Last week on The 100, Lexa, the Commander of the 12 Clans, was killed. By a stray bullet. Since last Thursday night, fans have voiced their outrage pretty publicly, lobbying for the show’s cancellation, promising en masse migration from the show and putting the showrunner, Jason Rothenberg, on blast for the decision to kill Lexa.
Characters die, and that’s particularly true in The 100, where episodes without a character death of some kind are damn near nonexistent. So why has Lexa’s death been received so poorly?
In large part, the backlash has to do with how, when and why she was killed.
Lexa’s overwhelming popularity wasn’t only about her character’s richness and complexity, or the dimension she added to the Grounders. While Lexa’s character is fantastic, she was also unlike any other character on The 100 — or on any other show, for that matter. A queer and unapologetically powerful woman, Lexa means a lot to a lot of viewers, particularly those in the LGBT community.
Representation and Trope
LGBT representation on television in 2016 is miles ahead of decades ago, but much of it still revolves around the central storyline of “being queer is hard” which, while certainly not untrue, is far from the only storyline queer characters can or should have. Lexa was never worried about being queer. She was worried about a lot of things, but mostly they were things like the safety of her people, death, candles, and the looming threat of the Ice Nation and Arkadia. It was endlessly refreshing to see a queer woman in power just being a goddamn hero.
Three quarters of the way through last week’s episode, “Thirteen,” Clarke went to Lexa’s room to bid goodbye as she prepared to leave Polis for Arkadia. It’s a bit more than goodbye, though, when Clarke kisses Lexa and well … more. In a love scene unlike most we’ve seen between two women on television, Clarke and Lexa were finally allowed a moment of happiness. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but happiness isn’t something that LGBT characters and couples often get on TV. To say it felt big and important and a bit unprecedented would be an understatement.
It was the moment that a lot of fans had been waiting for. Clarke and Lexa’s relationship was important to a lot of people whose representation is limited. It was exciting, built on respect and trust, and seemed to have the effort and thought usually reserved for relationships between two main heterosexual characters.
Then Lexa’s death came just a commercial break later. And though the scene itself was emotional and evocative, it’s placement was, in a word, cruel. It was a blindside, it came without warning and it left fans reeling.
After she leaves Lexa’s room, Clarke has a run-in with Titus and a gun, which he clearly has no idea how to use. He shoots wildly and, naturally, Lexa chooses the exact wrong moment to open her door and is hit by a stray bullet from a gun held by her most trusted advisor. Of course.
It wasn’t an honorable death. Lexa didn’t “die well” — an important concept for the Grounders. She died, it seems, needlessly and just moments after a scene that fans had no time to enjoy. It was bizarre and gut-wrenching and sloppy: shoved into the last moments of an episode, following what should’ve been a great victory. Most importantly, it upheld one of the most sinister tropes in film and television, whether it meant to or not.
This isn’t new. Lesbians and queer women die on TV a lot. And when there aren’t many queer female characters on TV to begin with, their deaths really tend to resonate and with audiences — deaths like Dana’s on The L Word, like Naomi’s on Skins Fire, like Tara’s on Buffy, like Rachel’s on House of Cards.
Sometimes referred to as the “Bury Your Gays” trope, it’s something of an industry epidemic, and one that The 100 — a show many had hoped would treat its LGBT characters differently — affirmed. It sends a dangerous, disheartening message to LGBT fans: there are no happy endings for you here. While good stories are almost never just about happy endings, we live in a world where queer stories are still hard to find, and when it seems as though there have been fictional zombie outbreaks less deadly than being a queer woman on TV, there’s a problem.
Heather Hogan, a senior editor at Autostraddle, lays it out pretty clearly:
Fandom vs. Canon
So what happens when your fave show kills your fave character? What do you do when your representation on a show is shot down — literally?
Just ask fandoms — particularly LGBT fandoms. We fix it. Rewrite it, remix it, and maybe even just proceed as though it didn’t happen, because if the canon doesn’t bring us what we need, it doesn’t have to mean shit. When representation is rare and often poorly executed, fans turn to their own efforts. A quick glance at Tumblr serves as proof — there’s more The 100 content (more specifically, Lexa-related content) on Tumblr than The CW could possibly hope to produce in years, let alone another few 16-episode seasons.
For LGBT fans, the world of mainstream fiction gives slim-to-no representation — a world in which you can, feasibly, watch all of the meaningful LGBT films and television arcs before you graduate college without much effort.
And so, the answer that LGBT fandoms have devised and the answer upon which fandom is founded is that you write yourself into the canon. You don’t wait for an invitation.
Fanfiction gets a bad rap in the world at large and, considering our appetite for franchises, it’s more than a little odd. Arguably, the biggest difference between fanfic and franchise is a budget. What is Star Wars: The Force Awakens if not a really great A New Hope fanfic with new characters? And Bond — isn’t everything post-Fleming just James Bond fanfic? The same could be said of many a comic book film and show. Fast & Furious is fanfic, too.
For marginalized groups in particular, fanfic goes far beyond “WTFFanfiction” and mocking Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a lifeline, a place where canon is just a starting point. It’s an alternative to publishers and studios. When the other option is waiting for mostly straight, mostly white, mostly male writers’ rooms to include you, it’s no surprise that fans who don’t see themselves represented build upon the few available canon storylines they have and create their own work online — whether it’s fan fiction, fan films, art or music.
When subtext is the only text you have, or when 90% of your cinematic/television experience takes place outside of the opening and closing credits, you find a way to use what canon gives you to make what you need and you leave the rest. Until shows and films improve their treatment of LGBT characters, that’s likely exactly what bereft fans, following Lexa’s death will do. Fans will shirk the canon as they did with Skins Fire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and they’ll write their own canon. Fandom exists because of majorly disappointing canon events like Lexa’s death — or Tara’s, or Naomi’s, or Dana’s before hers.
All told, Lexa didn’t spend that much time on screen during The 100. With so many characters and so many complex and intersecting arcs, it wasn’t as though Lexa was ever a singular focus of the show. But the strong response to her death speaks volumes, and the backlash is a pretty good indication that the show got something wrong, either in its timing, its execution or its communication outside of the show itself.
We have no idea what will happen to LGBT representation on the show going forward. There are other LGBT characters. Clarke, of course, is still alive, and still a good example of bisexual representation, whether or not she has a love interest. There’s Miller and his boyfriend, Bryan, though we don’t often see them. And there’s always the possibility and hope that other LGBT characters will find their way into the main storylines.
Anyone who’s ever read or watched anything knows that sometimes characters have to die for the story to move forward. Maybe Lexa had to die for the story to get where it’s going. But stories aren’t written in a vacuum, and when the canon doesn’t speak to fans or give them what they need, it enables a power shift. Because on the Internet, endings belong to anyone willing to write them.