Right from the start, today’s The 100 panel at Wondercon 2016 addressed the still-lingering elephant in the room: the death of lesbian character Lexa, played by Alycia Debnam-Carey, that enraged fans of the CW’s hit series three weeks ago. Viewers blasted the moment as falling into the “Bury Your Gays” or “Dead Lesbian Syndrome” tropes in which gay characters are treated as expendable and killed off, often in ways that seem to imply their sexuality led directly to their ends. To that, Rothenberg began the panel discussing that reaction. Reiterating statements from the public apology he gave on the matter earlier this week, he said in part that “we as artists and writers and actors, we don’t want to hurt people,” and that “knowing what I know now I would have done some things differently.”
“The reaction has obviously been surprising to us and to me in particular. I didn’t ever imagine that it would be so intense. We designed it to be a ride we designed it be emotional of course, the show’s a tragedy, horrible things happen in every episode. But this landed in a different way for our audience, especially LGBTQ fans of the show,” he said. “I feel like this touched something real, it touched a nerve, it activated something in people who their whole lives have had to deal with things that me as a straight white guy honestly couldn’t related to, so I was very surprised, I apologize for that. We never really I think understood the power of that relationship and that character. Knowing what I know now I would have done some things differently.”
That doesn’t mean he would have spared Lexa her fate, something he knows won’t sit well with many fans. But he identified three ways he thinks he messed up prior to that moment. First, he noted that “my own social media interactions with fans in some way set up around this relationship and unrealistic expectation that Lexa would be OK, that she’d walk off into the sunset,” he said, adding that at least his intention is that the only real promise he’s made about the series is “that nobody is safe.” But, he believes in his excitement about the response from fans to the relationship between Lexa and Clarke (played by Eliza Taylor), he allowed fans to misinterpret him. “I love the fact that a new audience came to the show because of this relationship. I was excited and in sharing that excitement I was misinterpreted to mean that I was promising a happy ending.”
Rothenberg also said it was a mistake having Lexa’s death come so quickly after a tender sex scene. “I’m definitely uncomfortable with that juxtapostion now. For me at the time, obviously for me the death had nothing to do with the sex. It was a powerful, transformative figure who was killed because she was trying to change her people, that’s always dangerous, as history I think has proven. That’s why she died and that’s why I allowed those [moments] to coexist like that,” he said. “But in hindsight I wish I’d found a way to separate [the moments] somehow.”
Finally, he acknowledged the fact that Lexa was killed by a stray bullet, a fate that was famously given to the lesbian character Tara on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. “A lot of fans said she’s this amazing, powerful character and she should have had a powerful death. On the one hand I get that completely, she was, and I totally believe you when you say that would have made it better for you. But at the same time this show doesn’t traffic in heroic battlefield deaths… I was trying to make a point that life is fragile and someone even as powerful as Lexa could die because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That was the tragedy that I was trying to underline.”
But, he says, had he known about the moment on Buffy, a show he says he never watched, “I would have for creative reasons alone tried to differentiate our execution of that idea. That was for sure something I would have moved the pieces around but tried to make the same point — that life is fragile.”
Again echoing statements made in his previous apology, Rothenberg said the experience was an important teachable moment for him. “It’s opened my eyes in a lot of ways, to the power that stories have in the world, and the responsibilities I have as a storyteller,” he said during the audience Q&A portion of the panel. “I didn’t really understand enough, and now I do. I’m grateful for the experience.”
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