Arrow Parents: the Good, the Bad, and the Absent

Among the stories Arrow tells beyond the development of more than one superhero is about families. There are blood ties and discovered family, siblings, and the like-family bonds that can form within a team. Some of the most pivotal relationships on Arrow involves parents and children. The show has depicted some positive parental figures who are caring and supportive yet imperfect, some who are not-so-great, and everything in between–parents with great love for their children, but who make damaging choices in their quest to protect their families at all costs.

Here is a look at some of the major parental figures on Arrow, characters who have had deep impact in helping to drive the plot, as well as leaving a strong emotional imprint on their kids, for better or for worse. (Warning for spoilers through season 3 aired to date.)

Robert Queen

We’ll start with Robert Queen because in a way, the superhero of Arrow and Ollie’s journey starts with Robert Queen. We don’t actually know that much about him, since there have been very few flashbacks. It’s not clear how great a father he was on a day-to-day basis, or how accessible he was. We know he genuinely loved his children and wanted to protect his family. He along with Malcolm Merlyn formed a secret organization to take down the corruption plaguing the city. However, when Malcolm’s plans went too far, Robert took steps to try to prevent the destruction of the Glades and loss of innocent lives. Which is why Malcolm arranged for the Queen’s Gambit to sink, with not only Robert, but his son Ollie, and Sara Lance, Quentin Lance’s daughter, on board. We know Sara survived and was taken in by the League of Assassins. Robert and Ollie wind up in a life raft.

Robert shoots himself so Ollie can survive. Perhaps this gesture wasn’t merely so his son could go on living–one reason was so Ollie could carry on Robert’s work in saving the city. Ollie finds a notebook in his father’s pocket, a list of the names of Starling City’s most corrupt. We know Robert Queen would do anything to make sure both his children have a future. So ultimately, despite his flaws and some really bad decisions, the show establishes Robert Queen’s memory as someone who loved his children deeply and ultimately cared about the city and leaving his children a better legacy.

Moira Queen

Moira Queen, Robert’s wife and mother to Ollie and Thea, was a central figure on the show for seasons 1-2 and a constant in her children’s lives. As a result, we get a more nuanced picture of Moira than we do of Robert before her death in season 2. Moira is a set of contradictions–warm and gracious, yet more ruthless than her late husband in many ways, and morally slippery when it comes to protecting her family at all costs. It seems as if Moira was the one more involved with her children’s daily lives when they were growing up, and into adulthood. She is close with both her children. In the process of trying to protect them, she lies to each of them, however this is not that far off from Ollie’s lies hiding his role as the Arrow from his family. Moira hides from Thea that Thea is Malcolm’s daughter, not Robert’s and that Moira had an affair in retaliation after finding out Robert was cheating on her. She conceals things from Ollie as well, including her business associations with Malcolm, not just the past affair, and her involvement in The Undertaking (Malcolm’s plot to destroy the Glades), the plot that Robert Queen was killed for trying to stop. It emerges eventually that Moira feared for her family’s life and was coerced.

Before her death in season 2, Moira runs for mayor, but steps out of the race for the sake of her family. She reveals to Ollie that she’s known he was the Arrow for some time, and shows her support for her son. Moira is a complicated figure, of both warmth and ruthlessness.

Quentin Lance
Broken Dolls

While the Lance family has its difficulties, by contrast with the Queen family, they seem a lot more close-knit, grounded, and less mired in an endlessly complex tangle of secrets. They have their share of problems. Quentin and Dinah Lance divorced. Quentin struggled with alcoholism. Various family members have lied to each other, and they have all suffered loss. Laurel’s sister Sara was on the Queen’s Gambit when it went down, and for a while as far as the family knew, Sara was dead. Ollie was also dating Laurel at the time, but cheated on her with Sara. So the Lance family and the Queen family are already entangled with each other when the series starts, and the connection continues with Laurel, Quentin, and Sara’s involvement with the Arrow’s mission.

Quentin Lance is established early on as a supportive, somewhat over-protective single father, an honest cop who wants what’s best for his children. Three seasons in this is still accurate, however as with all of Arrow’s characters, we learn more, layers reveal themselves, and while Quentin is still in the category of “good” parent, there are troubled times as well. We knew already he had drinking problems. Laurel in turn falls into a down-spiral of addiction herself in season 2. In a flashback we find out what Quentin was like when he was drinking. While not physically abusive, he was verbally, in contrast to the warm, supportive, worried dad we see most of the time.

When Sara returns alive to Starling City, it turns out she’s become the vigilante The Canary, after quitting the League of Assassins. Quentin finds out the truth and is reunited with his daughter, but keeps it from his ex-wife and from Laurel. Eventually the truth gets out. But after Sara is murdered, Laurel hides her sister’s second and this time actual death from her parents. Eventually Laurel confesses to Dinah about Sara’s death and her mother unknowingly puts a stamp of approval on her daughter’s mission to become a vigilante in Sara’s name, telling Laurel to do whatever it takes to get whoever killed Sara. Once Quentin finds out, it puts a rift between this close father and daughter team. Quentin also doesn’t approve of his daughter’s role as a vigilante, but it’s the lie about Sara’s death that hurts most. He loses Sara for good, and becomes estranged from Laurel.

The Lance family parallels the Queen family’s dance with secrets, with both parents and children lie to protect their loved ones.

Dinah Lance

Bearing the name of DC Comics’ Black Canary, Dinah lives in a different city, but her devotion to her children is evident. It’s not clear how involved she is in Laurel’s day-to-day life, however all of Dinah’s episodes portray her as a loving mother. Dinah also seems more independent than Quentin, rather than over-protective, but her grief affects her strongly. A photograph leads her to believe Sara didn’t die on the Queen’s Gambit after all. She starts an elaborate search, but becomes convinced it was wishful thinking.

