The drama series Arrow will not only have been on The CW for eight seasons by the time it ends its run this season, but it also kicked off the Arrow-verse, which has led to such other TV shows as The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning and Batwoman. The story it’s been telling has seen characters come and go, timelines changed, more Earths revealed, and team-ups that have saved the planet, on more than one occasion, and it’s almost guaranteed that there will still be more triumphs and tears before the credits roll on the last episode.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Beth Schwartz (who ends her run on the series as the showrunner) talked about how it feels when you know your show is ending its run, pushing their limits every season, where things are at with the Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Diggle (David Ramsey) relationship, the new generation of characters, having Felicity still feel like a part of this world even if Emily Bett Rickards isn’t there, returning characters, which character has had the most unexpected journey over the series’ run, building towards the big “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover, and whether the endpoint of Arrow is anything like they had envisioned, over the years.
Collider: How does it feel to not only be in the last season, after all of these seasons, but to know that the show that’s the namesake of the Arrow-verse is not going to be there anymore?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: Honestly, it’s bittersweet, but it’s mostly sweet. Either way, I think it really is a gift to be able to end a show, any show, on your terms. Over the course of my career, I’ve written a lot of season finales that turned out to be series finales, so the ability to go in, knowing that it’s the last season and knowing that we’re ending on our terms, is a real privilege. And also, the other thing that is really great is that we’re ending, but the Arrow-verse is not, and that’s really nice, too. It’s the best of both worlds. I feel like we’re achieving a level of show immortality that most shows don’t get. With most shows, when you’re done, you’re done. And knowing that all of these other shows are going to be able to continue on, in our stead, is terrific. It’s very, very rewarding.
What do you think it’ll be like to watch the Arrow-verse continue without Arrow?
BETH SCHWARTZ: I’m curious about whether they’ll talk about our characters, and whether we’ll see some of our characters on their shows. I don’t know. It is a little bit strange to think that the flagship show isn’t gonna be in the next fall line-up. But right now, we’re focused on this last season.
If the episodes in this final season are as big and emotional as everybody keeps saying they are, how much more challenging is that to pull off, each week?
SCHWARTZ: It’s a lot. It’s very challenging. But every year, we try to push our limits, and do something new and challenging. It’s never boring. It’s all gonna be worth it. The process is hard, and after a script comes out, we’re always like, “How are we gonna pull this off?” But, we always do. So, yeah, we’re going big. We don’t care. It’s our last season.
Does it feel different, knowing that it’s the last season?
SCHWARTZ: Yeah, it really does. It feels both creatively different and also personally different. A lot of the writers have been here, from the beginning. I’ve been here since Season 1, and a lot of the other writers have either been here since Season 1 or 3. So, it’s nostalgic. When we’re writing a character that we’re bringing back, it’s the last time we’re gonna write that character. Creatively knowing that it’s last time we can tell this story, we wanna make sure we get everything in, which is why our episodes are humongous.
What can you say about the relationship between Oliver and Diggle, this season?
GUGGENHEIM: By design, the season is very much centered around just the two of them. It’s funny, now that Felicity is not part of the show, we’re down to just Oliver and Diggle. It’s always been Oliver and Diggle, or Oliver and Felicity, or Oliver, Diggle and Felicity. We’ve gotten rid of two out of the three, so now the remaining dynamic, especially with Thea gone, the remaining dynamic is now Oliver and Diggle. What we’re going for is that we’re trying to infuse, in the season, a sense that the end is nigh. These characters know, not in a meta sense, that the show is ending after 10 episodes, and that imbues their relationship with higher stakes and a greater sense of emotion. To me, that’s really, really critical for Season 8.
SCHWARTZ: The Oliver and Diggle bromance is very much alive, this season. It’s really special because it’s what started the show. There are so many throwbacks for the earlier seasons that I suggest everyone binges, if they weren’t already planning on doing that, before [watching this season]. There are so many callbacks, and to have the two of them, who started it all, going through this last season there, their relationship is one of the main focuses.
How does Katie Cassidy fit into things?
GUGGENHEIM: She’s fantastic. I can’t talk too much about Katie without spoiling things. The reason I haven’t talked about Katie is that it’s very hard to do it without spoiling 801. Katie directed 803, and it’s been such a privilege to watch her prepare to become a director. She’s just been so professional. She was acting in 802, while prepping 803, and putting in 24/7 days. She’s just tireless. She’s amazing. She actually has some great, fun things to do in Season 8, but I can’t talk about any of them because it ruins the end of 801. You asked which character turned out completely differently, and Laurel is probably the best answer. The whole idea of Black Siren was never in the game plan. It was just the idea of bringing Black Siren back for 509 was a one-off idea, and we loved having her back so much that (CW President) Mark Pedowitz called, very similar to the way he did with Emily [Bett Rickards], and said, “You’re gonna have her back again, right?” And we were like, “We’re way ahead of you.” When Katie came back as Black Siren and when Emily was introduced to the show, those were two times where Mark Pedowitz said, “You’re doing more with her, right?” And we were like, “Now we are.”
