The theme of tonight’s “Arrow” finale, titled “Sacrifice,” was unconditional love. Colin Donnell‘s character, Tommy Merlyn, made the ultimate sacrifice. After discovering that his father is the Dark Archer, Tommy made every effort to stop him. When he couldn’t, he rushed to CNRI to save Laurel — despite her hookup with Oliver, he still loved her.
Oliver, rushing to CNRI to save Laurel, found Tommy instead, trapped beneath the rubble and bleeding out. In their final moments together, the men — who grew up together as boys, practically brothers — shared a beautiful, heartfelt goodbye. Despite what we thought, these guys were never meant to be enemies. They were opposite sides of the same coin, allies through and through, in every sense of the world.
It’s a sad moment — particularly for those of us who were looking forward to Tommy’s potential descent into villainy and his ultimate face-off with Oliver (Stephen Amell). But there’s also a certain satisfaction to the fact that Tommy didn’t become that dark, twisted version of himself. He died honorably, without losing the solid moral compass that kept him steadfast and reliable throughout the season.
Tommy was never permissive when it came to Oliver’s violent brand of justice. To watch him turn into a murderer would have warped the foundation of his character, and as sad as we are to see him go, we’re very glad we get to remember him as the guy who stood for something truly honorable, instead of something questionable and murky.
Still, given our obvious expectations for the character based on his comic book fate and his father’s devious proclivities, the death comes as a pretty big shock. It was surprising for Donnell, too.
“I found out toward the end of February,” Donnell tells us. “[Executive producers] Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg came up. They were really cool about it, they came up to Vancouver and they asked me to come into the office to have a meeting. I was like ‘I wonder what they want to talk about? I’m sure they just want to talk about what’s going to happen in Season 2!'”
Obviously, the meeting quickly took a mournful turn. “As we sat down, they just said ‘Hey, man,’ and I looked at them, and I was like, ‘Oh, man! You’re killing me off, aren’t you?!’ It was a bit of a shock, of course it was a shock, because I had one idea of how things might go, but ultimately, once they explained it to me, I totally understand. That’s the way stories have to go sometimes.”
Tommy certainly wasn’t this season’s sacrifice because he didn’t have anything to contribute. He was one character with deep ties to the entire community. Tommy grew up as part of the Queen family, and when Oliver was on the island, he was a significant figure in Thea’s life. He was incredibly important to Laurel’s development this season, and his death will have a profound impact on Season 2.
“I think one of the coolest things about the way they’ve written him is that he’s really the most universally beloved character by all the other characters in the show, from Malcolm to Oliver to Laurel and Thea — even Diggle and Felicity, in their conversations with Oliver, kind of understand why Tommy might be a little pissed off about things,” says Donnell. “Some of my favorite things were the family dynamics, coming in and having conversations with Thea and Moira and all that stuff, really being able to show how he kind of wove in and out of these people’s lives.”
In a lot of ways, Tommy became the antithesis of Oliver — just, not in an arch-nemesis kind of way. Where Oliver is volatile and unpredictable, Tommy was even keeled, thoughtful, and trustworthy. He showed up for the people he cared about, stayed loyal to his friend even when he learned the secret, and died as a hero.
The fact that Tommy’s death will have a deep, lasting impact on the show eases the sting of being written off for Donnell — who insists that he hasn’t spent the last few weeks throwing darts at pictures of the executive producers. “No,” he laughs. “They’re great guys. I don’t envy having to be inside of a writer’s room when it comes to that, especially when they’ve got a cast full of people that they enjoy writing for, then it’s like, ‘Oh, s***. That guy. That’s going to be the biggest impact on everybody, we have to do this, don’t we?'”
In some ways, the death is an honor for Donnell. “It’s somewhat of a testament to how the character’s been written and hopefully the way that I’ve been performing in the show, that it really will be a huge shock to the audience,” he says. “But yeah, it’s kinda rough!”
It’s rough on the rest of the cast, too. “I think they had called Stephen just as soon as I rolled out of the office,” Donnell says. “I got home from the meeting, and he came and met me for coffee that day. He just said, ‘Look, dude, I don’t know what to say.’ I was like, ‘It happens. Good luck?'” He laughs. “Not that they’ll need it.”
Donnell isn’t exactly going to be hurting for work. He’s a well-respected stage actor, having starred in shows like “Mamma Mia!” and “Wicked” in national tours, and “Jersey Boys” on Broadway. This summer, he’s headed back to New York City to cross Shakespeare in the Park off his bucket list.
“It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do since I moved to New York almost eight years ago,” the St. Louis native tells us. “To finally be slated to get up on that stage is really cool, and it’s happening in a really unique way. It’s a musical version of ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ that Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman have adapted. It’s a cool, unique adaptation of this great Shakespeare comedy. It’s silly, and irreverent, and at the same time very heartfelt. It’s a great play for them to have adapted, and they really wrote it specifically to go into the Park. We’ve been working on it now for almost two years, and so it’s going to be a cool culmination of a couple years invested in that piece.”
During filming of “Arrow,” Donnell not only flew into New York to record vocals for the show (listen to one of the songs below!) but he also shot a film with Elizabeth Banks and Diane Lane, called “Every Secret Thing,” directed by Amy Berg.
Though we’ll definitely be seeing Donnell pop up everywhere soon, it’s going to take us a while before we get over the loss of Tommy. “I really think the final episode is my favorite episode by far,” Donnell tells us. “It really is a great culmination of who Tommy became over the course of the season. Being able to see a bit of the snarky guy he was in the beginning, building into a lot of the anger toward Oliver in the last few episodes, and then a really redeeming, heroic quality about him in the end.”