After weeks of controversy following the death of fan-favorite character Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey), “The 100” creator Jason Rothenberg took the stage at WonderCon to address the fan reaction to Lexa’s exit and how it perpetuated the trend of lesbians dying on primetime TV.
“The reaction has obviously been surprising to us, to me in particular, I didn’t ever imagine that it would be so intense,” Rothenberg conceded. “You design it to be a ride, you design it to be emotional — the show’s a tragedy, horrible things happen in every episode — but this landed in a different way for our audience, especially LGBTQ fans of the show.”
Rothenberg said that he watches fan reaction videos every Friday morning after new episodes of “The 100” air, and it was those videos that “began to drive it home for me” that Lexa’s death was affecting fans more deeply than the show’s other casualties. “On this particular Friday, I couldn’t watch them — they were too intense … one after the next, they were devastated by what they saw.”
He acknowledged that Lexa’s death “touched something real; it touched a nerve; it activated something in people who, their whole lives, have had to deal with things that me as a straight, white guy obviously couldn’t relate to.”
Rothenberg also said that he and the other writers “never really understood the power of that relationship and that character” before seeing the fan reaction to Lexa being killed, but admitted, “knowing what I know now, I would’ve done some things differently.”
Last week, in a previous interview he gave to TV Insider, Rothenberg said the fan backlash wouldn’t have changed the story he was telling — “We would have told the same story. I stand behind the story; I just don’t think I would have gone out of my way to say ‘This is the best episode we’ve ever done!'” — but during the WonderCon panel, he clarified that although nothing would’ve changed his decision to kill Lexa, had he realized the hurt it would cause the fanbase ahead of time, he might’ve altered the context of her demise.
“When I was answering that question, I was thinking that the question meant, certainly in my mind, ‘would you still follow through with killing this character’ and the answer is — and I know it’s not going to make everybody happy — but the answer is yes. But I would do things differently.”
Rothenberg cited “three areas where I think I messed up,” pointing out, “my social media interaction with the fans in some way set up around this relationship an unrealistic expectation that Lexa would be okay, that she’d walk off into the sunset.” He reiterated that he only promise he’s ever made is that on this show “nobody is safe. That’s the kind of show it is. I regret the way that I talked about the show on social,” which may have led fans to believe that Lexa’s fate was going to be different.
He added, “I love the fact that we have a bisexual lead, I love that a new audience came to the show because of this relationship, and I was excited and sharing my excitement, and that was misinterpreted to mean that I was promising a happy ending.”
As for the way “Thirteen” was scripted and “the way the episode played out,” Rothenberg said, “there’s a couple things I wish we did better,” including the “sex and death happening so close together. I definitely am uncomfortable with that juxtaposition now. The death had nothing to do with the fact that she’d just had sex; it was this powerful, transformative figure who was killed because she was trying to change her people, and that’s always dangerous, as I think history has proven. That’s why she died and that’s why I allowed those two scenes to coexist like that. But in hindsight, I wish I’d found a way to separate them somehow,” given the trope of lesbians dying so soon after a moment of sexual or emotional fulfillment.
Rothenberg said he was also aware that fans had wished for a more heroic death for Lexa rather than “the stray bullet,” given that she was such a powerful character. “On the one hand, I get that — and I totally believe you when you say that that would’ve made it better for you, but at the same time, this show really doesn’t traffic in heroic battlefield deaths,” he pointed out. “I was trying to make a point that life is fragile and somebody even as powerful as Lexa could die because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was the tragedy that I was trying to underline.”
He admitted that he wasn’t aware of Tara’s death on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which Lexa’s death mirrored so closely. “I wish I knew more about this trope back then, because had I done my homework about it, I probably would’ve come upon the fact that in ‘Buffy,’ a character who was also a lesbian died by a stray bullet, and I was unaware of that because I didn’t watch that show,” he said. “And so I would’ve, for sure, just for creative reasons alone, tried to differentiate our execution of that idea. That would’ve for sure been something that I tried to move the pieces around the board, but to try and make the same point that life is fragile.”
During the fan Q&A portion of the panel, a fan noted that “The 100” fandom has raised over $80,000 for The Trevor Project in honor of Lexa, and Rothenberg said, “I do think that’s an incredible silver lining in all this.”
He added, “it’s opened my eyes in a lot of ways, to the power that stories have in the world, and the responsibilities I have as a storyteller … I didn’t really understand enough, and now I do, I’m grateful for the experience.”
As for how Clarke will go on after Lexa’s death, Eliza Taylor said, “Clarke has always been very good at compartmentalizing, she’s always been very good at pushing forward even in the worst situations, but this one’s different, this is her love. It’s gonna be really, really tricky for her, and I think it really changes her for good, but in true Clarke fashion, she will somehow get through it.”
“The 100” airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.