Ranking the big bads of ‘Arrow’

Now that Arrow‘s over, it’s time we discuss it’s villains. As we all know, the right or wrong big bad can make or break a season. So which villains worked and which didn’t? Here’s our ranking:

#8 Ricardo Diaz

To much of Arrow fans’ chagrin Ricardo Diaz maintained the longest run as a big bad. Through season 6 and 7 Diaz somehow continually foiled Oliver and company until he met his demise by burning alive in prison. The reason The Dragon earns the bottom spot on this list is because he doesn’t subsequently earn anything else in the story. We’re told he’s such a charismatic leader that he rose in the ranks from nothing, but we’re showed someone who’s actually not that scary, and quite frankly pathetic. 

The likes of which were definitely not worthy of big bad status and putting Oliver Queen in prison. It became increasingly unbelievable that Team Arrow couldn’t handle this guy in one fell swoop. Diaz could have worked as a one-off villian. But as a big bad? Let’s just say I enjoyed watching him finally go up in flames.

#7 Damien Darhk

Season 4 of Arrow is often regarded as the shows worst season (if not one of), and that in large part has to do with its big bad. As audience members we can recognize that in the land of comics there’s many fantastical happenings going on elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean we wanted that to touch the veil of Star City. Nor should it have. Damien Darhk and his magic had no place on Arrow, and it was made worse by it’s cheesy delivery and lackluster motivation. Like why are you here Damien? Don’t you have better things to do? It was rather weird and discombobulating. I will give this to Darhk though, he did put the team in some tough spots, but unfortunately nothing made up for the tonal shift of having a magical big bad.

#6 Cayden James

Arrow — “The Devil’s Greatest Trick” — Image Number: AR613a_0081.jpg — Pictured: Michael Emerson as Cayden James — Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW — © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights reserved.

Cayden James’ stint in season 6 was rather short, and he didn’t accomplish much before Diaz killed him, *hard eye roll*. James could have been infinitely more interesting if his main beef wasn’t something that could have been easily explained. Remember how he thought Oliver killed his son? Well Oliver didn’t kill his son and Team Arrow could prove it. However, the biggest disappointment with this storyline was the wasted potential. Having a tech-master cyber villain was actually pretty interesting, and it fit well within the Arrow mythos. And not to mention James was played by the one and only Michael Emerson. The Arrow cast was right to be so excited by this news, you know Emerson would have excelled if given the opportunity and story.

#5 Emiko Queen

I wish Arrow‘s first and only female big bad was higher on this list! Unfortunately for Oliver’s long lost sister she revealed herself a little too late. A secret sister showing up would have worked in earlier seasons, but because we were in the final stretch of season 7 it rang too false. An earlier reveal would have granted the writing more time to ruminate with this character and allow a possible relationship with Oliver and the rest of the gang to develop. Her redemption was pretty hamfisted in there at the last possible second. Also, Emiko, you do realize the injustices you suffered in your life were not Oliver’s fault right? And if you thought Oliver was such a horrible person why did you use his Green Arrow persona as a conduit for justice?

Lastly, Emiko showing up the season after Thea departed Arrow did make her feel like a makeshift replacement. Imagine Thea going bad for a season (well, more so than her season 3 shenanigans)? Anyways, Arrow LOVES when Oliver and his abundant daddy issues have a chance to shine, so at least Emiko was good for that.

#4 Ras Al Ghul

Ras and Oliver’s mountaintop battle will remain one of the best scenes in Arrow history. And given that the legend of Ras Al Ghul was as big a bad as the man himself, I’d say his run in season 3 was rather successful. Ras was actually a pretty interesting character on his own, and thankfully Arrow did not make the mistake of recklessly creating a weak motivation as to why a big character like Ras would have some random beef with Oliver and/or Star City. Once Oliver became a problem, he stabbed him and threw him over a mountain. That makes a good hero villain stand off if you ask me.

And before you ask, the magic hot tub that can bring you back from the dead worked for me. It was dabbling with the mystical rather than full on embracing it.

#3 Malcolm Merlyn

Where do we begin with Malcolm Merlyn? I still get chills when I hear him shout, “they deserve to die!” His reveal as the Dark Archer was truly a series moment, and he worked best when Arrow used him sparingly after season 1, which they mostly did (and we don’t talk about season 4). Consequently, seeing his relationship unfold with Oliver and Thea brought an interesting dichotomy to his character and the show. But I will never forgive him for setting off the earthquake machine that killed Tommy. His own son. For shame. I’m glad he got his redemptive moment by sacrificing himself for Thea though, he had to do right by one child because he epically failed the other.

#2 Slade Wilson

When I think of Slade, I think of “who you love the most”. I think of ‘Seeing Red’ and the absolute devastation he brought to these characters and the dramatic stakes he brought to the show. But I think the true success of Slade Wilson in season 2 has to be how well they interconnected the flashbacks with the current storyline. You had to watch the flashbacks in order to get vital information that informed the present day.

We got to watch Slade become an ally, a friend, a foe, and a sort of friend/ally again (we can ignore that one episode in season 6, you can acknowledge the man who killed your mother is rehabilitated for the most part but he doesn’t need to be a BFF). The villainy he brought to season 2 was truly masterful storytelling. We were on an emotional rollercoaster with Slade Wilson, and were only allotted time to breathe when Oliver and Felicity looked at eachother like that on Lian Yu’s beach.

#1 Adrian Chase

Oliver Queen technically never even beat Chase. He shot himself in the head, Robert Queen style which caused Lian Yu to blow up. It was truly full circle. But the reason Chase earns the top spot is because he pushed Oliver to confront his past, his decisions, his father, and his PTSD in a way no villain ever has. And he was so very unhinged in a way that was just terrifying. As Chase brought the back half of season 5 to a close he made me grateful to witness Oliver’s journey and be on this ride with our favorite arrow-wielding vigilante.



Lynsey is a proud Hufflepuff. Find her watching anything from BoJack Horseman to Grey's Anatomy. She loves to read... especially if it features dragons and a good cry. If you ask her what she's doing she will most likely respond "I probably should be writing." Find her on Twitter, to theorize, geek out, and to obsess about Olicity.

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