The season 7 premiere of Arrow introduced the concept of flash-forwards by featuring a grown-up version of Oliver's son, William. According to showrunner Beth Schwartz, flash-forwards will continue to be utilized for the rest of the series.
Certain segments of the premiere focused on a young man's search for Lian Yu, the island where Oliver (Stephen Amell) was stranded on prior to season 1. After finding the grave of Robert Queen, the man comes across an aged version of Oliver's former sidekick, Roy Harper aka Arsenal (Colton Haynes). The man reveals himself to Roy as William by holding up an arrowhead given to him by Felicity in the present-day storyline. The scene made it clear that Arrow is giving fans a glimpse into the future, similar to season 4 of Lost.
In an interview with EW, Schwartz talks about the challenge of coming up with new stories and how flash-forwards paves the way for them. Flash-forwards add a sense of mystery by making fans wonder how certain events in the future come to pass. Schwartz says flash-forwards will continue not only throughout season 7, but until the end of the series:
We’re going to keep it all season and series. We didn’t know how long the show was going to go on for, so we always knew that after season 5, there wouldn’t be flashbacks. So, we had talked about flash-forwards years ago. Like, ‘is this what we’re going to do when there aren’t flashbacks?
The season 7 premiere wasn't actually the first time Arrow used a flash-forward to tease a future event. The season 4 premiere used a flash-forward to reveal that someone close to Oliver was going to die at some point in the season. Later on, Laurel (Katie Cassidy) was murdered by Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). However, flash-forwards have never been integral to the series - until now.
For the first five seasons, Arrow features flashbacks of Oliver Queen's life during the five-year period where he was supposedly stranded on Lian Yu. The flashbacks in each season accounted for one year. At the end of season 5, the flashbacks finally came full circle and concluded with Oliver getting off the island. It had been said for a while that once the series finished exploring Oliver's past, the series would move on to something new. Season 6 featured occasional flashbacks for various characters like Deathstroke (Manu Bennett), Cayden James (Michael Emerson), and Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo).
Though the flashback format has been abandoned in favor of flash-forwards, they will likely return whenever there's a need to establish a new character's backstory. In the meantime, It will be interesting to see how the show handles flash-forwards without revealing too much about upcoming events.
Season 7 of Arrow continues Monday, October 22nd on The CW.