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Malcolm Merlyn

Species: Human

Real Name: Arthur King

Known Aliases: The Dark Archer, Al Sa-Her (الساحر, Arabic for The Magician), Ra's al-Ghul (رئيس الغول Arabic for "Head of the Demon")


Affiliations: The League of Assassins, Tempest, Team Arrow, The HIVE, The Legion of Doom, The Thanatos Guild

Played By: John Barrowman

Voiced By: Jesús Barrero (Latin American Spanish, Arrow Season One-midway Season Four), Yamil Atala (Latin American Spanish, Arrow Season Four-present)

Appearances: Arrow | Heroes Join Forcesnote  | Invasion! (2016) note  | Legends of Tomorrow | Elseworldsnote 

Father of Tommy & Thea, CEO of Merlyn Global Group, former member of the League of Assassins, and leader of Tempest, a group of wealthy and powerful Starling City citizens plotting to "save" the city by destroying the Glades.


After Moira Queen tells the world he's a criminal, he goes underground after the (partial) success of the Undertaking and manages to manipulate events to put himself in charge of the League of Assassins and form an uneasy alliance with Team Arrow. However, his sins came back to haunt him as he loses control of the League thanks to Nyssa Al-Ghul and Oliver, and joins HIVE out of spite. However, when HIVE wants to destroy the world with no survivors, he goes back to Team Arrow to help save the world.

After he helped Team Arrow save the world from HIVE, he was approached by Eobard Thawne and Damian Darhk to join their organization the same night Oliver kills Darhk's future self. Having lost everything and thoroughly burned his bridges with Team Arrow, he accepts a chance to revive his fortunes and perhaps fix some old mistakes that keep haunting him, joining the Legion of Doom.


After he and the Legion are defeated by the Legends, he is returned to his crummy existence in the present. Just in time to come to Oliver's aid in the war against Adrian Chase who has kidnapped all of Oliver's friends and brought them to Lian Yu, including Thea. Partaking in the battle, Thea ends up stepping on a mine. To save her life, Malcolm takes her place then sets off the mine to take out Harkness and Chase's other goons.

