Why The 100 Made the Right Choice in Killing [Spoiler]
Spoilers for The 100 season 3 follow!
The 100 just aired its most controversial episode to date, in which the writers killed off a beloved main character. Ever since "Thirteen" aired on Thursday, the fandom has been in shambles. Fans have been furiously tweeting at the writers and showrunner, everything from laments to indictments to death threats to suicide threats. As of today, showrunner Jason Rothenberg has lost 15,000 followers on Twitter. Here's my explanation for why the fans are so upset (and rightfully so, in certain respects), and why I'm still a firm believer that The 100 did the right thing by killing off Lexa.
Lexa was introduced in the second season as the new Commander of the Grounders. She was strong, intelligent, authoritative, and a true leader, so when it was revealed that she was an out lesbian, she became a very important character to the LGBT community, which doesn't have nearly enough positive representation on television. And when she began an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with the protagonist, Clarke, their relationship was one of the only lesbian relationships on mainstream television, and certainly the only one that involved a bisexual protagonist.
Then, in the last episode, she was killed by a stray bullet that was meant for Clarke, and fans went into an uproar. As far as I can tell, their anger had several different reasons behind it, some of which I share, although I ultimately don't fault the writers for most of the decisions they made. First, they were angry because Lexa was an important and bad-ass character who was given a relatively unceremonious death, which many thought added insult to injury. I don't share this viewpoint, because I think it would have been more satisfying, but somewhat contrived if Lexa had died a heroic death in battle, or sacrificed herself for Clarke. As I said in my review of the episode, a tragic accident more accurately reflects the arbitrary, senseless nature of death in real life, and was all the more tragic as a result.
More importantly, fans were angry because Lexa was the only out lesbian character on the show, and now she's joined a long line of dead lesbians on television. Referred to as Dead Lesbian Syndrome, or "Bury Your Gays," there is a trope in which lesbian characters are killed as a result of or shortly after expressing their love for another woman. Lexa was killed only minutes after sleeping with Clarke for the first time, and by a stray bullet, no less, which closely evokes Tara's similarly controversial death on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, arguably the most famous example of Dead Lesbian Syndrome.
Let me be clear: I completely understand the strong emotional reaction fans have had to Lexa's death, and believe that they have a right to it. There is not enough LGBT representation, and especially not enough three-dimensional LGBT characters that actually have agency, so it will have much more of an emotional impact when any LGBT character is killed off, especially since they are killed off so much more often than straight characters. Death threats are, of course, never acceptable, and anyone who attributes suicide threats solely to a television show is vastly oversimplifying complex psychological processes. But overall, the fans are completely entitled to their upset and angry reactions.
From the writers' perspectives, it's unrealistic to expect that a lesbian character will never be killed off on a show like The 100, because the premise of the show hinges on the idea that anyone can die at any time (except maybe Clarke). I think it was the right decision to kill Lexa, even if Alycia Debnam-Carey weren't leaving for Fear the Walking Dead (I'll explain more in a minute), but once the decision was made to kill her, the writers should have been aware of this trope, and shouldn't have had Clarke and Lexa sleep together for the first time right before it happened. They should have just had them sleep together earlier, probably when they were in Clarke's bedroom together in "Watch the Thrones." Jason Rothenberg argued that it wouldn't have felt natural for them to sleep together too soon, because Clarke still needed to forgive Lexa for Mount Weather, but people don't necessarily need to work out all of their issues to sleep together. And if they had already been involved for the last few episodes, the conflict with Titus over whether Clarke was clouding Lexa's judgment would have been much more fraught and interesting.
However, I don't think it was inherently offensive to kill Lexa; in fact, I think it was the only decision that could do this amazing character justice. First, like I said, people die all the time on The 100. This isn't always a justification, of course; people often try to excuse The Walking Dead for killing off all of its black characters, for example, because "anyone can die" and because black characters happened to be the expendable ones to the plot, but bringing in minority characters who are completely disposable while writing white/straight characters who are integral to the plot is offensive in itself. But I don't think anyone would argue that Lexa was killed off because she was expendable, which is why many minority deaths are offensive. The writers knew that Lexa was integral to both the plot and the fandom, which is why it wouldn't have made any sense if she had just disappeared while Debnam-Carey was filming Fear the Walking Dead. She didn't die because she wasn't important, she died because it was the only logical end to her character arc.
And that's the crux of the counterargument to the accusation of "queer-baiting": Lexa wasn't a one-dimensional lesbian lover who was brought on for a few episodes to boost ratings. She was a beautifully written, well-rounded, stunningly complex character with her own personality, agency, and multiple-season character arc. It's a testament to The 100's egalitarian character development that Lexa was given a classic hero's arc that is normally only afforded to straight white men. And unfortunately, it was the kind of hero arc that could only end in death. Like Buffy herself, who was killed in the fifth season finale (which was originally intended to be the series finale), Lexa was "chosen" to live a short, brutish life; she was marked for death the moment she was picked to become the next Commander. (If you recall, she only became a major character because her predecessor, Anya, died a sudden, brutal death.) Her death has been heavily foreshadowed for almost two seasons, and if she hadn't died, it would have been as big a cop-out as Harry Potter coming back to life and ending with that lame epilogue. Lexa may not have gotten a hero's death, per se, but she got to have a hero's ending, which was the only fitting ending for this wonderful and significant character.