Major character deaths on TV shows have a way of, for the most part, being overblown in their importance. More often than not, a character death doesn’t lead to much change on a TV show. Rather, the death provides an immediate shock, both to the audience and the narrative, and then things move along as planned, with perhaps a few characters mentioning the deceased every few episodes. To its credit, The 100 has proven before, with “Spacewalker,” that it can handle character deaths in a meaningful way, in a way that not only does right by the characters, but also uses the death to move the narrative into interesting places.

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[Spoilers begin here, obviously]. It’s hard to say whether or not tonight’s episode of The 100, and the character death that sits at the heart of it, will be able to change the course of this slightly disappointing season, but on its own, “Thirteen” is a remarkable episode, one that deepens the mythology of The 100 while also delivering on a number of character threads that have been left dangling for much of this season so far. That deepening of mythology begins when the writers choose to flash back 97 years to the moment when A.L.I.E. 1 went rogue and launched a number of nuclear missiles and killed millions of people. It’s a stirring, emotional cold open that fleshes out some details about A.L.I.E. and her creator, Becca, and the story only deepens from there.

It makes sense that, in retrospect, “Thirteen” would begin on such an emotional note, with a scene dominated by death, because so much of this episode is about death and responsibility. As “Thirteen” progresses and we learn more and more about Becca, including her refusal to shut down her research in building A.L.I.E. 2 and her eventual descent to Earth where she becomes the first Commander—the name coming from the label stitched into her space suit—it becomes clear that themes present in Becca’s story are paralleled in Lexa and Clarke’s storyline. After all, Becca’s journey is one of sacrifice, death, and tough choices. She’s forced to choose between recklessly having Polaris join with the Ark, or continuing her research and possibly saving the human race. Clarke and Lexa have faced similar choices in their lives—Clarke is certainly familiar with the idea of sacrificing many people for a potential greater good—but their current dilemma is perhaps one of the most important yet because one wrong decision could lead to war or an uprising from within the 13 clans.

Continuing with the theme of “blood must not have blood,” when Lexa is confronted by Semet with Octavia in captivity, and asked to punish her for her crimes, she refuses. Instead, she orders the 12 clans to send armies to blockade Arkadia, giving Kane and the others time to remove Pike from power and bring peace back to the alliance. Semet isn’t too happy with the decision, so he goes after Lexa, but Titus swiftly kills him. This is the spot Lexa has been put into. She must protect the Sky People, the 13th clan, while also risking an uprising from the other clans and her own people.

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Lexa’s steadiness in the face of such resistance is exactly what makes her one of the better characters on TV, which also makes her late-episode death sting that much more. It’s hard to fault The 100 for going in that direction, especially considering how her death ties in with so many other storylines and ultimately explains, as much as something so mysterious can be explained at this point, the “chips” Jaha has been handing out that offer passage to the City of Light. Still, it’s devastating to see Lexa go, not just because it hurts on an emotional level, and not just because of the slightly ridiculous way she’s killed off, but because Lexa was one of the best written characters on the show; on top of that, it’s certainly frustrating to see one of TV’s prominent lesbian characters written off so hastily. She’s been a strong, complicated, badass character ever since she came on the screen, brought to life by Alycia Debnam-Carey’s stunning, visceral performance, and her steady presence on The 100 will be sorely missed.

If there was a way for Lexa to go out though, tonight’s events certainly do the character justice. She stands by her loyalty to Clarke and her promise of “blood must not have blood,” and even spends a single night making love with Clarke. The two finally share a physically intimate moment, really their first since that kiss last season, and it’s beautifully done. Debnam-Carey and Eliza Taylor have shared remarkable chemistry on screen, and that makes the bond of Lexa and Clarke all the more powerful. Their relationship has always been more than romance, defined instead by strong convictions and a sense of duty, and it’s now up to Clarke to continue in that tradition, even after a new Commander is chosen.

Lexa’s death, and the potential transfer of her “spirit,” brings a restlessness and unpredictability to this season of The 100. For much of this season, the show has struggled to find organic conflict and churn out fresh stories. Lexa’s death and the political turmoil it’s sure to cause helps fix that, as does the revelation that she had the A.I. from Polaris inside of her the whole time. I’m still not sure how that all works—does Lexa bring her own personality to the A.I.? Was Clarke really in love with A.L.I.E. 2? What does this mean for Jaha, Murphy, Raven, and the City of Light?—but it certainly adds depth to the mystery of the A.I. while also fleshing out how the Grounders arrived at their current state of being.

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And really, that backstory informs the present, shedding light on it in new ways. What Lexa is dealing with isn’t just unruly people, but rather people with firmly-held, deeply-rooted beliefs. How does a leader cater to those people while also criticizing and working to change their ways? Lexa understands her people and their beliefs, and yet she knows that change needs to happen. It’s complex thematic territory that uncomfortably resonates in our current political climate.

“Thirteen” really is a stunning episode of television, even if some of the events that paved the way here remain shoddy at best. It’s an episode that, quite remarkably, manages to balance detailed backstory and mythology with genuine emotion and huge dramatic stakes. “Thirteen” goes for broke and it damn well pays off. “Thirteen” isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot closer to the version of The 100 that we all know and love.

Stray observations

  • Another round of applause here for Alycia Debnam-Carey. She nailed it week after week. May we meet again.
  • Like I mentioned above, I’m still not sure how I feel about Lexa’s death, both in how she died and the fact that the character is gone. I’m…conflicted to say the least. What about you? Let’s hear your thoughts.
  • “It’s a corporate logo!” Oh Murphy, you’re not doing yourself any favors.
  • The Octavia-Indra team up at the end had me throwing my fist in the air.
  • “I don’t want the next Commander. I want you.” Ughhhh, my heart.
  • Please send me GIFs of Lexa yelling at Titus until the end of time, thank you.
  • Murphy explaining the ancient Grounder drawings was a great, revelatory moment.
  • No Bellamy or Pike tonight and The 100 delivers its best episode of the season. Just saying.

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