By Kayti Burt
HBO’s "Game of Thrones" gets a lot of attention for the ways in which it is willing to torture (and sometimes kill) its characters, but it ain’t got nothing on The CW’s "The 100." What many dismiss as a teen drama about beautiful young people hooking up in a post-apocalyptic forest is actually one of the most hard-hitting, brutal dramas on television -- a title "The 100" manages to claim without surrendering to superfluous gore or shock value.
Don’t believe us? Here are 23 times "The 100" made "Game of Thrones" look like a lighthearted fantasy with its emotionally grounded, nuanced portrayal of violence and how it tears people, societies and minds apart.
Warning: Here be major spoilers for the first two seasons of "The 100," so if you’re not caught up… well, what are you doing with your life?
That time the "good guys" sent 100 teens down to a planet they believed to be uninhabitable.
You don’t even have to go further than the initial premise of this show to realize how compromised the morality of most of its characters is. The pilot episode begins with the government of The Ark choosing to send 100 juvenile delinquents down to Earth, a planet they still believe to be inhabitable 97 years after a nuclear apocalypse. Yes, we can safely assume based on previews and how TV works that this assumption is wrong, but The Council doesn’t have the same YouTube advantage. The cherry on the top of this morality morass? Two of the kids also happen to be the children of council members, which means Jaha and Abby are sending their own kids down to a probable and gruesome death.
That time Clarke mercy-killed Atom after he was burned by acid fog.
Long before "The 100" explained the finer points of the Mount Weather defense system, it was using it to kill unsuspecting characters off. One minute, Atom was kissing Octavia in fields of butterflies, the next he was begging Clarke to kill him after getting caught in a wave of acid fog. What sets moments like this apart from other shows on TV trying to deliver the same shocking death scenes is the fact that the mercy-killing set into motion a series of events that would end in both Wells' and Charlotte’s deaths, as well...
That time a 12-year-old murdered someone.
The first time this show really made us sit up and take notice of its willingness to both a) kill anyone and b) turn anyone into a killer rolled around in the third episode when 12-year-old Charlotte stabs Wells in the neck and watches him bleed out. This moment was tragic not only for the death of good guy Wells, but for Charlotte’s misguided reasoning. Well’s father, President Jaha, floated Charlotte’s parents, something she still had nightmares about. When Bellamy encourages Charlotte to slay her demons, the child insomniac takes his advice a little too literally and kills Wells, proving that these kids were forced to endure terrible things long before landing on Earth.
That time The 100 tried to hang Murphy.
There was a lot of mob mentality in the show’s early episodes, culminating in the group’s "decision" to hang Murphy when they suspect him for killing Wells. No trial. No sentencing. Just someone tying a noose in a rope and throwing it around a tree branch. And Bellamy, one of the show’s protagonists, lets it happen -- a choice that will come back to haunt him later, when Murphy tries to hang him in retaliation. The group has Murphy strung up before Charlotte admits to killing Wells, launching a new wave of pitchforks-and-torches hysteria.
That time Charlotte jumped off a cliff to certain death.
Charlotte was a deeply troubled child, but she still had some sense of right and wrong. Though we were shocked to see her kill Wells, we were totally ready for the Charlotte Redemption Arc. But The 100 doesn’t play by the same rules as most TV shows. Shortly after killing Wells, Charlotte throws herself off of a cliff to save The 100 the trouble of fighting (and maybe killing each other) over how they would deal with her crime. Few other shows are able to so quickly (or ever) capture the same level of emotional cognitive dissonance as "The 100." Charlotte’s decision was shocking, but made total sense given what we already knew about her character. It served a sense of justice given what she had done, but was also a terrible tragedy in itself. Finally, it allowed Charlotte a sense of agency that young girls are hardly ever given in stories. And this was all in this show’s fourth episode.
That time 320 people needlessly sacrificed their lives.
In another example of The 100 breaking the play-it-safe rules of network television, "The Culling" told the tale of 320 people on The Ark choosing to sacrifice themselves to give their loved ones more oxygen in the dying space station. On the ground, The 100 rushed to contact The Ark to let them know that the ground is, indeed, inhabitable, but don’t make it in time. Instead, Tor Lemkin dies thinking of his young, now-orphaned daughter. (Side question: How is Tor Lemkin's daughter?!)
