In a television landscape that is dominated by myriad comic book superheroes, it can be easy forget that the current wave really began with Oliver Queen shipwrecked on a mysterious island. When it debuted, Arrow seemed unlikely to be the godfather of a sprawling DC universe that today includes speedsters and time travelers. Now in its fifth season, Arrow feels like it’s been several different shows. What started as a rather thinly veiled riff on Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies evolved into a show about immortal ninjas, mustache-twirling villains, and truckloads of would-be heroes in domino masks.
The show’s quality has ebbed and flowed over the years, but the one constant has always been its strong, well-defined cast of characters. Be they comic book stalwarts or entirely new creations, Arrow has always been able to keep the viewer emotionally invested in its characters even when the plots have been lacking. Here we take a look at The 16 Best Characters On Arrow.
15 Laurel Lance
Look, virtually anyone would admit Arrow bungled Dinah Laurel Lance in its early seasons. Framing the iconic Black Canary character as a soap opera love interest in season one was a disastrous, borderline insulting choice. Her alcoholism arc for the majority of season 2 was well-intentioned, but again, felt like something from a cheap soap opera and was wholly disconnected from the rest of the show. Her journey toward becoming Black Canary in season 3 felt fundamentally at odds with the character we’d been following for two years, but once she actually put on the costume, it was a genuine turning point.
While she was eventually usurped as Oliver’s primary love interest, in some ways that was a freeing moment for the character. The two seasons where Laurel was a relatively independent crime fighter and district attorney made her downright likable. It’s just a shame the show took so long to get her to that point, and then squandered it.
14 Moira Queen
Part of Arrow’s evolution toward a tone closer to classic comic book tropes has involved a line of villains that are increasingly less morally complicated. As fun as Damien Darhk was, there wasn’t too much nuance there; he was essentially a very charismatic mustache twirler. This is perhaps the one thing Arrow truly misses from its earliest days, and it was best encapsulated by one character in particular: Moira Queen.
No character on the show was as morally complicated and unpredictable as Oliver’s calculating mother. Her constantly shifting allegiances and relationship with Malcolm Merlyn led to more than a few genuinely antagonistic moments with her son, and absolutely contributed to Oliver’s deep-seated trust issues, which he’s still grappling with five seasons in. Her death at the hands of Slade Wilson was an important and necessary turning point for the show, yet one can’t help but occasionally miss her mysterious machinations.
Every street level vigilante superhero needs a gruff, cynical cop to slowly win over. For Oliver Queen, that’s Quentin Lance. A respected Star City detective and father of Laurel and Sara Lance, Quentin initially had the distinction of hating Oliver and the Arrow in just about equal measures, despite being unaware they were the same man. He resented the Arrow for taking the law into his own hands, and loathed Oliver for the damage he did to his family. Oliver, lest we forget, was cheating on Laurel with Sara when they shipwrecked and Sara seemingly perished. It’s not like Quentin didn’t have good reasons to despise our hero.
Eventually, Quentin would come to a grudging respect with Oliver, and once he realized Oliver was the vigilante, he became an indispensable part of Team Arrow. While his battles with personal demons have led to some uneven storytelling, he’s always been reliable as a fundamentally decent man who’s just a little bit irritated that he finds himself living in such a fantastical world.
13 Roy Harper
Roy Harper is a character who historically has had a rough go of it. He’s suffered through addiction and unspeakable personal tragedy over the years in the comics. Arrow didn’t exactly take it easy on him either. Originally introduced as a potential love interest for Thea, Roy soon became entangled in the dark, chaotic world of Oliver Queen. After killing a police officer while under the influence of the drug Mirakuru, Roy had to battle through his deep guilt to become the hero he was meant to be: Arsenal.
And while Roy had a strong run as Oliver’s right hand man, it eventually ended in heartbreaking fashion for him. In a moment of desperation, he convinced the world he was the Arrow, not Oliver, and faked his own death to avoid imprisonment. While Roy has returned on occasion, the show has felt somewhat incomplete without his presence. Here’s hoping Arrow can reintegrate him in a more meaningful way in the future.
12 Lyla Michaels
Early on, Arrow had a habit of taking minor DC characters and radically reinventing them to fit the gritty, street level stories they were trying to tell. Kate Spencer, who in the comics is the vigilante Manhunter, was reimagined as a relatively unlikeable lawyer who clashed with Laurel; Jean Loring, who has one of the more bizarre backstories in DC Comics history, was made considerably older and served as Moira’s lawyer. The most radical of these reinventions is likely Lyla Michaels. Created in the '80s by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, Lyla was Harbinger, a multiversal cosmic being with a host of amazing abilities.
The Lyla we see on Arrow is unrecognizable from that version, yet she’s one of the show’s strongest supporting characters. A longtime ally (and eventual wife) of John Diggle, Lyla works for ARGUS, and was an important conduit to the show’s version of the Suicide Squad. It’s an understated role, but Lyla provides stability to Diggle, the character who provides Oliver with stability.
