Interview: 'Arrow' Showrunner Wendy Mericle On Dolph Lundgren, Metahumans, And What's Ahead In Season 5

During The CW's panel for the Television Critics Association on their four DC superhero shows, producers announced that Dolph Lundgren had been cast in the fifth season of Arrow. We'd previously reported plans for Arrow to return to the format of the first season.

We got to speak with current Arrow showrunner Wendy Mericle about the fifth season. Season four ended with much of the Arrow team splitting up, and Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is now focused on being mayor of Star City. We got to talk to Mericle about Lundgren's role, the evolution of action on the show, and bringing in metahumans.

Will this be the year the flashbacks catch up with the pilot?

It sure is. We're going to go to Russia and we're going to see how Oliver became a member of the Bratva and our endgame is syncing up with the pilot. It might very well be the last year we have flashbacks.

Since Dolph is playing a villain in the Russian flashbacks, are you leaning into his legacy as Ivan Drago?

Absolutely. That's part of the reason we were so excited to get him. I do believe he's Swedish though.

He is but he played the Russian in Rocky IV.

Absolutely, I'm a huge Rocky IV fan. We were really excited to get him. It's one of the reasons. We said this actually to him directly, he's one of those names that's come up in the writers room multiple times and every time we'd be like is the right role, is this the right character for him? We finally found the right guy and we got him. We're really excited.

Would you ask him to say, "I must break you" to Oliver?

We might find a way to work that line in. You never know.

He said it for Chuck so he's done it before.

Did he really? I'll find out. I'm glad. He seems like he's up for everything.

How many episodes is he in?

I think I'm allowed to say three.

Lasting five years, is it a great luxury to be able to revisit the format and themes of the first season?

It is a luxury. Being on a season five show is an amazing privilege and we all feel very lucky to have gotten this far. It's a lot of fun to go back and look at the first season and talk about where was Oliver psychologically? What were the themes we were exploring that year? Especially, we've announced that this season we're going to be really exploring legacy. This is a season where Oliver's going to be looking back and going, "Have I actually accomplished the things I set out to do in season one?" He's going to have to answer for that this season. So yeah, we are excited about it.

You've gotten to try different things over the years and it's not to say you can't try those again or try new things in the future.

Not at all but I think one of the things that's exciting is we're able to honor where we've come. We've taken these characters on this evolution. We want to honor how they've evolved and yet we also want Oliver to look at his history from that vantage point and we want all the characters to look back and think. Felicity, Diggle, all of them, think, "Where was I four years ago? Have I accomplished what I set out to accomplish?"

In the beginning he feels guilty thinking he's the cause of Sara's death. Now he can feel guilty over Laurel's death and what Thea's been through. In a way is he back where he started in that regard?

I do think he's back where he started in the sense that he's asking himself have the methods he's chosen worked? He's lost people along the way. He lost his mother, he lost Tom and he lost Laurel. Now Thea and John Diggle both at the end of season four said, "I don't want to do this anymore." I think he's in a period of reflection and really self-assessment and wondering did he make the right decisions in the past?

Even talking about the format of season five, doing more villains of the week and crime stories, with four years of experience are you able to look back on season one and think, "We can do this better now?"

I think so. I think one of the privileges of having been on a show this long is you know all the things you've tried and the things that have worked and the things that haven't. But I think the fun part is that in season five, there are some things you wanted to try in seasons one, two, and three that you knew you couldn't do until now. That's part of the fun. At the same time, you get to go back and look at the things that worked and homage them. Or, you don't want to repeat them but you want to explore them from a different vantage point.

What are some of those things you've been wanting to try since seasons one, two, and three?

I think one of the things in particular is finding new ways to do action. The action on the show has become, again, we evolved it. We're in a universe now where we're dealing with metahumans. We're dealing with Daredevil and Jessica Jones. It's not as straightforward as it was when we premiered which was we were the only game in town. We're trying to at the same time keep the scope and the scale high and keep the production values up. We also want to go back and make it more personal.

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With metahumans, you have three other shows that have workshopped them. Can you draw on things that The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow did?

We have. Yet on Arrow we have to be so specific because we're more grounded. When the show launched, they said there would be no superpowers and now we have those in our universe. It's a question of how you do that and what are the right stories to carry those powers.

Was there one classic season one episode to which we can expect an homage?

Yeah, I think episode 106 with the Royal Flush gang, the one where Oliver and Diggle really struggled over the question of whether or not he should be killing people. We will definitely be exploring that territory in season five.

One thing that's changed is Thea has now been involved in the Arrow team. There's no going back from that. Does that add a new twist to going back to season one with Thea having worn a hood and fought crime?

One of the things we're really excited about Thea is that she has struggled as much as Oliver to leave her family's legacy behind. In season five she's going to be figuring out she's a lot more like her mother than she ever thought.

What's easier after four seasons?

I think you really know the characters. You know the characters really well. You know them having been on the show from episode 102 on. There's a familiarity and a shorthand in terms of the writing and the voices of the dialogue that make the show jus really fun to write.

Have you taken more of a central role on Arrow as many of the showrunners have gone off and launched other shows?

I have. It's been a real honor to step up. Having come on the show as a co-producer and to now be running it, they've been amazing and empowered me. I've had my hands in everything and it's been amazing.

Of the four shows, has Arrow been the most under wraps in its new season? I feel like I've heard more about what's coming on the other shows.

That's interesting. I don't know. I feel like we've talked about going back to Russia for the flashbacks. We're returning to our roots. We know we're doing Prometheus. We announced that character at Comic-Con. We haven't announced the casting for that so that might be part of what you've ben feeling.

When Felicity has a new love interest, what kind of man can measure up to Ray and Oliver?

That's a really good question. I think we wanted to have a guy, straight shooter, honorable, kind of man of the people and someone that is completely different than Ray and Oliver. He's not a superhero, doesn't have any aspirations to be a superhero but in his own way, he is a hero. He loves her.

Is she ready for a relationship?

That's an excellent question as well. I think she's trying to figure that out. I think that Oliver is a tough act to follow. I think Oliver quite possibly in her mind at the end of season four might still be the love of her life, but I think she feels that she owes it to herself to figure out whether that's true or not.

How is Diggle's marriage? Is everything okay at home?

[Laughs] I think that in season four, we really explored how would Lyla react to this news that Dig killed his brother. At the end of the day, Lyla is a soldier and Dig is a soldier and I think that is going to keep their relationship on solid ground for a long time to come.

Does he get some cool badass moments in the first few episodes back?

Yeah, Dig is a badass. When he decides to come back to Star City he's going to have a cool interest.

It was interesting to see Quentin on Legends of Tomorrow breaking the news to Sara about Laurel. Was it a nice way to resolve the Laurel storyline on a different show?

Anytime we can bring our characters into the other shows, I think it's such an exciting thing for the fans. It's an opportunity in that case, not to see characters we haven't seen play scenes together before because we've seen Paul [Blackthorne] and Caity [Lotz] do scenes together. But in general as a rule to see Paul in the universe of Legends is just fun. The fans love it. We love to write it and anticipate how those stories are going to work out. It's fun.

Something that major where a character dies with a sibling on a different show. Was that something you really wanted to address on Legends, that Sara doesn't just go on with her own show?

I think in general we always look for where is the best place to tell the story? If it has more impact on Legends then let's do it there. If it plays better on Arrow or Flash, it's a very fluid process and we always want to do it wherever it's best.

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Arrow returns Wednesday, October 5 at 8PM on The CW.