Arrow has had an interesting journey on The CW. Originally pitched as a spin-off from Smallville after the surprising popularity of Justin Hartley’s Green Arrow, the decision was made to go in another direction and take the show down a darker path. Though the influence of Smallville’s success is still apparent early on, Arrow quickly became known for its emotional storylines and darker tone. Barely recognizable from the original incarnation, Arrow is now regarded for its attempts to turn the superhero television genre into something more than the cheesy, all-ages fare it was for decades.
Of course, it is obviously hit or miss how well it has accomplished that feat, with the quality waning from season to season and some episodes tending to fall back into the pitfalls of previous seasons. But Arrow has also developed a consistent tone and ability to genuinely impress. Over the now 6 season run, Arrow’s emotional levels have run high to the point of being almost too much. With Season 6 already looking to be emotionally taut, thanks to the resurrection of Black Siren and Oliver’s thrust into parenting, we decided to look back at Arrow’s emotional high. Here are 15 times Arrow gave us more than we could handle.
15 YOU HAVE FAILED THIS CITY
The opening moments of Arrow are unforgettable. As a ship approaches the shore of what we would come to know as Lian Yu, we first lay eyes on the bearded and battered visage of Oliver Queen, concealed by a tattered green hood. From there, Arrow hit the ground running, and hasn’t stopped since.
It’s hard to narrow down a moment in the pilot that specifically hit you because they’re all equally potent: the first shot of Oliver’s scarred body, the Queens reuniting after so many years, and of course, those first moments of Oliver as the Star City Vigilante, lashing out to save his city. These events may be in a bit of a different light following season 5’s many reveals, but the first hour of Arrow remains unforgettable.
14 I AM MY FATHER
It’s easy to forget now that the first season of Arrow had a lot more in common with Smallville than it does its current direction. With a heavy focus on the growing love triangle between Oliver, his best friend Tommy Merlyn and his long-time flame Laurel Lance, Oliver’s antics as a vigilante were often put on the back burner for the growing divide between the three.
Oliver’s relationship with Tommy all but ended when he discovered Oliver’s duality, but it didn’t make the ending any less traumatic. With the city in ruins following the attack on the Glades by Tommy’s father Malcolm, Oliver finds a dying Tommy and is with his friend as he dies. Tommy’s death wasn’t just an emotional turn for the world of Arrow; Tommy’s death served as the catalyst for Oliver’s vow to never kill again, sending the series in a more mature, darker direction.
13 GIVE YOUR FATHER A MESSAGE FROM ME
Laurel’s death might be the most shocking on the series to date, but only because it came literally out of nowhere. Furious at the betrayal of Quentin Lance, Damian Dahrk vowed he would get revenge. And he did, driving a stray arrow through Laurel’s chest, a wound which she would appear to recover from only to die hours later.
Laurel’s death wasn’t just felt on Arrow, with it driving something of a wedge between her sister, Sara when Rip Hunter neglected to tell her about Laurel’s death when returning her to the present day. Though the Black Canary would eventually live again, Laurel’s return to the series was much more sinister, with her Earth-2 doppelganger Black Siren remaining behind to taunt the heroes of both Arrow and The Flash.
12 WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?
They just keep killing the Lance sisters. Believed to have died in the wreck that stranded Oliver on Lian Yu, it was a surprise when she turned back up in season 2, on the run from the League of Assassins and calling herself The Canary. Sara’s relationship with her family and friends were obviously strained for a time, but they came around just in time for her to die.
It was a shocking moment to an otherwise unremarkable premiere for season 3. Back in town, Sara saved her sister and it seemed to be business as usual. But then someone she recognized shot her, arrows piercing her body and sending her lifeless body tumbling off the rooftop. It came out of nowhere and set the stage for an incredible season that pushed Oliver to the limit.
