Natalie Abrams
October 10, 2017 AT 01:00 PM EDT

Here’s one thing we know about Arrow season 6: Oliver Queen is still alive.

While everyone else’s fate was left up in the air following the massive explosion on Lian Yu in the season finale, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) watched from a boat in horror wondering if his friends and family were able to escape the slaughter. But with the CW super series picking up months later, viewers will find a very different Oliver. No longer is Ollie weighed down by the past, but looking ahead to the future — particularly, his son William’s future as Oliver is forced to step up as a father. How will he handle that? EW sat down with Amell to get the scoop on what’s in store for season 6.

Robert Falconer/The CW

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is Oliver’s mindset when we pick back up with him this season? How different is he now?
STEPHEN AMELL: Oliver, at the beginning of the season, he’s very at peace, even though obviously what happened on the island was so catastrophic and has left him in a new position as a dad, and in a very different position as a friend, and a brother. That being said, his mindset actually reminds me a lot — if there was a corollary to it — it would be right around the start of our fourth season, but it’s not because he’s left the life. I think that he’s made his peace with all of the things that it entails. He feels as though he’s doing his best. The most important thing for me this year, and this is how I approach every scene that we have — I was just reading episode 606 and I thought to myself, “This is interesting, but if he does this this way, has he learned his lessons?” I think about this being a new chapter in so far as we had our five year backstory and it coincided with the end of season 5, but now everything he does, if he doesn’t apply some sort of lesson that he has learned over the past five years, then it devalues that experience.

Oliver is going to have to step up as a father this year. How is he handling that? But also how is William handling being his son?
Oliver’s doing his best, but obviously he’s learning on the fly. This is not a situation where William went from an infant to a toddler to — he’s on the verge of being a teenager now and Oliver has had to step in. William has also had to deal with seeing things for the first time in his life that would traumatize anybody. So Oliver is doing his best, but William is a reluctant participant, so to speak.

At the end of last season, Prometheus had systematically torn Oliver’s life apart, making Green Arrow Public Enemy No. 1. What does that mean for how he can operate this season?
That’s one of our big hooks at the end of the first episode. The idea of Green Arrow being Public Enemy No. 1, and to a further extent, the role of vigilantes in Star City, is a big focus point of the early part of the season. But it does make things difficult. Oliver being the Green Arrow is less a problem than how a certain individual is targeting him.

How is Oliver stepping up as the mayor this year?
We haven’t gotten into a ton of mayoral stuff. Look, the mayor’s office is running. His approval rating is good. We haven’t had a major city tragedy that he has had to respond to — well, that’s not true, we have had one, but there hasn’t been an event that has thrust him into the spotlight as mayor. There’s been an event that has thrust him into the spotlight as Oliver Queen, but it’s not anything really as it pertains to the mayor.

Are we seeing a lighter Oliver this season?
I wouldn’t say light. I hate that word, I don’t mind that you use it, but I think it’s a more mature version of Oliver that looks at a situation, makes a decision, and then lives with it. It’s a lot less of that angst and the guilt and the brooding. That all comes back to being part of, “What did you learn in season 5?” The biggest thing that I take away is, in episode 523, when Chase wants me to kill him, and I say to him, “That’s who I was, that’s not who I am anymore.”

Can you talk about the cabal of villains and how they’re character specific?
I was actually talking with Emily [Bett Rickards] about how much I’ve loved the writing this year and it just feels like it’s patient, and it feels like coming off what I thought was a very strong season, we’re very clear and satisfied with who and what we are as a show. That’s allowing us to really do that slow burn build out of, there’s a villain over here and a villain over there. I love it, because I do love the big bad of it all, I love the concept of one lynchpin that you line up your season against. I’d also be incredibly wary of doing that after what Josh [Segarra] did as Prometheus. His relationship to Oliver, and to a larger extent the show, was so personal and so well executed by the writers and Josh that if we tried to do it again, how would you do it? Save for zombie Moira showing up, what would you do? So I like it. I think the actors that we have with Kirk Acevedo, Michael Emerson, and David Nykl, who is a tremendous villain, by the way. We know Anatoly is this really nice guy, but I have a scene with him in episode 602 and it’s just cold-blooded.

