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Arrow bosses explain that shocking death

(JSquared Photography/The CW)

Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Arrow. Read at your own risk!

Team Arrow said goodbye to one of their own on Wednesday. Take a deep breath and find out how it happened …

After receiving a job offer to become the new D.A., Laurel (Katie Cassidy) decided to hang up her black leather jacket as the Black Canary — that is, until Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) initiated a prison riot to draw Team Arrow in so he could get the last piece of the idol from Andy Diggle, who had betrayed his brother. With Damien’s magical powers restored, the big bad made good on his promise to the traitorous Detective Lance (Paul Blackthorne) by killing Laurel. And therein lies which character is in the grave. Why Laurel? At a recent press screening, executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, along with costar Blackthorne, answered what we assume are all of your burning questions right now. (Read our postmortem with Cassidy here.)

But seriously, why Laurel? 

“Obviously Arrow is always a show that’s evolving,” Guggenheim says. “It’s always a show where every character, arguably except for the Arrow, is fair game. We started off this year with the promise of a death and when we worked our way through our various different creative choices, we realized that the thing that will give us the most pop going into the end of the season and into next season unfortunately would be Laurel.”

Was she killed because some of the fanbase doesn’t like Laurel?

“When I say it gives us a lot of pop I don’t mean on the Internet or publicity, I mean creatively for the show,” Guggenheim says. “Every time we’ve killed off a character on the show, it’s really been for the effect it has on all the characters left behind. I don’t want to spoil the end of season 4 or what we have planned for season 5, which we’re already in the room working on, but the way we always describe it is the creative math. How divisive Laurel is as a character on Twitter is not a factor. Truth be told, Twitter is a very specific sub-segment. The number of people who don’t like Laurel is probably an infinitesimally small group, so it’s not, as they say, statistically relevant.”

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Are you ready for the Internet backlash after killing Laurel?

“We knew that it would enrage a lot of people,” Guggenheim says. “We’re not immune to the ‘shipping and we’re not immune to the Internet controversy — when I say immune, [I mean] we’re not blind to it. We’ve never made decisions on the show creatively because of the Internet.”

But shouldn’t Oliver and Laurel be endgame?

“One of the things we knew people would think was, ‘Oh, well, in the season where Oliver and Felicity get engaged and Laurel dies, that’s clearly making a choice about who’s going to end up with who,” Guggenheim says. “Truth be told, we told the Laurel-Oliver romance story in season 1. We told that story. We never really thought about going back to it. The ‘shipping thing was not an element, it was not a factor to us. We recognize that that upsets a lot of fans, particularly the comic book fans.”

Yeah! Oliver and Laurel end up together in the comics! What gives?

“In the comics, Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen, depending on which version of the character you like, are in a romance together in various iterations,” Guggenheim says. “That, to some people, is considered canonical and iconic, and we respect that, but at the same time we’ve always made no bones about the fact that we are telling our own version of the Green Arrow mythos. The Green Arrow has had so many different interpretations, and Black Canary has had so many different interpretations over the years, that we never felt beholden to one particular interpretation. This is our interpretation, like it or not, and I recognize there are plenty of people up and down my Twitter feed who do not like it. I totally respect that. But it made the most creative sense for us going forward despite the fact that we love Katie, absolutely love Katie.”

So could Laurel come back to life?

“Not getting a chance to work with Katie day in and day out is tempered by the fact that we now live in a universe where there’s resurrection, parallel earths, time travel, flashbacks — we have all these different ways of keeping Katie in the Arrow-verse family,” Guggenheim says. “In fact, you will see her on an episode of Flash playing the Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance. Katie is reprising her role as Laurel of Earth-1 to be in Vixen season 2. Death does not mean goodbye on any of these shows, but we made a creative choice and we’re sticking to it. We’re recognizing that Black Canary and Laurel have an incredibly loyal fanbase, and Katie has an incredibly loyal fanbase, but the show has never been just about the comic book history, it’s never been just about one or two different particular fanbases. We make the creative choices we feel benefit the show as a whole and the story that we’re telling overall.”  

But by bringing her back on other shows, doesn’t that cheapen Laurel’s death?

“We definitely recognize across all three shows that when we kill off a character, it means something different now,” Guggenheim says. “I’m not going to put a qualitative judgment on whether it’s more or less impactful. I’ll leave that to the audience, but certainly we acknowledge there’s a difference. Arrow, much more so than Flash or Legends, it traffics in death. We started off the series of the apparent death of Sara Lance and the actual death of Robert Queen and a hero who murdered people. For better or for worse, death is part of the show. What we’re finding is that death now, as it should by the way, when you start to get where we are pushing into season 5, the show has to evolve, it has to change. The concept of death on this show is evolving and changing as we’ve already seen with Sara Lance, and with seeing Laurel in a parallel universe. There’s a world where we do an episode where Oliver Queen meets the Laurel Lance of Earth-2. That’s now on the table. Time travel is now on the table. As the show has evolved, so has death.”

