If you’ve been paying attention to coverage of The 100 since March, you know that there’s been a lot of talk about Lexa, her death, and what it means for representation and for television as an enterprise. In a lot of ways, Lexa became the most important of the season because of the meaningful (if long overdue) conversations that arose and grabbed national attention in the wake of her death.
In this season’s seventh episode, Commander Lexa (who quickly became a fan favorite after appearing in Season 2) was struck by a stray bullet moments after a love scene with the show’s female lead, Clarke Griffin. In the last few minutes of the episode, Lexa died, and one of the very few examples of positive queer representation died with her.
To understand why this is so important, you have to understand that LGBT representation always has been and continues to be lacking. It’s better now than it was ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, but “better is still just a handful of shows with queer characters, and most of those shows treat said characters really, really poorly. LGBT characters are killed off, written off, or made secondary all the time, and though there was hope that Lexa would be different, her death thoroughly torpedoed that hope and sent a shockwave through the fandom and beyond.
In a world where over 150 lesbian or bisexual characters have been killed on TV and fewer than 30 have seen happy endings, every queer character death is resonant. Every death of a representative character leaves LGBT fans feeling bereft, looking for a new show where they might see themselves represented with some modicum of respect, consideration and equality.
And that’s a big part of why Lexa’s death sparked so much outrage — she was the kind of character that a deeply underserved queer audience needed. She was brave, confident, complex and heroic. There was no one else like her on TV, and when she died, her loss was deeply felt because fully-realized queer characters with considered histories and a significant impact on the story are few and far between.
After the episode aired, fans were in shock. They’d been blindsided. They’d spent months waiting for more interactions between Clarke and Lexa, and though the first half of the season brought some really poignant moments between them, Lexa’s death felt cruel in its placement and the way in which it occurred.
Characters die all the time on television. It’s true that sometimes characters have to die for the right stories to unfold in a logical order. But an understanding of what’s at stake is vital to good TV writing. Whether or not they should have to, the few queer characters on TV carry the heavy burden of representing and speaking to large communities that are too often left out of stories. When those characters die for shock value or to further the plot of a straight character, the message it sends is disheartening. When characters die for what feels like no good reason or for reasons that could’ve been avoided, the wounds that these deaths leave are lasting.
Lexa’s death wasn’t for naught, though. It’s kickstarted a massive cross-genre discussion and examination of the “Bury Your Gays” trope and has sparked conversation about the quality of representation in media. It had major outlets finally talking about queerbaiting and recognizing that representation still has a long, long way to go.
In a season that saw a lot of death (and a lot of controversial death at that), Lexa’s life and her part of The 100’s story stand out as some of the most important parts of the show. Alycia Debnam-Carey was a guest star, but her character made a permanent impression on The 100, on its fans, and on the discussion of representation. Since her death, fans have raised over $120,000 for the Trevor Project, spoken out on social media, and made people in Hollywood pay attention. They were loud and they made it clear that the days in which we had to quietly accept the treatment of the characters who shape the way others see us and the way we see ourselves are over.
They cried out for better, and the hope is that the people who wield the power to destroy representation think twice about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it before they hit the kill switch. And if they don’t — if queer characters continue to die as punishment for their sexuality, as an easy out for networks who aren’t invested in their stories, as nothing more than a way to advance the plot of a straight character — fans will speak out again, and they’ll use Lexa’s story to help them do it.