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‘Arrow’ Bosses and Star Discuss That Shocking Death: ‘We Knew That It Would Enrage a Lot of People’

Warning: This post contains spoilers for “Arrow” Season 4, Episode 18, titled “Eleven-Fifty-Nine.” Do not read on unless you’ve watched the April 6 episode.

After almost an entire season of build-up, tonight’s “Arrow” finally revealed which team member dies and ends up in the grave that was introduced in the Season 4 premiere: Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), aka Black Canary — a character that many comic book fans likely thought was safe, given Black Canary’s iconic status in the DC Comics universe.

Executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle, along with Cassidy and her co-star Paul Blackthorne (who plays Laurel’s father, Quentin Lance), sat down with reporters earlier this week to discuss the shocking events of the episode, which saw a newly escaped Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), stab Laurel as payback for her father’s earlier betrayal. After it seemed like doctors had managed to stabilize Laurel at the hospital, she shared a heartfelt scene with the other members of Team Arrow, and confided something in Oliver (Stephen Amell), before she began coding and ultimately died. Below, the producers explain how they came to this decision, and Cassidy recalls her emotions while filming her final scenes, and what she hopes her character’s legacy will be.

This group interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

So, why Laurel Lance?

Guggenheim: Obviously, “Arrow” is always a show that’s evolving. It’s always a show where every character, arguably except for the Arrow, is fair game. We started off this year with the promise of a death, and when we worked our way through our various different creative choices, we realized that the thing that will give us the most pop, going into the end of the season and into next season, unfortunately would be Laurel. By the way, we knew that it would enrage a lot of people. We’re not [blind] to the shipping, and we’re not [blind] to the internet controversy … But we’ve never made decisions on the show, creatively, because of the internet.

One of the things we knew people would think was, “In the season where Oliver and Felicity get engaged and Laurel dies, that’s clearly making a choice about who’s going to end up with who.” And truth be told, we told the Laurel-Oliver romance story in Season 1 … and we never really thought about going back to it. So, the shipping thing was not an element. It was not a factor for us. And we recognize that that upsets a lot of fans, particularly the comic book fans. In the comics, Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen, depending on which version of the character you like, are in a romance together, in various iterations. That, to some people, is considered canonical and iconic, and we respect that. But at the same time, we’ve always made no bones about the fact that we are telling our own version of the Green Arrow mythos.

The Green Arrow has had so many different interpretations, and Black Canary has had so many different interpretations, over the years, that we never felt beholden to one particular interpretation. This is our interpretation, like it or not, and I recognize that there are plenty of people, up and down my Twitter feed, who do not like it, and I totally respect that. It just made the most creative sense for us, going forward, despite the fact that we absolutely love Katie. Not getting a chance to work with Katie, day in and day out, is tempered by the fact that we now live in a universe where there’s resurrection, parallel Earths, time travel and flashbacks. We have all these different ways of keeping Katie in the “Arrow”-verse family. In fact, you will see her on an episode of “The Flash”, playing the Earth-2 version of Laurel Lance. Katie is reprising her role as Laurel in Earth-1 to be in “Vixen” Season 2. Death does not mean goodbye on any of these shows, but we’ve made a creative choice and we’re sticking to it. We’re recognizing that Black Canary and Laurel have an incredibly loyal fan base, and Katie has an incredibly loyal fan base, but the show has never been just about the comic book history, it’s never been just about one or two different particular fan bases. We make the creative choices we feel benefit the show as a whole, and the story that we’re telling overall.

Quentin has lost Sara twice, only to get her back, and now he’s lost Laurel. Can you talk about how that impacts him?

Blackthorne: From a character point of view… Quentin’s point of view is almost like that of the audience’s going, “What the hell is going on ‘round here?” This year, there’s all the outrageousness with the magic and all this stuff. He can’t really take it on as a reality, but if this is the result of what’s going on, than I have to deal with it. He can’t really accept it, but he has to accept that it is happening. And with these deaths, with Sara’s reprisal through magic and the Lazarus Pit, while it’s all a bit for Quentin to reconcile as something that could truly be happening, it is happening, therefore he’ll deal with it. We started things off with [Sara] being “dead.” So, there’s always been a world of, “Sara’s dead,” and then, “Oh, but she’s back,” and then, “Sara’s dead again,” and then, “Oh, my god, she’s back again,” but it was always based in her being dead, since we began. This death, of course, is just devastating for Lance because this is not the one that was ever supposed to happen. How could this ever be on the books? Personally, I was almost as devastated as Lance, to be honest, with the news of this happening. Katie and I have had such an amazing working relationship that it really is hard to accept that I’m going to be going to work without [her] to work with. That, as an aside, is slightly annoying. But in terms of Quentin, he’s going to have to pick up the pieces, not pick up a bottle, and reconcile what’s left in his life. With that, he’s got the Arrow family. That will be where he’ll have to find his anchor now, from here on in, without his beautiful daughter.

