'Arrow' Season 5: EP Wendy Mericle Talks Legacy Theme, Oliver & Felicity Fighting Crime Without Diggle & Thea

“Arrow” kicks off its fifth season on Wednesday night in a very different place than seasons past.

Diggle (David Ramsey) and Thea (Willa Holland) left Team Arrow at the end of Season 4. And when things pick up at 8/7c on The CW, it’s just Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) working together to try and keep Star City safe (with a little help from Echo Kellum’s character, Curtis). 

But there’s more trouble than ever with new villains in town, including one played by “The Walking Dead” alum Chad L. Coleman, and another mystery, masked baddie known as Prometheus. How will Oliver and Felicity tackle the latest crime wave as just a duo? Access Hollywood turned to Executive Producer Wendy Mericle to find out.

AccessHollywood.com: The premiere episode is called ‘Legacy,’ the theme is legacy, why did you guys choose that? Was it something about reaching the fifth season, since Oliver was on an island for five years and [you’re now in the] fifth season?
Wendy Mericle: It was a lot about that. Actually, we are closing the chapter on that — what we started in the first season. We’re looking back and it’s very nostalgic, it’s also very fun and thinking about where Oliver was and how far he’s come or how not far he’s come, how little he’s changed and how much he has actually changed. So yeah, it was rooted in that. It was rooted in this idea of Oliver taking stock, looking back and thinking, ‘Okay, I came here with this very specific mission, to right my father’s wrongs and how far have I come with that?’

Access: Talking about the flashbacks, because these are the last year of the flashbacks, is there anything special you’re doing to kind of [say]… ‘This is the end [of the flashbacks storyline], we’re going to go out with a bang on these flashbacks,’ or something like that
Wendy: There are a couple of things. First we cast Dolph Lundgren, which is very exciting. He’s going to be part of the Russian flashbacks and he’s just a total badass. It’s a fun piece of casting and watching kind of he and Stephen go toe-to-toe is going to be very entertaining. But really, I think the thing we’re most excited about is going back to Russia and seeing how Oliver became a Bratva captain, how he got that tattoo and seeing what was it that happened there that brought him to the place where we saw him in the pilot where’s basically this soldier, who’s completely destroyed, has PTSD and wants to sleep on the floor. How did he get to that place? And it’s a very gritty, dark underworld with the Bratva. We’re really going to try and make it as real and ‘grounded’ is the word we keep using, but it’s really true. We want to make it feel very ‘Eastern Promises’ — as gritty as real as the Bratva, actually is. Hopefully the audience loves it. We’re very excited about it.

Access: There’s got to be a lot of action when you bring someone like Dolph on board. Have you seen some of the things that have been choreographed? I’m just going to assume that that’s the case when you bring someone like that.
Absolutely. In fact, we re-thought some of the stories a little bit once we knew he was available to us for this character. So, it’s absolutely true and it’s the fun of – Stephen was really excited about the casting and how could you not – you want to see Drago [Dolph’s character in ‘Rocky IV’] take on The Hood, basically. It’s awesome.

Access: How [is Diggle’s] departure is affecting the team … as well as Diggle as the season opens?
Yeah, that’s a big move. Dig has been with them since the beginning and so for him to decide to leave was obviously significant and he, as you know from watching the [Season 4] finale, he did it because of his guilt about killing his brother Andy. So we’re going to find him at the beginning of the season in the military still, still not part of the team and in fact, the effect that it’s having is pretty profound. Oliver is in a very oddly optimistic place, but sort of — call it optimistic or call it denial, he’s pretty sure that both Thea and Dig are going to come back to the team eventually. So he’s in this very optimistic place and Felicity is a little bit more of a realist and she’s saying, ‘It’s time to move on. We have to start looking for other people.’ And when we start the season, Oliver’s out there all alone. He has Felicity in the bunker, but that is it. So the effect is pretty profound.

Access: Are there still romantic feelings between the two of them [Oliver and Felicity] as the season begins? How would you describe that?
I would describe it as two grownups who have had a conversation between seasons who have agreed to work together, and I think, if we’re all being honest, no matter what happens with them, the chemistry and the love that’s between them is undeniable. So, you know, we originally wrote to the Felicity-Oliver romance based on what we were seeing on camera. … What happens is you watch dailies, you watch cuts and you think, ‘Oh wow, those two have chemistry, let’s write to that and see where it goes.’ And, at this point in the evolution of their relationship, we happen to be writing away from the romance, but you can never rule that out completely.

Access: Speaking of Oliver’s past romances, Laurel’s in the first episode?
She’s in the first one. I can’t tell you how, but it’s a fun – her reasons for being there are very emotional. I think it’s definitely a moment of sadness. 

Access: So a haunting maybe?
Wendy: I’m not going to commit. I’m going to let you see it and find out what happens, but I’ll tell that it has a huge impact on Oliver’s decisions and will resonate throughout the season. You can’t lose someone like Black Canary and not have it have a dramatic impact on everybody for many, many episodes to come.

Access: Tell me about bringing Chad L. Coleman from ‘The Walking Dead’ into the mix and what he’s bringing to his role? 
Wendy: He is one of our big bads and he’s just a super badass. I mean, Chad is fantastic. He’s a tremendous actor and … he took this role and ran with it and we’ve been really excited. The cuts have been coming in very strong and his performance is especially notable. We needed him to be scary and formidable and to provide some serious, you know, deliver some beat downs to the Green Arrow and he delivered.

Access: What chip on his shoulder does he have against the Green Arrow? 
Wendy: His problem is very practical. He has a very specific goal of coming in and taking over Star City as a criminal and the Green Arrow is the one thing standing in his way. 

Access: Regarding the Prometheus character, is this something that we’re going to learn who he is later on, kind of like they did on ‘The Flash’ in Season 2, you find out later on and it’s a bunch of people it could be? Is it a mystery you’re hoping to do?
Wendy: Our goal is definitely to keep you guessing, for sure.

“Arrow” returns Wednesday night at 8/7c on The CW.

Jolie Lash