[Be aware that this interview discusses major spoilers for tonight’s episode of Arrow.]
Losing any long-running character on a TV series is tough, for the viewers and the cast and crew, but losing one as beloved as the one on the most recent episode of The CW series Arrow is a heart-breaking tear-jerker. And even though Arrow deals in death and has since the beginning, knowing it could come at any time doesn’t really soften the blow.
After a screening of Episode 418, “Eleven-Fifty-Nine,” executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle were joined by co-stars Katie Cassidy and Paul Blackthorne to chat with press about the episode and the aftermath of its events. During the Q&A they talked about how they came to the decisions they did in this episode, shooting the death scene, how the death will affect Team Arrow, future appearances, the character’s legacy, and handling paparazzi leaks.
Question: So, why Laurel Lance?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Obviously, Arrow is always a show that’s evolving. 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 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. By the way, we knew that it would enrage a lot of people. We’re not immune to the ‘shipping, and we’re not immune to the internet controversy. When I say immune, we’re not blind to it. But we’ve never made decisions on the show, creatively, because of the internet. One of the things we knew people were going to think was, “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.” And truth be told, we told the Laurel-Oliver romance story in Season 1. We told that story, and we never really thought about going back to it. So, the ‘shipping thing was not an element. It was not a factor for us. And we recognize that that upsets a lot of fans, particularly the comic book fans. 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. 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 that there are plenty of people, up and down my Twitter feed, who do not like it, and I totally respect that. It just made the most creative sense for us, going forward, despite the fact that we absolutely love Katie [Cassidy]. 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 and flashbacks. We have all these different ways of keeping Katie in the Arrow-verse family. In fact, you will see her on an episode of The Flash, playing the Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance. Katie is reprising her role as Laurel in Earth-1 to be in Vixen Season 2. Death does not mean goodbye, on any of these shows, but we’ve made a creative choice and we’re sticking to it. We recognize that Black Canary and Laurel have an incredibly loyal fan base, and Katie has an incredibly loyal fan base, but the show has never been just about the comic book history or just about one or two particular fan bases. We make the creative choices we feel benefit the show as a whole, and the story that we’re telling overall.
You said that the internet doesn’t impact your storytelling.
GUGGENHEIM: I also know the internet doesn’t believe me when I say that.
If Laurel is such a divisive character, why did you think her death would give you a lot of pop?
GUGGENHEIM: Let me be clear that when I say this gives us a lot of pop, I don’t mean on the internet or with publicity, but creatively for the show. Every time we’ve killed off a character on the show, it’s really been for the effect that 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 describe it is creative math. How “divisive” Laurel is, as a character on Twitter, is not a factor. And truth be told, Twitter is a very specific sub-segment. The number of people who don’t like Laurel is probably a [very small] group. It’s not statistically relevant.
Katie, can you talk about the emotions of shooting your death scene?
KATIE CASSIDY: I found out that this was the choice, creatively, that was going to be made. Obviously, I talked to Marc [Guggenheim] and Greg [Berlanti] and Wendy [Mericle], and I actually had found out right before that day we shot in the court, which was hard. I remember I was like, “Okay, I need to put this on the backburner for now,” because I had a huge day of a lot of legal jargon. But it actually worked out really well because, in the next episode, Episode 19, I’m actually in the episode and it’s a lot of flashbacks. Emotionally, it’s interesting because that scene that you see when I’m in the hospital and I say goodbye, and I say to the team, “I never wanted this, I was thinking up giving up the Black Canary and I couldn’t do it,” honestly, that scene was definitely so real, shooting it, because it was my saying goodbye to the team. It definitely wasn’t difficult for me to get to that emotional point. For sure, it was hard, but it was very real. It was good and it was genuine.
What was the actual last scene that you shot?
CASSIDY: The last scene I shot was a reshoot of when I actually die and Darhk stabs the Black Canary, and that was a week after. That was the very last scene that we shot, and it was so weird because I remember that we had broken for lunch, and then when we came back, I was running to set and putting on my jacket and gloves, and they were just calling me to set to show wrap me. I didn’t know I was done, so it was just a bit of a shock, but it was good. I feel like there was no other way I would want it to go.