11 YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS?
Laurel fell into a deep depression following Sara’s death, eventually growing into her own and becoming the new Black Canary. But upon learning of Thea’s resurrection in the Lazarus Pit, she realized she could save her sister. Digging up the body and secretly traveling to the League’s lair, Laurel ignored the pleas of Nyssa al Ghul and plunged Sara’s body into the Lazarus Pit.
The revived Sara was a monster, at best. Feral, ferocious and bloodthirsty, the reactions of Laurel and Quentin attempting to cope with and then salvage Sara’s revival still resonate with viewers today. Sara was never truly the same, eventually leaving Star City before joining up with Rip Hunter on Legends of Tomorrow, but still admits to fighting a seemingly insatiable and endless bloodlust day to day.
10 TREMOR’S GONE
When season 5 ended, the destruction of Lian Yu teased the possibility of Team Arrow’s deaths. Though that wasn’t necessarily the case, with Thea in a coma and William’s mother Samantha dying, the team member who got it worse might just be John Diggle.
Suffering shrapnel damage during the explosion, John started the season out contending with a tremor. Urged to come clean, John instead found himself asked to become The Green Arrow so Oliver could better care for his son. John’s decision was shocking, to say the least, especially with his claim that the tremor had resolved itself. But the episode stinger, showing John injecting himself with an experimental steroid to treat the tremor, definitely caught fans off guard. Though John’s drug problems were eventually resolved by John shutting down Ricardo “Dragon” Diaz’s drug ring, it’s still a shocking turn for a typically stalwart character.
9 TIME TO CHOOSE
As Oliver contended with his new direction as a non-lethal vigilante and the arrival of Slade Wilson to Star City, the flashbacks to Lian Yu were getting more and more vicious. Though he had forged a strained friendship with Slade Wilson and was falling in love with the mysterious Shado, everything was turned on its head when Oliver found Sara Lance very much alive.
Captured by Anthony Ivo, Oliver found himself faced with an awful choice. Holding them both at gunpoint, Oliver was told to make a choice: save his new lover, Shado, or spare Sara, whose life was irrevocably destroyed by his selfishness. Oliver faulted for a moment and Ivo made the choice for him. Shado’s death was truly devastating, not only on an emotional level but in the long term, as it ultimately led to Slade Wilson’s roaring rampage of revenge years later.
Undeniably, Robert Queen was not a good person. Having been a member of Merlyn’s secret group, he was part of a conspiracy to destroy the Glades of Star City, and ultimately revealed to possibly be a murderer in later seasons. And yet in his final moments, following the wreck of the Queen’s Gambit, Robert seemed to be attempting to redeem himself.
Stranded on a life raft with a shocked Oliver and a lone crew member, Robert laid his sins bare, giving Oliver the key to finding every atrocity he’d committed and punctuated it by killing the lone surviving crew member. With a plea to survive and a final gunshot to his own head, Robert Queen set his son on a path that would save the majority of his city at the cost of his own life.
7 WE BOTH KNOW THAT
Slade Wilson was a madman. With the unpredictable mirakuru flowing through his veins, he was stronger than ever and truly despised Oliver for letting Shado die on Lian Yu. Upon learning of Oliver’s survival and return to Star City, Deathstroke put in place an ultimate plan to destroy everything he had.
This culminated in a final, crushing blow with Oliver stranded in the woods. Bound and unable to free himself, Arrow was forced to once again make the choice between Shado and Sara, but this time with Moira and Thea. But Moira, who had spent most of the season fighting the guilt over her association with Malcolm Merlyn, shocked everyone by offering herself to Slade. Watching Moira Queen die may have been the final thing that could break Oliver Queen, and viewers certainly couldn’t forget it either.
6 I DON’T WANNA DIE DOWN HERE
Sara’s death was truly shocking, sending the many members of Team Arrow into a downward spiral as they tried to rally in the face of such a tremendous loss. Oliver himself was still reeling from the effects of season 2. Following his mother’s death and a grueling battle with Slade, Oliver was alone as Thea had gone missing, and the loneliness was starting to sink in.
