'Arrow' Boss on How Season 8 Deals With Felicity's Absence: It Hasn't Been 'Easy'

Showrunner Beth Schwartz shares secrets behind the final season opener, which features familiar faces and iconic season one moments.

Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched the Arrow season eight premiere, major spoilers ahead.

It was deja vu all over again on Arrow.

Tuesday's final season premiere revisited monumental moments from pilot and The CW superhero drama's first season, dropping Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) back in Starling City, where he was reunited with several familiar faces at the Queen mansion. But no, Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) and Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) didn't miraculously come back from the dead. RIP, again. Oliver, who left with The Monitor at the end of last season to follow through with his sacrifice in order to save countless others, embarked on his first mission on Earth-2 -- seven years past the time he originally returned from Lian Yu in the pilot. What he soon realizes is that things are far different on Earth-2.

"This episode was a little bit of It's a Wonderful Life. What would have happened if Oliver didn't come back from Lian Yu, if he really had died and how all these characters would be affected by him?" showrunner Beth Schwartz told a handful of reporters, including ET, following a recent screening. On the Oliver-less Earth-2, Tommy became the villainous Dark Archer, a character turn that had been hinted at in season one, after Thea (Willa Holland) died from an overdose on her 18th birthday; Malcolm (John Barrowman) is 100 percent good and Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra) -- aka season five's big bad, Prometheus -- is the one saving Starling City as The Hood.

"It was the most natural wave," Schwartz explained, "if Oliver wasn't there, that Tommy would have gone bad. It was fun to see him in the Dark Archer suit."

Reuniting Oliver with Moira and Tommy at least one more time, she said, was an opportunity for the writers to bring closure for key relationships that have helped define Arrow. While Oliver and Tommy eventually put the tension between them to rest, Schwartz wanted to give Oliver and his mom, who abruptly died on Earth-1 in season two, a more poignant goodbye.

Dean Buscher/The CW

"Moira Queen is such a dynamic character and her death still haunts all of us, especially Oliver. What we liked the most about having her in the premiere is he now has his own children. So to have his mother give him advice about motherhood to him was such a perfect moment," she said. "I tear up every time I see the scene between the two of them, because they're so great together. It was nice to give him some closure, as well to say he's sorry for what happened to her."

Oliver was noticeably taken aback when learning that Thea had died on her birthday over on Earth-2 as a result of him staying "dead." Schwartz explained the decision behind that major move: "We talked about where every character would be if Oliver didn't come back. We talked about the pilot and when Oliver came back, she was a totally different sister then he remembered leaving. She was really, heavily into drugs and he saved her on her birthday in season one. Talking about that, where realistically, if he wasn't there, she probably would've died. That was the decision for this episode."

Holland, though, returns as Oliver's Earth-1 Thea in this season's third episode, titled "Leap of Faith," where we'll finally get answers to what she's been up to since she left town. "We love Willa and she is this show and there's no way we could have had a final season without her. That was a no-brainer bringing her back," Schwartz explained, teasing that the younger Queen sibling "comes back in a very cool way."

As Oliver found himself reliving moments from the first season, one key encounter with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) from the show's third episode was revisited once more -- with a slight Earth-2 twist. In the final season premiere, OIiver approaches what he thinks is the tech whiz's cubicle at Queen-Merlyn Enterprises, only to discover that it's a Felicity stand-in who sounds, dresses and looks just like his former IT genius-turned-wife. Talk about a time warp. As he learns, Felicity is killin' it as the CEO of Smoak Technologies so why would she be "slumming it" here?

Felicity's absence was felt throughout the episode and will likely continue all season; Schwartz admitted it's been a unique challenge keeping the character ingrained in the storytelling without actually having her appear onscreen.  

"I wouldn't say it's easy. It was very weird. Especially writing the first script without her, it was sad," Schwartz said. "I mean, I love writing her character and always miss writing for her. We just had to creatively come up with a way of keeping her still there without seeing her and that's sort of what we've done all season."

Jack Rowand/The CW

Asked whether they're still actively trying to get former series regular Rickards back before Arrow signs off for good, she said, "We welcome her back and we'll see what happens." (Executive producer Marc Guggenheim told ET that one of his bucket list items remains getting the 28-year-old actress back for one final bow.)

While seeing old Arrow faves back in the universe was certainly a welcomed sight in the premiere, Schwartz revealed that this may not be the last time we'll see Moira, Tommy, Malcolm or Adrian -- some of whom were sucked in as Earth-2 was being destroyed, an indication that the upcoming apocalyptic "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover is "starting earlier than we thought." "Some of them will return," she hinted, playing coy.

With Oliver's first quest for The Monitor completed, he's now traveling with Diggle (David Ramsey) and Earth-2's Laurel (Katie Cassidy Rodgers), aka Black Siren, to their next destination following Earth-2's destruction. And while one may be quick to presume the crew would be bouncing around different Earths, Schwartz noted that Earth-2 is the only Earth they travel to this season -- even though Oliver and company are only set to spend time in Star City for an episode or two.

Introducing a new Team Arrow dynamic for next week's episode, titled "Welcome to Hong Kong" (a tribute to season three), was "different." "But it also felt like an homage to season one a little bit with having Laurel back, even though she is Black Siren still. She's gotten a little more of Laurel's goodness than when we first saw her and they have a great dynamic, which is really explored in episode two," Schwartz previewed.

Arrow airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.

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