That time Bellamy and Clarke tortured Lincoln to get an antidote.
The show's depiction of torture in its first season is notable not only for the way in which it allows its main protagonist, Clarke, to be implicit in the violence, but also in its complete ineffectiveness. The torture doesn’t convince Lincoln to give up the antidote to his poison and save Finn. Instead, Lincoln does it out of love, to save Octavia’s life. "The 100: is notable for its ability to represent the ways in which violence and pain aren’t effective, while at the same time depicting the terrible ways in which they are.
That time Clarke burned 300 Grounder soldiers alive.
In another one of show's kill-or-be-killed moments, Clarke decides to use the remaining dropship rocket fuel to incinerate the attacking Grounder soldiers, effectively burning them alive. Though this is presented as a necessary decision, it is still a gruesome one, and "The 100" doesn’t shy away from that horror. The episode has a shot of the soldiers being burned alive, and lets Clarke and the other Sky Teens see the charred remains of the people they have just killed following the attack.
That time The Mountain Men created a system of murder and oppression to get Grounder blood.
In season 2, we learn all about the residents of Mount Weather. Guys, it’s not pretty. These cake-loving fools always seemed off, but over the course of the second season, we discover that they have created a system of murder and oppression in order to fulfill their need for Grounder blood: The Mountain Men create The Reapers who collect Grounders and deliver them to Mount Weather in exchange for the drug they have been hooked on. Then, the Mountain Men use the Grounders as human blood bags to cure any Vitamin D-deficient resident who has been exposed to sunlight. Gross.
That time Finn shot a Grounder in cold blood so he wouldn’t tattle.
In what was the first sign that Finn was no longer the compassionate, level-headed boy we got to know in the first season, the teen murders a Grounder who he first tortured into giving (bad) information about where Clarke is being held hostage. It happens to be in the same underground bunker he and Clarke made sweet love in during the first season. A bunker Clarke and Finn will later return to, only to find Dead Grounder still rotting on the floor. There’s a moral here: Don’t leave dead guys in your sex bunker.
That time Anya was killed by Clarke’s own people moments after agreeing to help Clarke.
Long before we met Lexa, Clarke was forging a hard-won alliance with Grounder leader Anya. After escaping Mount Weather together via dam-jump and almost beating one another to death, the two form a loose alliance to try to get their two peoples to work together against Mount Weather. Then, Camp Jaha soldiers shoot Anya in front of Clarke, and drag a dirty, bloody Clarke back to Camp Jaha under suspicion of being a Grounder herself. #SkyPeopleFail
That time the protagonist’s main love interest massacred an entire village.
Oh, boy. This was a hard one. In what has perhaps been the show's most effective example of how a culture of war and violence ruins lives, a PTSD-afflicted Finn massacres unarmed men, women, and children who he mistakenly believes are holding Clarke. This is a character who, the previous season, was one point in a CW love triangle. Mere in-world weeks later, he is a mass murderer. This show doesn’t pull any punches.
That time Lincoln was turned into a cannibal.
We mentioned that Mount Weather creates addicts called Reapers, but have we mentioned that they like to snack on human flesh? Yeah, The 100 really hammers this point home when Lincoln is captured and made into a Reaper. Bellamy and Octavia stumble upon him in a parking garage while he is, um, snacking on another Sky Person. Awkward.
That time the Mountain Men killed the Sky Teens for their bone marrow.
OK, it is really only Cage Wallace and Dr. Tsing who initially start capturing the Sky Teens and drilling into their hips to retrieve their bone marrow, but it really escalates from there -- and it is never not cringe-worthy.
That time Clarke killed her boyfriend so he wouldn’t be tortured to death.
Have we mentioned that this show doesn't pull any punches? When the Grounders insist the Sky People turn Finn over so they can dispense their own form of justice (aka a slow, painful death), the Sky People are left with a serious dilemma. They need the Grounders to save their people from Mount Weather. When Finn turns himself over to the Grounders, Clarke is left with some seriously unattractive options. She chooses the one that is most painful for her and the least painful for Finn: She kills Finn so that he will die quickly. Moments after telling him she loves him, too.
