The dark and wonderful The 100 is back on our screens for its fifth season. The series, which follows the last survivors of Earth as they struggle to deal with dwindling resources and conflicting ideologies, is going through some major changes in its latest season. Following the wholesale destruction of much of the planet in a wave of radiation, humanity has been culled to its final 1200 or so humans, all hiding out in a bunker beneath the surface. Meanwhile, six teenagers live aboard the abandoned space station—while Clarke (Eliza Taylor), the young woman who, until this point, had served as the defacto leader of the humans who fell from space, toughs it out on the single patch of green still left on the planet.
Now, with a new season on the airwaves, we’re being introduced to brand new villains, new challenges, and plenty of new conflicts. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the show's core cast of incredibly strong women.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the show’s commitment to its female characters has long been one of its strongest elements. The series not only places its female characters at the center of its stories, but it has committed to telling stories about a variety of women, highlighting the many ways women can be strong and powerful.
Take, for example, the series’ most visible female character, Clarke Griffin. Clarke is, for lack of a better definition, essentially the show’s main character despite its largely ensemble structure. At 18-years-old, she was one of the 100 teenagers sent down to Earth by her own people in a suicide mission to test whether the planet was habitable. Not only was it habitable, it was inhabited by two different warring sets of people (the Mountain Men and the Grounders). But before they could even enter into a conflict with these two forces — who would in turn become their enemies and allies — they had to fall into some kind of order. Clarke, as the daughter of some of the more powerful people on board the Arc, sought to find that order, and in the process butted heads with Bellamy (Bob Morley), who sought his own version.
Over the show’s four seasons so far, Clarke has been the seat of the struggle for power and respect among her people. After winning that power and respect from the rest of The 100, Clarke then had to wrench it back from the adults who eventually joined them on the ground—including her own mother and the rotating cast of elected leaders. Clarke has not always worn her power well, either. She has accepted it reluctantly, she has made poor decisions, and sometimes she’s even made outright wrong ones—but the crux of her personality is persistence and a willingness to listen to others and learn. While many might dislike Clarke for what they see as bad leadership or an over-willingness to lead her people down paths that frequently get them killed, others may see a young woman forced to make terrible decisions, and often by the people who claim to care about her most.
On the other end of the spectrum is Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos), a brilliantly unique character who has had one of the most interesting arcs over the course of the series. She began as a frightened, naive young woman who spent her early years literally hidden beneath the floor of her quarters because her very existence was illegal. She has gone on to become a warrior in her own right, to be the only one accepted among the Grounders and Sky People alike, and even bested the champions of every other clan to take her place as leader of the newly joined clans of Grounder and Sky’kru alike.
Her journey to this place was far from smooth, however. Becoming a fierce warrior and leader requires sacrifice and while Clarke was struggling with big decisions, Octavia was struggling with her own people, her self-doubt, and most of all her overprotective older brother, Bellamy. As Octavia grew more confident in her own abilities, she struggled harder against Bellamy’s attempts to control her, nearly destroying their relationship in the process.
What is perhaps most interesting about Octavia is that, though she has spent four seasons turning herself into an amazingly strong, powerful warrior, she has done so almost entirely through love rather than rage (though, don’t get me wrong, she’s got plenty of rage). Octavia first started to see her allegiances turn when she met, and subsequently fell in love with, Lincoln (Ricky Whittle). Lincoln was the one who taught her how to both fight and speak like a Grounder. Her continued education and acceptance into the Grounder fold came later when, despite everything that had happened, Octavia still showed a level of caring for the Grounders that usually only came from within their ranks.
And now, after everything she’s been through, Octavia has become the only person to unite all the clans in a last ditch effort to survive. Of course, she faces brand new challenges this season.
Then there’s Raven (Lindsey Morgan). Like Octavia and Clarke, Raven has suffered a lot in the effort to save humanity these past four seasons, but unlike Octavia and Clarke, Raven has not been rewarded with power or control or even all that much in the way of respect. Not that she’s really looking for power or control, of course. Raven just wants to survive, by whatever means necessary, and as it turns out, she is usually those means. Where Clarke fights for survival with diplomacy and tough decisions, and Octavia fights with fists and a blade, Raven fights with her mind and her sharp tongue.
She is easily the smartest person on the ground despite the fact that she’s barely more than a child herself, and has been the linchpin in the struggle for survival nearly every single season. She has helped to thwart Grounders and Mountain Men alike, was the one who figured out how to get the remaining survivors back into space despite the fact that it shouldn’t have been possible, and, in probably the best of her storylines to date, had to fight against her own physical and emotional pain in order to overcome an artificial intelligence that had set itself up in her own brain in order to save the lives and minds of every single person on Earth.
These three women are far from the only ones on the show. Each of them has a mentor, has friends, has significant others who each also represent varied and interesting takes on what it means to be a strong woman in a world hellbent on killing you and everyone you love. But while the show certainly depicts a spectrum of strength, it is in these three that it is most apparent.
With this new season of The 100, one can only imagine what we’ll see these women accomplish this year, and, perhaps, what other examples of strength we may find in the process.