PAUL BLACKTHORNE: In terms of when you find out news like this, it’s rather annoying and very devastating to lose a cast member such as Katie, but at the same time, it was such a shock, certainly to me and I think to everybody, when the news came out. You’re thinking, “God, we’re right in the middle of this thing,” and it was shocking. What’s it gonna be to the audience? And in terms of fantastic story, as awful as it is that Black Canary is the sacrifice, it’s like, “Wham!,” and if that’s not what story is about, then what is it about? So in terms of the element of this story, it’s an amazing turn to throw at the audience. People aren’t expecting it, and that’s fantastic. If it shocked us that much, what’s it going to do to the audience? It’s great story.
Paul, Quentin Lance has lost Sara twice, and now he’s lost Laurel. How is he processing that?
BLACKTHORNE: From a character point of view, Quentin’s point of view is almost like that of the audience’s going, “What the hell is going on ‘round here?” This year, there’s all the outrageousness with the magic and all that stuff. He can’t really take it on as a reality, but if this is the result of what’s going on, than he has to deal with it. He can’t really accept it, but he has to accept that it is happening. And with these deaths, with Sara’s reprisal through magic and the Lazarus Pit, while it’s all a bit for Quentin to reconcile as something that could truly be happening, it is happening, therefore he’ll deal with it. We started things off with Sara being “dead.” So, there’s always been a world of, “Sara’s dead,” and then, “Oh, but she’s back,” and then, “Sara’s dead again,” and then, “Oh, my god, she’s back again,” but it was always based in her being dead, since we began. This death, of course, is just devastating for Lance because this is not the one that was ever supposed to happen. How could this be on the books? Personally, I was almost as devastated as Lance, to be honest, with the news of this happening. Katie and I have had such an amazing working relationship that it really is hard to accept that I’m going to be going to work without [her] to work with. That, as an aside, is slightly annoying. But 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 will be where he’ll have to find his anchor now, from here on in, without his beautiful daughter.
Marc, you said that the death is permanent, but since Katie Cassidy is going to be appearing on other shows, do you feel that cheapens the death because it isn’t technically permanent?
GUGGENHEIM: I think the thing we’ve recognized, ever since the Lazarus Pit and parallel universes is that, across all three shows, when we kill off a character, it means something different now. I’m not gonna put a qualitative judgment on whether it is more or less impactful. I’ll leave that to the audience. But certainly, we acknowledge that there’s a difference. And I think Arrow, much more so than The Flash or Legends, traffics in death. We started off the series with the apparent death of Sara Lance and the actual death of Robert Queen, and a hero that murdered people. For better or for worse, death is part of the show. What we’re finding now is that the show has to evolve, and it should, as we push into Season 5. It has to change, and the concept of death on the show is evolving and changing. We can 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, and I’ll leave it to the audience to decide if death is more or less impactful, as a result.
How suspicious should viewers be about what Laurel and Oliver talked about in the hospital room, since we couldn’t hear the exchange?
GUGGENHEIM: The joke I’ve been making, quite frankly, is that Oliver Queen killed her. But there are certain coins of the realm on our show. Death is one of them. Mysteries and secrets are another. What did Laurel say to Oliver? We didn’t intend for it to be that she asked Oliver to euthanize her.
So, there is no room for it to be that he drugged her and faked her death?
GUGGENHEIM: No. We’ve done that. We’ve done a fake death before. We’re always trying to figure out the next way to do this. That fake-out where she was okay, and then she wasn’t, was our attempt to do a death that we haven’t done before. We’ve had people killed right in front of Oliver. We’ve faked a death. We’ve had someone be fatally injured, and then Oliver arrives on the scene. The Walking Dead has this problem, too. I shouldn’t say problem, but creative challenge. Game of Thrones has it, also. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Jon Snow, but that is also probably going to change things. It’s the nature of having a long-running show that deals, with death as a major component of it.
