Tag: opinion

Why The 100's showrunner just lost 15k followers, and why it matters

Contributed by
Mar 8, 2016

(Warning: The following article contains major spoilers for The 100 episode, "Thirteen".)

On Thursday March 3rd, 2016, Jason Rothenberg, showrunner for The 100 had 121k Twitter followers. As of this writing, March 7th, he is down to 107k. So what happened? And, more importantly, why does it matter?


In The 100's latest episode, "Thirteen," a character named Lexa was killed off. The actress who played the role, Alycia Debnam-Carey, had signed a contract to star in the ongoing AMC series, Fear the Walking Dead, and was only going to be able to appear in seven more episodes of The 100. As a result, Rothenberg decided the best option was to write Lexa off by killing her.


If there's only one thing you know about The 100, it's probably that people die on it. A LOT. Like the shows it's clearly influenced by (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and Game of Thrones), The 100 has a penchant for killing off major characters both liberally and in sometimes brutal ways.

So, why is Lexa's death different? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but most of them boil down to one word -- representation.

Lexa, aside from being a young woman who is the commander and leader of 13 clans (which represent most of what seems to remain of the human race), is also an out lesbian. In addition, she was in an on-again-off-again relationship with the show's bsexual lead, Clarke Griffin. At last check, there are precisely zero other characters like Lexa on television.

From the perspective of queer people who don't feel like they see a lot of faces on television they recognize as being similar to their own, Lexa is very important. Stories matter. When you're an oppressed minority, having a story feature someone like you doesn't just make you, as an individual feel represented, it also gives people like you legitimacy.

Which is all to say that, if you decide to kill off a queer character like Lexa, the consequences may not be limited to what happens within the confines of a fictional world.


One of the most common misconceptions over the fan reaction to Lexa's death is that people are upset because they don't want any lesbian character to die ever, but that's not the case. The source of the intense scrutiny stems more from the unfortunate reality that lesbians (and queer people in general) being killed off to shock an audience is not a new idea. This story twist is so common, in fact, that it has a trope named after it -- Dead Lesbian Syndrome (also sometimes known as "Bury Your Gays"). Xena, Charlie from Supernatural, Talia from Babylon 5, and Cain from Battlestar Galactica, along with many, many other queer women have all been in some way bumped off, often moments after their queerness is either confirmed or celebrated.

Again -- stories matter. When you are part of an oppressed minority whose fictional representations repeatedly meet ignoble and, at times gruesome, demises, it can make you and people like you feel worthless or unimportant. If the characters who represent you can't get a happy ending then, silly though it may sound, it starts to feel like you won't get one either, especially if you happen to be a young queer person coming to terms with your queerness. And that's a large portion of The 100's audience -- young, queer women.


That Alycia Debnam-Carey would be leaving The 100 was inevitable, but the nature of her departure could have gone many ways. In "Thirteen" Lexa dies after being shot with a stray bullet meant for Clarke. Lexa's death also happens mere moments after Lexa and Clarke finally had sex for the first time, a moment fans had been waiting since last season to see. Her death was then used as a means to incorporate and push forward another plot strand that had previously felt disconnected from the rest of the show's narrative.

In short -- fans of Lexa were given something they desperately wanted before having their hero, one of the very few who they feel represents them, tragically murdered by accident in order to push other, straighter characters' stories forward.

You could argue that Lexa had to die, but it's even if you have very little sympathy to spare, it's impossible not to see why queer people who rely on character like Lexa to lift them up were crushed by the nature of her death.

And to add insult to injury, Lexa's death also happens to be a nearly beat-for-beat recreation of perhaps the most infamous case of Dead Lesbian Syndrome -- Tara Maclay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the 2002 episode, "Seeing Red," Tara was also killed by a stray bullet meant for someone else shortly after she and her girlfriend, Willow, had reconciled and spent the night together. 

Fans were absolutely livid then and anyone who lived through watching that queer woman's cruel death was instantly drawn back to that moment while watching "Thirteen". For many people, Lexa's death reaffirmed that, nearly 15 years after Tara's passing, TV writers still only see their queer characters as a means to an end.  



In a word? ROUGH. Fans flooded social media, demanding an explanation as to why Lexa had to die, especially in the way she died. Some were so upset at both Lexa's loss at any chance of happiness and their own loss of representation that they became suicidal. There is at least one reported (though not confirmed) suicide, along with multiple cases of threatened self harm.