see Arrowverse: Earth-2 page for his Earth-2 counterpart

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  • Absurdly Youthful Father: He's played by 45-year-old John Barrowman, while Tommy is 27-28. He probably wasn't intended to be 16-17 when he fathered his son, though it's not outside the realms of possibility; it's more likely though that he's older than the actor portraying him.
  • Abusive Parents: To Tommy and to Thea. His abusive tendencies have gotten to a point where it can be hard to watch how cruel he is to his children.
  • Action Dad: He's Tommy's father. It's revealed in "State v. Queen" that he's Thea's dad as well.
  • Adaptation Name Change: From Arthur King (aka Merlyn) to Malcolm Merlyn (aka Dark Archer). Subverted in that the Dark Archer comic mini-series penned by Barrowman himself has revealed Arthur King to be Merlyn's birth name.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the comics, Merlyn is depicted as either a middle-aged man with receding hairline or one with a Horned Hairdo, Depending on the Artist. Here, he's still middle-aged but is portrayed as a Tall, Dark, and Handsome man with a good amount of head hair that is always properly groomed.
  • Adaptational Heroism: His comic book counterpart was a Professional Killer and Punch-Clock Villain with no particular ambition beside being paid for his kills. This version has a more sympathetic motivation making him closer to a Tragic Villain, and even becomes a Sixth Ranger and Token Evil Teammate to Team Arrow in Season 3, but there's also his Adaptational Villainy below...
  • Adaptational Intelligence: In the comics, he's mainly just a Professional Killer. Here, he's The Chessmaster.
  • Adaptational Villainy: His plan in Season One involves a gratuitous mass-murder his comic counterpart wouldn't have done.
  • Affably Evil: In Season One, expect for the finale where he underwent a Villainous Breakdown and veered more into Faux Affably Evil territory. In the following seasons, he is mostly back to genuine affability, even though he does some very repulsive things and is mostly acting to save his own hide. In Legends, however, he is firmly faux.
  • Age Lift: Commonly depicted as an older looking middle-aged man (It's hard to tell) in most works. Here, he's portrayed by an actor in his mid-forties who is Older Than They Look.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: When Ra's finally gets a hold of him, he begs for life. Ra's merely tells him to face his death with honor.
  • Alliterative Name: Malcolm Merlyn. Furthermore, his LoA Code Name is the Magician.
  • Almost Dead Guy: His wife. She tried to call him, he let it go to voicemail. Twice. She left a message as she lay dying.
  • Alphabetical Theme Naming: He and his late wife Rebecca were good friends of Robert and Moira Queen.
  • Always Someone Better:
    • To Oliver in Season One. During both their fights, he comes away victorious. In their first fight, it's only overconfidence on his part that lets Oliver get away. In the second, he mostly succeeds in his plan to level the Glades and fakes his own death. Given that he has twenty years of League of Assassin training to Oliver's six years (five in hell, one in Starling), their every fight is a Curb Stomp. This has stopped as of Season Three, either already at the start (as he manipulated Oliver to go fight Ra's, something he didn't dare), or at the latest at the end of Season Three, where Oliver actually defeated Ra's.
    • In Season Four, it's made clear that Oliver is now the superior combatant of the two. Malcolm also ends up being manipulated by Oliver into losing his title of "The Demon's Head" permanently.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Oliver cuts off his left hand in Season Four's "Sins of the Father" to extract the Demon's Ring, to give to Nyssa in exchange for a potion that can save Thea's life.
  • And Starring: After he gets Promoted to Opening Titles in Season Three. Even then, he gets this citation during his guest appearances in the first two seasons.
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • To Oliver. Malcolm has been directly responsible for all of the tragedies that befell Oliver's life in Season One, from the sinking of the Queen's Gambit, which caused Robert to die and for Oliver to go through hell on the island, to the Undertaking which led to his best friend Tommy being killed. It's so personal that during their duel in Season Four, Malcolm makes it clear that the only way their war will end is when one of them is dead; it becomes even more personal after Malcolm betrays William to HIVE. However, come Season Five, Malcolm no longer has any desire for revenge against Oliver, seemingly having realized how pointless it was.
    • To Nyssa as well, ever since he killed Sara. Nyssa dedicated her life to bringing Malcolm to justice. When Malcolm becomes Ra's al Ghul, Nyssa did everything in her power to overthrow him, even destroying the Lazarus Pit to spite him. Eventually, Malcolm came to hate Nyssa too, willing to betray a truce between them when she had offered a cure for his daughter's life. In the "Doomworld" altered reality, Malcolm used the Spear of Destiny to banish Nyssa to a closeted life.
    • To Moira as well. Moira has despised him ever since he sunk the Gambit, effectively murdering Robert and causing Oliver to disappear for five years, and then blackmailed her into taking Robert's place in Tempest by threatening Thea and Walter. Moira was also the one who is ultimately responsible for his post-Season One fall from grace, first by exposing the Undertaking and then by revealing his survival to Ra's al Ghul. Malcolm did not quite hate her for the first (mainly because of Thea), but he certainly did after the second, and the only reason he never acted on it is because Slade got to Moira first.
    • To Brick. As revealed in Season Three, Brick is the man who murdered Malcolm's wife, Merlyn, and has been the motivation behind everything that Malcolm has done since, from joining the League to the Undertaking. Malcolm is shown to truly regret what led him here and wishes that things could have been different, if only he had the means to take down Brick all those years ago.
  • Archer Archetype: Unlike other members of the League, the bow is the only weapon we see him using, apart from when he's training Thea.
  • Archnemesis Dad:
    • Played with. He has an adversarial relationship with Tommy, but they do resolve some differences and it looks like they may end up working together. But when Tommy finds out what Malcolm has planned, he's horrified and ends up heading to the Glades to help out.
    • Played with for quite some time in his relationship with Thea. Thanks to his refusal to give up leadership of the League for her and handing Oliver's son William over to Damien Darhk, she appears to have rejected him and he to have gone full-blown villain. They do face off in combat, but he won't kill her.
    • In a way, you could say he's this to Oliver. Oliver grew up with Tommy as his best friend and had Malcolm as a constant presence in his life until the island — Malcolm was an honorary uncle or even a second father to him. And as detailed in Like a Son to Me below, Malcolm himself held fatherly affection for Oliver thanks to their similarities, and it's implied that these feelings stem from the time before Oliver was stranded on Lian Yu. Him being the biological father of Oliver's sister is just icing on the cake. Of course, any sort of affection they had for each other died a long time ago, and they're now the most bitter of enemies.
  • Arrow Catch: Fully capable of this. When he does it the second time, it blows up in his face, literally.
  • Artificial Limbs: He gets a bionic left hand, courtesy of HIVE, a few months after Oliver chopped his real one.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Thanks to his ability to play as his own dragon.
  • "Awesome McCool" Name: Malcolm Merlyn is a very awesome name.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: "My Name Is Oliver Queen" results in him having one, named as the new Ra's Al-Ghul.
  • Back from the Dead: Briefly in "Elseworlds" but not as himself - as cop along with rewritten selves of Joe Wilson and Diaz whose sole purpose is to be an obstacle to Oliver and Barry.
  • Badass Decay: In-Universe due to becoming complacent in his training.
    • Not only does Oliver thoroughly beat his ass in Season 4 but he's also morphed into a Dirty Coward, a far cry from his "Dark Archer" persona in Season One.
    • Sara is also able to beat him in a fight in the Waverider and he's only able to weasel out of death because the Legion was holding Stein hostage.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Well, he is badass and wears nice suits.
  • Badass Normal:
    • He is the Arrowverse's very first Big Bad, a time which the universe was still very grounded.
