Diehard Arrow fans have known for some time now that dead cast members would return from the grave this season, but how this would happen remained unclear. The obvious culprits were Flashpoint, flashbacks or some flash-in-the-pan zombie attack — the undead did appear recently in DC's Legends of Tomorrow, after all. But now that the 100th episode has aired, we finally know who was really responsible for these blasts from the past.
Thanks to the intervention of the alien Dominators, Oliver woke up at the beginning of this centennial episode to discover a new reality: one where he'd never boarded the Queen's Gambit, and therefore never became Green Arrow. In this brave new world, a host of familiar faces from Oliver's past returned, each striving to convince him that he would be better off living out the rest of his life in this brainwashed dream state. But how did each of their returns personally affect Oliver?
Out of every character rumored to return, none were more highly anticipated than Laurel Lance, the fan-favorite who was controversially slaughtered by Damien Dahrk towards the end of Season 4.
In this new reality, Oliver continued his relationship with the District Attorney and the two were on the cusp of marriage. Unfortunately, this dream-like scenario doesn't end up playing out like either had hoped.
In an interview with Variety, executive producer Andrew Kreisberg discussed the significance of Katie Cassidy's return to the cast:
“She’s such an essential figure to the show. She was the second lead on the show, and even though the show evolved, Laurel was at the heart of it — she was Oliver’s great love, she’s Sara’s sister, she’s Lance’s (Paul Blackthorne) daughter. Even if we get to 200 episodes, Laurel will always be at the heart of the series.”
We're gonna hold you to that, Kreisberg.
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Moira & Robert Queen
Robert Queen's death out on the ocean still haunts Oliver to this day, and the scene where Deathstroke killed Moira in front of his eyes remains the most powerful moment in #Arrow to date. Thus, the return of the Queens was always going to be an emotional one.
However, few fans could have anticipated quite how powerful it would be when Oliver chose to leave his parents behind, showcasing Amell's acting at its finest. The real surprise, though, was Thea's reluctance to join Oliver and return to the real world. Despite this initial choice seeming rather selfish, no one could blame her for wanting to remain in a world where her parents were still alive, which made it all the more poignant when she did eventually change her mind and left them behind.
Malcom Merlyn, Damien Darhk & Deathstroke
Of course, it would be a shame to waste Stephen Amell's perfectly sculpted muscles — so in between the emotional reunions and tearful goodbyes, Arrow threw in a few familiar baddies back into the mix for the landmark episode.
Damien Darhk's return wasn't particularly surprising, as he still plays a pivotal role in DC's Legends of Tomorrow. However, it was satisfying to see Sara Lance finally take revenge for the death of her sister, even if she was only fighting a bunch of pixels drawn from her subconscious.
It was also poignant to see Malcolm Merlyn return, both in his civilian guise and as the villainous Dark Archer, socializing with Thea one minute and terrorizing her the next. However, the one villain that fans were most excited to see return was Deathstroke. Unfortunately though, he also turned out to be the most bland, as Manu Bennett didn't return for the role, leaving us with a masked random wearing the mercenary's suit in fight scenes.
Roy Harper & Tommy Merlyn
While the creators of Arrow worked hard to bring back as many characters as they could, two fan-favorites were unable to appear due to other work commitments.
However, Marc Guggenheim and the rest of the team didn't let something silly like that stop them. To the delight of fans everywhere, Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) and Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) still managed to make an appearance in hologram form. A joke is even made mid-episode that directly references Donnell's work on the show Chicago Med, explaining that Tommy couldn't make it to the party because he was busy practicing medicine in Chicago.
Speaking to Variety, Guggenheim revealed that;
“Honestly, I can’t even tell you where the idea came from. It was just, I was writing that scene where Oliver goes back and it just popped into my head that you know, basically all the actors that we can’t get, because at the time I didn’t know who we’d be able to get and who we couldn’t… The [visual effects team] did an amazing job, particularly with Colin and with Colton because we couldn’t re-shoot them. We had to take them from the old episodes and roto them out and then put them into [the 100th episode].”
While Harper and Merlyn's cameos were brief, their appearance in that final VR scene was absolutely pivotal in bringing Oliver's story full circle, as both characters had a short-lived, yet huge impact on Queen's life.
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Moving forward, Guggenheim discussed the impact of Oliver's personal journey in the 100th episode and how it will continue to hold ramifications for the future of the show, long after the 4-way crossover has ended;
“Oliver has a new sense of purpose. The events of [episode] 508 forced him to emotionally double down on his mission. He also has a reaffirmation of his bond with Thea, because they chose each other.”
Check out the preview for Episode 9, What We Leave Behind, in the clip below:
In many ways, this was the best episode of Arrow that we've seen in a long time. It successfully continued the arc of the crossover in a meaningful way, while also paying respect to the legacy of the show and also planted the seeds for an explosive mid-season finale next week. For long-term fans of the show, it's extremely gratifying to finally see Arrow return to its rightful place as the heart of the Arrowverse.