By its third episode, The 100 telegraphed everything its viewers needed to know about its relationship to death. Wells Jaha had been set up as one of the ensemble’s protagonists: son of the Ark’s Chancellor who sent 100 juvenile delinquents to their deaths on an irradiated Earth, in love with his best friend Clarke Griffin, trying to emulate his father’s moral rule down on Earth while realizing how flawed the elder Jaha’s strictures are. He was learning, to quote the second episode title, “Earth Skills.”
Then, in “Earth Kills,” a little girl named Charlotte stabs him in the neck because his father killed her parents. RIP Wells Jaha, the Ned Stark of The 100, whose demise made it clear that no one on this show is safe.
Spoilers for The 100 season 6.
Six seasons later, very few of the original 100 are still alive. Honestly, the human race as a whole—including the rest of the Ark and Earth’s Grounder population—isn’t doing so hot, having thinned their ranks through all manner of tragedy. They have been executed by a despotic leader (don’t worry, he gets his), and picked off in a Hunger Games-esque conclave. They caught a stray arrow and set off a Bury Your Gays outcry. They were wiped out in the City of Light, and sacrificed to the Grounders because “blood must have blood.” Some chose to sleep forever because the PTSD was too great to bear, while others lived to ripe old age on a space station while their friends dozed in decades of cryo-sleep, in order to chart a course to a new home planet.
The 100’s most enduring lesson is that death comes for us all, no matter if you’re a series lead, or a scene-stealer, or half of an OTP. Which is why this season initially felt like such a copout when it came to the “death” of Clarke Griffin.
Arriving at a second-chance planet, Wonkru (the combination of surviving Ark Skaikru and Earth’s Grounders, a.k.a. the last of the human race) knew that they needed to resist their usual impulse to take over for themselves and kill whoever stood in their way. Instead, they would “be better” by working with the people who had already colonized this planet hundreds of years ago. This noble impulse proved problematic, as the settlers of Sanctum turned out to be body-snatching sociopaths who fooled their people into believing they were gods who would share the minds of willing hosts. Instead, Russell Lightbourne and the other “Primes” wipe these poor fools’ minds, insert their mind drives instead, and live on for eternity.
Side note: the mind drives and the Primes are yet another example of the series’ stellar worldbuilding, building upon the mythology of the Flame that has driven the past few seasons, but introducing an entirely new application for this technology. It also changed the characters’ relationship to this tech, from one artifact that is passed down from Commander to Commander, to a tool that simultaneously symbolizes love and justifies murder. It also led to these bonkers scenes of various actors getting to shake things up after six years by playing other personalities. I love this show.
Despite all that has happened in the past five seasons, season 6 proceeded at an even more breakneck clip, introducing the world of Sanctum and the Primes’ nefarious plot in just a few episodes. By episode 4, it all culminated with a greedy, grieving Russell mind-wiping Clarke in order to implant his daughter Josephine, taking an opportunity when it was dropped into his lap. It’s an impressive flex, killing off your main character, but then the show immediately walked it back in the next episode by revealing that Clarke was still alive, just trapped inside her own mind.
To clarify, I would not have been happy if Clarke were gone forever with one press of a syringe. Such a death would have been too ignominious, and not nearly epic enough, for our polarizing protagonist. But it would have felt fair. Not least because of how easily other characters have been killed off, but amplified by the fact that girl survived a nuclear holocaust with just some bad blisters. She may be a nightblood, but she’s not immortal; something had to bring her down.
So at first, the subsequent episodes in which Clarke resisted Josephine’s total takeover of her mind felt a bit Mary Sue-y. The explanation for her unprecedented survival, via a surprise appearance from A.L.I.E. the murderous AI, seemed to be written around the show’s ability to book that actress for a guest spot: When Clarke joined the City of Light, A.L.I.E. backed up her mind on a neural mesh (?) that somehow survived the mind-wiping effects (??) of Russell’s drug. At the time, it seemed incredibly convenient and hand-wavy.
For a show that historically is unsentimental about the fates of its characters, this felt like blatant favoritism, like the writers having their cake and eating it too. Despite the fact that at the start of the season Clarke was demonized for her coldblooded decisions in the name of survival and the blood on her hands, despite Clarke’s own moments of the world is better off without me, Wanheda, the Commander of Death herself, would not be granted the Grounder respite of “your fight is over.” In life, she bore the consequences of difficult decisions (mostly genocide and/or dooming the survivors to nuclear winter) so that others didn’t have to; it seemed that Clarke would continue to do so this season. Narratively, she was still more useful alive than dead—even if that meant the series seemed to be flouting something that had become part of its DNA.
Little did I realize that this was The 100 setting up for a tricky, emotionally devastating reversal.