What can you say about the new generation of characters on the show, with Mia and Connor?
GUGGENHEIM: They’re so great. The cast of the future storyline, I don’t know how we got so lucky, but we actually managed to cast actors who are great, and who are incredibly professional and nice people, and who get along really well. It was almost like casting a brand new show in many ways, and to be able to strike lightning twice is really hard. I’m shocked and amazed that we pulled it off.
How do you balance the fact that you had this satisfying ending to Felicity, knowing that Emily Bett Rickards was leaving, but still have her feel like a part of the world?
GUGGENHEIM: That’s a great question. It’s a challenge. The way I look at it is that it was a perfect ending for Felicity. Were Emily to return to the show, it wouldn’t be to provide an ending to Felicity’s story, it would be to provide an ending to Oliver’s story. They’re two different exercises. As a viewer, I hate when an actor or actress leaves a show, and then, suddenly, it’s like they’re dead and you never talk about them. We’ve never been that way, on this show. Take Sara Lance, who died in the pilot. We had no intention of bringing that character back to life, when we first started out the show, and yet, you hear about Sara, all the time. It’s part of creating a real, lived-in universe. If someone leaves your life, you still talk about them. So, we’re still talking about Felicity. There’s a moment in Episode 801 that’s a big acknowledgement of Felicity. I hope it makes the cut because it’s really funny and fun. Emily’s not in it, but it’s a major acknowledgement of Emily and Felicity. You’ve gotta have those moments, otherwise their absence is really suspicious.
SCHWARTZ: Because we didn’t know if she was gonna come back in our final season, it was really important to me and everyone else to make sure we had a good ending for her, just to prepare ourselves. Writing that last scene, not only did I cry when I was writing, but every time I saw it in a cut, in post, and during the final mix, everyone looked at me and was like, “Oh, god, here she goes again.” I don’t normally cry because I’ve seen the episodes a million times, but that final scene, the performances from Stephen [Amell] and Emily, and just knowing that was the end of that character, was really emotional.
Is there a plan for if she does come back?
GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. There are plans for everything, honestly. In many ways, that’s what you have to do, especially in this kind of situation.
SCHWARTZ: Obviously, we’d love to have her back for the final season, but I’m really happy with how we ended her character. I know she’s said this, too, so unless we find a creative way that’s better than that, we’re not gonna just bring her back to bring her back.
You have a number of characters coming back, this season. How much fun is it to get to re-explore them, in different ways?
SCHWARTZ: It’s really fun, on a personal level. It’s like watching a journal of your life, when you watch a certain episode. I remember if I was on set for it, or if I was writing it, or where I was, and there are certain memories. It’s been very nostalgic.
Will we also hear more announcements on people returning?
GUGGENHEIM: Yes, there are so many more. We’ll be doling out that information, as the season goes on.
What can we expect from the characters that you have announced, that are coming back?
GUGGENHEIM: They’ll be a little different. The way I would put it is that 801 is our re-visitation and our remix of the pilot. If this season is a re-visitation of our greatest hits, this is like going back into the recording studio and messing around with the balance and the mixing of it, and it’s a lot of fun.
Is it funny for you to then go back to that pilot and see what the journey has been, so far?
GUGGENHEIM: Yeah. It was surreal, actually. It had been awhile since I’d seen the pilot. The last time I re-watched the pilot, in full, was probably for Episode 523 at the end of Season 5, so it had been awhile. We even went back into dailies for 801. It’s so strange. Eight years is a long time. Everyone, and the show itself, has really gone on a journey, and it’s been a great journey. We’ve been very, very lucky. We just have a wonderful cast and a wonderful crew, and everyone’s a family, by this point.
Is there one particular character that’s very different from how you thought they would be? Did their journey become so the different that they couldn’t end up where you expected?
GUGGENHEIM: That’s a good question. No. It depends upon, expected from when? For example, there was never a Felicity Smoak in the pilot, and there was no Felicity Smoak in the overall plan of the show, so that alone changed everything. The governing philosophy of Arrow is that I like to break a show the way I like to go to Europe, which is that I like to have a plan – I like to have my theater tickets and my restaurant reservations and my museum tickets – but then, I like to be able to give myself freedom to deviate from the plan. And I really think that’s exactly what we’ve done with Arrow. And by the time Arrow is finished, I think it’ll be particularly true, where we always had a plan, always had ideas, and always had certain things we felt we were moving towards, and for the most part, we’ve honored the spirit of that, but we’ve also given ourselves the freedom to react to things, like when a great actress like Emily comes along, we write towards that character. We’ve be open to new and different ideas, so that when different opportunities, like having “Crisis on Infinite Earths” as part of our universe, comes along, we can take advantage of that.
