With Oliver stuck in prison and Felicity and William hiding from returning big bad Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo) in witness protection, the two actors haven’t seen very much of each other. Basically, they’re experiencing the same isolation their characters are facing this year.
“It’s been a very, very unique year because I am in prison and because I’m not ‘kind of isolated’; I’m really isolated,” Amell tell EW. “It feels like there are two shows going on; There’s what’s happening out in Star City, and there’s what’s going on with Oliver. It feels like two very, very different things, but it has been a really interesting journey. It’s been a challenge for me thus far in a good way.”
“It kind of feels like a little bit of a different show in terms of isolation, of not working with the people I’ve gotten to work with over the last six years,” says Rickards. “[Stephen and I] haven’t seen each other in a while, so it’ll be fun to get [everyone] back together. We all like each other too much.”
While this separation has created some challenge, it has also allowed both actors to take their characters in new, interesting directions.
“One of the themes of the season is that there are no heroes in prison, so Oliver has had to go against a lot of his instincts so far this year,” says Amell. “There’s an element that reminds of how beaten down he got in those first few years of flashbacks. I’ve [only] had one day on set this year where I’m not covered in cuts and bruises. It’s been very unique.”
Oliver’s prison stay will not only challenge some of Oliver’s growth from the past six seasons, but it will also force him to reconsider his views on criminals. “We see him examined this year in prison in a way that feels kind of like the logical evolution from what Chase tried to do to him back in season 5 where he got him to admit that he liked killing,” says Amell. “I don’t think Oliver has given a lot of consideration the moral and emotional complexities of criminals. He’s always just thought that if you’re a criminal, that means you are bad, period. Things aren’t always black and white, and that’s something we’re really focusing on his character learning. I hope that if and when he does get out of prison, he will take some of those lessons and take some of that empathy and apply it to being a better version of himself.”
However, Oliver isn’t totally alone on the inside. Sure, he’s surrounded by guys he put away like Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White), Derek Sampson (Cody Runnels), and “Brick” (Vinnie Jones), but there’s also Stanley (Brendan Fletcher), who “becomes an interesting ally for Oliver in prison and kind of his very mini-version of a team member,” says Amell.
Meanwhile, beyond the gates of Slabside Maximum Security, Felicity is struggling with the isolation of witness protection because she hasn’t seen anyone from Team Arrow in months.
“It’s sort of that concept of your life changes and the people around you are the ones that matter, and not having them in it can really detrimentally affect your lifestyle and who you are and who you’ve become,” says Rickards. “It’s sort of that feeling that you can be surrounded by a million people but be so lonely if you don’t have the ones you love. I think that’s where we find pretty much everyone at the beginning of the season.”
Although she misses Oliver, that doesn’t mean that she has gotten over Oliver making a unilateral decision that would affect both of their lives. “She’s pissed, as she should be. That decision had her life completely remade and it wasn’t her choice,” says Rickards. “She’s upset, she’s hurt, she’s lonely, and she’s heartbroken. So, all of those intense emotions together don’t make for the best recipe.”
But, there’s hope on the horizon. When the season begins, Felicity misses being Overwatch, but that might end up being her saving grace. “I think there’s a void, like she has numbed a part of her heart so she can get over that because I think it’s just been so detrimental being away from her partner and her friends,” she says. “Overwatch is sort of what lets her come back in easier as the season progresses. That’s the tool that she uses to connect.” (Pun intended?)
Arrow returns Monday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. on The CW.