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Arrow boss cryptically teases new season 6 direction

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Who survived Arrow‘s very Walking Dead-like cliffhanger?

In the wake of the island explosion that appeared to kill, well, everyone, Oliver (Stephen Amell) will be forced to step up as a father to William (Jack Moore)… so it’s not hard to do the math as to who perished.

But the Emerald Archer will need to rely on what’s left of his team more than ever in the aftermath. “The theme of the season is family, but it’s all the different interpretations of the word,” says executive producer Marc Guggenheim, hinting that this applies not just to Team Arrow, but also to the trio of villains — Michael Emerson’s mystery man, David Nykl’s Anatoly, and Kirk Acevedo’s Richard Dragon — targeting them. Read our full interview with Guggenheim below. But be warned: He really will not reveal who survived, no matter how hard we try.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What themes will Arrow be exploring this season?
MARC GUGGENHEIM: The theme is family. The way I would like to think of it is, last year we spent a whole season really building up this team, this new Team Arrow, and this year we’ve got the team in place — what sort of damage can we do? So much of Arrow lives in the challenges and trials that we put the characters through. I would say in the past five seasons, it’s always been, well, what meat grinder can we put Oliver through? And I think at this point, we’ve almost put him through just about every conceivable thing, so we got very intrigued by the idea of, what is Oliver’s reaction when the people closest to him go through something difficult?

What guilt is he dealing with in the wake of the island explosion?
Well, it’s not even just guilt, quite frankly, because the truth is, now we make a joke of it, like Oliver feeling guilty is a drinking game. We even make jokes of it in dialogue, like there’s a line about it in 604, he says he’s the foremost expert on guilt and regret, so it’s certainly a component of the show, but what is exciting for us about season 6 is we told a story in season 5 that was very deliberate about Oliver moving on and letting go of his past, and he kept saying — again that was another drinking game — “I keep being drawn back into the past, drawn back into the past.” Before the island exploded, I think he’d had these experiences, finally culminating with his conversations with Slade, where he was ready to finally put the past in the past and move forward, and we’re really continuing him on that forward trajectory to the point where the emotional stories that we’re telling with him this year are new, they’re from a fresher perspective, they’re not based upon the past, they’re based upon things that are happening to him right now in the present. So as opposed to a guilt-based story just by its nature is always backward-looking, because you feel guilty about something, these stories are much more perspective looking, or at least much more in the moment and in the present.

RELATED: Check out new Arrow season 6 photos

Let’s talk about the cabal of villains coming in. Why do a group of villains?
It’s more along the lines of, if you’re going to do stories that are about this group, Team Arrow, tell a story about a group of antagonists. It’s not just about check off boxes in terms of like thorn, thorn, thorn; it’s more like group versus group. The theme of the season is family, but it’s all the different interpretations of the word family, and it’s about groups and about loyalties, and some of those loyalties are good and some of those loyalties are bad, and some of those people comprising the family are good people and some of them are bad people and some of them are conflicted people.

Is Black Siren part of this cabal?
I don’t want to say.

Cayden James?
I don’t want to say. Nice try. Nice try. Straight up, I know it’s hard to talk about season 6. It’s really hard. I feel the pain of those Walking Dead folks.

How can Oliver operate as the Green Arrow this season considering he was made Public Enemy No. 1 last year?
Honestly, I think there’s a good argument to be made that he can’t. I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that, at least for us, he can.

Oliver and Felicity seemed on the road to recovery. Is there anything you can tease about what their journey might look like this season?
I will say this: There is absolutely no kissing in the season premiere. There is not a single romantic kiss between any two characters in the season premiere.

Is it fair to say that you guys are going back down that path?
I can certainly say this: We put them on a very specific trajectory at the end of season 5. I think it would be very schizophrenic for us to suddenly take them off that trajectory.

Let’s talk Black Siren. We don’t know much about her life on Earth-2 other than she lost her version of Oliver. Is your plan to show us exactly how these two Laurels differ?
We definitely want to share with the audience Black Siren’s backstory and how the worlds are different. We’ve talked about, like, do we do a flashback? I’ll be honest, in my mind right now, and this may be sharing too much of my process, but it’s a little weird to do a flashback to a parallel universe on a show that’s not Flash, so until we crack that, I can’t promise that, but it’s very important for the arc of the year for the audience to understand where Black Siren is coming from. The thing is, we’ve really taken to just calling her Laurel, because this is Laurel. It’s just a different Laurel than the one we knew for four years.

You’ve teased a Slade Wilson-centric flashback. Are we going to get a lot more of these character-centric episodes, especially now that you’re not tied to the flashbacks?
Yeah, I mean, for us, that’s the beauty part. In the first five years, we always really enjoyed doing the character-centric flashbacks as opposed to serialized flashbacks, so we’re definitely going to do them. It’s another arrow in our quiver, and it’s another storytelling device that we have that we do enjoy going to. For us, it’s when it’s appropriate. We’re really doing it on an episode by episode basis. Just like last year in 513 for the gun episode, it was really helpful for the present day story about guns to tell the story about the roles gun played in the death of Rene’s wife, so when it’s relevant and informs the present day story, just as we always have, we’ll continue to do so.

Are there any particular comic book story lines that you’re being inspired by this year?
I can tell you I’ve been reading Jeff Lemire’s Outsider Wars. It’s very different from being necessarily inspired by it, because I don’t want people to read that and go, like, “Oh, they’re definitely doing Outsider Wars,” but that’s a story that I’ve been reading lately, and I did recently go back and re-read Longbow Hunters really as a tuning fork, to recapture the scent, if you will.

There’s no way you really killed everyone. If I asked you about any of the specific characters outside those we know for sure are alive — like Oliver, Black Siren, and Black Canary — what would you say?
I would just go dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.

If I said Thea, you would say?
Dead. Honestly, I don’t know how to do that without giving anything away. Part of the fun of the first episode, the structure of the first episode, is we jump ahead our traditional five months. We come in, it’s five months later. The first flashback is actually to — you saw the explosions from the point of view of Oliver on the boat. We’re going to go a few minutes before the explosions and catch up to that moment from the perspective of being on the island.

RELATED: A comprehensive guide to every Arrow villain

But there are people on the island that seem more obvious that actually died, like Artemis.
Oh, no. I wouldn’t assume that. Here’s the thing: It’s a weird position as a showrunner, because I feel like there’s more going on in the season premiere than just, “This person’s alive, this person’s dead, this person’s alive, this person’s dead.” It wasn’t the motivation behind us telling the story of the season premiere. At the same time, because of that structure — beginning in present day and flashing back to five months earlier — you’re going to get some card turns as a result of the flashbacks, and you’re going to get some card turns as a result of seeing someone in the present day.

Is this season more about the PTSD people will suffer as a result of what they went through?
I think there’s certainly a component of that, and PTSD can be a theme, and certainly a theme that is very present in the season premiere. At the same time, I do feel like now that we’re in the midst of breaking [episodes] 5 and 6, it’s safe to say that the season has its own identity. I always say season 5 is not required viewing for season 6. At the same time, I think in the sixth season of the show, you can pretty much assume that people are not jumping on having never seen the previous five years.

Arrow returns Thursday, Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.

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