What’s exciting about also getting to build to this big crossover, with “Crisis on Infinite Earths”?
SCHWARTZ: It’s so different for us. We’ve never done that before. The crossovers usually stand alone. We get to it, and then we barely talk about it after. It’s like a dream that happens. But this year, everything focuses on it, which actually works perfectly for our final season. We’re not just ending a season. We’re ending seven years, leading up to this eighth season. And so, it allows us to touch on all of those previous seasons because it opens up our world. It’s not just Star City. It’s all of the characters, and Arrow is the one that started all of that.
Is it tricky to find that balance between continuing to tell new story while you’re also juggling the legacy of all of these seasons of the series?
SCHWARTZ: It surprisingly hasn’t been. Once we knew that we were gonna tell the story leading up to “Crisis,” I especially wanted to make sure that we see all of the characters that have had a huge impact on the series, and even the places that did, it all seemed to fit together.
Is it fun, before you say goodbye, to get to bring in the cast of Black Lightning, as well?
GUGGENHEIM: We obviously didn’t know that we could plan to end Arrow at the same time that we’re doing “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” but it’s turned out to be a really wonderful synergy. We’ve been able to think of the finale with an eye towards “Crisis,” and think of “Crisis” with an eye towards the finale. And now, the ability to bring in Black Lightning, who was one of the characters on the top of our list, in terms of characters that we wanted to have be a part of the crossover, it’s just great. We’re very, very fortunate. Black Lightning was the last piece of the puzzle.
When you’re building to a story as big as “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” people have been speculating since you teased it with the last crossover. What would you say to the people who are speculating, who are sure that they know how things are going to end? Would you say that they just have no idea how things are all going to play out?
GUGGENHEIM: It’s funny, the thing I’ve learned is that Twitter is basically crowd-sourced story breaking, in the sense that it’s impossible to come up with something that no one could have foreseen ‘cause you’re dealing with tens of thousands of people, who are all coming up with different ideas. Some of those ideas are gonna be things that we’re doing, and some of those ideas are gonna be things that we’re not doing. That being said, I would say that some people have accurately predicted certain things, and then, with respect to some of the characters in “Crisis,” their guesses are way off the mark, and I like that. Also, one thing that we’re trying to do in the crossover is that, even the things that you are expecting, we’ve challenged ourselves and said, how do we do it in ways that you’re not expecting? There are different kinds of spoilers, in my opinion. There’s what you do, which is the spoiler everyone thinks about, but then there is the how and when you do it, and you have those clubs in your bag.
Which is fun because, with anything adapted from source material, you want to have that joy of the source material, but not have it feel like an exact replica of that.
GUGGENHEIM: Yes. That’s the thing. Obviously, it’s a different animal, from the source material. That said, when we pitched the crossover story to the network and the studio, we basically pitched with several covers from the comic book series. We had one cover for each hour, so we had five covers. It’s a 12-part series, but we said, “This is gonna happen in this episode, this is gonna happen in this episode, and this is gonna happen in this episode.” We’re being faithful enough to the source material that you can point to these seminal moments that ended up on the covers. The only surprise is the way we do it. Obviously, these are completely different characters and different circumstances, but we are acknowledging enough of the source material to be able to point to different moments in the crossover and go, “That came from the comic, and that came from the comic, and that came from the comic,” and that’s fun.
When it comes to the endpoint of what Arrow will end up being and how it eventually says goodbye, is it anything like what you thought it might be, or is it very different from how you imagined it?
GUGGENHEIM: That’s a great question. I would say, for the most part, it’s very similar to what I always had in mind. There have been some new ideas and some tweaks, and the crossover changed certain elements, but I would say that Stephen and I, for years, have talked about how things should end, and I would say that we’re definitely true to the spirit of that plan.
SCHWARTZ: I don’t know what people are thinking this series is gonna end up like. The hope is to end it very true to our show and have a satisfying ending for those fans who’ve been following, from the very beginning. That’s our hope, and we’ll see how it goes. I’m such a fan of television, and I have been, my whole life. I’ve watched so much television, so if I feel like this is hitting all of the points and I feel satisfied, that’s usually how a fan will react. Hopefully, we’ll be on the same page.
Arrow airs on Tuesday nights on The CW.