Tonight’s all new episode of Arrow is a can’t-miss for quite a few reasons. As the episode title, “Nanda Parbat,” suggests, it marks the return of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins. It’s filled with twists and surprises, each one more shocking than the one before. It offers our first look at Ray Palmer in the A.T.O.M. suit and gives us our first glimpse of it in action. And perhaps most intriguingly, it’s the first time we see a very visibly frightened Malcolm Merlyn.
“The one person you fear is Ra’s al Ghul,” explains John Barrowman, the fan favorite actor who has played Malcolm Merlyn on three seasons of Arrow. “Malcolm finally has to face the maker, and he knows what he can do because he was one of his assassins. He knows what he is capable of.”
And naturally, he knows the proper response is absolute fear for his life. But for Barrowman, that fear doesn’t only serve the story, it also serves the character.
“It’s important that you see the fear in Malcolm,” says Barrowman, “because the one thing that I’ve read with people who have sort of ‘fallen’ for Malcolm is that they hate me, but they love me. They get why he’s doing it. It’s important for me to show that emotional side to him because that’s what the fans then connect with to see that he’s not just a villain. There’s a reason for why he’s doing it. There’s a reason as to why he’s scared, and you’re finding it out.”
Over the course of the show, we’ve see Malcolm Merlyn shift from the core season one villain to something a little more nuanced. He’s still more or less in the villain camp, but he’s not all that interested in killing Oliver and recent events have had him teaming up with Starling’s masked hero—something that has not always sat well with Ollie’s friends. There’s perhaps been no greater example of this than Ollie’s sister, Thea, who recently discovered that Malcolm manipulated her to kill Sara Lance. The guilt and anger she feels over this prompts her to make a dramatic decision early on in tonight’s episode that sets the rest of the events in motion. Events that prove to be much more far-reaching than Thea likely imagined.
“That’s really the beauty of this DC world that has been created,” says Barrowman. “Everybody is in it for the same reason. It’s all about saving something, doing something. But what’s great is how each person turns in a different way, and one’s a good way and one’s a bad way.”
Those turns definitely have included the character of Malcolm. On the surface, it may seem fitting that Malcolm’s now finds himself facing a very painful death at the hands of the Demon’s Head. However, that wouldn’t take into account how much he’s lost to bring him to this point. Malcolm’s a character who over a short period of time has lost his wife and son, then gained a daughter only to seemingly lose her as well after she discovered how much he had been lying to her. He’s not evil by nature, just twisted by what must surely be an unbearable amount of grief.
“One of my favorite moments this season was episode 12 with the Malcolm flashbacks,” shares Arrow Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg. “Just seeing him with Tommy as a kid, and the way John was in the alley with the guy, how he couldn’t even hold the gun, then you cut back and he’s sharpening his sword. All these people, they’ve all lost something so terrible.”
Barrowman agrees, “They’ve all had to change. They’ve all had to change completely in a way that perhaps—and this is the fan talking, it’s nothing that’s been written—there is a bit of regret in their head that they’ve turned the way they’ve turned. But this is the way it’s got to be. This is it.”
Arrow airs at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. Be sure to drop by DCComics.com after tonight's episode as we look at the #DCTV Secrets to be found within and decipher where the series is going from here.