Late in Season 2 of The 100, Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and her enemy-turned-ally Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) shared an unexpected lip-lock that set social media on fire. Suddenly, Clarke, a character that had been assumed to be straight — her only prior romantic pairing was with Finn (Thomas McDonell) — earned an exciting new dimension as a queer woman. Thus, the hashtag #Clexa was born. It blew up on Twitter and Tumblr, and remains a hotbed of enthusiastic shipping.
Enthusiasm aside, some viewers doubted Clarke’s attraction to women, seeing as she and Lexa only kissed once, and Clarke pulled away. But the Season 3 premiere of the post-apocalyptic CW series, which aired Jan. 21, should put those concerns to rest. On the run from her own people and others who would do her harm, Clarke found herself seeking comfort from Grounder trading post worker Niylah (Jessica Harmon), and eventually fell into the stranger’s bed.
“She just wants to escape her pain. And part of the way people escape pain, the way they do in our world and in the world of the show, is you numb out or you take drugs or you drink or you have sex with people,” showrunner Jason Rothenberg explained in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News. “For even those few minutes, she’s not feeling bad — she’s feeling sexual, and that’s a good thing.”
Rothenberg could have paired Clarke with anyone, but he deliberately chose a female character in hopes of clarifying his heroine’s sexuality for good.
“There were some whispers in certain quarters — maybe this was on Twitter, I don’t know — of people not believing that Clarke was in fact bisexual, because of the way the relationship with Lexa had played out in Season 2,” he said, referring to the fact that Clarke’s grief over being forced to kill Finn led her to halt things with Lexa before they’d really begun. “I wanted to put that to bed. And so, I chose Niylah as opposed to Nigel, so it could be once and for all clear that she is attracted to people of both sexes.”
Given how limited representation of bisexual characters is onscreen, bisexual viewers are eager to see themselves on The 100. But though Rothenberg continues to refer to Clarke as bisexual, the character will likely never proclaim her sexual identity on the series anytime soon. Clarke and Lexa kissed without any discussion of their preferences, and the episodes that followed didn’t address their orientations either, which has resulted in some pushback. Those dissenting voices of The 100’s matter-of-fact approach toward sexuality might soon find themselves wondering why Miller (Jarod Joseph) — whose boyfriend was first mentioned in the Season 3 premiere — won’t be identifying himself either.
“I certainly get some criticism in my Twitter feed about how labels are important and I should use labels, and Clarke should call herself bisexual. I don’t even know that they would have that term,” Rothenberg said. “I get that labels are very, very important in our world, and you should be proud of who you are, and you should be able to state it proudly, and, ‘Fuck you if you don’t agree with the way I live my life,’ but that’s just not the way it is in the show.”
While it may not satisfy all queer fans, Rothenberg’s perspective on LGBT representation on The 100 is one of the most unique and progressive on television. On the series, which is set nearly a century after a nuclear war that destroyed the vast majority of humanity, characters are defined by more than their orientations. At the same time, their desires are more than incidental: The 100 does not shy away from depictions of same-sex affection and intimacy.
The way The 100 treats its queer characters is radically different from the vast majority of television shows. It’s rare and laudable for a series to embrace diverse sexual identities in a way that puts them at the forefront of the story without making sexuality the dominant theme of the narrative. But, as Rothenberg notes, it’s also a factor of the setting in which the series takes place. The world of The 100 is one without sexual orientation, in part because it’s a world where homophobia doesn’t exist — survivors have bigger concerns than other people’s relationships.
“It’s a little bit idealized, obviously, ‘cause it’s not like our world, where there are still battles to be fought on those fronts. But the battle for who you want to sleep with, who you love, is over in my post-apocalypse,” Rothenberg said. “Nobody is giving you a hard time in the world of this show. … No one’s parents are upset to find out their son is gay. That’s just not a thing.”
It’s an attractive fantasy, one of the few in the bloody, brutal universe of The 100. The young people on the series grew up without any knowledge that same-sex pairings were ever taboo, because, for the most part, their parents were too busy teaching them how to stay alive.
“That’s the sort of worldview that I wish existed, and so we just say, ‘Why not? Miller is gay. Big deal,’” Rothenberg said.
The writers aren’t naïve, however: They know there are political and cultural implications that come with queer representation. And while they’re not concerned with homophobes who are turned off by The 100 because of its same-sex relationships, they do pay attention to LGBT viewers who want to watch accurate on-screen depictions of queer life.
It’s a complicated line to walk, especially for Rothenberg, who has made a point of not letting fan desires affect his writing. (If that were the case, he wouldn’t kill off so many of your favorites.) But the result of Rothenberg’s commitment to strong storytelling above all else is that The 100 doesn’t look like anything that came before it. It’s making major strides forward with every episode — its grounded, straightforward queerness is just one of many things The 100 is getting right.
“In the real world, we have relationships and that’s a big part of our lives, and so it’s a color in the crayon box. It’s not the crayon box,” Rothenberg said. “I’m trying to tell the story as I see it, and hope that people like it.”