Arrow producers promised that they’d put their own twist on Nyssa al Ghul, and boy, did they deliver. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the latest episode of Arrow!)
In the episode that aired Wednesday night, which saw Sarah (Caity Lotz) return to Starling City to check on spiraling Laurel (Katie Cassidy), not only did we get to see the first TV version of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, but the show revealed that in their world, Sarah and Nyssa (Katrina Law) were in a romantic relationship. And as the producers revealed in a Q&A with reporters, it was a secret they worked very hard to protect.
“Really, for spoilers, because the [casting] sides always make it out to the Internet, we made up fake sides for Nyssa because we didn’t want to spoil the fact [that she had been in a relationship with Sarah],” producer Marc Guggenheim revealed. In fact, they renamed the character and in the fake script sides, stuck the character opposite Oliver Queen. “So we narrowed it down to Katrina and this other actress, and we brought them both back for chemistry reads with Caity Lotz and said, ‘Oh, by the way, she’s gay. And oh, by the way, it’s Nyssa al Ghul.’”
The decision to make the character gay, however, was mostly a result of the writers’ efforts to illuminate Sarah’s backstory, said EP Andrew Kreisberg. “It was really more about Sarah than anything else,” he said. “And, by the way, we thought of this at the beginning of the season. If you watch 2.05, there’s a reference to ‘the beloved and you think that’s going to keep you safe.’ And we talked about, ‘Well, does Ra’s al Ghul have a son?’ Then we were like, ‘Could it be Talia?’ Then we felt like Talia had just been done in the [Dark Knight] movies. And one of our writers had actually brought up the idea of Nyssa. And it just felt like something new and different.”
Additionally, said Kreisberg, they loved the other functions such a twist would serve — like “the idea that Sarah found herself in this terrible world and found this one person who treated her with love and kindness,” and the effect it would have on her other interpersonal relationships. “For [Det.] Lance — this hardened, tough cop who’s probably not the most progressive guy — that he was like, ‘I’m just glad you had somebody who loved you and took care of you in those nightmare years,’ those moments felt like they would be special and play for us.”
Guggenheim added, though, that throughout the process, they avoided labeling Sarah’s sexuality — especially considering that at the end of the episode, she sleeps with Oliver. “We actually specifically avoid using the term bisexual. We didn’t want to label her at all. [We wanted to] let her be her own person,” he said. “If the audience wants to label, fine. But we wanted to not make it like it’s that specific, because it is a very specific relationship to Sarah and Nyssa. And maybe Sarah has had other female relationships, but we’ll get to that in due course when it’s right, if it’s right. But we wanted to not just do something to shock.”
The pair also revealed a heap of information about what’s coming up next for Oliver and Co. Below are the best scoops:
+ On Sarah’s time in Starling: “As far as Sarah, part of the reason we did this episode was so that we could free Sarah for the time being from the League of Assassins and allow her to fully be the Black Canary and come home and all the delicious implications that that brought,” says Kreisberg, who added that we will continue to see varied reactions to Sarah’s full-time return. “You’re really going to see how Sarah’s return affects everybody and, I think, hopefully so far people will be surprised by the reaction.”
On the possibility of seeing Ra’s al Ghul: While the producers hesitated to speak much about the chances of viewers seeing Ra’s al Ghul this season, Kreisberg said it was important to remember how the show has always approached their storytelling: Plant the seeds and watch them grow. “We’ve thought of the show as this multi-year epic arc, and things get produced and paid off later — and this is one of those epic things that is being introduced now.” Meanwhile, Arrow‘s third season remains unofficial — but, let’s be real, it’s happening.
On “Villains A-Go-Go”: Episodes 14-18 of this season will be “great, big villains one after another,” teased Kreisberg. “You’re going to see a couple of returning favorites and a couple of amazing new ones.” Guggenheim added that episode 18 will act as a bit of a mid-midseason finale as the show will be off the air for a few weeks following its airing. And, yes, expect a cliffhanger.
On the Birds of Prey episode: While anticipation for the show’s Birds of Prey episode has built, Kreisberg warned that viewers should expect “the Arrow version of Birds of Prey [rather] than…a direct adaptation.” “We gave ourselves room to grow and evolve that. … You’re not going to end up with the holy trinity of Oracle, Black Canary, and Huntress right out of the gate,” added Guggenheim. “We’ll get there.”
On Felicity’s backstory: In Wednesday night’s episode, Felicity revealed a few nuggets from her past to Oliver in a touching speech, and at least two of the things mentioned in that monologue will be brought up again this season. “You’ll get payoff to those two things later on in the season,” says Guggenheim. And as for her relationship with Oliver, look for it to be “strengthened” after this week’s episode, in which she was the one to reveal to Oliver Moira’s big secret about Thea’s real father. “All Felicity is is the messenger here,” he says.
On episode 16, “Suicide Squad”: “Dig was our way into Amanda Waller, and in this episode, Amanda comes to Dig and Lyla…and basically recruits Dig for a mission and basically tells him that he’s going to need a team and she saddles him with the Suicide Squad, including Floyd Lawton,” teases Kreisberg. Guggenheim added that the episode will show flashbacks to Diggle’s time in Afghanistan told from his perspective. (They will revisit the story that Diggle shared last season about him saving the life of a warlord named Golam Kadir.)