The end of an era is upon us, in more ways than one. Arrow, the CW’s very first superhero series, which introduced the story of the Green Arrow to an entire new generation of fans and kick-started much of the costumed vigilante TV craze that came after it, is hanging up its hood. The series will conclude after eight seasons and 170 episodes, departing the superhero television scene as an elder statesman that’s as good, both creatively and narratively, as it’s ever been.
Don’t get me wrong, Arrow’s gone through more than its fair share of bumps over the years. The series has often struggled under the weight of too many characters with too little to do, and its penchant for overly emotional melodrama—particularly during the middle part of its run—made some stories seem as though they existed solely to fuel unnecessary relationship drama. There are moments where many fans tuned out, angry over the death of a favorite character, bored by a specific villain, or annoyed over a repetitive story choice.
Here’s hoping they came back at some point, though. Because the series’ later seasons managed to fully reinvented the story of the Emerald Archer, allowing us to see both Oliver and everyone around him mature past their vigilante origins into something greater than what they once were. (Plus, the show seemed to remember it had a ton of fantastic women in the cast, and maybe it was time to center them in its story, which was great. Just saying.)
It’s not an accident that this sea change took place as both Oliver as a character and Arrow as a series began to look to both its future and its end. The introduction of the 2040 flashforwards not only reinvigorated the drama’s overall story, it gave it a purpose and a tangible legacy, wrapping up the tale of one Green Arrow just as the story of his daughter gets under way. With the looming threat of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” adaptation that The CW has been hinting at since The Flash premiered back in 2014, a similar rebalancing is taking place within the Arrowverse itself, as the cross-network universe determines what it will look like without the show that gave it its name.
When Arrow premiered back in 2012 there wasn’t anything else like it on television. There was no superhero boom yet, and the time had not yet come when you could pretty much spit and hit a series on any given network bursting with costumed heroes, villains, and the people in between. Now we not only have the rest of The CW’s Arrowverse, but Marvel-based television series airing across at least three different networks on both cable and broadcast. There are niche-y, subversive superhero options like Doom Patrol, The Boys and The Umbrella Academy on multiple streaming services, and even prestige TV outlets are getting into the act, tackling more weird and esoteric fare like Legion and Watchmen. It’s amazing, to be sure, but something none of us would have likely ever predicted when Arrow first saw the light of day.
My point is: this is one of those times where being wrong feels great.
Now, as Arrow’s end nears, the show has (as Oliver himself so often intones in its opening narration) become something else. What started as the story of a selfish playboy obsessed with his father’s death has turned into a tale of redemption, self-sacrifice, and second chances. It’s a lesson in everything that superhero stories made for the small screen can do: Tell a cohesive, compelling serialized story? Check. Feature incredible fight sequences and stuntwork? Check and check. Tackle every kind of narrative from dark and gritty tales of vengeance to swoony and root-worthy romances? Yup. Showcase multi-layered characters and complex relationships? All the time.
Arrow proved that comic book stories could be cool, contemporary, and character-driven all at once. In doing so, it eventually gave rise to five spin-offs—with more apparently on the way—and an annual crossover event that’s become the biggest thing on its network. This universe started with the story of a privileged white man, but has evolved to center on complicated women, LGBT characters, and people of color. It’s told stories fueled by hope and heartbreak, loss and love. And it’s reminded us every step of the way that it’s not the super abilities or magical powers that make people into heroes—it’s whether or not they choose to help and care about others when given the opportunity.
And that is the legacy this show and this character will leave behind when its final credits role.
At the moment, it’s unclear exactly what the end of Oliver’s story will look like. His secret deal with the Monitor during last season’s “Elseworlds” crossover appears to indicate that he’s likely traded his life for Barry and/or Kara’s, and Felicity’s exit in the Season Seven finale implies that she’s either crossed over to join in him in another dimension or the afterlife itself. No matter what, it doesn’t sound as though he’s going to get the sort of happy ending that many fans want for him—no matter how much he may deserve it, in the end.
But you know what? That’s okay. The Arrowverse isn’t a fairytale, and we’ve already seen that good people can die, favorites can leave, and painful storytelling is often just a part of life. But if nothing else, this show has portrayed hope and grit in those moments, too. If Oliver has a hero’s death waiting for him at the end of the series’ final ten episodes, well, he’s earned the right to go out in a blaze of glory. But even if the worst should happen, that’s not the real end of Oliver’s story. It never will be.
What is a legacy? A very popular musical about the Founding Fathers asked this question a couple of years ago. Its answer: Planting seeds in a garden you’ll never get to see. Oliver Queen, as a character, and Arrow as a series will not be around to see what this universe evolves into next. But they’ll be a big part of the reason that every series that comes afterward—whether it’s an all-female Birds of Prey-style Canaries spin-off, a Superman series, a Green Lantern team-up, or something wild we haven’t even thought up yet—exists in the first place. And that’s certainly not a bad way to be remembered.
Arrow returns to The CW Tuesday, October 15th.
Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.