'The 100' Boss Jason Rothenberg Preps Us for the Countdown to the End

Damian Holbrook
The 100 Season 7 Premiere
Premiere Colin Bentley/The CW

The 100 explodes into its seventh and final season on Tuesday, May 20, with an hour that quickly gets down to the business.

Clarke (Eliza Taylor) is trying to hold it together after having to blast her mother's Prime-inhabited body into space, Murphy (Richard Harmon) and Emori (Luisa d'Oliveira) are revered as Primes, while former Prime leader Russell (JR Bourne) has been captured, and Bellamy (Bob Morley) is desperate to find his missing sister Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos), who vanished into thin air after the late Diyoza's rapidly-aged daughter (Shelby Flannery) appeared out of the Anomaly and stabbed her.

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We break down what you need to know before the show's May 20 premiere.

It's a lot. And that's not even mentioning what's going on with Madi (Lola Flanery), Raven (Lindsey Morgan), Indra (Adina Porter) or Jordan (Shannon Kook). Since this is the final season, we hit up showrunner Jason Rothenberg not so much for details about the plot, but for insight into the process of wrapping things up. Especially with a looming pandemic that eerily echoed the show's dystopian roots.

So the final season... when did you guys wrap?

Jason Rothenberg: Literally the day everybody shut down. I'm not going to remember the exact date. I was directing the finale—my first episode—and it was like, we had two days left to shoot, they were long, full days and I think it was a Friday. And so we pulled up a bunch of scenes to that Friday and we pulled up Monday's work, which was the last day, to Saturday. We were like, the last show shooting in Vancouver. And we got it all shot. We all got it all done. A lot of shows, as you know, weren't as lucky. And for us, it was a series finale and we didn't know if, months later, we'd be able to pick back up and finish it. So we did everything we could.

The 100 -- "From The Ashes" -- Image Number: HU701A_0138r.jpg -- Pictured: Eliza Taylor as Clarke -- Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

It's kind of fitting, this race to the end just as the world was changing so dramatically, given that the show is built off the idea of a global catastrophe.

It's true. It felt a bit apocalyptic. We were obviously conscious of the fact that we were making a post-apocalyptic show, so yeah, totally fitting on some level. It was disappointing because there should have been a celebration and we were supposed to have a 100th episode party...it was black tie and everybody from LA on the studio and network side was coming up for it. But that was canceled. So instead, what we did was—which was by the way, beautiful and emotional—we had our own sort of wrap party at the end of that Saturday shooting in the Sanctum tavern set. It was just nice and intimate.

And how emotional were those last couple of days for you? I mean, directing your first episode—that's huge! And to end it all.

Well I wish I would have directed earlier because it was a blast. And it was incredibly emotional. You know how anytime you're doing a "series wrap" for a character, like on their last day for their last scene, you clap them out? Well, we've done quite a few...people leave all the time for various reasons. But this was like everybody's last scene, you know? And so [the emotions] came out in a trickle, like on one day it was the end for Adina. Next day it was Richard and Luisa...we saved Eliza for the last scene. We sort of deliberately boarded the episode so that we were shooting a Clarke scene last. And so we got to clap her out and speeches were made. Every time a person leaves, they make a speech and we videoed it all. Hopefully it'll show up at some point somewhere. But yeah, so totally emotional. And you know, frankly, we didn't realize at the time how serious the COVID situation was and every day leading up to the end, we had a safety announcements about hygiene and no hugs supposed to be permitted.  But you know, we were hugging the hell out of each other the entire time.

Heading into the final seasons, what was it like knowing that you had to bring this all in for a landing?

It was super challenging. And I wish I could say that it got easier to make the show over the years, but the truth is, it's never easy. It's a huge, huge feat to produce this show...and any show, really. But this one was really Herculean with the resources that we had and the goals that we always have for ourselves to be as epic as we can possibly be. And so we're always pushing. And this season presented a number of, um, unprepared-for challenges. [Laughs]

It was emotional on top of all the other sort of challenges that we had to deal with.The pressure was high and I think we did stick the landing. I mean, I'm really proud of of the last season and certainly of the finale. I think the show ends in a way that makes a statement about what it's been about the entire time, you know?

The 100 -- "From The Ashes" -- Image Number: HU701A_0094r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Jarod Joseph as Miller, Shannon Kook as Jordan Green, Adina Porter as Indra and Eliza Taylor as Clarke -- Photo: Colin Bentley/The CW -- © 2020 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

You pick up so close to last season's finale...

It is a direct pickup, a day or so probably later. We pick up in the wake of Sanctum having fallen to ruin and our heroes essentially are now the cops on the beat who need to keep the peace and try to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. And it's very difficult with all the crossed agendas.