Katie, can you talk about the emotions of shooting your death scene, and the last scene you shot?

Cassidy: I found out that this was the choice, creatively, that was going to be made and obviously I talked to Marc and Greg and Wendy and I actually had found out right before the court scenes – that day we shot in the court.

Blackthorne: And that’s when you told me, yeah.

Cassidy: Which was hard. I remember I was like “okay, I need to put this on the backburner for now,” because I had a huge day of all legal jargon and a lot. But it actually worked out really well because in the next episode, 19, I’m actually in the episode and it’s a lot of flashbacks. And emotionally it’s interesting because that scene that you see when I’m in the hospital and I say goodbye, I say to the team, “I never wanted this, I was thinking up giving up the Black Canary and I couldn’t do it,” honestly, that scene was definitely so real, shooting it, because it was my saying goodbye to the team … So it definitely wasn’t difficult for me to get to that emotional point. For sure it was hard, but it was very real and it was good, it was genuine. And then the last scene I think I shot was… we had to do a reshoot, actually, of when I actually die, when Darhk stabs the Black Canary, and that was a week after, I think? That was the very last scene that we shot, and it was so weird because I remember we had broken for lunch, we came back – I was running to set and putting on my jacket and my gloves and they were just calling me to set to show wrap me, and I didn’t know I was done and it was just sort of a bit of a shock. But it was good, I feel like there was no other way I would want it to go.

Blackthorne: Can I just add something? In terms of, when you find out news like this, it’s rather annoying and very devastating and all the rest of it – you’re going to lose a cast member such as Katie, but at the same time, it was such a shock, certainly to me and I think to everybody, when the news came out, that you’re thinking “god, we’re right in the middle of this thing and it was shocking. What’s it gonna be to the audience?’’ and in terms of fantastic story, as awful as it is that Black Canary’s the sacrifice, in terms of story, it’s like wham – and if that’s not what story’s about, then what is it about? So in terms of the element of this story, it’s an amazing turn to throw at the audience and people aren’t expecting it, and it’s fantastic. If it shocked us that much, what’s it going to do to the audience? It’s great story.

Marc, you said the death was permanent – but since Katie is appearing on “Flash” and “Vixen,” do you feel that cheapens the death, because it isn’t technically permanent?

Guggenheim: I think the thing we’ve recognized ever since the Lazarus Pit, parallel universes, etcetera, etcetera, is we definitely recognize, across all three shows, that when we kill off a character, it means something different now. I’m not gonna put a qualitative judgment on whether it is more or less impactful, I’ll leave that to the audience and to you guys, but certainly we acknowledge that there’s a difference. And I think “Arrow,” much more so than “Flash” or “Legends,” for a lot of the reasons Paul was saying, it traffics in death. We start off the series with the apparent death of Sara Lance and the actual death of Robert Queen, and a hero that murdered people. For better or for worse, death is part of the show. What we’re finding is that death now – and as it should when you start to get, as we are, pushing into Season 5 – the show has to evolve, it has to change, and the concept of death on the show is evolving and changing, as we’ve already seen with Sara Lance and we’ve already seen with seeing Laurel in a parallel universe. There’s a world where we do an episode where Oliver Queen meets the Laurel Lance of Earth-2 — that’s now on the table. Time travel is now on the table. As the show has evolved, so has death, and I’ll leave it to you guys to decide if death is more or less impactful as a result.

How suspicious should viewers be that Laurel was fine, she asked Oliver for a favor that we didn’t hear, and then she was dead. Is there any wiggle room there?

Guggenheim: That’s the joke I’ve been making, quite frankly: Oliver Queen killed her! But that was not… again, there are certain coins of the realm on our show. Death is one of them. Mysteries and secrets are another. Certainly, “what did Laurel say to Oliver?” But we didn’t intend for it to be like, she asked Oliver to euthanize her.

No room that Oliver drugged her and faked her death?

Guggenheim: No. We’ve done that. We’ve done a fake death before. And that’s the thing: we’re always trying to figure out what’s the way to do this. That fake-out where she was OK and then she wasn’t, that was, again, our attempt at “how do we do a death we haven’t done before?” We’ve had people killed right in front of Oliver; we’ve faked a death; we’ve had someone be fatally injured and then Oliver arrives on the scene. “Walking Dead” has this problem, too, which I suppose [the finale] episode indicates. I shouldn’t say a problem: a creative challenge. The deeper you get into your story… “Game of Thrones,” also. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Jon Snow, but that is also probably going to change things. It’s the nature of having a long-running show that deals, with a major component of it, with death.