    • It's even more pronounced when he joins the Legion of Doom where despite being the only member without superpowers, sorcery, or advanced tech, he's able to go toe to toe with the Legends, even taking out Firestorm with a single arrow. Not to mention being capable enough to help Thawne fend off Black Flash.
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • Thanks to very carefully hiding the existence of two Earthquake Machines, he managed a half-victory with the Undertaking, since Oliver and his allies were only able to stop one of them from going off.
    • While he admits to Nyssa that he never intended to become the next Ra's Al-Ghul, his ascension to the position means that he gets exactly what he wanted since the start of Season Three: to be off the League's hit list.
  • Batman Gambit: His entire plan in Season 3 revolved around this; have Thea kill Sara so that Ra’s al Ghul will target her, forcing Oliver to take the blame for the murder to protect her and kill Ra’s for him.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Malcolm constantly learns that being a villain comes with so much pain. There are several instances that show this:
    • When he finally has Brick at his mercy, he tells Oliver he regrets everything that has led him here that started with Rebecca's death, from joining the League to the Undertaking and even resulting in Tommy's death.
    • At the end of Season Four, he's lost the title of Ra's al-Ghul and his hold over the League, turned against Darhk, and burned his bridges with Team Arrow. He's left with nothing but a crummy apartment where he drinks his sorrow away.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Malcolm genuinely believes all of his claims that everything he does is for the greater good or the benefit of his children, which is how he justifies his seemingly endless list of crimes.
  • Big Bad: Of Season One's present day, and the most consistent one in the entire series.
    • He's also notably one of the main antagonists of Legends Season Two as a member of the Legion of Doom, though Thawne is the clear leader.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate:
    • In the fourth season, he takes it quite poorly when Oliver cuts off his hand and takes rulership of the League of Assassins from him, so he joins H.I.V.E., albeit he quickly gets Demoted to Dragon.
    • The fifth season reveals that he was in a partnership with Kovar during Oliver's time in the Bratva; he gave Kovar sarin gas in exchange for materials for the Undertaking.
    • In "Legends" Season Two he becomes a member of the Legion.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: With Ra's Al-Ghul in Season Three's present day. Ra's completely takes the role from him in the episode "Nanda Parbat".
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Starting with Season 3. Although he is still a Manipulative Bastard who goes out of his way to be as despicable as he can be, he craps his pants at the mere mention of Ra's Al Ghul and has to be rescued from him. And in Season 4, he gets quickly Demoted to Dragon by Damien Darhk.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: He's able to go from charming injured guy to sociopathic murderer in the same conversation.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity:
    • During the Season One finale, he lets Oliver live despite having him completely at his mercy before leaving him alone with no other guards in the room. The first half is justified due to his personal connection to Oliver and a desire not to upset Moira, but the second is just plain dumb. Most likely justified because he had beaten Oliver twice, and because he had a second earthquake machine ready to go. In fact, given how everything turned out, his actions only backfired in a minor sense.
    • In Season Four, he keeps Nyssa alive even though he knows she wants to kill him for orchestrating Sara's death, but he keeps her around because he believes she keeps him on his toes. He regrets it when she destroys the Lazarus Pit.
  • Book-Ends: He was responsible for beginning Oliver's five years in hell and was in league with Oliver's nemesis during his fifth year.
  • The Bus Came Back: He comes back to Star City for the final quarter of Season 5, being absent due to his activies with the Legion.
  • Calling the Young Man Out: Cuts Tommy off financially when he finally has enough of his son's lazy, philandering ways, and in the confrontation that follows, he coldly dismisses Tommy's attempts at rebuttal by pointing out that it's truly his own money and all Tommy does is waste it on extravagant parties and drugs. While he is a jerkass about it, Tommy eventually comes to realize that he was right and begins to genuinely change for the better, eventually taking an actual job at Oliver's nightclub to work for his money.
  • Canon Character All Along: He is initially depicted as an unnamed Satellite Character to Moira before he's revealed to be the father of Tommy Merlyn and established to be the show's counterpart to the comic villain Merlyn. The tie-in comics explain that he was born Arthur King, the true name of the comics character.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Ray Palmer is apparently a fan of Doctor Who. His actor played Jack Harkness, a reoccurring companion of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.
  • The Chessmaster: One of the biggest on the show. The Undertaking succeeded because he believed in redundancy and kept the second earthquake device a secret. But Season Three really showed off how good he can be: he orchestrated Sara's murder, having Thea kill Sara to force Oliver to take the fall for her and duel Ra's al Ghul. He planned it so if either Oliver or Ra's killed the other, he would always come out on top.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: He betrays every teams he joins. The League of Assassins, Team Arrow, H.I.V.E., and the Legion of Doom would say so. But Team Arrow is the biggest example, he's betrayed and went back to them more times than he did so with the other teams.
  • Commuting on a Bus:
    • He's absent for most of Arrow's Season Two, since he's scared that Ra's Al-Ghul will find him.
    • He spends most of Season 5 being absent again because he's transplanted to "Legends of Tomorrow" Season 2 as a member of the Legion of Doom. He shows up back in Star City when it's dissolved.
  • Complexity Addiction: In Season Three his gambit to get himself off Ra's hit list by brainwashing Thea to kill Sara so Oliver will face Ra's for him should have failed by all logic and yet it worked.
  • Composite Character:
    • His title of "Dark Archer" is taken from his comic counterpart's expy in Smallville, Vordigan.
    • He shares similarities to Roy Harper, with him losing his hand and having it replaced with a robotic prosthetic.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Considering he wants to Kill the Poor, he definitely qualifies.
  • The Corrupter: Played with but ultimately averted. His son Tommy (in Season One) and his illegitimate daughter Thea (in Season Three) are both drawn to their father after becoming estranged from Oliver, but when faced with the full extent of Malcolm's evil, they both reject him.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Proves it via Wham Line:
    Malcolm: "If I've learned anything as a successful businessman, it's... redundancy." [cue second Earthquake Machine going off, destroying half the Glades]
  • Create Your Own Hero:
    • By sabotaging the Queen's Gambit, Malcolm facilitated the events that made Oliver into what he is today, and subsequently turned him into his greatest enemy. Oliver made this pointedly clear when they finally confronted one another in the season one finale.
    • The same events also had a hand in turning Sara Lance into the Canary/White Canary, as she would have remained an ordinary girl who never got found and trained under the League of Assassins.
  • Cruel Mercy: After the Legion of Doom is defeated, Sara, rather than killing him, sends him back to his crappy apartment to continue his miserable existence.
  • Crusading Widower: Albeit an evil version, he's willing to try and save Starling City in his own way: by destroying the Glades. By Season Two, however, he seems to have abandoned the idea after it had cost him so much and decided to train his daughter in the wake of her mother's death.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • His first fight with Oliver goes almost entirely in his favour. The latter only gets away after stabbing him with a flechette and running away.
    • He massacres a SWAT team that try to arrest him.
    • In "Uprising", he utterly batters Danny Brickwell, who beforehand had bested almost every character that fought him. Though it should be noted Brick was previously battered up by Wildcat and shot by Roy.
    • Ends up on the receiving end of one by none other than Oliver Queen himself during Season 4. He does not take it, and the loss of the League of Assassins, well.
    • Receives on from Sara in "Legends" although he puts up more of an effort this time. He's able to weasel out of it thanks to the Legion holding Martin Stein hostage.