It was a rare moment to see Oliver truly break down, but these quiet moments in the Bunker with John highlight a side of him we tragically don’t get to see that often. Even though we’d seen him endure unspeakable horrors, the loss of Sara reopened a wound that never really healed, even with her survival. Oliver quietly telling John he didn’t want to die was the moment when fans realized just how real things were going to be this season.
5 I’M DONE RUNNING AFTER YOU
Season 2 still had more than a few tinges of the early Smallville influences, but Arrow was beginning to shift towards a more mature tone. Having vanished back to Lian Yu following the destruction of the Glades and the death of his friend, Oliver returned to find his mother face the death penalty and his former lover Laurel battling alcoholism.
Laurel, admittedly, had it rough. Sara’s return probably should have helped that, but everything came bubbling forth. Laurel resented her sister, and an attempt by Oliver to heal that rift with a welcome back party only led to one of Arrow’s most infamous scenes, wherein Oliver bared his soul to the broken Laurel. Oliver’s slow path towards becoming more human paralleled Laurel’s fall perfectly, and the payoff was this incredible hallway argument between the two.
4 NOT MY BABY, NOT AGAIN
Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin Lance is a fairly underrated aspect of Arrow. He got a lot of flack in early years for his American accent, but Lance brings an emotional anchor that the series needed in its early days. Initially a detective doggedly pursuing Star City’s vigilante, he soon came to be a part of Team Arrow, whether he realized it or not.
But Quentin paid the price, and it was often with the death of his daughters. Season 3 saw Sara die, but Laurel was terrified how it would affect her father, who had already almost died. Laurel kept it a secret for weeks before finally breaking down and admitting the truth, and Quentin’s reaction is unforgettable. Breaking down over losing his daughter for the second time, Paul Blackthorne proved that he’s someone Arrow desperately needed to keep it afloat in its early years.
Lian Yu probably should have killed Oliver, but he proved himself to be a survivor. It was the memory of the life he’d left behind, including Laurel. Though he might have been content to spend his days wallowing in his own misery, he soon found himself allied with Shado and Slade Wilson to stop Eddie Fyers from launching a deadly attack.
But there’s a moment of respite where Oliver finds himself alone in Fyers’ base with a satellite phone. In a moment of weakness. Oliver makes a call to Laurel. What could he have told her? There’s no telling, but he never gets a chance. The look on his face tells the story as he’s stopped dead in his tracks at the sound of her voice, but an intervening Slade destroys the phone and Oliver’s only chance of a rescue.
2 YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO
The season 4 premiere of Arrow ended with a shocking twist, a flash-forward to Oliver standing at a grave and no indication of whose grave it was. Viewers spent the season wondering who would die as the season carried on, only to be shocked to find out it was Laurel Lance, a death that would lead to Team Arrow facing their greatest challenge yet.
Seeing the team fall apart in the wake of Laurel’s death was one of Arrow’s most emotional moments, but perhaps Felicity’s reaction was the most surprising. Typically withdrawn and a pacifist, she was the first to outright declare that Oliver had to kill Damien Darhk. The declaration was a shocking one coming from Felicity, who would herself face some of her greatest challenges later that same season.
1 SHOW ME
For a while, the returned Sara found the greatest hurdle was her relationship with Laurel. Furious that she had run away with her then-boyfriend Oliver, Laurel resented her sister. Coupled with her strained relationship with her father and her battle with alcoholism, it wasn’t until the season 2 episode “Birds of Prey” that the two started the long road to mending their relationship.
Pinned down by an attacking Huntress, Laurel was being rescued by Sara, who she didn’t know yet was The Canary. The two find themselves pinned down with Laurel reaching for a bottle of booze before Sara convinces her not to, with Laurel mentioning how she wished she could be as strong as her sister. It would be a few episodes before the two truly mended their relationship, but this moment between the two highlighted how they each wanted to be as great as they thought the other was.
Can you think of any other times when Arrow got just a bit too much? Let us know in the comments!