The 100's Executive Producer Breaks His Silence About Lexa's Death
"Thirteen" proved to be a very unlucky number, indeed.
Update: Earlier this week, fans of The 100 were upset over some comments that Jason Rothenberg made about Lexa's death. The exec producer opened up about the controversy in a new blog post today. Read his comments in the post, "The Life and Death of Lexa," here.
Let's get something straight: Killing off a character is never a decision that is made in haste. TV producers and writers are always explaining the heartache of saying goodbye to both the actors and the roles they play because, despite what some folks would have you think, they are not history's worst monsters. They are humans who come to love their casts and their characters as much as we do, but they are also ultimately telling a story. Sometimes those stories nail it, sometimes the plot twists feel more like a knife twist.
In the weeks since The 1oo killed off Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) following a long-awaited but too brief moment of actual happiness with Clarke (Eliza Taylor), there has been an outcry amongst the fans, LGBQT groups and the media. Did the show feed into TV's historical and shameful trope of killing lesbian and bisexual characters? Was there too much #Clexa hype on social media leading up to the episode? Did they realize that this was such a painful and inflammatory decision? As the show prepares for a panel presentation at L.A.'s WonderCon this Sunday, executive producer and series creator Jason Rothenberg spoke exclusively with TVInsider.com about what he has learned from the controversy, why he would never intend to hurt the LGBQT community and how he plans to face the fans at the convention.
OK, so you had to be aware of the uproar that would come from killing Lexa, right? This was something that you guys had to realize you’d be walking into.
Yes and no. First of all, I think I should start by saying that for the last two weeks, I’ve pretty much thought about nothing else except for this. It’s taken me some time to process everything, and I’ve been listening, reading everything I could. I took my voice out of it on Twitter because I didn’t want to inflame the situation, and I felt like I didn’t want to shape the conversation. I just wanted to listen and try to understand. I mean, we were a little surprised by it—obviously not that people were upset; you’re right in the sense that we kind of knew that that would happen. The story that we’re telling is a tragedy. Lexa was a meaningful character to our fans, especially LGBTQ fans, and so I knew it would be emotional, of course. What was unexpected was the level of outrage that it’s generated from some people, but I do think I have come to understand that.
We’ve seen this with shows with strong social media bases: The louder the outrage, the more disturbing it can get.
Yeah. Lexa's death triggered real emotional trauma for some people, you know? It tapped into the real world, it tapped into their lives, and as a straight white male, I obviously didn’t anticipate how deeply it would affect certain people. I look at it now and I realize that if somebody had that kind of a reaction and then were to look back at the way I behaved on Twitter leading up to it, which was celebrating this relationship that then crushed them, I can understand why they would find that reprehensible. I hope that people understand that.
Since there is no winning on Twitter, what do you want to say to the fans now?
I would say, first of all, that it’s taken me a while to get perspective on it myself and to put myself in the position of somebody who was hurt like that. And I hope that eventually they can start to put themselves in our position and understand that we would never want to hurt anybody like that. We would never want to hurt our fans. We love them, we owe them everything, we owe them the fact that we just got a Season 4 to them. We want to take them for a ride, we don’t want to hurt them. And because we didn’t anticipate this sort of level of pain over this fictional death, we were doing what we always do on Twitter, which was celebrating work that we’re proud of. In hindsight, knowing what I know now and sort of realizing the things that I’ve realized, we should have done less of that. We should have done less buildup knowing where this was going to end up and knowing how this was going to affect people.
But it wouldn’t have changed the story you’re telling.
No, absolutely not. 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!’ Nobody really anticipated that this would happen so now that we’ve seen it, the idea for me as the showrunner going forward is to learn lessons from it, you know? This is a show where characters die. That's another reason we were so surprised..it’s a post-apocalyptic world set 100 years later in which anyone can die.
You’ve killed children, you’ve killed people of color, you've killed Grounders and Mountain Men. You do have a non-discriminatory death toll on this show.
That’s true, this is a world where we treat everybody equally and I feel like that includes, by the way, the manner in which people die. Another reason why I was surprised, to a certain extent, by the negativity in the reaction [to Lexa's death] is that we’ve created this world where it doesn’t matter what color you are or whether you’re a male or a female or who you love, whether you’re gay or straight. It’s about survival, it’s about ‘Can you help me survive today?’ And by the way, I’m not naïve to know that the real world isn’t like that, I know that the real world isn’t like that. That’s why science-fiction is such a great genre, because we can try to make a point and have messages and the message here is that race, sexuality, those things shouldn’t matter, and that extends to the way that characters die. In this world, it doesn’t matter, you can die if you’re gay or straight, you can die if you’re a series regular or not. This is going to be a crazy season...it’s already been a crazy season. More characters that we love are going to die this season and it’s going to happen soon.
[Laughs] I think that people need to be prepared for that.
