I’ve been sitting on the The 100’s most recent episode “Thirteen” for a few days now, trying to wrap my head around what happened. And, well… I’m disappointed, to say the least. The 100 has struggled with important issues in the past, such as racial representation, which it continues to struggle with today. However, while it hasn’t always done a good job with depictions of race and characters of color, it’s consistently done well with Clarke’s and Lexa’s plotline. The show has spent the past two seasons excelling at characterization, worldbuilding, and being an inclusive and friendly show for LGBTQ+ people, despite its often violent premise. At least, that was the case until last week.
Spoilers after the jump.
It came as such a shock that Lexa, a prominent character and Clarke’s love interest, was killed off. This was also shocking since those of us desperately seeking a loving queer relationship on TV had allowed ourselves to become invested and attached to these characters. After all, it’s not often that a queer relationship takes center stage to hetero pairings, and it definitely isn’t often that both characters get to live. The tragic queer romance trope is well overdone.
I applauded the show last season for its portrayal of Lexa, Clarke, and their relationship. After Lexa betrayed Clarke to the Mountain Men, an action that resulted in Clarke needing to murder some four-hundred people in order to save the rest of Skaikru, it looked as though their budding romance was doomed to failure. Then Season 3 rolled around and we got to see the fallout of Lexa’s actions, how Clarke was affected by what happened, and where an alliance between Trikru and Skaikru could go. Lexa has thus far spent the season trying to get back into Clarke’s good graces. She brought Skaikru into her coalition, promised to protect them as if they were her own people, and she even murdered another Grounder, Queen Nia of the Ice Nation, for her crimes against Skaikru.
In the past so many episodes, Lexa has spent her time navigating a political minefield while also seeking a way to redeem herself in Clarke’s eyes. It has been some of the best writing The 100 has had to offer.
Lexa’s role among the Grounders makes her an important and influential figure, and her legacy has also been some of the best worldbuilding The 100 has given us. Lexa is a Nightblood—she bleeds black—and to the Grounders, only someone with Nightblood can rule as the supreme Commander over all the coalitions. Throughout both this season and the previous season, Lexa has also informed Clarke that should something happen to her, her spirit will be wise in its choice of the next Commander. Initially, Clarke thinks Lexa means reincarnation, but it’s when Lexa dies that we learn this isn’t the case.
The nuclear apocalypse a century ago that wiped out humanity was caused by an AI that went rogue. That AI’s creator, who was on a space station at the time, created a second AI in response that could feel and understand human emotions. She believed that this AI would be able to save humanity, and as such she inserted the chip it was in into her spinal cord—the whole technological process to make her and the AI compatible turned her blood black. Following that, she took an escape pod down to a radioactive Earth, while wearing a uniform that said “Commander”, and somehow saved a bunch of the survivors using this AI and her Nightblood. Whenever a Commander dies, the chip is removed from their spinal cord, and then it chooses another Nightblood to take the Commander’s place.
The AI contains all of the previous Commanders’ thoughts, memories, and experiences, which it uses to help the new Commander lead. Naturally, the Grounders have built a form of religion around this AI and it informs their whole leadership process. The use of the AIs, Nightblood, and the relationship between the Grounders and the Sky People is fantastic. In order for us to fully understand all the implications for how things work and how they are related, I will agree that Lexa’s character needed to die. Her death shows us where the AI is, what it’s doing, and connects Grounder and Sky People history together seamlessly. Furthermore, Lexa’s death is also going to worsen the tensions between both Trikru and Skaikru, as the next Commander will not be as understanding of the two groups’ differences, and the situation might potentially lead into another all-out war. So yes, I will say that Lexa’s death is important in that it moves the plot forward, but I only agree with that from purely a writing standpoint.
The problem with Lexa’s death is that The 100 doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and I feel as though its creators wrote themselves into a hole. Good worldbuilding, no matter how needed, does not excuse awful and harmful tropes. I questioned the decision to kill Lexa off the minute it happened. Lexa’s actress did have to leave the show, as she is also a prominent character on Fear the Walking Dead, but her character’s absence didn’t have to be explained by her dying. The 100 has been developing Lexa’s relationship with Clarke for over a year now, Clarke finally just got back together with her, we were just learning about Lexa’s own past and her own traumas that inform her decisions, and they finally had sex, in what I considered to be one of the better romantic scenes I’ve watched in a while. As an asexual, it’s not often that I get to experience sex scenes on TV that make sense to me—they don’t if they’re purely physical—but on an emotional level, this was a clear progression of their characterization and trust for one another. I had never been more invested in them and happy with the show at that moment.
Then Lexa died in the very next scene, during a failed murder attempt on Clarke’s life by one of the other Grounders. We have watched Lexa lead armies and show proficient fighting skills. Not only did she die, she died by an accidental and contrived bullet.
This is not the happy ending we wanted for her. Happy ending doesn’t mean “good sex and then death”. It means both characters get to live and continue growing and working through their problems together. It’s hard to say where the tragic queer romance trope came from. Historically speaking, queer people have been and continue to be oppressed. Violence is committed against us all too often, and so the experience of a queer person losing their partner tragically is very real. At the same time, though, the experience of being able to live together away from this kind of tragedy is also very real, and yet it’s the latter that we never see represented in media.
I doubt that the decision to kill Lexa came from an intentional place of homophobia, but all the same, it can send an unintended message: that queer people don’t get happy endings like straight people do. As of right now, The 100 was one of the few places queer youth could turn to see themselves represented. Lexa and Clarke were an escape from what can be a horrible reality—being told that you are abnormal, that there’s no one for you, being hated for your sexuality. But Lexa and Clarke were normal, their relationship was healthy, and they were not hated for their sexualities. This was a relationship that people could look to as a shining example of representation that spoke to a lot of LGBTQ+ people on so many levels.
To add insult to injury, Jason Rothenberg’s comments in later interviews show that he doesn’t understand why there has been such a backlash to Lexa’s death. He has said that the world of The 100 is tragic and that tragic things happen all the time—but we already knew that. We didn’t need a prominent queer character to die to tell us something we already knew, especially since his comments also seem to imply that she was simply fridged for Clarke’s pain.
“Lexa’s death will haunt Clarke. Clarke was certainly in love with her, if not falling in love with her. Although she’s gone from the physical world, it’s something Clarke is going to have to figure out how to compartmentalize, the way that all of us have to do in the real world when people are suddenly and tragically taken away from us.”
Rothenberg continued by saying that part of Lexa will live on in the AI, but that is hardly the same thing as her being alive. If there were a plethora of other queer relationships on television right now that we could all turn to, Lexa’s death wouldn’t be the problem that it is. But there’s not, and whatever decision went on behind her death, it was the wrong decision.