What does that dynamic look like between Anatoly and Oliver after what happened last season?
It’s pretty interesting because we’ve got a scene where Anatoly just kills a guy in cold blood and Oliver is right there and Oliver says don’t move, points an arrow at him and says don’t move, and Anatoly says, “You know as well as I do that you won’t kill me,” and just walks off. Anatoly has an interesting power over him that I don’t know a lot of other villains — if any villain at all — has ever had. Oliver didn’t kill Chase for a very specific reason, because estate’s what Chase wanted, but he tried to kill Malcolm, and he killed Slade once upon a time, and then put him away in prison, and then he went on this anti-killing thing, but he still killed Ra’s al Ghul and still killed Damien Darhk. Anatoly is this weird gray area of a guy that he loves and respects too much.

The team will be going up against Black Siren. How does that prove difficult considering how familiar she is? Does he still see Laurel there?
Yeah, he does. When we last left Black Siren, because I didn’t really interact with her at the end of last year, so in the middle of our year, it was, where’d you put her? I sent her to S.T.A.R. Labs because I want to make sure that if there’s any part of the Laurel that we love in there, we can find it. That’s very much how he feels about Black Siren. How can you not? How can you look at someone and see the Earth-2 doppelgänger of a person that was such an important part of your life and not have it affect you that way? The interesting thing is people ask me, “How’s it like working with Katie again?” I haven’t had a scene with her. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. I’m looking at the landscape of it all. One of the things I’m actually really excited for this year, at some point, is if we really are truly going to have Black Siren back on the show, she looks exactly like Laurel Lance, she is Laurel Lance, Laurel Lance is the most famous dead person in Star City, so eventually at some point, if she is reintroduced into public life, how do we unpack that? I’m excited for that. That’s the dynamic I think could be interesting.

How do the flashbacks change this season?
I know that it allows us to explore interesting things like, as an example, what happened to Slade from the moment that he was stabbed through the eye on the Amazo until he showed up in Star City. That, to me, is a super interesting story. Slade and Joe is another really interesting story. I feel like maybe we have one more flashback. The one thing that I’m sure of is that Oliver’s flashback story is done. I don’t know what we would do. In my mind, we’ve closed the book from when we set sail on the Gambit to when I come back to Star City. I don’t know what purpose from a pushing the story forward we would get from flashing back to in between season 2 and season 3, ya know? I don’t know. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, because it could certainly happen.

Did you burn the wig?
No, I thought about it, but part of me kind of liked it. In the second year, I liked it. It was best when we were on Lian Yu, because it was an island and it could just always be wet. When I f—ing hated the wig was when I had to dress up in a suit in Hong Kong or in Russia and I’d just be like, “Ugh, I can’t, I can’t,” which is why you may notice, in season 4, at a certain point, I just put a toque on and I’m like, “I just can’t.”

It was teased at Comic-Con that the show would really be leaning into dark and gritty storytelling. How has that shone through so far?
It shone through last year for sure. Our show works best when it focuses on the city limits of Star City and what happens within them. We can’t fly to outerspace, and we can’t time travel aside from when we shift to Monday night in November for the crossover. The crossover is like a standalone episode to me, it’s like an episode out of time — no pun intended, and no spoilers given. Look, we have a crew and a batch of directors and cinematographers that have gotten really good at going, “Okay, what’s the best way to do this,” and the answer is almost always practically. That, to me, is what separates us from the other shows. It doesn’t make it better, but we do it practically. If you saw at the end of the Comic-Con teaser that came out, the last frame is the Green Arrow diving off of a bridge. You know how we did that? Stunt double dove off a bridge and he loved it. He’s like, “How many more times can I do this?” That’s how we do things. With the villains this year, they’re all street level guys. Anatoly cut his teeth on the streets of Russia, and Richard Dragon cut his teeth on the streets in Star City, and whatever gaggle of villains is on the way, they’re focused on the goings on that happened here.

How will the team be going up against Vigilante again this season?
I know who he is! I’m not going to tell you who he is, but you talked about how Anatoly is really a villain for Oliver and Black Siren is a villain in a lot of ways for Quentin or Dinah, Vigilante is a villain — if you want to call him that — for a member of the team as well.

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

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