  • Dark Is Evil: In his Dark Archer persona, he wears all black and fires black arrows.
  • The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: Before joining the League of Assassins, Malcolm was a decent man and a loving father. These days, he's a cold-blooded schemer willing to kill anyone he needs to, any love he has for his children is exceptionally twisted, and he has all the morality of a pit viper.
  • Darth Vader Clone: Dressed in Dark garb? Check. Complex Anti-Villain? Check. Driven evil because of love? Check. Adversarial relationship with his children? Check. Speaks with a deep voice? Check.
  • Dead Alternate Counterpart: For the Earth-2 Malcolm, though he's also dead by the end of his introduction.
  • Deadpan Snarker: No matter what, one thing never changes about Malcolm: his sharp wit. See his response to Oliver attacking him on sight with an arrow in Season Five.
    Malcolm: I see your hospitality hasn't improved.
  • Debt Detester: Subverted. Even though Oliver saved his life via Cruel Mercy in Season 4, Malcolm is determined for petty vengeance and strikes up an alliance with Hive... until Darhk goes off the deep end and Malcolm paddles back to Team Arrow to save his own skin.
  • Demoted to Dragon: Goes from the Big Bad of Season One to Damien Darhk's attack dog in Season Four. This happens again when he's recruited as a member of the Legion of Doom in Legends of Tomorrow, where both he and Darhk end up as Eobard Thawne's lackeys who do his grunt work, though he and Darhk manage to push Thawne for a more equal partnership.
  • Dirty Coward: At first only in regards to Ra's Al Ghul. Because he is scared shitless of fighting Ra's Al Ghul himself, he forces Oliver to do it by brainwashing his own daughter Thea into killing Sara and thus forcing Oliver's hand to protect her. In Season Four, after getting his ass kicked by Oliver and losing a hand, he runs to Damien Darhk and gives up the existence and location of Oliver's son William for petty retribution. When he holds Thea captive, he acts all smug and taunting as long as he is in control, but when he loses it, he tries to run. And in the finale, when everything around him comes crashing down, he has yet another change of alignment and helps out Team Arrow out of self-preservation.
  • Disabled Snarker: After he gets his hand cut off and having it replaced by a cybernetic prosthetic, Malcolm makes a lot of quips about said amputation especially to Oliver.
    Malcolm: Are you looking for applause? Clapping is a little more difficult for me these days.
  • Dragon with an Agenda:
    • When he joined HIVE, it was to get revenge on Oliver and assure Thea's safety from their Evil Plan.
    • He joins the Legion of Doom solely for a chance to reverse his fallen fortunes.
  • Drunk on the Dark Side: He enjoys the power that comes with being Ra's Al-Ghul, immensely, and when Team Arrow arranges it so he loses the title of the Demon's Head he loses it completely and becomes even worse than he was in Season One.
  • Easily Forgiven: Zig-zagged in Season Three. While Thea is willing to forgive Malcolm for his past crimes, Team Arrow is not (except for Oliver and Roy but only for Thea's sake). However, when it turns out Malcolm is behind Sara's death, Oliver keeps him safe only so the League won't come after Thea. Thea, however, is furious and pretty much disowns him. Eventually, Ra's stabs Thea in one final gambit to get Oliver to join the League — even Oliver can't tolerate Malcolm any more after that.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • Oliver is willing to work with him in order to defeat the League and Merlyn accepts in order to free the two of them from the League's sights. However, they are united for the sake of Thea and the two can barely tolerate each other otherwise.
    • He later joins up with Oliver in the season 5 finale, along with (reluctantly) Nyssa and Slade, to take down Prometheus and to save Thea.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Despite his completely Jerkass actions towards his son (calling Tommy a loser, cutting him off entirely from his trust, tricking him to dinner just so he could sign off on closing his wife's beloved free clinic), it is shown he does indeed love him. When Malcolm realizes the Triad is trying to assassinate him, his first and only concern is to get Tommy out of danger. Of course, that's partly because he knows he himself isn't in any danger thanks to his League training. He's also shown some regret for the Undertaking, since it was what ultimately got Tommy killed, and he outright admits that his desire to forge a bond with Thea is because she's all he has left after losing Tommy.
    • His love of his wife and despair from her death is what ultimately pushed him over the edge into the villain he is today.
    • Also his daughter Thea. He comes back to protect her from the Mirakuru army in "Streets of Fire" despite the League's Contract on the Hitman. This is partially due to the fact that she is all he has left. Seems to be horribly subverted come "The Climb", where it turns out he was just using her as a pawn, but afterwards even though he put her in great danger he keeps showing that his love for her is genuine.
    • In Doomworld it's shown that Malcolm's ideal reality isn't one in which he has the power of Ra's Al Ghul again but instead one in which Tommy and Rebecca are alive and well and Thea loves him.
    • In "Lian Yu" he takes Thea's place on a land mine without hesitation.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • He helps somewhat against the Mirakuru army in Season Two's three-part finale because while he did want the Glades destroyed as vengeance, he didn't want the entire city destroyed, especially not for a one-on-one vendetta.
    • He's also vehemently against using the Lazarus Pit to bring back loved ones since they usually Come Back Wrong — so much so that he was willing to let Thea die rather than use the pit, which also explains why he never tried using it on Tommy or Rebecca.
    • He's also against H.I.V.E.'s Genesis plan, but rather than work to stop it, he becomes Darhk's sidekick so Thea will be spared (and himself of course). But when Darhk wants to destroy the whole world and not rebuild it, Malcolm goes back to Team Arrow.
    • Even after siding with Damien Darhk, Merlyn doesn't reveal Oliver's identity (probably because doing so would endanger Thea). This doesn't stop Darhk from working it out on his own.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • To Oliver as the Dark Archer, being a vigilante archer who killed many people in Starling City, only Oliver goes for corrupt business men and criminals, while Malcolm goes for whoever is in his way or anyone he needs to silence. Both also make use of The List, with Oliver targetting those people while Malcolm used them as benefactors for the Undertaking. Both also experienced a tragedy in their lives over the loss of a loved one that made them into the men they are today, with Oliver losing his father and Malcolm losing his wife, Rebecca.
    • To Sara. Both are former League of Assassins members with close ties to Oliver Queen. However while Malcolm used his League training to become a villain, Sara used it to become a hero. Becomes even more apparent once he joins the Legion of Doom, as they're now both Arrow transplant characters who ended up on opposing time traveling Super Teams. To highlight this, the two are constantly pitted against each other in fights throughout Legends of Tomorrow Season Two.
  • Evil Is Petty: After the Legion of Doom rewrite reality using The Spear of Destiny, Malcolm makes it so Nyssa is stuck living a miserable, closeted life in the middle of no-man's land Ohio.
  • Evil Mentor: Takes in Thea at the end of the Season Two finale, and we see his mentorship of her early in Season Three. By the middle of the season, Oliver asked to be taught by him in order to fight Ra's Al-Ghul and the League of Assassins.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Uses a voice changer when in his Dark Archer persona, at least before he and Oliver learn of each other's true identities.
  • Exact Words: He says he didn't kill Sara. In the literal sense, he didn't. He had a Brainwashed and Crazy Thea kill her on his orders.
  • Ex-Big Bad: While he was the Big Bad of the first season, he remains around after his initial defeat. In the second season, he only has a handful of appearances, and in the third, he instigates the conflict with Ra's, but is soon forced to ally with Oliver over his fear of the man. He develops back to a full-time villain by season 4's end, but doesn't regain his footing as Big Bad, having to ally with Team Arrow in the finale again (on Arrow, anyway; he's part of the Big Bad Duumvirate in Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow). At the end of Season 5, he returns to help the heroes against new Big Bad Prometheus and goes out in a Heroic Sacrifice to save Thea during the season finale.
  • Expy: He is a corrupt businessman who thinks of the hero as a surrogate son and has a bad relationship with his biological son. Now are we talking about Malcolm Merlyn, or Norman Osborn?
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Averted in Season 3, where he's brought before Ra's Al-Ghul and is begging for his life, and Ra's tells him to accept his death with honor.
    • Played straight in Season 4, where after Oliver disarms him after their duel, Malcolm merely tells Ollie to Get It Over With. Oliver opts for Cruel Mercy and cuts off his hand instead.
    • In "Lian Yu" he calmly takes Thea's place on an land-minde, knowing there is no way for his survival. He makes the most of it, as he uses the situation to pull a Taking You with Me on Captain Boomerang and some of Prometheus's goons, sporting a Psychotic Smirk as he detonates the bomb. Turns out he discovered the existence of three of new Lazarus Pits.
  • Face–Heel Turn: While he was never a good guy to start with, Merlyn abandons any pretense of being Oliver's ally after losing his hand and the League of Assassins, throwing his lot in with Darhk and re-establishing himself as Oliver's Arch-Enemy. He eventually regrets his betrayal and joins Oliver in his efforts to takedown Prometheus, sacrificing himself to save Thea from a land mine.
  • Faking the Dead: In Season Two. He returns in "State v. Queen", much to Moira's shock.
  • Family Theme Naming: His children, Thomas (Tommy) and Thea.
  • Fatal Flaw: Pride. Malcolm refuses to ever admit that he's wrong or take responsibility for his actions, instead throwing in flimsy justifications or pointing a finger at someone else. He also takes any chance to save his own hide, even hasty solutions that involves sacrificing or using other people and will later along the line, come to regret. Simply put, his ego is planted like a tree, solid and immovable.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Already had shades of this in Arrow, flipping between this and Affably Evil, but during Legends he acts like this all the time, wearing a big smile on his face just before brutally killing people.
  • Feels No Pain: Due to his training with the League of Assassins, this comes as a requirement. Subverted in that he does feel pain, he just ignores it. He shows this ability to Thea during their five months of training.