She’s definitely dead though, right? Because Laurel makes Oliver promise her something and then she suddenly codes.

“It’s funny, that’s the joke I’ve been making quite frankly: Oliver Queen killed her,” Guggenheim says. “Certainly what did Laurel say to Oliver [is a mystery], but we didn’t intend for it to be like she asked Oliver to euthanize her.”

Okay, so he didn’t help Laurel fake her own death?

“No,” Guggenheim says. “We’ve done a fake death before. That’s the thing, we’re always trying to figure out, ‘What’s a way to do this?’ That fake-out where she was okay and then she wasn’t was our attempt: How do we do a death that we haven’t done before? [It’s a] creative challenge, the deeper you get into your story. It’s the nature of having a long-running show that deals as a major component of it with death.”

Then what did Laurel tell Oliver?

“You’ll know in season 5,” Mericle chimes in.

How will Team Arrow deal with Laurel’s death?

“It’s going to be huge and significant,” Mericle says. “In terms of our process for making the decision, you can judge the impact by how important Laurel was to the universe we’ve created. There’s no question that it is going to be shocking. It was a shocking thing for us to process and to write the aftermath. We really wanted to make sure we did it in a way that was really honorable and gave us space to honor all the characters’ various reactions to it. The episodes that we’ve written in the aftermath are devastating and they’re meant to be. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to explore that and to really have everybody feel the impact of this loss, because it is significant.”

Will Laurel’s death bring Felicity back to the team?

“It will definitely have a huge impact on her character,” Mericle says. “If you think about Felicity and what she would do in the wake of something like this, I leave you to draw your own conclusions. You’ll find out in [episode] 19. Everyone is going to be compelled to try to fix this, figure out what happened and get revenge on the people who did it.”

Is Laurel’s death, as they say on TV, a game-changer?

“We do feel like it is a game-changer in a very sad way that we’re losing a beloved character, but also in the sense that big moves like this will open up new storytelling avenues and will force our characters to rethink their decisions and their objectives,” Mericle says. “Death is a reality. With the Lazarus Pit and the possibility of coming back, it’s easy, in some ways, to forget that our characters are vigilantes. They’re out on the street, they’re doing really dangerous things. What this does is it really brings that reality back in a very rude and brutal way. It’s good for the audience to be reminded of that and for our characters as well.”

Does the team feel guilty about Laurel’s death?

“Here’s the thing, we’ve already heard Oliver say in the flash-forward from 401, ‘In the past, I would’ve blamed myself,’ ” Guggenheim says. “It’s still Oliver, there’s an element of that. Diggle especially, like he says in that hospital, he’ll never forgive himself. The biggest consequences emotionally are felt by Thea and by Diggle. Obviously Oliver, Felicity and Lance are having their own reactions, but Diggle, you can draw a straight-ish line from his decisions in this episode to Laurel’s death and that’s certainly a fact that’s not lost on him.”

How will Lance handle losing yet another one of his daughters?!

“This death is just devastating for Lance, because this is not the one that was ever supposed to happen,” Blackthorne says. “Personally, I was almost as devastated as Lance, to be honest, with the news of this happening, because Katie and I have had such an amazing working relationship that it actually really is hard to accept. In terms of Quentin, he’s going to have to pick up the pieces, not pick up a bottle, and reconcile what’s left in his life. With that, he’s got the Arrow family. That’ll be where he’ll have to find his anchor now from here on in without his beautiful daughter. In terms of fantastic story, as awful as it is that Black Canary is a sacrifice, in terms of stories, it’s like wham! It’s an amazing turn to throw at the audience. People aren’t expecting it and it’s fantastic.”

Will Sara Lance find out that Laurel is dead?

“Sara will find out in Legends [of Tomorrow] about what happened with Laurel,” Guggenheim says. “We give it its due. I feel like we give it its due. We’ve always said on Legends we were not going to shy away from this development as far as Sara’s character is concerned. Paul was very gracious to lend his time to Legends to really allow us to explore that.”

Is anyone in denial over Laurel’s death?

“Oh, episode 19,” Guggenheim says.  

Is the title of Black Canary up for grabs and we could see someone new in that role in the future?

“I don’t know that I would say up for grabs,” Guggenheim says. “I think it’s a mantle that multiple people have had. We’ll play with that notion in episode 19. I personally like the idea that DC Comics, all the comics, they all have the concept of legacy. We’ve seen on Legends that someone picks up Oliver Queen’s mantle, for example. We’re in that world, but we lean into it pretty strongly in 19. That doesn’t always mean that the person is a hero. [Episode] 19 is the answer to that question.”

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW. Read our postmortem with Cassidy here.