That time an ape ripped off Major Byrne’s arm.
The giant, angry ape episode was a bit out of left field -- and the closest this show has ever come to superfluous gore -- but show us another show that has giant apes ripping off people’s body parts. OK, other than The Flash.
That time Jasper let Dr. Tsing die.
As things go from bad to worse for the Sky Teens trapped in Mount Weather, Jasper has to make some tough decisions about how far he will go to protect his friends. When the security force attacks, he shoots one of the men in the chest. Though this is an act of self-defense, Jasper’s later decision to keep Dr. Tsing trapped on the radiation-flooded level rather than riding the elevator to safety is murkier.
That time Clarke sacrificed an entire village to keep a secret.
In the wake of Finn’s death, Clarke is willing to do just about anything to ensure that her friends are saved from Mount Weather -- including sacrifice a Grounder village filled with her own people in order to keep Bellamy’s position as a spy in Mount Weather a secret. Though Clarke seems to regret not warning her friends about the Mount Weather-launched missile that takes on Tondc, it’s unclear if she would change her decision given the chance. This is The 100’s main character, people.
That time Jaha sacrificed a teenager to a sea monster to save himself.
Jaha has always been one to sacrifice the few for the many, but there’s something particularly terrible about the way he fed a Sky Teen to a hungry sea monster in order to save himself, Murphy, and his precious mission to The City of Light. It’s these kinds of moves that will keep Jaha from getting re-elected Chancellor, you know?
That time the Mountain Men killed their own people for harboring Sky Teens.
Though there may not be any stereotypical heroes on The 100, there are definitely dudes and ladies who have completely fallen off of the morality bandwagon. One of these dudes is Cage Wallace. When Mountain Men sympathetic to the Sky Teen’s plight start hiding the kids from Cage and his cronies, said cronies start searching the base. When they find Sky Teens, they shoot the Mountain Men who are harboring them.
That time Lexa left the Sky Teens to die to save her own people.
Something "The 100" does incredibly well is represent the moral relativism of "sides." At the end of season 2, Lexa backs out of her alliance with Clarke and the Sky People just as they’re about to attack Mount Weather because she is given a better offer from Mount Weather: abandon the Sky People and we will let your people go. Given the same option, we could see Clarke considering the same thing. And The 100 knows that. There are no "good guys" here. Only loyalties.
That time Clarke murdered Dante Wallace.
Though Dante Wallace's murder may be overshadowed in some ways by Clarke's other actions in the second season finale, it was just as difficult to watch. Though "The 100" initially presented President Wallace as an antagonist to Clarke, he became much more complex as the season continued. In many ways, he was similar to Clarke (and we're not just talking about their shared affinity for fine art). He was a man trying his best to keep his people alive. Clarke’s decision to shoot him to prove to his son that she is serious about killing the rest of Mount Weather if they don’t let her people go is something most shows would never let a protagonist do -- let alone a cute, blonde teenaged girl protagonist. "The 100" is none of those shows.
That time Clarke and Bellamy killed an entire society to save their loved ones.
"The 100" doubles down on its willingness to let its teenaged protagonists do terrible things in the name of saving the ones they love, having Clarke and Bellamy kill every man, woman, and child in Mount Weather to save their people from Cage’s bone marrow harvesting. This includes Maya, the girl who made their continued survival possible. It includes all of the Mountain Men who harbored Sky Teens at risk to their own lives. It includes the many innocent children who called Mount Weather home. This decision isn’t presented as the only option (because there are always other options), but it is presented as necessary if Clarke and Bellamy want to save their loved ones -- and this is an important distinction.
"The 100" doesn’t pretend that its protagonists are heroes. It never glorifies violence, no matter who is perpetuating it or however valid its logic is given the protagonists' goals. Even when "The 100" convinces us that we would probably do the exact same thing in these characters' terrible positions, it never shies away from the unbearable weight of it all.