  • Flanderization: He was never good to begin with, but in Season One he could at least present himself as a Well-Intentioned Extremist and understandably wanting vengeance for Rebecca's death. In Seasons Three and Four however he has no justification and his evil plans are just a combination of him being selfish and petty and just being evil for evil's sake.
  • Foil: To Damien Darhk. Damien had been an immoral human being for centuries, and of his own choice, while Malcolm was driven to villainy relatively recent and through personal tragedy. Damien became a villain mostfly for personal power and For the Evulz while Malcolm started out as a genuine Well-Intentioned Extremist. Both were also once members of the League of Assassins and had a falling out with Ra's Al Ghul, as well as lost their wives at some point. However, what seperates them is their later Character Development. Malcolm eventually lost himself, trying to rationalize his every actions, but eventually clearly looking out for himself at the very first, even being willing to let his own daughter die to keep his power and being revealed as an absolute Dirty Coward once stripped of it and at the mercy of somebody. Even his supposed Heroic Sacrifice for Thea was later rendered weak by the revelation that he was secretly looking for 3 new Lazarus Pits. Damien on the other hand got hit by a massive Heel Realization once he saw how his actions put his beloved daughter at risk. He went so far as to agree and actually ask Sara to kill him once it was all over, and when there was only one way left to save Nora, he immidiately gave his life for her without any hesitation.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: His wife's death is his Start of Darkness. Doesn't change the fact that all of his actions post Season One can't remotely be justified by this in the least.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Due to being a Token Evil Teammate, and a backstabbing douchebag, all of Team Arrow only keep him around out of necessity.
  • Friend to All Children: Flashbacks show he would perform magic tricks for children as a way to connect to them. This trait does not carry over in the present day however.
  • Friendly Enemy:
    • To Team Arrow, until he loses control of the League and Oliver cuts off his hand. Then he's back to being their Arch-Enemy.
    • He's back to this in Season 5, though Oliver is decidedly not happy to see him, still furious that be betrayed William to Darhk; doesn't stop them from teaming up to rescue the rest of Team Arrow from Prometheus though.
  • Glory Days: Season One was this for him. [In "Doomworld", Malcolm's ideal reality is basically his Season One daily life, just with Rebecca and Tommy alive and Thea as his devoted daughter. After Season One, Malcolm's life went tumbling down — other than a brief stint as Ra's al Ghul, which ended in a humiliating fashion at the hands of his worst enemy, punctuated by said enemy handing control of the League to his other worst enemy, who subsequently disbands it, ensuring he can never regain that power.
  • A God Am I: He believes the evil he does is necessary for the "bigger picture".
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: From the League's perspective. He used all of his training to plot the destruction of an entire neighborhood.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Definitely of Arrow, and arguably of the entire Arrowverse too. Had he not sabotaged the yacht, which kickstarted the entire series nothing of all the horrible things he wasn't directly involved in would have happened to Oliver. And if you believe in the Butterfly effect, this applies to everything that happened to the other heroes of the world too.
  • Handicapped Badass: In the second half of Season 4, Oliver cuts off his hand. Despite this, he's able to break into Samantha's house and kidnap William without any fuss. Later Hive provides him with a prosthetic hand so he can wield a bow and sword like nothing changed.
  • Hazy Feel Turn: In Season 3. He doesn't seem to bear any ill will towards Team Arrow and even saves their lives a few times, but he has no qualms whatsoever about manipulating them. It doesn't stick and in "Sins of the Fathers" he betrays them since their goals no longer align with his. But then he goes back to them in the Season 4 finale, since even he doesn't want the whole world destroyed.
  • The Heavy: Malcolm is responsible for the events of the entire show, the moment he sabotaged the Queen's Gambit and unknowingly hurtled Oliver towards his destiny as the first superhero of the Arrowverse/Earth-1 and Malcolm's own personal Arch-Enemy. He was also directly responsible for the events of Season 3, after engineering the death of Sara Lance using Thea to get himself off the League's hit list, inviting the wrath of Ra's al Ghul onto the entire cast.
  • He's Back: Much to Moira's shock at the end of "State v. Queen". Looks like he recovered from his Villainous Breakdown as well as that arrow to the chest.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: In Season Four after losing control of the League, Merlyn ends his status as Team Arrow's Token Evil Teammate and strikes up an alliance with Darhk out of pure spite, but he goes back to Team Arrow in the finale, though.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: He's going from being an Affably Evil Tragic Monster who may have a shot at redemption to a Card-Carrying Villain who tries to figure how he can manipulate each situation to benefit himself at a drop of a hat. It doesn't help that, after his main arc in Season One, he suffers immense Motive Decay.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: For all his faults, he proves his love for his daughter is genuine when he takes her place on a landmine without hesitation. When Boomerang and Talia's students arrive to fight him, he steps off the mine, killing them all and buying Thea's group time to make it to the plane.
  • Hero Killer: Brainwashed Thea to kill Sara in Season 3 and later is indirectly responsible for Laurel's death.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: We don't know Malcolm's reasons for joining the Legion of Doom. Although his conversation with Sara implies he wants to bring his loved ones back to life. Confirmed in "Doomworld"; Malcolm uses the Spear of Destiny to create a world where Rebecca and Tommy are still alive and Thea is his loving daughter. True to form, he also takes revenge on Nyssa, trapping her in a miserable, closeted life.
  • Hidden Depths: In "Doomworld", Malcolm doesn't use The Spear of Destiny to become Ra's al Ghul again, but to restore his family, with Thea as a part of it. Beneath all his cruelty and selfishness, this implies that Malcolm may regret the path his life has taken, or at least, what this path has cost him.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Malcolm used to be a wealthy businessman and a well-beloved member of Star(ling) City. However, after his plans are revealed to the public by Moira, his fortunes go tumbling down and all his attempts to reverse them have eventually blown up in his face. He's legally dead and despised by the world at large anyway, he lost his company and all the wealth and power comes with it, he was indirectly responsible for the death of his son, his daughter hates him, and once the League catches wind of his survival, they immediately begin to hunt him down. For a brief time he gets control of the League of Assassins, only to lose that too when his worst enemy humiliates him in an utterly one-sided duel that ends with Oliver cutting off Malcolm's hand, and any hope of regaining what he's lost is negated when Nyssa dissolves the League. He tries to get revenge on Oliver by selling out to Darhk, only to come running back to Team Arrow with his tail between his legs after Darhk reveals that he plans to destroy the world. By the time Eobard and Past!Darhk come to pick him up, he's sitting on his coach at one of his safe houses, nursing a drink and silently lamenting his status as a Jaded Washout. You get the feeling that the main reason why Oliver hasn't bothered to kill Malcolm after all he's done isn't because of his Thou Shalt Not Kill policy but because Malcolm has become so pathetic that it simply isn't worth the effort anymore. After getting his ass kicked by the Legends, Sara simply sends him back to his (as she puts it) crappy appartment, not even bothering to further punish him.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Rants at Oliver in Season Four about how Nyssa would be unworthy of being Ra's Al-Ghul due to acting on her emotions. This coming from the man whose hatred for the Glades lead him to Kill the Poor. Then, after being spared, he proceeds to reveal Oliver's son to Darhk out of spite.
    • His entire Start of Darkness is kicked off with the death of his wife, which he uses as justification for all his evil acts in Season One. As soon as he gets wind that Robert is betraying him, he kills him and forces Moira to put that aside and work for him.
  • I Have Many Names: Arthur King, Malcolm Merlyn, the Dark Archer, Al-Sa Her, Ra's Al Ghul...
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Rebecca called him on his phone at least twice the night of her murder. He was busy working so he just let the phone ring the first time. She called a second time and this annoyed him so much that he shut down the phone. Past midnight, the police call to tell him she had been shot. She left him a message as she was dying.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Any lesson he learned in Season Three is gone by Season Four. Case in point: his "solution" to help Thea with her bloodlust? Tricking her into killing some of his men so it'll be satisfied for a few weeks.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Though apparently non-fatally.
  • Irrational Hatred: Merlyn wants to destroy the Glades, killing innocent people, as revenge for his wife's death, never mind that most of them had nothing to do with it.
  • It Is Beyond Saving: Part of the reason he wants to Kill the Poor, though it's mostly because his wife's death cemented this in his mind.
  • It's All About Me: For all his Well-Intentioned Extremist rhetoric and claims to love his children, Merlyn's goals never veer away from what he wants. Destroying the Glades is about personal revenge for his wife's death, reaching out to Thea is about mitigating his guilt over Tommy's death, opposing Ra's Al Ghul is all about saving his own skin, and his war with Nyssa in Season Four is about keeping the power he wields as Ra's al Ghul, to the point that he's willing to let Thea die rather than step down.
    • Subverted in Season 5, when he takes Thea's place on a land-mine without any hesitation or thought of sacrificing some else.
  • It's Personal: Oliver Queen hates Malcolm Merlyn with a passion, since Malcolm was the one who ruined his life — even after he's escaped from the island, Oliver still struggles with all the tragedy he went through during those five years. Ironically, one could make the argument that the hatred wasn't mutual until Season Four, after Oliver defeated him in combat to transfer leadership of the League to Nyssa.

