Warning: contains spoilers for The 100 season 3 episode 7, Bitter Harvest, Arrow season 4 and Buffy The Vampire Slayer season 6.
When a show, any show, decides to kill off a fan-favourite character, there’s going to be some backlash. The fact that a few days ago The 100 chose to kill off Lexa, one half of the show’s same-sex love story, ensured that backlash would be even worse. Lexa is dead, and the cause of her death was, rather than as part of an epic battle or something heroic, a stray bullet meant for Clarke.
So people are angry, and, whether it should be able to or not, that anger could theoretically determine the future of The 100. This is a show that has built itself on the passion of fans and the power of word-of-mouth, and one wrong move could cause that loyalty to come crashing down.
But is it justified? This is a show that has killed countless characters before and has even gone as far to have central characters commit mass murder and genocide. It’s not about pulling punches and it’s not about cowing to fan pressure. That’s something to be admired and never criticised, even when a decision is one that almost no one was particularly angling for.
What makes Lexa’s death more shocking than others? Narratively speaking, the main problem with Lexa’s death was that it felt kind of cheap. She wasn’t doing anything important or acting as commander at the time. She was in her pyjamas, having just consummated her relationship with Clarke and merely entering the crossfire to assist other characters. It was sudden and a little off-hand. It felt like she deserved better.
But, again, The 100 has been committed from the start to show the senseless horrors of the world, and random deaths are one of those realities of war.
Shipping culture, while really now something that permeates every corner of internet fandom from Hannibal to EastEnders, has always felt remarkably out of place for this show. Yes, season one actively encouraged those viewers used to CW shows crafted around love triangles and ship wars, but The 100 has since become about something so much more. It is about war and loyalty and fate, not who ends up with who.
That’s mainly because we can assume that, should anyone get their happy ending, it will promptly be ripped apart in the most tragic way possible. Clarke has had exactly three (canon) romantic interests since the show began – Wells, Finn and Lexa. Wells was killed in the first season and Finn was stabbed in the heart by Clarke to stop Lexa and her people from torturing him to death following a civilian massacre.
Which brings me the Bellamy, the other half of the debate of who Clarke should end up with forever and ever. It’s not a pairing I have anything against, and it’s one I’ve actively rooted for when writing about the show, but too much of the conversation surrounding the show has seemed to focus on who Clarke might choose. There are a hundred reasons why this might be, but it’s an argument that has little place here.
So if we’re going to talk about fan reaction, then we can’t ignore where a lot of this rage is coming from. Lexa was a queer character in a television landscape that, while doing better, still has a problem with repeatedly killing lesbian and bisexual women. It’s happened so often that it’s almost fallen into cliche. A show introduces an LGBT woman? Prepare to say goodbye to her in violent, tragic circumstances.
That said, on a show build around violent, tragic circumstances, there’s an argument that Lexa’s death is progressive simply because she wasn’t given special treatment. Her senseless exit was like many before and, we can guess, many after her on The 100. TV shows need to be diverse in their representation, but for that diversity to be true and equal, characters of all backgrounds and persuasions have to live and die as characters foremost, not cotton wool-packed minorities.
It’s typically been worse for characters on teen shows or shows aired on traditionally youth-centric networks like The CW. Not only has it been rare in the past for two female characters to even kiss on screen, but when they do it’s almost always an omen of doom for one or both parties.
Of course, for a large part of The 100’s audience, this goes back to he days of Buffy. Before the show’s sixth season, Willow and Tara kissed just once and, shortly after reuniting in season six, Tara was killed by a stray bullet. This set in motion of chain of events that had nothing at all to do with Tara.
More recently on Arrow, Sara was revealed to have had a relationship with Nyssa, and was killed off at the start of the show’s third season. Though she’s since been brought back for spin-off Legends Of Tomorrow, she’s barely interacted with Nyssa at all. The handling of both characters has not exactly been perfect.
Striking as the similarities are, Lexa’s death is different to Tara’s in that she was never presented as just a love interest for Clarke – series regular and our go-to protagonist. She was always her own person, the leader of an entire people who existed long before our main characters even landed on Earth. By introducing her and integrating her with the others, the show gained a rich history it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I remember when those images of Clarke and Lexa’s first kiss were leaked online, and how fans suddenly seemed to collectively hold their breath, hardly daring to believe that such a thing could exist.
Of course, none of this takes into account the real reason Lexa is gone. Alycia Debnam-Carey has another job on Fear The Walking Dead, and that unfortunately meant that The 100 only had seven episodes in which to use her this year. Season three has been decidedly Lexa-heavy as a result, the writers building up to her departure by making sure her life touched as many characters and storylines as possible before the end.
After her death in the most recent episode of the show, Bitter Harvest, we discovered that the mysterious AI that has been a background player since the end of season one is actually embedded in Lexa’s neck, answering a boat-load of questions at the same time as bringing up new ones.
She held the secrets of the universe within her all along and none of us knew – a twist that at least made her death something game-changing for the show moving forwards without ignoring the emotional ramifications for Clarke. She’s going to be devastated but, as always, there probably won’t be a lot of time to mourn.
So Lexa’s death was a result of behind the scenes dealings, but in these cases it’s unhelpful to disregard the story aspect of a character being written out. It wasn’t the producer’s choice to part ways with Alycia Debnam-Carey, but it’s nonetheless their responsibility to do right by that character and the audience when doing so.
The truth is that her death is not just shocking because of the real-world politics that go along with it, but also because she was a more interesting character with more potential than others who have exited the series. Finn’s story was over long before he was killed off, and others have been used to further the storylines of main characters, rather than their own.
But Lexa is an outlier in that and, because of this, she marks the biggest departure of the show so far. That’s no mean feat for a series as kill-happy as The 100, and it goes without saying that’s she’ll be missed. Debnam-Carey did magical things with Lexa and, seemingly from nowhere, managed to craft an epic love story no one was expecting.
People have a right to be upset about the fact that’s now ending but, for the show, this was an inevitability. The fact that we had her for just a short time enriched the series beyond all expectations and, with her presence gone from future episodes, I have every faith that The 100‘s writers will fill that space with something equally amazing.