How long will it be before we know what was said?
WENDY MERICLE: You’ll know in Season 5.
Katie, can you talk about letting go, from the time you found out this was the plan?
CASSIDY: From a creative standpoint, since Season 2, up until now, Laurel has had truly an amazing journey. The writers have written so well for me. I’ve had such an incredible arc. It makes sense to me, creatively, that we’ve told Laurel’s story and that it had to come to an end, in the Arrow-verse. It’s television, and I always say that anything can happen. It made sense to me. I love everyone on set. I love our crew. Being there for four-and-a-half years, they’ve become family. It’s hard to not go into work every day, and to work with such amazing people. That part is certainly sad. But, I was okay with it. We all came to an understanding that this was going to happen. It made sense to me. I think the shock value is good. It definitely gives you such a jolt. It’s such a turn in the story. It gives the writers so much to do, and so many places to go with it. Otherwise, shows can get stale.
BLACKTHORNE: Every act is some kind of weird, crazy, “Where the hell did that come from?” thing. That’s what makes the show watchable, isn’t it? You just never know what’s coming next. And this is the mother of all never knowing what’s coming next.
GUGGENHEIM: I did want to say what a class act Katie is, but I think it’s pretty obvious. She’s such a pro. She came to work, every day after we had this discussion, and gave 120%, and was gracious, sweet and a joy to collaborate with. It’s hard for us. Even though we’re not up in Vancouver, we got to work with her, in our own way, and were constantly on the phone or texting back and forth. We’ll miss doing that on a regular basis. But, dead is not goodbye. We’re still working together.
What can you say about the emotional aftermath of this death on the rest of the team?
MERICLE: Well, it’s going to be huge and significant. And in terms of our process for making the decision, you can judge the impact by how important Laurel was to the universe we created. There’s no question that it is going to be shocking, and it was a shocking thing to us to process and to write the aftermath of. We really wanted to ensure that we did it in a way that was very honorable, and that gave us space to honor all of the characters’ various reactions to it. I will say that 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 have everybody feel the impact of this loss. Because it is significant and we do feel that it is a game-changer, in a very sad way. We’re losing a very beloved character, but unfortunately, big moves like this will open up new storytelling avenues and will force our characters to re-think their decisions and objectives. Death is a reality, and with the Lazarus Pit and the possibilities of coming back, it’s easy, in some ways, to forget that our characters are vigilantes who are out on the street doing really dangerous things. What this does is that it really brings that reality back in a very rude and brutal way. I think that it’s good for the audience to be reminded of that, and for our characters, as well.
Are these characters going to suffer from a lot of guilt for this? And also, is this going to reverberate over to Sara on Legends of Tomorrow?
GUGGENHEIM: In the flash forward from Episode 401, we’ve already had Oliver say, “In the past, I would’ve blamed myself.” And it’s still Oliver, so there’s an element of that. That’s also part of the show. Secrets, guilt and death are our secret formula. But Diggle will feel that, especially. Like he says in that hospital, he’ll never forgive himself. I would say the biggest consequences, emotionally, are felt by Thea and Diggle. Of course, Oliver, Felicity, Lance and everyone are having their own reactions, but you can draw a straight-ish line from Diggle’s decisions in this episode to Laurel’s death, and that’s certainly a fact that’s not lost on him. Sara will find out on Legends about what happened with Laurel, and I think we give it its due. On Legends, we said that we were not going to shy away from this development, as far as Sara’s character is concerned, and Paul was very gracious to lend his time to Legends to really allow us to explore that.
Before he stabbed Laurel, Damien Darhk said that he was doing it because Lance betrayed him. Are those words going to find their way back to Quentin, and will that have an adverse affect on how he accepts this?
GUGGENHEIM: Not this season. Anything is possible next season.
BLACKTHORNE: That’s from the writing point of view. From my character’s point of view, absolutely. Just the fact that he sat there during that dinner at the Chinese restaurant and condoned it by saying, “Go off and be the Black Canary. Don’t be district attorney. That’s silly! Go and be the Black Canary.” And then, ten minutes later, she’s dead.