She finds out the truth and is reunited with Sara. Quentin wants to reconcile, but it turns out Dinah has already found someone else and wants to move on with her life, though it seems she remains close to her daughters, despite the family conflicts. After Sara’s death, the reason Laurel gives for keeping it a secret is her father’s health–over-protective runs in the family. What’s interesting is that Dinah says she senses something is wrong, and when she presses Laurel about it, instead of upholding the lie, she tells her mother the truth. Dinah’s response is anger–not at Laurel, for keeping the secret, but at those who murdered Sara.

While both daughters embody traits of their parents, Laurel in particular seems to combine her father’s intensely protective instincts with her mother’s independence and fierceness.

We haven’t seen much of Dinah in season 3, but hopefully will in the future, particularly what she thinks about Laurel’s Black Canary persona.

Malcolm Merlyn

Arrow’s most regular villain, Malcolm is an unusually complicated parental figure. Like many heroes, his initial motivation for his choices arise from grief and a determination to prevent anything bad happening to his loved ones ever again. In fact Arrow’s current arc with Oliver involves Ollie deciding to literally become a villain and take up the position Ra’s Al Ghul in exchange for Thea’s life. However, Oliver and the other heroes of Team Arrow have as a regular goal saving innocent lives and protecting the city as a whole. Malcolm’s motivations have always been tunnel-visioned locked on his own grief, and while he thought he was saving the city, his plan to destroy the Glades involved the loss of many lives. This was something Robert Queen and Moira Queen balked at, while Malcolm did not.

When the plan to destroy the Glades gets implemented despite attempts to stop it, it costs Tommy Merlyn, Malcolm’s son, his life. Rather than this being a wake-up call, Malcolm continues on a destructive path.

It seems that Malcolm is a character whose innate sense of caring and need to care for others is distorted. He always seeks someone to look after. Once Thea Queen finds out Merlyn is her biological father, Merlyn sets out to protect, guide, and train her. Merlyn’s method of teaching his daughter the warrior skills he acquired from Ra’s Al Ghul are not kind, however and more than a bit abusive. The rationale behind it is to make her strong, so she’ll be safe.

This seems to be a recurring thing with Malcolm. An essentially positive goal–improve the city, protect his children, make sure what happened to his wife won’t happen to others–gets carried out in a harmful, self-centered way. His love for Thea is sincere, that doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. At times Malcolm acts as a quasi-ally for Team Arrow, such as sharing his knowledge and advice about Ra’s Al Ghul. But Thea wasn’t kidding when she quipped that her father was a super-villain. Thea does learn from him, becoming a tough fighter who can protect herself. She recently used those skills to protect others as well. Thea’s core of morality has remained intact, despite the losses and difficulties she’s suffered.

Donna Smoak

Felicity Smoak’s mother, Donna, is one of the more positive parental depictions on Arrow. Though impulsive, Donna is also a warm, supportive mother who clearly wants the best for her daughter. After Felicity’s father abandoned his family, Donna worked long hours as a cocktail waitress to take care of her child. The relationship between mother and daughter is difficult–Felicity seems pointedly determined to define herself as a person who is not in the least like her mother. Donna tells Felicity she feels her daughter inherited her father’s best qualities, and none of hers.

Yet the two are protective and loyal to each other. When they are both kidnapped by Felicity’s former hacking partner from college, both women show courage and defend each other. They eventually reach an understanding that Felicity inherited many good qualities from her mother, especially her strength. Donna also seems to connect well with other characters on the show, an outgoing, kind person who wants others to be happy, perhaps driven in part by the sadness in her own history. The character also highlights one of the show’s main themes: heroism in different forms. Donna is currently recurring. As time goes on, we may learn more about her and what secrets she’s carrying, but for now she continues to be a bright spot.

John Diggle and Lyla Michaels

When the series started, no one expected these two characters to join the ranks of parents on Arrow. Each are independent, badass characters, fellow soldiers who fell in love, got divorced under the strain of returning to civilian life, but remained involved with each other. Eventually they repair their relationship, have a baby they name after Sara Lance, and get married. At first both try to balance parenthood with continuing their work, Diggle on Team Arrow, Lyla with ARGUS. After a particular dangerous mission, Lyla decides to retire from ARGUS, but loses none of her badassery while being a full-time mom.

Diggle and Lyla together explore the theme of whether heroes can have a stable home and continue to go out in the field taking risks to save others. The Diggle household seems, so far, to have found a balance, a contrast to Oliver’s stance that if he’s the Arrow, he can’t have a personal life at all. The show has heroes who are single-mindedly focused, and those who live much more in the world they’re trying to save.


There are some of the most heavily featured parental figures on Arrow, but doesn’t cover all. Ra’s Al Ghul is another supervillain parent, who overlooks his daughter as his heir, offering it to Oliver instead. Oliver himself is falling into the “absentee father” category, as he fathered an illegitimate child years ago and Moira paid the mother a large sum of money to move to Central City and release Oliver from parental obligation. The mother and a reference to Oliver’s son has shown up on The Flash, so it seems likely Arrow may revisit this storyline and Oliver as a father at some point.

Feel free to comment telling us what you think about the characters included here, or any parent characters we’ve missed you want to discuss.
Screencaps by homeofthenutty
Promo pics by the CW

Author: Dot R

Dot has been bouncing around various fandoms for many years now writing essays, episode reviews, commentary, and reporting news and conducting interviews, among other things. Along with being a Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and Supernatural fangirl, she’s also a fan of fantasy and science fiction television shows, everything from Farscape to Killjoys to 12 Monkeys to X-Files to Wynonna Earp. Currently Fangirl at Large covering numerous geek culture related topics, convention news, casting spoilers, show news, and interviews.

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