11 Ray Palmer
Brandon Routh deserved another shot at superhero glory after the underperforming Superman Returns, and boy, did he ever get it. Arrow’s version of Ray Palmer is something of a mishmash of influences: he’s equal parts Ted Kord and Tony Stark, with a bit more earnest charm than either of those fine men have ever mustered (though he’s borrowing liberally from the latter’s tech).
Introduced in season 3, Ray was a welcome breath of fresh air in what was likely the darkest era of storytelling on Arrow. He (along with a certain scarlet speedster) served as an example to Oliver that it was possible to be a crime fighter and not be so utterly miserable all the time. It’s not a lesson Oliver took to heart, unfortunately. Ray would eventually escape the gloomy brooding of Star City for the unhinged technicolor lunacy that is Legends of Tomorrow, which has worked out wonderfully for pretty much everyone.
10 Curtis Holt
The back half of season 4 is pretty clearly the nadir of Arrow. The show was attempting to mix a new sense of larger than life superheroics with the show's more angsty, brooding roots. The results ended up being a mushy mix of boneheaded soap opera character work and convoluted plot twists that pleased virtually no one. Coupled with the show’s most insufferable flashback storyline, this was a hard era of Arrow to enjoy.
One of the few reasons to watch at this point was Curtis Holt. A Palmer Tech employee who gains Felicity’s trust and becomes part of Team Arrow, Curtis’ wide eyed wonder and excitement at the world of superheroes was genuinely refreshing amid the miserable dirge the show had become. Curtis is openly gay, but the show never treats that as anything but perfectly normal, one of the many examples of Greg Berlanti’s DC shows wearing their progressive values on their sleeve.
Curtis would eventually become Mister Terrific, a superhero in his own right. While he’s still working out the costs of living the life of a hero, Curtis is still a well of optimism, and has been a welcome addition to Team Arrow.
9 Thea Queen
No Arrow character has undergone as radical a transformation as Thea. Introduced as Oliver’s precocious teenage sister, Thea has gone from a club owner, to a bloodthirsty Lazarus Pit survivor, to Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy, to the chief of staff for the mayor of Star City. That’s quite the gauntlet to have run in only five years, and yet it’s never felt particularly forced, which owes more than a little to Willa Holland’s effortless performance.
Other than Oliver himself, no one on Arrow has endured more pain and hardship than Thea. She watched Slade Wilson murder her mother right in front of her; she had to let Roy go for the greater good; and perhaps most horrendous of all, she found out her real father was the maniacal Malcolm Meryln, and her bizarre relationship with him has been one of the show’s most rewarding pairings. Whatever the show throws at her next, Thea has proved she can take it.
8 Sara Lance
In the early days of Arrow, it seemed unlikely that Laurel Lance was ever going to be able to rise to the mantle of Black Canary. What a great surprise it turned out to be that Sara Lance not only survived the shipwreck that had stranded Oliver on the island, but was eventually taken in and trained by Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins, returning to Star City as the Canary. Sara filled that role with panache; she was more than credible as a fighter, and she had more chemistry with Oliver than Laurel ever did (not a gigantic accomplishment, admittedly).
Sara’s shocking death at the beginning of season 3 seemed like an ignominious end to one of the show’s strongest characters, but her eventual revival via Lazarus Pit (always good to have one of those around) and switch to the cast of Legends of Tomorrow proved the character had plenty more to offer. It’s just a shame it couldn’t be on Arrow, as the show has never really found a suitable replacement for her.
7 Damien Darhk
Season 3 of Arrow was uneven, at best, but its most severe crime was featuring one of the DC Universe’s most menacing villains, Ra’s al Ghul, and essentially wasting him via a combination of muddled plotting and an actor who was simply not up to the task. It remains one of the show’s biggest whiffs.
For all its problems, season 4 did remedy the villain issue from the prior year. Damien Darhk, a Z-list nobody in the comics, became one of the show’s greatest villains. Lacking any sort of moral conflict or belief that he was truly the hero, Damien Darhk was refreshingly upfront about the fact that he was, well, evil.
Played with infectious gusto by Neal McDonough, Darhk was the purest comic book baddie the show has ever featured, threatening world domination and nuclear explosions. There was no reason for Oliver to lament his role in the creation of a morally grey threat this time. Damien Darhk was a force of pure evil that had to be snuffed out, which was refreshingly straightforward for Arrow.
6 Nyssa al Ghul
While the show may have botched Ra’s al Ghul in rather spectacular fashion, it redeemed his lesser known daughter in a huge way. Nyssa is the member of the League of Assasins who takes in Sara Lance and trains her. The two would eventually fall in love, and one of season 2’s consistent subplots is Nyssa attempting to bring Sara back into the fold. She eventually helped Oliver and his team fight off Slade Wilson’s advancing army in what it still the pinnacle of Arrow’s large scale battles.