How long before we know what was said?

Mericle: You’ll know in Season 5.

You say the internet doesn’t impact your storytelling…

Guggenheim: I also know the internet doesn’t believe me when I say that. [Laughs.]

Laurel is a somewhat divisive character among portions of the fanbase, so why did you think this would give you pop?

MG: Let me be clear: when I say this gives us a lot of pop, I don’t mean on the internet or publicity. I mean creatively for the show. Every time we’ve killed off a character on the show, it’s really been for the effect it has on all the characters left behind. I don’t want to spoil the end of Season 4, or what we have planned for Season 5 — which we’re already in the room working on — but the way we describe it, and you guys have been in enough of these screenings to know that this is a favorite phrase of ours, is the creative math. How “divisive” Laurel is as a character on Twitter, that’s not a factor. And truth be told, Twitter is a very specific sub-segment. And the number of people who don’t like Laurel, it’s probably an infinitesimally small group. It’s not statistically relevant.

Katie, can you talk about letting go, from the time you found out this was the plan?

Cassidy: From a creative standpoint, I think the writers — and I’ve always said that since Season 2, up until now, Laurel has had truly an amazing journey and they’ve written so well for me. I’ve had such an incredible arc. It made sense to me, creatively, that we’ve told Laurel’s story; [it] has come to an end in the “Arrow”-verse. Again, it’s television, and I always say anything can happen. It made sense to me. I love everyone on set, I love our crew. Being there for four-and-a-half years, they’ve become family; it’s hard to not go into work every day and to work with such amazing people. That part is certainly sad. Again, I was OK with it, and we all came to an understanding that this was going to happen. It made sense to me. I think the shock value is good. I think being producers and writers and being in the writers’ room, I think it definitely gives you so much — it’s such a jolt. It’s such a turn in the story. It gives them so much more to do, and places to go with it. Otherwise shows can get stale.

Blackthorne: And that’s what you guys are kind of masters of, as well, the writers, these guys. Every act is some kind of weird, crazy, “Where the hell did that come from?” thing. From one episode to one season, culminating in moments like this, that’s what makes the show so watchable isn’t it? You just never know what’s coming next. And this is the mother of all “never know what’s coming nexts.”

Guggenheim: I did want to say what a class act Katie is, but I think it’s pretty obvious. She’s such a pro, and coming to work every day after we had this discussion, and giving 120 percent, and being gracious, and sweet and a joy to collaborate with. It’s hard for us. Even though we’re not up in Vancouver, we got to work with her in our own way, and we’re constantly on the phone or texting back and forth. And we’ll miss doing that, as I like to say, on a regular basis. Like I said earlier, dead is not goodbye. We’re still working together.

What will the emotional aftermath for the rest of the team be?

Mericle: Well, it’s going to be huge and significant, and in terms of our process for making the decision, you can judge the impact by how important that character was, how important Laurel was to the universe we created. And there’s no question that it is going to be shocking, and it was a shocking thing to us to process and to write the aftermath. We really wanted to ensure that we did it in a way that was very honorable, and that gave us space to honor all of the characters’ various reactions to it. And I will say that the episodes that we’ve written in the aftermath, they’re devastating, and they’re meant to be. That’s what we wanted. We wanted to explore that and to have everybody feel the impact of this loss. Because it is significant and we do feel that it is a game-changer – in a very sad way, in that we’re losing a very beloved character; but also in the sense that unfortunately big moves like this will open up new storytelling avenues and will force our characters to re-think their decisions and to rethink their objectives.

One of the things Marc was saying earlier about the show we’ve created is that death is a reality, and with the Lazarus Pit and the possibilities of coming back, it’s easy in some ways to forget that our characters are vigilantes — they’re out on the street doing really dangerous things, and what this does is it really brings that reality back in a very kind of rude and brutal way. And I think that it’s good for the audience to be reminded of that, and for our characters as well.

How much guilt will the team be feeling over Laurel’s death, and will we see Sara find out on “Legends of Tomorrow”?

Guggenheim: Diggle especially, like he says in the hospital, he’ll never forgive himself. And I would say the biggest consequences emotionally are felt by Thea and by Diggle. And of course, Oliver, Felicity and Lance, everyone’s having their own reactions, but Diggle – you can draw a straight-ish line from his decisions in this episode to Laurel’s death. And that’s certainly a fact that’s not lost on him. Sara will find out in “Legends” about what happened with Laurel, and I think we give it its due. I’m looking at Paul to see if I’m lying, but I feel like we give it its due. And we always said on “Legends,” we were not going to shy away from this development, as far as Sara’s character is concerned, and Paul was very gracious to lend his time to “Legends” to really allow us to explore that.

