Sometimes, in the business of television, it’s necessary to kill off characters. In the case of the 100, actress Alycia Debnam-Carey, who played the fearsome fan favorite Commander Lexa, had been booked as a series lead on another show on a competing network, and thus the showrunners were faced with a conundrum — how to write off this popular, rather integral character from the show in a way that moved the story forward?
They settled on death, of course, but wanted to maximize the impact.
So Lexa was allowed to make plans with the woman she clearly felt a romantic connection with, an enemies to lovers, Romeo and Juliet-esque on opposite sides of a war Clarke Griffin. Lexa and Clarke make plans to unite their warring peoples against a greater threat, and begin to spend more time with each other with their guards lowered.
Eventually, they spend one perfect night together, and wake up laughing together the next morning. They know that not everyone is going to be on board, and there will be a great fight ahead to convince their peoples to lay down arms after so much bloodshed, but they are ready to fight for the greater good, together.
But Lexa’s lieutenant was one of the people who disapproved, and when he tries to kill Clarke, Lexa is struck by the bullet instead. Lexa slowly bleeds out while Clarke holds her hand, and the sun sets on the same day that they woke up with such great hopes together.
The showrunner has gone on record as saying this was intended to be a reflection of the ultimate fragility of life. In practice, it allowed them to help Alycia Debnam-Carey exit to her new show, Fear the Walking Dead, with no strings attached, and plenty of drama to explore with Clarke left behind to deal with the rug being pulled out from under her.
Now was Lexa’s death, strictly speaking, a fridging? It was senseless, and served to spur her lover Clarke to act in anger and grief, but it was no more than anything the already severely morally grey Clarke had already done to survive — a count which included poisoning a bunker filled with innocent people, including children, to save her people.
The 100 was a darker show that sought to explore challenging concepts and survival situations with no good answer, and how the characters dealt with the fallout. A common refrain in the seasons leading up to Lexa’s death was how hard Clarke tried to “be the good guy” and how utterly shattering it was when she was forced to sacrifice and make the hard decision again, and again, and again.
Which was why it was so jarring and cruel for the show to kill off Lexa, with whom she had just consummated a slow-burn relationship, and seemed poised to help shoulder the guilt and hard choices that Clarke had been dealing with. In that context, and within the overarching narrative of the story, I have to admit that Lexa’s death worked as a story beat and the showrunner’s hands were tied. Alycia Debnam-Carey was leaving the show. Lexa had to go. In a world like The 100, their easiest option was to kill her off — though the fact that Alycia Debnam-Carey came back for a few guest starring roles puts some weight in the they didn’t need to kill her column.
But kill her they did, and fans reacted, in a word, negatively.
Where the anger comes is in how they did it. This may not have been a fridging — I would say on a technicality, if I’m being generous — but it was a textbook case of another problematic trope: Bury Your Gays.
The trope works similarly to fridging, in that it is more about the shock value gotcha than the easy storybeat. Typically, a queer character will happily enter into some form of relationship — in this case, a homosexual one — and either immediately after consummation or some other milestone like the first “I love you” or their first anniversary, one of the happy couple will be killed off. Usually it is sudden, such as Tara’s death in Buffy from a random stray bullet meant for someone else or Lexa’s sudden death from a random stray bullet meant for someone else (surprise, surprise there’s a pattern to lesbians’ deaths). The remaining character then is left adrift to have a breakdown over their death, given an excuse to act more evilly and brutally, and the cycle continues.
One of the reasons Lexa’s death had such a ripple effect through the community was likely the fact that her murder was steeped in hatred for her being with Clarke — and though the show handwaved and said it was what Clarke represented, not Clarke herself, the framing still feels more like blatant homophobia. It was not the parallel that the showrunners were trying to make, and one can only hope that if they intended to explore such a topic they might have approached it with more grace.
For many, myself included, Lexa’s hastily handled death was the breaking point and last straw of a show that seemed in hindsight to be running itself in circles. The 100 continued on for many, many seasons after this, and would run into more trouble for how they killed off characters and the treatment of their actors.
For Lexa’s death, her demise seemed to strike a cord in the public consciousness, and the Lexa Pledge, a written pledge for tv writers to treat LGBTQ+ characters with respect, gained some traction. Time will tell how much of an impact Lexa’s death will have, but as of right now she’s just one of a long line of lesbian characters to be murdered just as she found happiness.