Nyssa ended up bouncing off all of Team Arrow effectively, and her friendship with Laurel following Sara’s death ended up being one of the most affecting relationships the show would ever muster. The look on Nyssa’s face as Laurel shows her how to dip a french fry into a milk shake for the first time is one of the more humanizing moments Arrow has given us amid its constant doom and gloom.
5 Malcolm Merlyn
There is no more charismatic or resilient cockroach than Malcolm Merlyn. The show’s very first big bad, Malcolm has become as intrinsic to the show’s DNA as anyone else not wearing a green hood. Played with knowing hamminess by Doctor Who royalty John Barrowman, Malcolm somehow keeps avoiding the clutches of death and slithering into the machinations of whatever new threat happens to be facing Star City.
There’s really nothing despicable left that Malcolm hasn’t checked off the “evil jerk” list at this point. He brought about The Undertaking, which resulted in his own son’s death. He revealed himself to be Thea’s biological father, causing her nothing but torment. He even weaseled his way into becoming Ra’s al Ghul for a brief period before Nyssa shut that nonsense down. He is a rank opportunist who harbors no allegiance to anyone but himself, and it never stops being fun watching him be awful.
4 Felicity Smoak
Is there any more polarizing figure in comic book television than Felicity Smoak? Originally a one-off character named after a throwaway Firestorm comic bit player, Felicity quickly joined Team Arrow and became an integral part of the group, serving as the team’s requisite well of information. Her wordy, manic energy became one of the show’s few sources of genuine levity. At certain points, Arrow has felt as much like the story of Felicity Smoak as it has the story of Oliver Queen.
The murkier aspects of Felicity’s character have come via her romantic entanglements with Oliver. Early on, when the show identified the very obvious chemistry between Oliver and Felicity, they made the classic television mistake of delaying the payoff of the relationship due to some downright silly plotting. When the two finally ended up together, the relationship became the victim of some of the show’s absolutely worst soap opera instincts, resulting in a bizarre breakup that has left the pair in an awkward emotional no man’s land for awhile now. Season 5 has attempted to course correct somewhat, but they’re still trying to pin down the magic that once made Felicity such an important aspect of this world.
3 John Diggle
Arrow’s greatest accomplishment is creating John Diggle from whole cloth. Named for noted Green Arrow comic writer Andy Diggle, it’s difficult to imagine Oliver Queen’s world without John at this point. Introduced as Oliver’s bodyguard, John soon joined him in his mission, confronting the likes of Deadshot and HIVE over the apparent death of his brother. As capable a fighter as Oliver, John is no one’s sidekick.
Often a measured voice of reason in the face of Oliver’s fury, John is a calming force on a team of elementally chaotic people. He is the glue that holds Team Arrow together, and the points when he and Oliver have either been estranged or in fundamental disagreement have always been the point when hope seems the most lost. Oliver has suffered heartbreaking losses along the way, but it’s difficult to imagine he could continue his mission in any meaningful way without John Diggle by his side.
2 Slade Wilson
Season 2 is, to date, the pinnacle of Arrow’s storytelling. Oliver was figuring out how to be a hero instead of just a vigilante. Felicity and John were just starting to come into focus as essential pillars of the story. The hints of the League of Assassins were genuinely exciting. The flashback story was not only enjoyable, but relevant to the present day story. But really, the main reason season 2 is held in such high regard is Slade Wilson, the villain known as Deathstroke.
Oliver’s one-time ally on the island, Slade Wilson was the show’s most effectively executed villain. Played with genuine menace by Manu Bennett, Slade blamed Oliver for the death of his love, Shado, and returned to Star City to wreak havoc on Oliver and his loved ones, killing his mother right in front of him and Thea.
Oliver’s struggle to make himself more than just a killer in the face of Slade’s onslaught is the most effective storytelling the show has ever pulled off, and Deathstroke’s notable absence from the show the past few seasons feels like a thread the show eventually has to revisit to effectively complete Oliver’s story.
1 Oliver Queen
Arrow was initially dismissed by critics as a low-rent Batman Begins. That was a perfectly fair criticism in the show’s early days, and was certainly the role Stephen Amell was cast to play. And yet by the back half of the first season, the show was figuring out its own identity, and no one could have guessed some of the fantastical directions it would end up taking. None of that could have worked if the central character couldn’t adapt, but Amell’s Oliver has proven remarkably adaptable.
A fundamentally angst ridden and brooding character, Oliver has still figured out ways to explore a world of emotions through the prism of his personal pain. Be it through a surprisingly open-hearted approach to romance, an elusive but biting sense of humor, or an amusingly befuddled shrug at the emergence of metahumans, Oliver has become an incredibly nuanced, empathetic character who is more often not the number one reason to keep tuning in after all these years. Even when the show loses its way, we’re still rooting for Oliver Queen.
Who is your favorite character on Arrow? Let us know in the comments!