Damien says before he stabs Laurel that he’s doing it because Lance betrayed him. Are those words going to find their way back to Quentin, and will that have an adverse affect on how he accepts this?

Guggenheim: Not this season. Anything is possible next season.

More than one woman has been Black Canary already. Is the title and the costume up for grabs?

Guggenheim: I don’t know if I’d say up for grabs. I haven’t even had a chance to discuss this with Wendy or with Greg [Berlanti]. Like you said, it’s a mantle that multiple people have had. We’ll play with that notion in episode 19. I personally like the idea that in DC Comics, all the comics, they all have the concept of legacy in them. We’ve seen on “Legends” that someone picks up Oliver Queen’s mantle, for example. We’re in that world but we lean into it pretty strongly in 19 but that doesn’t always mean that the person is a hero. 19 is the answer to that question.

Felicity has been absent from the team lately, especially in this episode. Will Laurel’s death bring her back into the fold?

Mericle: I can tell you this, it will definitely have a huge impact on her character and that if you think about Felicity and what she would do in the wake of something like this, I leave you to draw your own conclusions. You’ll find out in 19 but everyone is going to be compelled to try to fix this and figure out what happened and get revenge on the people who did it.

Spoilers about Laurel’s death leaked online early thanks to paparazzi photos — how did you deal with that and does that matter to you? 

Guggenheim: It does matter. Look, it’s not cool, straight up. Honestly, all I can say is you’ve got … we’ve had the paparazzi on “Legends” and on “Arrow” so you’re talking about two shows’ worth of crews, people who work really hard to do the jobs that they do; who care a lot about the shows; who care a lot about the stories that we’re telling. Like Paul said, these shows deal with surprises, particularly “Arrow,” and honestly I just look at these paparazzi people as… they’re just spoiling it for everybody. They’re kind of taking a big steaming dump on the work that all these people do. They work in Vancouver, unbelievable hours in the rain … to produce shows that everyone can be entertained by and part of being entertained is being surprised. I look at these paparazzi as… they’re ruining the party for everybody. We take precautions but unfortunately when you’re dealing with a cemetery, we have to go out on location. We have to be out in the world. We can’t produce the show just on our soundstages. We take precautions, we have extra on-set PAs patrolling and we try to put things up to block people but it does happen and it just sucks. It just sucks, and I’ll just say it, shame on those people.

Katie, can you talk about the most memorable part of playing Laurel all these seasons? 

Cassidy: Oh gosh. Obviously I think at the end of Season 2 … when I put the [Black Canary] jacket on for the first time. I still get choked up talking about it because I was so excited. I remember trying on the jacket and I’d been waiting for that moment and I think that, for me, was sort of the turning point. And obviously Season 2 my character had a really hard time. I think, as an actor, the writers were writing so brilliantly and I think it was great to take on that challenge and go there — hit rock bottom and then come back on top. I think the end of Season 2, going into Season 3 and all of Season 3, even up to Season 4, up to now, every day going there, I was excited to be there and happy to be there. Also, being in training and fight training and getting to be a strong female character who is also out there kicking some ass, too, was definitely something that was cool and I had a blast, too.

Did you get to keep anything from the set? 

Cassidy: Yes, actually. I asked for the jacket and mask and I didn’t think they would let me have it but, yes, I got to keep the Black Canary jacket and mask.

What do you hope the legacy is for this character?

Cassidy: I don’t know … I still feel so close to this character. Obviously for the last four and a half years it’s been a character that’s very close to me and,  also, as we said, I go onto “The Flash” and I am on Earth-2 as the Black Siren and so I feel like it’s still… you talked about in the future, you never know what can happen. As [the writers] know, I love working with them and always happy to come play with them if they have time travel and what not. To me, Laurel was always such a good person and had such a good heart and was a fighter, and her being remembered that way is definitely important to me.

Guggenheim: Just to further that, someone had pointed out to me that “Arrow,” unlike, I think the other shows, when we publish the DVD boxes, it doesn’t say Green Arrow and Speedy and Spartan and Black Canary. It says Oliver and Diggle and Thea and Laurel. On this show, we really always start with who these characters are before they put on the mask. I think Katie has always so embodied Laurel, even when she’s wearing the mask you think, that’s Laurel Lance, this good person who is doing good things. She just changes up her methodology for how to make the world a better place. But Laurel Lance, always trying to save the world.

Cassidy: Always trying to save the world!

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

What did you think of Laurel’s death? Weigh in below.

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