Warning: This article contains major spoilers for Season 3 of The 100.
Last Thursday, a major character death sent shock waves throughout the fandom for the popular CW sci-fi series The 100.
Loyal legion of fans of The 100 erupted with outrage when Lexa, Commander of the twelve clans, was killed off in a thoroughly rushed, ruthless fashion.
But while The 100 has long been known for its brutal, no-one-is-safe approach to killing off main cast members, this character’s death hit especially hard – not just for members of the fandom, but for all of us queer women too.
The 100 is a unique show, in many ways. It’s not just another teen drama, its political themes, gripping plot, complex female characters, and deep study of a post-apocalyptic survivalist future have earned it major critical acclaim and an intense fan following.
And last season, fans were thrilled when the main character, Clarke, began to develop feelings for another young woman named Lexa.
The show was heavily praised for its representation of bisexual characters on television.
It presented this same sex relationship between two women – who are powerhouses in their own right – wonderfully, and the coupling added a complexity, depth, and importance to the plot of story.
And this is why so many of us are shocked and dismayed when – in this milestone episode -the writers decide to tear down the foundation they’ve built and discard this romance altogether with one pull of a trigger.
The backlash over Lexa’s death is not just about the fact that The 100 killed off Lexa, but the manner of her dying. The stray bullet that killed her is eerily similar to the stray bullet that killed Buffy, the Vampire Slayer‘s Tara, famously ending one of the few recurring lesbian relationships on TV in a maelstrom of tragedy and fandom backlash.
In the annals of cinema and queer history “the dead lesbian” trope can be found it in notable film, theatre, and literature dealing with queer characters, from tragic lesbian ground breaker The Children’s Hour to many of the most famous and influential lesbian novels.
There’s an entire Tumblr devoted to chronicling the dead lesbian trope on television, which stretches back decades.
In an episode of The 100 podcast The Dropship, the episode’s writer, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, explained that the creative team had to write the character of Lexa out of the show because her actor, Alycia Debnam-Carey, had become a lead on Fear the Walking Dead:
We considered a lot of different options, including the possibility that killing her would make a political statement that we were not comfortable with.
But ultimately when you’re talking about this world and the stakes we’re dealing with, we genuinely came to the perspective in the writers’ room that this death would be the best way for us to, not only write the character out of the show, but protect ourselves against the possibility that we might never see the actor again ….
And honestly I think that in terms of the epic quality of the show … we honestly look at the story as an epic tale of shocking fate and destiny. And, you know, kings tend to not retire from being kings.”
Grillo-Marxuach acknowledged that fans would be “very unhappy” with Lexa’s death, but argued that the show’s narrative is “the struggle for love and humanity in an atavistic world that only understands conflict” and thus dictated the mode of the actor’s departure.
I can’t control or dictate how people are going to react to a character death on the show, and obviously there’s a huge spectrum of, outside the narrative bubble of the show in terms of the LGBT representation and all that, that has to be addressed.
The hope that these characters are going to find happiness and joy halfway through the series is a very poignant one, but is in no way borne out by any of the events of the show.”
So, the argument in favour of killing off Lexa is that there should be room on television for a multiplicity of portrayals of queer characters, including characters who endure tragedy.
This season, perhaps in anticipation of killing the Clarke/Lexa ship, The 100 did introduce another queer relationship in the form of the character Miller and an off-screen boyfriend, as well as another potential love interest for Clarke in the form of Niylah, a female character she’s already hooked up with once.
But as always, the pattern of Hollywood killing off lesbians and ending happy lesbian relationships is still here. Perhaps the most heartbreaking responses to Lexa’s death also underscore just how rarely happy queer female relationships appear on our screens.