As some perceptive “Arrow” fans may have predicted, the hit CW show opted not to kill off its titular hero after a bloody battle with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable), and last week’s midseason return saw Oliver (Stephen Amell) weakened but recovering, thanks to the intervention of League of Assassins member Maseo Yamashiro (Karl Yune) and his wife, Tatsu (Rila Fukushima).

But while the audience knows that the resilient vigilante survived his encounter with The Demon’s Head, Team Arrow is still mourning his loss, leaving Diggle (David Ramsey), Roy (Colton Haynes) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) to try and fill the hero’s boots — some of them more successfully than others.

As executive producer Marc Guggenheim told Variety ahead of the midseason premiere, “Because it’s such a huge thing that happens in nine, we really needed three episodes to give it its due because those three episodes — 10, 11 and 12 — really are a trilogy dealing with the very real question of, ‘if there is no Arrow in Starling City, who is going to save the city?’” As the three-episode arc illustrates, there are a lot of contenders vying to be Starling’s protector.

But how will Oliver react to his allies’ tribute when he finally returns to reclaim his hood, whenever that might be? According to Amell, not well. “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,” he told Variety at the recent Television Critics Assn. winter press tour.

“One of the things that Oliver is learning this year is, ‘wow, there’s a whole lot of people who have risen up,'” noted Guggenheim. “[He’s] going to have to come to terms with that, too. That’s not necessarily going to be easy for him.”

That conflict will be especially pronounced between Oliver and Laurel, who finally made her debut as Black Canary in the closing moments of the midseason premiere. Expect sparks to fly once Oliver discovers what his ex has been up to in his absence. “Oliver doesn’t want Laurel to be the Black Canary at all. He doesn’t want her out there,” Amell reiterated. “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.”

Despite Oliver’s righteous indignation over Laurel’s dangerous activities, Amell admitted that his encounter with Ra’s will have a profound effect on the Emerald Archer: “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.”

Amell wouldn’t confirm exactly when Oliver will face off with Ra’s again, but previewed, “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.”

Ra’s isn’t the only foe Oliver has to contend with this season; episode 14 will see the return of Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke). “I can’t say anything about it other than it’s in the present day,” Amell teased.

And while Oliver’s final thought was of Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) before he fell, his Girl Friday will continue to grow closer to Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) while he’s gone. “For Felicity it really becomes a difficult choice between these two men who are both in love with her, who in a way she has strong feelings for,” teased executive producer Andrew Kreisberg. “A lot of the back half of the year is her trying to figure out who [she should be with].”

Just don’t expect Felicity to rush into anything with Ray while she’s still mourning Oliver. According to Routh, although their connection deepens in upcoming episodes, “They’re feeling each other out a little bit more — she certainly knows more about him and his history and background and why he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s hesitant to jump into the relationship, because I don’t think he realized that a relationship was happening — he was just so involved in everything and she’s cool and then ‘oh wow, this is happening’ … Ray will challenge her and ask her to be a part of his mission, and she has to decide whether she’s going to help someone else go off and kill themselves potentially as well.”

“Arrow” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.