The mid-season finale of Arrow shocked fans with the "death" of Oliver Queen, and since the show returned, the inhabitants of Starling City have been struggling to find their way without him. Laurel takes on her sister's role as Black Canary, Felicity nearly gives up entirely before deciding to help Ray Palmer become ATOM, and Roy and Diggle fight to keep the team together. It seems as though they are finally finding their feet as a new, self-governed unit, but all this is about to change as Oliver returns in next week's episode "Canaries."
Obviously, there are going to be some major repercussions when Team Arrow learns that Oliver is alive, not least of these with Oliver himself. When he left Starling, he was their undisputed leader, and extremely confident in himself. As he told Felicity, he wouldn't have left if he didn't think he could win.
Now, in an interview with Variety, Stephen Amell talks about how his defeat on the mountain has changed Oliver, and drops some major hints about a new and shocking team up as Oliver goes for round two with Ra's.
It’s rocky… Because all of them, when I’m gone, have to decide if they’re doing this because it was for me or if they’re doing this for them… So me coming back and just being dictatorial and ‘my way or the highway’ is just not going to work.
We've already seen some issues in the past with Oliver's command style, causing conflict with both Roy and Diggle as they chafe at his restrictions. They had accepted his leadership before he left, but now that they have had some successes alone, it's going to be difficult for them to step back into the Arrow's shadow. I predict that Roy especially is going to be standing up and demanding less of a side-kick role, as he has historically had the most trouble accepting Oliver's leadership. Once again, I'm guessing that it will be Felicity that keeps the team together, but having gone through such an emotional roller coaster in the past few episodes, her support may not be so straightforward as it has been in the past.
As for Laurel...
Oliver doesn’t want Laurel to be the Black Canary at all. He doesn’t want her out there. As far as he’s concerned, she’s more useful, and has been, in the district attorney’s office. ‘You catch them, I cook them’ — we said that in the season premiere.
It's no surprise that Oliver is going to butt heads with Laurel over her new mission - while she may have started to prove her worth in the last episode, she is still very much learning, and hasn't had a lot of success on her own. From her first, ill-fated attempt to take on an abusive boyfriend with a baseball bat, to her more recent clumsy attacks and need for Roy to step in, she's hardly up to the standard that Starling City has for superheros. Add to that the death of her sister, and it's no wonder that Oliver wants to prevent her being hurt. There is no doubt that Laurel won't be hanging up her suit any time soon, but will Oliver agree to train her, or will they end up at odds with each other? If he refuses, I feel that we will see a lot more of Wildcat, but I have a feeling that Roy's conversation with her in "Midnight City" may be foreshadowing to some new training at the hands of the Arrow.
Finally, what about that team up?
I think he comes back a little more soft-spoken, a little humbled and forced to do things and work with people that he never would have considered working with before. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he has to make a deal with the devil, but pretty close.
Who does he turn to? Who could be "pretty close" to the devil? There are a few major possibilities, any of which would be bad news, but undoubtedly excellent viewing!
First off, there is Malcolm Merlyn. We already know that Merlyn wants Ra's dead, and possibly orchestrated the entire battle between him and Oliver in the hopes that Oliver would be able to defeat him. (Really, either one dead would be a win for Malcolm, but Ra's is the bigger threat.) He is also now begging Thea to leave Starling with him, telling her that the League wants them dead, so it would solve all kinds of problems for him if they could join forces to take Ra's down. As a past member of the League, he also knows where to find Ra's, and quite possibly believes that he knows enough about the stronghold and the situation there to get in without being detected. Given that episode 15 is titled "Nanda Parbat", it would make sense to assume that we will be visiting the League there very soon.
On top of all this, the show has been building up to Thea becoming more of an active fighter - with her training on Corto Maltese, and her subsequent sparring at home, I have little doubt that we will see her in action soon. A team up between Malcolm and Oliver would give us the opportunity to see her take on a larger role as a fighter. Finally, from the IMDB details on episode 14 "The Return", it looks like Oliver will be doing something with Malcolm which leads to their return to the island. Could this something be part of a plan to take on the League?
Our second option is connected to that same episode, as this is where Oliver is reunited with Deathstroke. Many fans have been eagerly anticipating the return of Slade Wilson, and having him reappear on Lian Yu is going to be incredible. Oliver and Slade started out as allies, and since Slade succeeded in destroying Oliver's life (well, mostly), perhaps his vendetta is over, and the two could work together again? It's doubtful, given their history and the death of Oliver's mother, but common enemies can create friendships, and being brought back from the dead will be giving Oliver a new perspective on things.
The final option is that Oliver throws caution to the wind and teams up with both of his enemies to create a new team with Merlyn and Slade. This would explain their presence together on the island, and given the strength of the League, it makes sense to bring in multiple people to try and defeat Ra's.
In a final twist, it sounds like this team-up will be ill-fated, but not necessarily due to a simple defeat. Amell makes some interesting comments about Ra's and his role as a "villain", suggesting that whoever this alliance is with, it won't last too long.
The thing I like about Ra’s al Ghul and Matt Nable’s Ra’s al Ghul — I think Matt’s fantastic — [is] it’s really difficult to say whether or not he’s a villain. I mean, what did he do wrong? He has a code. Malcolm Merlyn [John Barrowman] did something terrible: he wants him dead. Okay. Somebody killed his daughter’s great love: he wants that person dispatched. Fair enough. So, eventually, when the second confrontation happens, Ra’s’ reaction to Oliver should really take us all very much by surprise.
Could Ra's welcome Oliver's return as a worthy opponent? Does he learn that Oliver took the blame for Sara's death to protect his own sister? For a man who abides by his own strict code of honor, that could be a major turning point. However, if he does learn that Oliver was protecting Thea, and if Thea joins Merlyn on this mission, where does that leave her? Previous IMDB info (now removed) suggested that Oliver would be imprisoned in Nanda Parbat during the 15th episode - as an enemy, or as a "guest" while R'as decides his (or Thea's) fate?
As usual, the more hints that are dropped about upcoming episodes, the more questions arise. The only thing that I know for sure is that I am on the edge of my seat for the Arrow's return!