  • Jaded Washout: From powerful CEO to becoming Ra's Al Ghul to losing everything and becoming just another thug for hire pining for his Glory Days. Thawne even calls him a washout at one point. Malcolm is very well aware he's become one and the whole reason he joined the Legion of Doom was to reverse his fortunes.
  • Jerkass: Towards his son and later Thea when she breaks off all ties with him after she finds out he was the one who helped Darhk kidnap William.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk:
    • Aww, he takes in Thea when it seems like she's got nowhere else to go! He brainwashes her into killing Sara and therefore sets up a Xanatos Gambit to guarantee he gets off scot-free from death by Ra's al Ghul!
    • He willingly agrees to meet up with Nyssa on the terms he gives up leadership of the League, in exchange for an antidote for Thea's condition. Nope, he brought his own army and intends to kill Nyssa and take the antidote by force.
  • Joker Immunity: He's been through so many tight spots, but he is the one villain who never seems to die and keeps coming back.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: He started out wanting to clean up the Glades. Then he decided to destroy the neighbourhood and everyone in it.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: His luck finally runs out in the Season Five finale, where he blows himself up together with Digger Harkness. Even though we don't see his corpse afterwards, Barrowman has confirmed that he will not be returning next season, so he is really dead. A later comment further cemented this.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch:
    • In "Uprising", it turns out that he murdered a random street thug who he thought had killed his wife. The guy was actually innocent of that, but still had it coming.
    • He later gives a vicious beatdown to Danny Brickwell, but given that man's prior actions, it's downright cathartic.
  • Killed Off for Real: Dies in the Arrow Season 5 finale and is never brought back except for a hallucination and after a reality warp. Notably, he stays dead even after the Crisis, unlike many others.
  • Kill the Poor: He wants to kill everyone in the Glades partly out of revenge for the murder of his wife and partly out of frustration at his organization's previous attempts at improving the area.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Or, in this case, kneel before Ra's al Ghul.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The reveal of his identity was the 7th Episode Twist of the first season.
  • The Leader: He is a natural born leader. Aside from heading his own company, he also lead and created a Nebulous Evil Organization. When Oliver is absent to infiltrate the League of Assassins, he immediately takes charge and becomes the de-facto leader of Team Arrow whether they like it or not. At the end of Season Three, he becomes the new Ra's Al-Ghul.
  • Leitmotif: "The Dark Archer/It is I Who Failed This City."
  • Like a Son to Me: Admits that there was a time that he thought of Oliver as another son — after all, he had more in common with him than he did with his own flesh and blood son. Of course, whatever fatherly affection he had for Ollie is long past — these days, there is no one they despise more than each other.
  • Love Makes You Evil: He admits that if Rebecca were alive, things would have been different. Her death causes him to join the League of Assassins and later plot the death of everyone in the Glades. He finally gets closure when he gets the chance to beat up and humiliate her actual murderer, Brick. However, by that time, he is too far gone.
  • Love Redeems: Averted, his "love" for Thea didn't get him to change his ways at all. Same in the Doomworld Reality, despite having resurrected both his son and wife and changing reality for Thea to love him, he is still the same old bastard he was before.
  • Madden Into Misanthropy: Formerly a philanthropist and well-meaning dad, the murder of his wife made him go unhinged and lead him to try and murder an entire section of the city.
  • The Magnificent: His League of Assassins codename is "The Magician," matching his sobriquet from the comics, as well a qualifying for a punny nickname and Names to Run Away from Really Fast; if a group of ninja assassins feel you're slippery enough to be called "The Magician", that's saying something!
  • Manipulative Bastard: Malcolm really is the Magician; he successfully turned Oliver and Ra's Al Ghul against each other. Never mind that both men knew he was still alive and a suspect in Sara's death. Never mind that Oliver knows him as a monster who killed his father and his best friend/Malcolm's own son as well as stranding Oliver on an island for five years.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: As the Dark Archer. He drops it after Season One.
  • Meaningful Name: At first, his League codename, "The Magician", seems like a reference to his last name, Merlyn. We later learn that Nyssa gave it to him because he performed a magic trick in front of her when she was a child; he later reveals he also picked up hypnotism as well which also added to his title.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Quite obviously, destroying the Glades and everyone in it is a case of this. It turns out that when he murdered a random street thug in revenge, the guilty party was actually Danny Brickwell.
  • Moral Myopia: In Merlyn's own mind, he is a heroic Well-Intentioned Extremist. As such, he sees Nyssa as being in the wrong for trying to depose him as leader of the League of Assassins.
  • Motive Decay: He originally wanted to avenge his dead wife, and save Starling in a very twisted way. After that all went to hell, his main goal became surviving and getting off the League's Hit List. When he gets that accomplished, he just settles into his role of Ra's Al-Ghul and acting as a Token Evil Team Mate to Team Arrow. However once he loses control of the League due to Oliver's machinations, he strikes up an alliance with Darhk out of pure spite.
  • Mundane Utility: Malcolm uses the Lazarus Pit, the magical water capable of raising the dead and unnaturally extending one's life, to heal a small cut on his cheek from a sparring match with Nyssa.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In Season Three, he slowly begins to realize how bad the choices he made were with the revelation he killed the wrong man in vengeance for his wife's death. But it isn't until Ra's stabs Thea that it dawns on him how horrible the consequences of his actions have been.
  • Narcissist: He's a petty and selfish egomaniac who looks and talks down on anyone beneath him and will throw anyone under the bus to save his own skin or gain what he wants. What else is there to say?
  • Never My Fault:
    • He refuses to accept any responsibility for the deaths of either his wife or his son. In particular, it's pretty clear that his blazing hatred of the Glades is at least partially a matter of projecting his guilt onto an easy target. Even after he finds out who really killed his wife, he still can't accept responsibility for his actions.
    • In Season Four's "Sins of the Fathers", he treats Thea's impending death as an unavoidable tragedy, ignoring that it's his own refusal to give up leadership of the League that has seemingly doomed her.
