Arrow producer recalls the happy accident that led to Deathstroke's debut
Deathstroke was never supposed be part of Arrow. “We had no intention seeing Deathstroke or Slade Wilson [Manu Bennett] in season 1, and we saw them both,” Arrow consulting producer Marc Guggenheim, who co-developed the long-running superhero show, tells EW.
That’s surprising to hear given the fact the iconic DC Comics super-assassin’s presence is felt from the show’s very first scene, which features a shot of Slade’s black and orange balaclava propped up on a stick with an arrow through the eye hole. According to Guggenheim, though, you can thank Geoff Johns and pilot director David Nutter for that Easter egg, which was meant to be just that.
“David Nutter was on set [of the pilot], and he wanted basically a foreground element. He was like, ‘What can we stick here?’ and he had the idea of maybe something with an arrow through it,” Guggenheim begins. “Geoff Johns happened to be on set and said, ‘Well, what if it’s like a mask, it’s half-black and half-orange, and it’s basically the Deathstroke mask?’ And we were like, ‘Oh, great Easter egg!’ because we were all about the Easter eggs back then.”
That one nod to the fans, though, clearly sparked some ideas. From there, we saw a version of Deathstroke, Billy Wintergreen, in episode 5’s flashbacks, and then Manu Bennett made his debut as Slade in episode 13, “Betrayal.” Slade would go onto become Oliver’s frenemy and play a significant role in later seasons.
Deathstroke wasn’t the only surprising DC Comics character who landed on the show in season 1. “Similarly, we had no intention of introducing Roy Harper [Colton Haynes] in season 1, [but] we saw him in episode 15. The Huntress being as early as episode 7, the idea that we would introduce another superhero character? Never part of the original plan for season 1,” says Guggenheim. “In fact, we never planned on introducing nearly as many of the comic book characters that we have.”
The reason the writers ended up deviating from the show’s initial path goes back to a lesson Guggenheim and executive producer Greg Berlanti learned from their on-the-bubble ABC dramedy Eli Stone.
“Eli was always on the verge of being canceled, so we never said, ‘Oh, we’ll do that in season X,’ because we never knew if we’d get season X. So, we were like like, ‘We’re going to do it right now.’ And one of the things we took away from the Eli Stone experience was that was actually really to the good. It was great to be able to burn through story with abandon,” says Guggenheim. “Even though we didn’t plan do these things in season 1, when we had the idea, we didn’t say, ‘Oh well, it’s not part of the plan, we’re not going to do it.’ In fact, it felt right to basically go faster than our original plan.”
While the producers have been allowed to use many characters from the publisher’s pantheon, there have also been times when they’ve been asked to pull back on certain ones; however, Guggenheim chooses not to dwell on those instances because it’s just the nature of the business and, more importantly, he doesn’t own any of these characters.
“You can look at the glass as half-full or half empty. And yes, certainly, if I was so inclined, we could focus on having to kill Deadshot, having to kill Amanda Waller. But the trust is, and this is not bulls—, I look at the glass as half full, because, again, we never in a million years thought we would do as many characters on this show as we did,” says Guggenheim. “So from where I’m sitting, it’s nothing but gifts.”
He continues: “At the end of the day, these are not my characters. These are not Greg’s characters. These are characters we rent out, and we’re very lucky that we get to rent the toys and play with them. Certainly on balance, I think I’d be a dick if I complained about not having access to this character, or having to stop using that character. I’d be a jerk, because I think DC would very well within their rights to go, ‘Well, what about all of these other characters we’ve given you without a problem?’…If DC wants to say, ‘No more Suicide Squad,’ that is absolutely DC’s right and we will work with what we got.”
Arrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.