Are there any characters who are in denial about Laurel’s death?
GUGGENHEIM: Watch Episode 19.
Felicity has absent from the team. Will Laurel’s death launch her back onto the team?
MERICLE: I can tell you that it will definitely have a big impact on her character. If you think about Felicity and what she would do, in the wake of something like this, than I will 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 and figure out what happened, and get revenge on the people who did it.
More than one woman has been Black Canary. Is the title and costume up for grabs?
GUGGENHEIM: I don’t know if I’d say up for grabs. We haven’t even had a chance to discuss that. It’s a mantel that multiple people have had. We’ll play with that notion in Episode 19. I personally like the idea that, in DC Comics and in all comics, they have the concept of legacy in them. We’ve seen on Legends that someone picks up Oliver Queen’s mantel, for example. We’re in that world, but we lean into it, and I think we lean into it pretty strongly in Episode 19, but that doesn’t always mean that the person is a hero. Episode 19 is the answer to that question.
How do you guys deal with paparazzi leaks, especially when it came to this happening?
GUGGENHEIM: It’s not cool, straight up. We’ve had paparazzi on Legends and on Arrow, so you’re talking about two shows worth of crews and people who work really, really, really hard to do the jobs that they do, who care a lot about the shows, and who care a lot about the stories that we’re telling. These shows, particularly Arrow, deal with surprises and honestly I just look at those paparazzi people as spoiling it for everybody. They’re taking a big steaming dump on the work that all these people do. They work in Vancouver, doing unbelievable hours in the rain, in terrible conditions, and they do it all to produce shows that everyone can be entertained by, and part of being entertained is being surprised. I look at these paparazzi as they’re ruining the party for everybody. We take precautions, but unfortunately, when you’re dealing with a cemetery, we have to go out on location. We have to be out in the world. We can’t produce the show just on our soundstages. We take precautions. We have extra on-set PAs patrolling and we try to put things up to block people, but it does happen and it sucks. I’ll just say shame on those people.
Katie, can you talk about the most memorable part of playing Laurel, all these seasons?
CASSIDY: Oh, gosh! At the end of Season 2, going into Season 3, when I put the jacket on for the first time, I still get choked up talking about it because I was so excited. I’d been waiting for that moment. For me, that was the turning point. Obviously, in Season 2, my character had a really hard time. I think the writers were writing so brilliantly, and it was great to take on that challenge and hit rock bottom, and then come back on top. The end of Season 2, going into Season 3 and all of Season 3, even up to Season 4, I was excited and happy to be there, every day. Also, being in the fight training and getting to be a strong female character who is also out there kicking some ass, too, was definitely something that was cool. I had a blast.
Did you get to keep anything from the set?
CASSIDY: Yes, actually. I asked for the jacket and mask, and I didn’t think they would let me have it. But, I got to keep the Black Canary jacket and mask.
BLACKTHORNE: That’s this year’s Halloween costume.
What do you hope the legacy is for the character of Laurel and the Black Canary?
CASSIDY: I don’t know. It’s something I still feel so close to. Obviously, for the last four years, it’s been a character that’s very close to me. I get to go onto The Flash and be on Earth-2 as the Black Siren, and in the future, you never know what can happen. As they know, I love working with them and am always happy to come play with them, if they have time travel and what not. To me, Laurel was always such a good person and had such a good heart. She was a fighter, and remembering her that way is definitely important to me.
GUGGENHEIM: Just to further that, someone had pointed out to me that unlike the other shows, when we publish the DVD boxes, it doesn’t say Green Arrow and Speedy and Spartan and Black Canary. It says Oliver and Diggle and Thea and Laurel. On this show, we really always start with who these characters are before they put on the mask. I think Katie has always so embodied Laurel that, even when she’s wearing the mask, you think, “That’s Laurel Lance, this good person who is doing good things.” She just changes up her methodology for how to make the world a better place, but Laurel Lance is always trying to save the world.
Arrow airs on Wednesday nights on The CW.