    • When confronted with his crimes, he always rationalizes them as acts of fatherly love and he seems to genuinely believe it.
  • Nominal Hero: In his brief flirtations with aiding Team Arrow, Merlyn's methods and attitude don't change at all; he's still a self-serving jerkass who needs to be essentially forced into not killing people. Pretty much the only difference for Team Arrow between having Merlyn as an ally instead of an enemy is that he's not actively working against them in the former case.
  • Nonindicative Name: Despite his moniker being the Magican he doesn't have magic powers.
  • Not Me This Time: He's a self-admitted killer, but he didn't kill Sara on the principle that she's the lover of the daughter of Ra's Al-Ghul, who's already chasing him as it is. That would make it much worse and draw attention to the city where his daughter is. Turns out he's lying; he had Thea do it while under a form of Mind Control.
  • Not So Different: Out of all of Oliver's Rogues Gallery, Malcolm is easily the most similar to Oliver. Both are excellent and capable archers who were trained by the League of Assassins, capable of committing immoral acts, are incredibly proficient killers, and became who they are today because of their family member's death. The major differences are that Oliver is selfless and capable of change whilst Malcolm is abhorrently selfish and incapable of changing.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: All of his ramblings about his actions being justified (be it destroying the Glades or brainwashing Thea) fall somewhat flat, because at the end of the day, his own wellbeing and benefit will always be his first priority.
  • The Oath-Breaker: He was released from the League, but was made to promise that he would still follow their Code. Then he went back to Starling so he could destroy the Glades.
  • Offing the Offspring: While it is ultimately a tragic accident, Tommy's death can be traced to the fact that Malcolm financed the creation of the Earthquake Machine that led to the CNRI building collapsing onto him and staking him with a rebar, meaning that if there was anyone to blame for his death, it was Malcolm.
  • Only Sane Man: He was the only member of the Legion who advocated killing the Legends rather than using The Spear of Destiny to toy with them.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Tommy at the end of Season One. Very narrowly averted with Thea near the end of Season Three; she is saved with the Lazarus Pit.
  • Overarching Villain: In Arrow, Merlyn is the one villain who never goes away, being around for every season, and almost always with a significant role (except for Season Two). He starts off as the Big Bad of Season One where he is opposed by the Hood, lurks around in Season Two after discovering Thea is his daughter and trying to take her into his custody, returns to the position of Big Bad in Season Three after getting hunted by Ra's al-Ghul, where he makes it Team Arrow's problem as well by making a mind-controlled Thea kill Sara Lance. He then becomes Ra's al-Ghul himself where he is a sometimes ally of Team Arrow before he gets dethroned, causing him to run to the safety of new Big Bad Damien Darhk before abandoning him when Darhk goes nuts. Then in Legends of Tomorrow Season Two (occurring alongside Arrow Season Five), he goes on to join the Legion of Doom, where the Legends have to deal with him. It's revealed in the Arrow Season Five flashbacks that Merlyn also had a hand in the Bratva war with Kovar that Oliver was involved in. After the Legion is defeated and he's sent back, he gets involved with the final quarter of Season Five during the war against Prometheus. Even after his death in Season Five's finale, he continues having influence over the show and is able to make several post-morgen appearances. In Season Six it's revealed he created his own splinter faction of the League called the Thanatos Guild who continues causing trouble for Team Arrow. In Elseworlds Barry (in Oliver's body) ends up seeing him in a fear gas hallucination constantly taunting and beating him, before one of the Elseworld realities restores Malcolm back to life proper as an officer of the SCPD (along with Joe Wilson and Ricardo Diaz) where they come to arrest Oliver and Barry. His final appearance is in Season Eight where his Earth-2 counterpart appears when Oliver visits this Alternate Universe, but unlike his Earth-1 self, this Malcolm is good and never became the Dark Archer (with that honour instead going to Tommy).
  • Papa Wolf:
    • Despite their stormy relationship, the instant Tommy is in danger in "Dead to Rights", Malcolm leaps into action to protect his son and doesn't hesitate to kill a mook threatening him. In "Streets of Fire", he pulls off a Villainous Rescue to stop a Mirakuru soldier from killing Thea and insists on protecting her from then on, despite her hatred of him.
    • Cruelly averted in "The Climb" when it is revealed that Thea killed Sara under the influence of a plant that can be used for mind control. Malcolm admits to Oliver that he made her do it so that Oliver would have to fight Ra's Al-Ghul to protect Thea, which if he succeeds would erase Malcolm's blood debt to the League and give him back his freedom. Ultimately Thea was just a tool to him, proof that Malcolm Merlyn loves himself more than his own children.
    • Averted yet again in "Sins of the Father", where Merlyn goes back on his word to relinquish his title as Ra's al-Ghul in exchange for his life. Ultimately showing he values his hold on power more than Thea's life.
  • Parental Neglect:
    • Pretty much ignored his son completely after his wife died.
    • Even more so with his daughter Thea, but to be fair, that wasn't his fault. He tries to help her in his own way, but she dislikes his aid.
  • Playing Gertrude: John Barrowman is the right age to play Thea's father (Willa Holland is 24 years younger) but not Tommy's (Colin Donnell is 15 years younger).
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Malcolm has occasionally (and ironically, considering that his actor is a gay man) demonstrated a homophobic streak.
    • He refers to the bisexual Sara Lance as a "degenerate."
    • In the "Doomworld" altered reality, Malcolm used the Spear of Destiny to banish Nyssa to a closeted life.
  • Promoted to Opening Titles: In Arrow Season Three.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • In Season Two of Arrow, he appears at the end of "State v. Queen", then leaves again in the next episode, "The Scientist". However, over fourteen episodes later, he returns in "Streets of Fire", just in time for the season finale.
    • He's mostly absent from Season Five of Arrow because he joined the Legion of Doom the same night as the Season 4 Finale. He does return for the Season Five finale, though.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: Malcolm does manage to destroy the Glades, but at the cost of his wealth, reputation, and son. Later he became Ra's Al-Ghul himself after escaping the League's justice, until he lost it as a direct consequence for the way he went about achieving it. Everything he did cost him his respect, his wealth, and his family. Now he's little more than a thug for hire with delusions of grandeur.

