves to do the action. He’s really good at it. I think physically, there aren’t very many limitations to what you can have him do.
I would say the same performance-wise. We’ve asked him to do a lot of stuff over the past, season four, he had to bring a little bit of comedy and lightness to the role, and he really did. I think that his evolution, he’s really grown with the show, and the character’s grown because of him. We’ll sort of see where it takes us.
Where are you guys with the action that you’re planning for this season? Are you trying to raise the bar? How are you approaching it?
Raising the bar – it’s so hard to know, I think with action, defining what raising the bar would actually look like, we got really big, and we do feel compelled. We’re in a universe now where, it’s not just the other three shows we’re competing with. You’ve got “Daredevil,” you’ve got “Jessica Jones,” you've got the Marvel movies. It’s just a huge sandbox now. And I think for us, we have felt that we needed to up the game consistently.
This year though, that’s not the word I would use. I think we’re trying to go back to our roots, making it gritty and show the brutality and the up-close-and-personal of what that looks like.
There’s always an expand-and-contract aspect on projects like this. Of building the spectacle up over time and then scaling back down to the roots. Look at the Bond movies: when Daniel Craig came in and it all of a sudden seemed ground-level again and re-engaged everybody.
That’s a good comparison. We talk about the Daniel Craig Bond movies a lot in the writers’ room, and I’m a big fan of them. It is, it’s visceral, because you’re right there. You feel like you’re being punched half the time. Oh my God. And we’re trying to do more of that this season.
Tell me about working as part of the brain trust for the overall franchise, and getting together. Obviously, there’s a lot of planning going on for the crossovers. Tell me about that experience, and specifically how you want to apply it to the crossovers.
Again, it’s a dialogue. We’re all in the same building. We all kind of… sometimes we get information by passing in the hallway. “Oh, we’re going to do that.” “Okay, great!” It’s sort of haphazard. Then there are the meetings where you really talk about what characters are going to be here, and what are they going to do over there. In terms of the crossover, there’s a bigger picture, theme, and idea that’s decided on, and then it just becomes about all of us getting in a room and hashing out how the stories are going to work together, and who’s going to go to what show.
And most of it is driven by creative choices, but we also have this thing called actor availability, and Episode Seven and Episode Nine on every show, and how you balance the kind of Rubik’s Cube of getting the actors where they need to be. I think once the creative stuff is set, that becomes the biggest challenge.
Here’s a tricky question: who’s the character closest to your heart in some ways when you were writing? One that you feel a little bit more invested in than the others.
I would say I definitely feel protective of all the female characters, just writing from the perspective of a woman. This is the flip on that: being an Air Force brat, I really love writing for Diggle. I understand the military world. I just get his mindset, where he’s coming from. I just enjoy writing that type of…I like his voice. So yeah. Talking out of school a little bit, right? Don’t tell the other actors I said that!
We’re in a good moment in time where great female super-characters are really leading the charge for all kinds of female characters across genres. What feels good about having a role in that evolution?
I feel so lucky to have gotten to this place in my career at the time that we’re talking about it. I think the best thing about it is, really, it only benefits everybody to have multiple perspectives. I mean, there’s so much of, you start telling stories from a female perspective, or the perspective of a person of color, which I can’t necessarily speak to. But I would go see a movie. The “Black Panther” movie – I’m going to go see that movie.
I think it’s important that, as Shonda Rhimes always says, “This is what the world looks like.” And the fact that we’re now telling these stories and reflecting the world back to everybody, I think is amazing. It’ll also – just to put it really crassly – help the bottom line. Everybody. You open those doors, and more people will come in. It needs to be a bigger tent.
Starring Stephen Amell as the Emerald Archer, "Arrow" airs Wednesdays at 8 pm ET/PT on The CW. The series also stars Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, John Barrowman, Willa Holland and more. Season 5 debuts tonight.