Arrow’s Tragic Families

A few years ago, someone pointed out to me that the overwhelming majority of Disney’s feature length animated films were about heroes and heroines who came from homes that were missing one or both of their biological parents. There were exceptions to this observation, but I was struck by how accurate that was not only for Disney animated films, but for many fictional heroic characters throughout film and television.

Arrow seems to share Disney’s taste for characters with a tragic family loss in their history. In fact, I have a difficult time recalling which regular characters on Arrow haven’t suffered the traumatic death of an immediate family member. Felicity might be the one character that comes to mind, but we don’t know much about her background in general, so who knows what future episodes will bring.

As young as our core characters are, they have all experienced that painful loss of an immediate family member. Oliver and Thea’s father, Tommy’s mother, Laurel’s sister, and Digg’s brother all died of unnatural causes at a relatively young age. The surviving characters have all struggled to come to terms with their losses, and some do so more successfully than others.

The impact of those deaths have played an integral role in shaping the characters we’ve come to know on Arrow. Ollie, Laurel, and Tommy in particular have developed their own set of daddy issues linked to the deaths in their family.

Oliver & Robert Queen

Despite being dead, Robert Queen is a constant source of angst and frustration for Oliver. As if witnessing his father murder their shipmate and then commit suicide on a life raft wasn’t traumatic enough, the mystery of the real Robert Queen haunts Ollie as he attempts to right his father’s wrongs in Starling City. Ollie seems to recognize that his father wasn’t exactly a stand up guy, but Ollie is still compelled to honor and trust his father in the present.

Laurel & Quentin Lance

After Laurel’s twin sister was killed in the shipwreck that marooned Oliver on the island, Laurel’s family fell apart. Quentin became an overly protective and paranoid parent whose work as a detective made it a little too easy for him to overstep the boundaries in Laurel’s private life.

Laurel was forced to fill in the void left by both her mother and Sarah with no real time to mourn those losses herself. Throughout the series, Laurel engages in minor rebellion against her father in an attempt to make him give her the freedom to live her own life independently. At the same time, she’s protective of him and seems to want to continue to shield Quentin from the pain he suffers when he thinks back about his wife and dead daughter.

Tommy & Malcolm Merlyn

After Tommy’s mother was shot and killed in the Glades, Malcolm went off the deep end and began to formulate an intricate and misguided plan to wipe out the “scum” of Starling City. In the years following Tommy’s mother’s death, Tommy should have been consoled by his father. Instead, Tommy was neglected by Malcolm while he underwent intense training to transform himself into the Dark Archer for the sake of his plan.

Tommy continues to harbor deep resentment towards his father for those years of neglect. Before Oliver’s disappearance, he acted out by partying and frivolously spending his father’s money. As bitter as Tommy was about his father ignoring him in the years following his mother’s death, he wasn’t able to cut his father out of his life permanently.

Tommy still doesn’t know the full extent of what is going on in his father’s twisted head, but the latest developments on Arrow have led to Tommy returning to his father’s side. I’m not sure if any good can come from a renewed relationship given Tommy’s current state of mind and Malcolm’s warped view of the world.


Had Ollie, Laurel, and Tommy not experienced such significant deaths in the family, they might never have developed their daddy issues. Malcolm would have no reason to leave Tommy behind while he formulated a plan to get revenge on The Glades for his wife’s death. Ollie and his father would not have been sabotaged on their yacht and Laurel’s sister would not have been a victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Suffering seems to be something that all these characters can relate to and as Arrow continues, I’m sure there will be a litany of characters that will have their stories shaped by tragic family losses as well.