And then you also have the Anomaly, which I know is going to take up a big portion of the season as to what exactly this thing is.

It is. We weren't shy about saying that the Anomaly is a wormhole. We put that in the trailer. It's a wormhole, kind of interstellar subway system between worlds and our heroes are gonna ride the rails to season, trying to put their family back together. Really, the theme of the season is family and, Clarke in particular is not going to lose anybody else if she can help it.

And possibly actually regain them?

Yeah, I mean she could...possibly. [Laughs] I'm not going to tell you one way or another who gets back together and who doesn't, but she's determined, come hell or high water, to not lose anybody else.

In the first episode, some familiar faces pop up in a very surprising manner. Did you look at this final season as a chance to call in all the friends of the show to come back for appearances?

Not really. Definitely it's a show that always is aware of its history and trying to honor what came before. And I think we've demonstrated in the past that we're not shy to bring characters back in one way or another. It's never someone coming back from the dead. It's always a flashback or a dream or mind-space or something to that effect. And this season is no exception.

You take Clarke on quite a journey in that first episode.

Clarke is dealing with a lot emotionally, obviously. She just lost her mom. She was forced to float the body of her mom that was inhabited by someone else's mind. And so, we're worried about her at the start. She's always been a character who compartmentalizes and whenever something horrible happens, she's able to sort of suck it up and do the job or the mission, as the case may be. And we feel like that's where she's going here too, you know? She's making it her mission to put Sanctum back together again and build their own Sanctum somewhere on this moon. And to do that, they just drop the prisoners down. They wake them from cryo and that has a whole other level of tension to the chess board.

And then eventually we see that it's all too much for her to bear. That's all too much for her to keep repressed and it comes screaming out in a pretty intense way.

The 100 -- "The Blood of Sanctum" -- Image Number: HU613a_0200b.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Jessica Harmon as Niylah and Eliza Taylor as Clarke -- Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.

How does Eliza handle her final season?

You know, when we started this thing, she was good. Eliza did not audition for the show. I told this story before, but she was an "offer only" and so I didn't see her read Clarke until the table read of the pilot. I was sitting there quietly saying to myself, "Please be good, please, please be good." And then she opened her mouth to say her first line and it was just like honey coming out. It was beautiful and we knew we had something and that we could be rest assured that we had a lead that could carry a show. And she only got better from there. Every season, she's added moves to her game and her performance got more competent and mature as she matured as a person.

I mean, she was, I don't know, 23 maybe when we started and now she's early thirties. She's grown into such a competent, amazing actress that I feel like this season, she really just leaves it all on the field and will continue to impress. I can't wait to see where she goes from here. That's the other thing. Now I get to watch like a proud parent, for lack of a better word, as the actors that we cast and have worked with for seven years and gave space to get better and work on their craft, go off into the world and make other people's shows and movies work. I'm looking forward to watching that.

And you can potentially get to go through that entire process again if they pick up the prequel.

Yeah. I mean I feel good about our chances. I don't know what's going to happen but yes, that's part of the fun of it: You start again and you nurture new talent and you give them the space to get better and hopefully it's set up for a nice long run and we get to see some of these new [actors] blossom and move on into the world. And some of them will die in Season 1 and some will make it to the end, whenever that is.

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A backdoor pilot will air in the seventh and final season.

And since that is a backdoor pilot, it's already shot?

Yes. It's a backdoor pilot, that's episode 708 this season.There are bookends of our being characters in it and then we flashback to what is essentially the Grounder origin story. It answers a ton of questions and really fits into the narrative of the season in a way that is important. It's not just like "Oh, we take a week off of our show." This answers tons of questions while setting up this new adventure and new characters at the same time. It's a really cool episode. Hopefully people will like it.

Now, I'm a huge fan of the idea that, if it's the final season for a show like this, you kill everybody you can. Like just a bloodbath.

[Laughs] Listen, not everybody makes it to the end, but a lot of people do. And we were not trying to make a show about how horrible we are. For six years, we have been sort of holding up a mirror to society and showing people how far the human race is willing to go when pushed to save themselves or the people that they love. So far, that they become the bad guy at times. You know, our good guys become bad guys and our bad guys are not that bad sometimes. We try to dimensionalize the perspective of everybody.

The way that a story ends is the moral of the story, and so as we started the season, I really wanted to sort of say something about humanity and I feel like this season does that. I think that this season kind of turns that on its ear, in a sense. I can't talk too much about it, but I feel like people will walk away from this season understanding what we've been trying to say from the beginning.

The 100, Seventh and Final Season Premiere, Wednesday, May 20, 8/7c, The CW