  • Reality Ensues:
    • Post-Season 1. While Oliver continues to train and adapt to his new obstacles, sometimes even with Malcolm’s help, Malcolm becomes complacent in his training and doesn’t continue to improve. As a result, every time Malcolm and Oliver fight after the first season Oliver comes out on top; by Season 4, Malcolm gets completely curb stomped.
    • While still a Badass Normal, Malcolm does not last long in a fight with Vandal Savage.
    • Malcolm realizes very quickly that siding with a completely insane psychopath like Damian Darhk, a man who literally wants to destroy the entire world, was not a good idea after his original plan for Genesis fails. He’s forced to return to Team Arrow with his tail between his legs.
    • When he’s handed a futuristic gun from Eobard, he quickly realizes that while it is effective, he has no idea how to use it. Both he and Damian have to switch back to their usual weapons.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Malcolm's death was intentionally framed as Uncertain Doom to open up the possibility of him returning, but a combination of executive pressure and John Barrowman's anger at how the situation was handled behind the scenes meant he only returned for the Elseworlds crossover.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Downplayed and deconstructed. While Thea does feel somewhat confused on what to think after he gives his life to save hers, she still makes it clear that he was a horrible person and an even worse father. This one last act doesn't cause her to forget or downplay his faults. The revelation that he founded his own League of Assassins — the Thanatos Guild and intended to recruit Thea to his side, undoes what little good grace he earned.
  • Redemption Rejection: His love of Thea could have made him a better person, but he's just too selfish to change.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In the comics, Merlyn is not Mia Dearden's (Thea's comic counterpart) biological father.
  • Ret-Canon: In DC Rebirth, Arthur King changes his name to Malcolm Merlyn like the show did.
  • Riches to Rags: Twice. He lost control of his company after Moria outed him in Season One, and again in Season Four, when he loses control of the League to Nyssa.
  • Secret Keeper:
    • He unmasks the Hood at the end of Season One but doesn't tell anyone. He does insist that Oliver reveal his Secret Identity to Thea, which actually causes Thea to realise what a Manipulative Bastard her father is, as Malcolm had promised not to lie to her as her family had done (knowing Oliver was hiding something from her was keeping them estranged).
    • When Malcolm teams up with Darhk he doesn't reveal that Oliver is the Green Arrow, in this case to protect Thea who is now part of Team Arrow. Unfortunately Darhk works it out for himself.
  • Sex for Solace: He and Moira Queen had a one night stand fueled by her despair over her husband's philandering ways and his grief over his wife's death. Malcolm regretted this ever since, thinking that he betrayed his late wife's memory. And yes, that is how Thea was conceived.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Up until his name was revealed, he was known and credited only as "The Well-Dressed Man", making him a walking in-joke to fans of a certain sci-fi show.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: His idea for trying to train Oliver and Thea into "regaining killer instinct" is to send them to Lian Yu before setting Deathstroke free to fight them.
  • Smug Smiler: Not once does he NOT smile. He always has a subtle grin somewhere on his face. Until he doesn't.
  • The Sociopath: He has no problem manipulating and lying to literally everyone around him. That said, he does love Thea — he just doesn't express it healthily at all. One suspects that he was always like this - his wife's death just brought it out of him. He even describes himself as such in season 5.
  • Sore Loser: He swears revenge against Oliver in "Sins of the Father" after he cut off his hand and cost him leadership of the League of Assassins, and teams up with Darhk to take his petty vengeance.
  • Start My Own: After the Legion of Doom was disbanded but before his death on Lian Yu, he managed to form his own League of Assassins, the Thantos Guild.
  • Start of Darkness: His wife Rebecca's death in the Glades broke something in him, and after his affair with Moira, he left only to wind up in Nanda Parbat, where Ra's Al-Ghul himself gave him a new sense of purpose...
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: He's really good at this, to the point even Damian Darhk is impressed. The only place he can't do this is Nanda Parbat.
    Barry: Is that the only way he knows how to get here?
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Still wears his League of Assassins uniform after leaving the organization.
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: In the Season One finale, and quite jarring because it's the first time in the series he's been anything other than confident and poised.
    Tommy: So you kill them all—
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: He stands six feet tall and doesn't have much gray in his hair.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: He stands six feet tall while his snarkiness stands even taller.
  • Taught by Experience: In "Year's End", he misses a perfect occasion to learn the Hood's true identity by just kicking him to make him suffer, which allows Ollie to knock him out and escape. In "Darkness on the Edge of Town", Malcolm is in the exact same situation, but remembers to knock Ollie out, allowing him to learn his nemesis' true identity.
  • The Team Normal: Is this when he joins the Legion of Doom, having no special abilities or gadgets beyond his combat training and his skill with a bow.
  • Third Act Stupidity: See Bond Villain Stupidity above for his actions in the season one finale.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Oliver made him Team Arrow's Sixth Ranger to fight against the League of Assassins in Season Three, much to everybody else's (sans Roy) dismay. He continues to be this in Season Four until he loses control of the League, and throws his lot in with Darhk... until he realizes not even he wants to destroy the entire world.
  • Took a Level in Dumbass: He's a wanted man by the League of Assassins. So what does he do? He drugs and hypnotizes Thea to kill Sara, both a member of the League and the girlfriend of the leader's daughter. This is something even he realizes would be utterly idiotic for him to be involved in, to boot. Furthermore, this was all in the belief that Oliver would be able to kill Ra's for him... despite also feeling that he did not have the killer instinct he once did and knowing just how dangerous Ra's is. The brainwashing eventually comes back to bite him in the butt when Thea sells him out to the League after she finds out what he did. Subverted when he ends up becoming the next Ra's Al-Ghul because he killed Sara. Of course, there are several times where he's nearly killed, but he still comes up on top.
  • Tough Love: What he says cutting off his son is. What he considers training his daughter, by beating her senseless to get her to understand he was trying to train her not as his daughter, but as a student.
    Malcolm: I'd rather you hate me and be alive, than love me and be dead.
  • Tragic Villain: He lost his wife to a murderous thug, then made one very bad choice that led to his whole world coming apart. Even Oliver is beginning to feel sorry for him in Season Three — though he later takes it back. Averted in Season Four, since it's made perfectly clear that he is and always will be a horrible person who will only care about himself.
  • Training from Hell: He went through it from Ra's Al-Ghul just like everyone who joins the League of Assassins, and puts Thea through the same, though he does go comparatively easy on her at first.
  • Transplant: He's a major character in the first four seasons of Arrow's (and its first ever Big Bad) before going to Legends of Tomorrow Season Two.
  • Underestimating Badassery: The only reason Oliver is able to achieve a modicum of success in his fights against Merlyn is because of the latter's overconfidence. After delivering a complete Curb Stomp in their first fight, Oliver manages to stab him with a flechette and run away. In the second, he makes an Arrow Catch... on an exploding arrow.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After being shown far more mercy than he deserved upon being defeated by Oliver, Merlyn bitterly swears revenge and betrays the location of Oliver's son William to Damien Darhk.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • By brainwashing Thea to kill Sara, he sets off a train of events that lead to Oliver joining the League and unleashing a greater threat to Starling than he ever was — Ra's wants Oliver to use the Alpha/Omega Virus on Starling since it's the final step for the Heir to the Demon to fully embrace being Ra's Al-Ghul.
    • He takes on this role again in Season Four, where he collects Vandal Savage's remains so he can resurrect him so he can cash in a favor from him in the future. But the audience knows it makes him indirectly responsible for an apocalyptic future.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: As flashbacks in Uprising show, he was a much kinder person and a better father to Tommy before his wife died. Everything went to hell after that.
  • Villain Decay: His threat level goes down each season, where he's more of a hinderance to Team Arrow (when he's not working with them) than a pressing concern. Best exemplified in Season Four, where he gets his butt kicked by Oliver (and loses his hand), loses the position of Ra's Al-Ghul to Nyssa, and when he joins H.I.V.E he's treated as just another thug.
  • Villain Forgot to Level Grind: Oliver improved dramatically since his defeat at Merlyn's hands in Season One, while Merlyn's skills hadn't grown at all, and he's spent far more time with being a Manipulative Bastard than as Kingpin in His Gym. As such, when he and Oliver duel in "Sins of the Fathers", Merlyn is badly beaten and loses his hand.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: He was able to maintain the image of an honest businessman and philanthropist... until Moria oughted him with her press conference. And there's no way he'll ever get it back.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • In "Sacrifice", after Tommy confronts him about the Undertaking and Moira holds a press conference announcing his involvement to the world. He goes from calm and poised to Suddenly SHOUTING! and throwing the laptop on which he watched the press conference in a rage.
    • He has another one in "Restoration" after Nyssa destroys the Lazarus Pit.
    • He has another in "Sins of the Father" after he loses control of the League to Nyssa, and loses his hand to boot. He's so pissed he forms an alliance with HIVE out of pure spite.
  • Villainous Friendship: Despite his contentious relationship with the modern-day version, Malcolm ends up getting pretty chummy with the Legion's version of Damien Darhk, often teaming up to fight the Legends, putting their heads together to force Thawne into acknowledging them as equal partners, and even complimenting Darhk's villainous monologue in "Doomworld".
  • Villain's Dying Grace: In the Season Five finale of Arrow, Merlyn takes Thea's place on a landmine to save her and several of Team Arrow, later allowing the mine to detonate to kill Digger Harkness and several of Talia's minions, seemingly killing himself as well. This is undone in Season 6, where it turns out he founded his own successor to the League of Assassins — the Thanatos Guild and discovered the existence of three new Lazarus Pits.
  • Visionary Villain:
    • Very much so; he views destroying the Glades as necessary to making Starling City a better place for everyone. In "Uprising", he realizes it was all for nothing when he learns his wife's killer is still alive.
    • In Season Four he keeps ranting about how nobody else can see "the bigger picture".
  • Walking Spoiler: From about Episode Seven of Season One onwards, plus a good chunk of Seasons Two and Three.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: A flashback in "The Undertaking" reveals him as one, complete with Freudian Excuse, and a little dash of A God Am I for seasoning. However subsequent seasons show him to be a petty bastard interested only in himself and not even pretending to be benign.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Claims this with Moira and Robert.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When reality is rewritten with The Spear of Destiny, unlike the rest of the Legion, Malcolm doesn't use it wreak havoc and get his jollies off with cheap thrills — he instead revives his wife and son and makes it so Thea is his devoted daughter (presumably of him and Rebecca instead of him and Moira). He does go out of his way though to make it so Nyssa is stuck living an unhappy, closeted life in Ohio.
  • Why Are You Not My Son?: He thinks of Oliver as a son because he has more in common with him than his own son and shows more respect to him than his own flesh and blood thanks to his talents.
  • Wicked Cultured: Extremely knowledgeable on a variety of topics, always well-dressed, charming and eloquent, he used to be a successful businessman and the epitome of Starling City's elite in Season One.
  • Wild Card: General rule of thumb is that he'll be working against Team Arrow... until shit hits the fan, then he works with them.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: He became this way after his wife was shot and killed in the middle of the street. Subverted as the series goes on and shows that his most cruel and ruthless actions outweigh the tragedy and pain he suffered.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Willing to elbow and punch his own daughter in the face to train her. It wasn't out of malice or hatred, but still, his daughter.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Even ignoring the children who no doubt lived in the Glades, a vengeful Merlyn tells Damien Darhk about Oliver's son.
  • You Are in Command Now: Becomes the new Ra's Al-Ghul at the end of Season Three.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: When he starts tying up loose ends, he really starts tying up loose ends.

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