You and some of the cast are headed to WonderCon in LA this weekend. Are you prepared to face a potentially hostile crowd?
You know, I feel like going to those conventions is an honor for sure, and I’m always nervous about it. But I’m looking forward to getting in front of the fans and talking to them and having a real dialogue about this, if that’s something that the fans want. It’s an honor and a privilege, it’s really the greatest privilege of my life—other than being the father of my kids and the husband of my wife—to be the creator of this show and I really love the opportunity to get to talk about it as much as possible.
This story isn’t done yet, and it involves levels of reincarnation. Is that something that you are looking to as far as introducing a new character for Clarke to love?
To be honest, Clarke is experiencing the loss of someone she loved, and you know, this is a show where people don’t just get over things quickly. That goes for physical injuries as well as emotional ones, so Clarke’s going to be nursing a broken heart into the foreseeable future. We are, you’re right, in a world of reincarnation, technological reincarnation, which is another reason that the Lexa story had to end in death, because to get to reincarnation, someone has to die first. And so we are now telling a story in which a human mind can be uploaded into the City of Light. We’ve been there, we’ve seen people walk around in the City of Light, and this flame that came out of Lexa’s head, what does that mean? I don’t want to spoil too much and I certainly don’t want to tease whether or not Lexa’s coming back, but that is a technological fact in our show.
So there is a possibility for some kind of moment of resolution for the fans that are just so devastated by this.
You know, the whole sort of accusation of queer baiting has me very sensitive with regard to answering the question about that. I would say that definitely we are living in a world of reincarnation where the human mind can be uploaded into a flame and into the City of Light, and we see the people from the real world, we’ve seen Jaha there, we’ve seen Allie there, we’ve seen other characters there, so anything is possible, but I don’t want to give too much away.
And that has been the plan all along, right?
Oh, 100%. The cake has been baked on this one before it started to air. We finished shooting everything before we even aired. I was actually on the set filming the finale when the premiere aired.
And what did Alycia and Eliza have to say about this twist when they were told? How did they take it?
I can’t remember when I told them the story, but I think when I told them that she was going to die and it was going to be the single most significant event of the season, it was going to link everything in the show from both the Sky People and the Grounders. So on a world-creation level, and on a plot level this season, it was the landing point that everything was being geared towards. Alycia was blown away by it, you know? It sounded crazy I’m sure, that an AI would come out the back of her head. I know that playing those scenes was incredibly emotional and powerful. I’m just blown away by how emotional and incredible those performances are.
How do you prep the cast for something like WonderCon when there is so much to talk about and yet so much you can't spoil?
You know, these guys are going around and doing conventions all around the world, so they’re getting practiced at! I think it's incredible that these outside conventions are happening, so they’re better at it than I am, frankly. They’ll prep me on how to handle the situation. [Laughs]
Do you have any plans to kind of break any big news or are you guys planning any surprises?
We do plan on showing something to the audience before we start the panel. I don’t think I should get into what that is yet, but I think it’s something that people will be excited to see. With this show it’s always difficult because we try to design the experience to be as surprising as possible. Spoilers are the worst. And it’s really hard as you well know, because we’ve talked so many times now—how do you talk about this show without spoiling things? I think when the season is over, I would like to sit down and have a real detailed conversation about all of it.
I’m down for that. What can you give us as far as teasing something that would be coming up the week of the panel, which is also your first episode after hiatus.
Episode 3.09 is amazing. It’s another dark episode. We know that certain characters are in jail, we come back to Polis and we pick up in the aftermath of Lexa’s death and we begin to understand what the conclave is all about. Let’s just say things unfold from there and we begin to see Clarke doing what Clarke does, which is compartmentalizing and finding a way to suck down her pain and be our hero and try and save her people yet again. With the loss of Lexa, she has to worry about whether or not the new commander will continue to be an ally. So we’ll see her doing what people do in life when terrible things happen, when tragedy strikes. She’s going to suck it up and try to move on and do what she has to do to save her people.
Any chance of seeing more episodes set in the past aboard Polaris?
I loved that story. I had been waiting since the beginning to do an origin story really, because that’s what that was, it was the origin of the Ark, the end of the world. I think Javier [Grillo-Marxauch], the writer of the script, did a great job laying in this mythology of the second A.I. Every one of those scenes is so dense and rich and that’s a tough thing to do because none of the characters in the show, aside from Erica Cerra playing Becca, are in those scenes. But they were still fascinating and emotional.
I want to know what was going on with all these people up there.
That’s what I’m saying! Let’s get that out there.
Well we’re talking about it. We’re talking about both how to continue that story in The 100, and are there possibilities to explore other time periods, in a way.
Alright, well when you’re ready to talk about it, let me know.
If the fans want it, and they ask for it and they scream loud enough, maybe they’ll get it.
The 100 returns March 31 at 9/8c on The CW.