By the time Clarke wrested back full control from Josephine and erased her mind drive forever, unrest in Sanctum was so great that she had to infiltrate the palace pretending to still be Josie. In order to ensure Wonkru’s survival, she had to let all of her friends—and especially her mother Abby and adopted daughter Madi—believe that she was still dead. Worse, she spent most of their precious rare time together putting on Josie’s sociopathic reactions to Abby’s tears at losing her daughter, at Madi’s own mental deterioration due to the Flame degrading inside her head.
But the ruse pays off, as it sets into motion the Primes’ downfall… only for Clarke to discover that Abby has been mind-wiped and replaced by Josephine’s mother, Simone.
Someone give Eliza Taylor an Emmy nod for the best scene of the season—one of the best of the series—playing Clarke-as-Josie confronted with the empty shell of her mother inhabited by someone else. Gabriel, a rebel Prime and one of the only people who knows what she’s going through, gives her the cue of “Her mother killed your mother,” a reminder to play Josephine to the hilt in front of Russell and Simone while giving her the outlet to cry and strike him in her grief.
This is one of the series’ most crushing deaths, even as Abby had become such a villified character over the past few seasons: addicted to drugs, pushing Octavia to push Wonkru to cannibalism in the bunker, a selfish doctor who got more than a few people killed for her own aims. Shortly before her own death, Abby abandoned medical ethics entirely in order to implant the mind drive containing her lover Marcus Kane’s mind into a willing Sanctum host. Where another TV series might have given Kane a half-season to try to adjust to his younger, hotter body and the measure of self-loathing at the murder that brought him back from the dead, that’s not the case for The 100: Kane made the immediate decision that he could not live with himself, and killed himself in front of a sobbing Abby. Despite all this, it still hurt like hell to lose her.
And then it all came full circle with the opening of an airlock door.
One of the strongest narrative moves this season was to bring back death via floating—i.e., throwing someone out of an airlock. Because Clarke and Bellamy pulling the lever to irradiate Mount Weather, or Octavia-as-Blodreina running the fighting pits in the bunker, didn’t come from nowhere. They learned this brutality from life on the Ark, where stealing a little more than your share of supplies, even for a noble cause, merited immediate execution. It was the most efficient way of not only punishing supposed criminals, but of disposing of their bodies; it also shaped a generation of teenagers, most of whom watched one or both parents be sucked out into space.
Floating is a recurring motif in the Clarke-versus-Josephine episodes, when Clarke’s mindspace manifests as the Ark, down to her original jail cell filled with drawings of all of her key memories, including A.L.I.E. and the mind-saving neural mesh. First it’s a trick: Josie’s search for how to eliminate the neural mesh leads her to the airlock, supposedly the site of Clarke’s greatest trauma of watching her father get floated for threatening to reveal the truth about the Ark. While that use of the airlock is mostly subterfuge, by the time their mental link is deteriorating and Clarke must dump some of Josie’s memories in order to keep them both alive, she “floats” those files and frees up space for both of them.
In a season where death isn’t clear-cut, floating is the equivalent of putting a bullet in the killer’s head in a horror movie; it’s not over until your corpse is floating through space. Kane comes back from the dead in a healthy body, but he can’t live with himself; the only way to ensure that Abby doesn’t try to resurrect him again is to float himself. This scene is especially affecting considering that Kane was the original proponent of floating; it makes sense that he would end his life the way that he sent so many others to their ends.
But that is not the most difficult scene to take place in an airlock this season; it’s Clarke’s final confrontation with Simone-as-Abby. When Clarke reveals that Josephine is gone entirely and turns on the Primes, Simone makes one last gambit and puts on Abby’s voice: “I was pretending, too.” Clarke is almost ready to believe her, but then she remembers the one devastating, irreversible detail: Abby’s neural mesh was burned out of her back in season 3, when they saved her from the City of Light, and so there is absolutely no way that she is still in there.
This. Fucking. Show.
And so, when Simone tries to trick Clarke, the one known as Wanheda must decide to throw the lever once more—this time to open the airlock and suck out everyone, which involves literally shoving her mother’s body out into space. It’s the cruelest form of closure, the kind that has her sobbing in Bellamy’s arms at the end: “I tried to do better, and I lost my mom.” The 100 got to remind us twice over that no one is safe—except for Clarke, subjected to a fate possibly worse than death with her ever-growing burden. And yet, she gets Madi back, and another chance for redemption.
Now that The 100 has cheated death, what’s left for the seventh and final season? Rebirth. By the end of the finale, the anomaly has expanded, bringing in Diyoza’s full-grown daughter Hope, who stabs Octavia, who hopefully is not dead but is definitely disintegrated into weird green dust. So of course, there is nowhere to go but into the anomaly itself, with its sped-up time and weird laws of physics. Maybe some of this season’s deceased characters will return as visions; or maybe Wonkru will finally find a way to make a home without having to kill other people to do so. They’ve tried to find their humanity, they’re tried to do better… maybe all that’s left is a complete refresh.
Do you think Clarke should have died? How do you think The 100 will end?