When you mention The 100, chances are, the one thing that stands out about the show is the catastrophe that was the killing off of one of its most beloved characters, Lexa, played by the lovely and talented Alycia Debnam-Carey. The reaction from fans was so intense, that everyone, including people in Hollywood, were actively talking about the backlash that surrounded that tasteless, manipulative, unoriginal plot point. The show ended up continuing for four more seasons, but Lexa’s death will always taint the show’s reputation. If you haven’t watched the show, or don’t know what I’m talking about, settle in, because there is a lot to discuss.
On March 3, 2016, the episode of The 100 titled “13” aired on The CW. In this episode, we saw special firsts happen between Clarke and Lexa, the show’s main couple. Over the course of a season and a half, we had watched a wonderful journey between these two women, and they became the viral sensation known as Clexa. However in this episode of the third season, it took a turn for the worse, just after the two women had sex for the first time, when Alycia’s Lexa took a stray bullet to the stomach. Viewers watched Lexa, a lesbian character that meant so much to so many, die in Clarke’s arms as she did nothing to save her (when she was supposed to be a skilled medic). Heartbreak and anger poured out all over Twitter. I vividly remember that evening— sobbing in my bedroom, expressing my very hurt feelings online, just as copious others were doing. It was an emotional night, and the way people felt about it didn’t go away easily.
Lexa’s death spurred a movement by the LGBTQ+ community, who were tired of seeing their representation killed off with a trope called Bury Your Gays, as she was unfortunately only one of many lesbian characters killed off in 2016. This trope “has seen a disproportionate number of LGBT characters killed off, often in the name of propping up and/or advancing a heterosexual leading character’s storyline,” writes Dorothy Snarker in The Hollywood Reporter. The hashtag #LGBTFansDeserveBetter trended for days on end, money was raised for LGBTQ+ organizations in honor of Lexa and other lesbian and queer characters killed off. Alycia Debnam-Carey herself found out about it, and showed her support. She was always, and still is, sincere and genuine with her fans that she got from The 100. But, it wasn’t only the act of killing off Lexa that bothered fans. It was the way in which the showrunner Jason Rothenberg and some of his staff writers dealt with her death, before and after it happened on screen.
The lead up to season 3 of The 100 had heavy emphasis and marketing on Clexa (the couple name for Clarke and Lexa). In season 2 they had their first kiss, but the season had ended with Lexa betraying Clarke. Fans were desperate for a reunion and to see these two women find resolution and get together. Any interactions between the actresses between seasons was also met with excitement, especially at San Diego Comic Con (Eliza Clarke had been there for The 100, while Alycia Debnam-Carey was there for her new show Fear the Walking Dead). There was mass support and love for these characters, especially Lexa, by fans, but more importantly by Jason Rothenberg and his staff. It is important to note that because when a writers room shows that much intense support for a guest character, you’d expect that character to be treated well and with respect. Fans were hopeful that they would see her have a happy ending with Clarke, and that was due to encouragement by Rothenberg and others that it would happen. Jason Rothenberg and other writers would regularly interact with fans of the show on social media and other platforms to drive up interest and anticipation for the upcoming season. However, on several occasions, they mislead fans into thinking Alycia’s Lexa would survive the season. It went so far as to one of its lead writers, Shawna Benson, telling fans in a LGBTQ+ safe space that Lexa wouldn’t be killed off, that they had nothing to worry about. Rothenberg also liked to
use social media as a way to mislead fans. One way was tweeting that Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey would be filming scenes together in downtown Vancouver, and posting a photo of the two of them in costume, with a box of candy, and saying, “and yes, they chose RAINBOWS.” At the time of them filming this, Lexa was dead. He knew it, the writers knew it, the cast knew it. Yet Rothenberg alone chose to manipulate his show’s viewers by making it seem she was alive. It presented a false illusion that fans unsurprisingly bought into. So, when episode 7 of season 3 aired, to their surprise, they found their beloved character killed—halfway through the season. The only way I could really sum up the intense heartbreak and anger everyone was feeling is with this word: betrayal. The fans had been betrayed by the very people who promised them happiness. Who had promised them that they cared about representation. It was all a lie.
What makes this situation even worse, is how Jason Rothenberg and some of the writers responded to fans’ anger, betrayal, and heartbreak. They brushed it off, were insincere, and Jason legitimately blamed his choice to kill Lexa off on how Alycia Debnam-Carey had booked a lead role on The Walking Dead spinoff Fear The Walking Dead, and as much as he “tried,” he couldn’t make it work to keep her on the show, even as a guest star. Which, in my opinion, both then and now, is absolutely absurd and a lame excuse. Combine that with the method in which he killed her off—there definitely could have been a much smarter and less harmful way to have her exit the show. Rothenberg and the cast did a round of conventions after the episode, and unfortunately no matter what they said, it didn’t help the situation. They were too far gone to redeem themselves and their actions. Whatever reasoning behind killing her off that they presented was not accepted or taken as truth.
I do want to take a moment to delve into the significance of their actions online. These professional writers, with a network television show, and a large LGBTQ+ fanbase, actively decided to make unethical choices to keep that fanbase watching their show. They infiltrated safe spaces and lied through their teeth, they tweeted in an extremely deceptive manner, and after the episode aired, deflected the hatred that came their way and waited weeks before issuing an apathetic apology. These actions, no matter how much they deny the consequences of them, were extremely harmful. As LGBTQ+ people, seeing quality representation is scarce in media, and they had the audacity to exploit that. How are we supposed to trust television shows and writers to tell our stories when they are handled in this manner? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that would hesitate watching shows with LGBTQ+ representation afterwards, because I was scared to be manipulated and used for views. It’s frustrating, having to essentially screen the show and writers to see if what I’m about to watch is valuable, authentic, and not a ploy to have me watch it for them to ultimately kill the LGBTQ character(s) off. As a writer, and avid tv show watcher, it is absolutely appalling that these writers did what they did and still had jobs afterwards. I’m not even sure that Jason Rothenberg, Shawna Benson, and Kim Shumway received any concrete consequences for their actions. Rothenberg stayed as showrunner and is apparently developing scripts with New Line, Benson was a staff writer for The 100 until 2018, and Shumway stayed until the show ended last year.
The aftermath of Lexa’s death was a PR nightmare for both The 100 and The CW. The callous and uncaring way in which Jason Rothenberg and other writers on the show treated fans was revealed to everyone, and because of how much noise fans made with the #LGBTFansDeserveBetter movement, people inside Hollywood were talking about how badly everything had been handled. So much so, that other shows promised to never use the Bury Your Gays trope, and actors who played LGBTQ characters spoke out against what happened. The show lost a lot of their fans, including myself. I stuck through to the end of season 3, since I knew Lexa was going to show up there. But after that, I cut myself off from the show. I had no desire to support a show whose showrunner and writers did not care about a good portion of its
viewers. In the years since, it’s been interesting to see how they continued to use Lexa on the show. It’s like they know that the show became nothing without her. So much so that Alycia Debnam-Carey was brought back in the series finale. I had no idea what was going on when I watched the clip someone posted on social media, but to be honest it was nice to see her in her Heda costume. It was a reminder that she was perfect as Lexa, and it is because of Alycia that she will always be an iconic lesbian character that will outlive the show. The 100 will be forgotten, but Heda Lexa will not. And remember, when it comes to representation on screen, oso gonplei nou ste odon.