After that incredible cliffhanger of a mid-season finale, Arrow returns to our screens January 21st, and I doubt that we will be seeing Oliver Queen again for at least a few episodes.
We know that episode ten will find the remaining members of Team Arrow learning of Oliver's "death", and the resulting fallout. With such a huge event in the Arrowverse, this will stretch over multiple weeks - IMDB suggests that Oliver will not even be revived until episode 14/15, so perhaps we won't see Oliver returning to Starling until the season finale!
The combination of several Oliver-free episodes and a cataclysmic emotional event provides huge scope for character development and new story arcs, and the writers could go in so many different directions, but there are a few things that I am confident we will be seeing over the next fourteen episodes.
1. Laurel Lance As Canary (Officially)
For a while now, Laurel has been building toward her time as the Black Canary, and the majority of fans cannot wait to see her officially take on the role. Her journey started with her ill-fated attack on an abusive boyfriend, led her to the Wildcat gym, and now that Sara's killer has been dealt with (sort of), she will be honoring her memory by taking her name. According to the IMDB synopsis for episode 10 "Left Behind", this is going to happen right off the bat. Will she join Team Arrow as they attempt to fill the void left by the loss of the [Arrow](series:720988), or will she remain on her own?
2. Diggle Donning The Hood
While the inner circle may know what happened to Oliver, Starling City will remain in the dark, and in need of a hero. Diggle has worn the hood before, as part of a ruse to prove Oliver's innocence, and I have no doubt that he will put it on again to prevent the citizens learning about the loss of their hero. Despite (or perhaps because of) his new baby, he is really the only one capable of assuming the mantle. Roy/Arsenal is already becoming a hero in his own right, and Felicity is happier behind the computer than on the streets.
While I'm looking forward to seeing Diggle stepping up to a larger role, I can see this causing all kinds of issues in his relationships. I predict quite a bit of "you aren't Oliver Queen" arguments, especially with Felicity, issues at home, and finally, something of a power struggle when Oliver returns.
3. Roy Loses An Arm (Maybe)
Roy has, up until now, been very much a sidekick. Oliver trained him, and we saw the usual student/master conflicts between them played out in the last season. Now that Roy has the skills (and the outfit!), and his mentor is dead, we will definitely see him take on a much bigger hero role, and undoubtedly struggle a little with it. Whether that is struggling under the responsibility or becoming a little power-mad, we will have to wait and see.
I would love to see him really become the Arsenal from the comics with some kind of battle leading to the loss of his arm, maybe even with a crossover with Starlabs building him a new one. Even without that, I have little doubt that without the special skills that Oliver brought to the team, Roy will begin to use more weaponry on top of his bow.
4. Thea Finds Out
Thea was the key to the entire first half of this season, and I'm certain that she will find out about the role she played in Oliver's battle with Ra's Al Ghul at some point. I could see Felicity or Laurel revealing it to her in a fit of anger, but that seems a little too simple. Given the development of her relationship with Malcolm Merlyn, he may even tell her in some twisted attempt to show her that he "saved" her from having to battle Ra's herself (obviously ignoring that that was Oliver's choice, not Malcolm's). She may even remain in the dark until Oliver's return, and then be forced to confront the idea of what Malcolm Merlyn really is, after months of turning to him for comfort following Ollie's death.
However this plays out, Thea will most likely be taking on a bigger role in this season than the last one, and continuing on her tortured journey of losing faith in everyone she knows. I would also like to see her really becoming Speedy here, but I think that this may not happen until the next season.
5. Felicity Starts Dating Ray
After two non-starters in the form of Oliver and Barry, it's time that Felicity actually got to date a hero for more than one or two episodes. Ray has made his intentions very clear, and with Oliver gone, it is natural that Felicity will turn to him for comfort...and we all know where that leads! While Team Arrow figures out how to cope with the loss, Felicity will probably have a little more time on her hands as well, time to actually go on dates that don't end in explosions.
Of course, there are going to be some issues with this. Ray's ulterior motives will be revealed at some point (if IMDB is to be believed, in episode 15), which will hopefully cause Felicity to re-consider her relationship with him. TVLine reports that Felicity's mother will be re-appearing in episode 18, and I'm sure that she will have something to say about that situation!
6. The Return of Tommy Merlyn
Stephen Amell already revealed that Tommy will be appearing in episode 14, tellingly titled "The Return". While Tommy has appeared since his death in the form of flashbacks, this time I have a feeling that we will be getting a live Tommy back. The IMDB listing for episode 15 states that Oliver will be revived by "Merlyn", but doesn't tell us which Merlyn will be doing the reviving. My money is on Tommy, who was himself revived by either Malcolm, or by Ra's as potential leverage against Malcolm.
This is going to be a particularly interesting addition to the cast for Malcolm and Thea's relationship. Thea will have a brother and a half-brother returning, presumably on the same side, and both of whom despise Malcolm Merlyn. How will that impact her relationship with her father?
7. Ray Becoming ATOM
So far, we have only see holographic projections of the suit, but now it's time for us to see the real deal. This half of the season will clearly focus much more heavily on Ray and his plans for Starling City - including that name change to Star City! I'm guessing we'll see a hero-to-villain arc, as he steps up to save the day, before revealing some kind of dastardly plan for the suit. I'm not a huge fan of Ray thus far, so I will admit that I am rooting for him to become a much more villainous figure.
Obviously, there will be more to come; the writers of this show are very skilled at packing an impressive amount into a single episode, and we aren't even halfway through the season!
Arrow returns January 23rd on the CW.