Fans, actors, and writers of The 100 began to circle the wagons, realizing that Lexa's death carried with it far more consequences than some realized it would. The writer for "Thirteen," Javier Grillo-Marxuach, began retweeting fan reactions, both positive and negative, and acknowledging that, yes, it absolutely makes sense that fans would be this upset given the context. Openly gay staff for The 100 empathized, Kim Shumway (who came up with the idea to make Lexa gay) admitted that she was also crushed by Lexa's death, stories about Alycia on set were shared -- call it heartfelt, call it damage control, but people were trying to deal with a very real pain that a huge number of people were feeling.

There was only one person involved with The 100 who remained largely and suspiciously silent -- showrunner Jason Rothenberg. 

Rothenberg's tweets since "Thirteen" aired have been solely links to podcasts and reviews of people either complimenting the episode or defending him, specifically. For clarity, Rothenberg, as showrunner, was the one who decided that Lexa would die and what the circumstances of that death would be. 

The only point at which Jason Rothenberg kind of acknowledged fans' feelings or that, perhaps, he could have dealt with Alycia Debnam-Carey's departure from The 100 differently, was on The 100 fan podcast, The Dropship. Here's what he had to say:

"I'm a little shaken by the intensity of the negativity, for sure. I understand it; I really do. I mean  get that people... that this trope does exist in television and in drama in general. We didn't create it for that reason. Obviously this is a show where people die. Main characters get killed and [Lexa's] the commander, and that's not a job with a long life expentancy...for me to treat her differently -- I guess some were saying that I should have taken more care with her because she's a lesbian. I'm very torn about it obviously, because I get it, I'm sensitive to it, and I'm upset that people are upset."


In addition to the now over 15k people who have unfollowed Jason Rothenberg's Twitter account, there are also many fans who have sworn they will never watch The 100 again (full disclosure: I am one of those people). Despite Rothenberg linking only to positive articles thus far, there are many more who have been very critical of the nature of Lexa's death and the way Rothenberg has dealt with it since "Thirteen" aired.

Since Thursday, "#Lexa" and "#Lexa Deserved Better" have trended on Twitter for far longer than #The100 has. Each tweet from Jason Rothenberg has been responded to with two major phrases repeated  over and over -- "who cares" and "shut up". A search for Jason Rothenberg's name also brings up the phrase "We are disappointed Jason Rothenberg". In dishonor of Lexa's death, Heather Hogan of AutoStraddle came up with a list of "100 Storylines We Brainstormed in 5 Minutes That Don’t Involve Dead Lesbians".

Even though it is now nearly a week after "Thirteen" aired, the backlash to Lexa's death is still trending. Shortly after writer Shawna Benson, implied on a now-deleted Periscope that Alycia Debnam-Carey wanted to come back and play Lexa again, yet another phrase began to trend, which you can see visual evidence of here:

There's even an online petition well on its way to 15,000 signatures requesting that Lexa be somehow returned despite writers Kim Shumway and Shawna Benson saying that can almost certainly never happen.

So, yes -- that is a big deal. Not long ago, I wrote about things that other shows could learn from The 100. Two of them were "have more queer representation" and "engage with your audience through social media". Well? The 100 just killed off its only out lesbian and its writer just lost over 10% of his online followers.

The 100 has found much of its success through the queer community, specifically by engaging with them through live-tweets as each new episode airs. That last part is absolutely critical, because, though digital downloads and DVR-ing does matter, nothing is more important to a show and its network than live viewings. The 100 was quickly picking up steam on that front, but now that wind seems like it has been taken out of their sails.

Nearly 15 years ago, there was no immediate consequence when fans were furious that Tara Maclay was killed on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, it took only one weekend for The 100 to feel the hugely negative consequences of killing Lexa in the same way.

Will The 100 lose a chunk of its audience? That seems all but assured. Will it be canceled before it can get a Season 4? Probably not. But there's still an enormously important lesson to be learned here -- a showrunner can no longer afford to treat their work as though it exists in a vacuum. Telling authentic, good stories means keeping the real world and the people who watch your show in mind. And when people are upset with a decision you've made, akcnowledge them, let them know they've been heard -- otherwise you might find your previously successful show less assurred for renewal.

The biggest consequence  of all, though, remains the loss of Lexa, herself . An out, queer woman who was a leader to her people isn't an easy commodity to come by on television. Unlike most other deaths on The 100, there is no other channel to flip to, no other woman quite like Lexa that queer kids will be able to look towards and feel represented and respected. And that's far worse than whatever fate lies in store for one show on The CW.

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me that Lexa fans are working to raise money for The Trevor Project, the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to the LGBTQI community. They've already raised over $2,500, and if you'd like to add to that number I would urge you to do so.

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