If last week’s episode of The 100 planted a rotten seed that threatened to grow and infect an otherwise rich and rewarding season so far, this week’s episode, the wonderfully titled “Watch The Thrones,” sees that seed taking root, branching out, and indeed starting to infect the stronger portions of this show. One thing needs to be clear right off the bat: what The 100 is exploring with Clarke, Lexa, and the alliance between the Sky People and the Grounders is remarkable, some of the best material the show has ever delivered. It’s thematically complex and thoughtful, with Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey turning in truly outstanding performances. The strength and nuance of the storytelling on display within Lexa and Clarke’s combined storyline surely elevates the show, but it also serves to highlight just how frustratingly simplistic and contrived much of tonight’s episode is.
“Watch The Thrones” kicks into high gear immediately, with Queen Nia officially declaring a vote of no confidence in Lexa, a vote backed by a few ambassadors within the 13 clans. Of course, Nia doesn’t know she doesn’t have a unanimous vote, considering the Sky People were just added as the 13th clan, meaning that the only way Nia can challenge Lexa’s rule is through combat. Lexa accepts, and while Nia chooses her son Roan as her champion, Lexa makes a bold stand and chooses to fight for herself. What follows is a politically engaged and dramatically tense build to a duel between Lexa and Roan. It’s The 100 at its best, as the story of Lexa fighting to regain her respect as Commander encapsulates themes of identity, power, and assimilation, three themes that sit at the very core of this season.
It’s a storyline built on political maneuvering and emotional responses. For Lexa, all she has are her people, and she’ll do anything to protect them. The biggest threat to the Grounders is Ice Nation, not only because they have a substantial army, but also because they’re often seen as a faction of the Grounders—later, when Pike organizes his uprising, he does so under the idea that the Grounders and Ice Nation are one and the same, and should each be treated as hostile enemies. There’s a lot riding on Lexa’s fight with Roan; she has Indra gathering an army to protect the Sky People against Ice Nation and she needs to forge a peace at all costs after the attack on Mount Weather. If not, tensions will certainly escalate and neither the Grounders nor Sky People can afford another war.
The emotional response comes in the form of Clarke, who first tries to get Roan to take over as King of Ice Nation, then, after he suggests a plan, tries to poison Nia before her son’s battle with Lexa. Clarke is finally back on good terms with Lexa and both are working towards creating peace, and she’ll do anything to keep Lexa in her life because it’s better for her and her people. The payoff comes in the form of Lexa being in control all along. In a thrilling combat sequence, Lexa fights back and takes down Roan, only to turn and throw her spear through Nia’s chest. “The Queen is dead! Long live the King!” she screams, anointing Roan as the new leader of the Ice Nation. Considering that Roan was on the outs with his mother, the hope is that he’s able to seize back control of Ice Nation and therefore create a peace that was being blocked by Nia and her militaristic ways.
Smart, patient storytelling makes that payoff mean something, both in terms of plot and character development. The same can’t be said for the rest of the episode—Jasper is at least starting to reckon with his demons, but I’m not talking about that portion of the episode. Last week I expressed some reservations about how the show handled the attack on Mount Weather. Specifically, I took issue with the way the show disregarded Bellamy’s character development in order to create tension, while also using Gina as an expendable body to instill some moral conflict. If those elements were troubling last week, they’re downright toxic this week.
Bellamy hands in his jacket to Kane, saying he blames himself for the deaths at Mount Weather and that he can’t protect his people. It’s a semi-reasonable response, but what follows stretches credibility and disappointingly undercuts Bellamy’s character arc. Essentially, Pike organizes an uprising. When he hears that there’s a Grounder army not too far from Arkadia—the peacekeeping force led by Indra, ordered by Lexa—he goes on a mission to take them out. He visits with Bellamy and fills his head with propaganda. He says that the whole Mount Weather attack happened because “they trusted a Grounder” and that “the Grounders out there will attack this camp.” It’s somewhat understandable that Pike would think this way, but the rapidity with which Bellamy agrees is frustrating. He agrees to find guns for Pike’s men and sets out with them one night to attack Indra’s army.
Thankfully, Lincoln, Kane, and Abby stop them at the entrance to Arkadia. That only emboldens Pike though, as he says he was doing what Kane didn’t have the guts to do as he’s being arrested. Next thing you know, one of Pike’s men is saying he should be on the election ballot, and then after one night in jail he’s elected. He pardons himself and his people and then takes up arms again, leaving, with Bellamy in tow, to “finish what he started” with the Grounders.
Bellamy’s sudden change in character is troubling enough as it is—it’s a lazy bit of storytelling that ignores his entire meaningful character arc in order to create conflict where none existed before—but the larger issue may lie outside of Bellamy. As frustrating as it is to see Bellamy’s character development completely abandoned, what’s more exasperating is the fact that The 100 shows so little patience and nuance in terms of telling the story of Pike and his uprising. For one, the story of tension between the Sky People and the Grounders has been done (really well!) before, so Pike’s over-the-top reactions and hostility towards the Grounders feels like a pointless retread. Then there’s the fact that the whole plot seems to have a rocket strapped to it. In a matter of minutes Pike recruits Bellamy, a man who’s learned to trust the Grounders time and again, for his attack against the Grounders, gets thrown in jail, wins the election in a blowout apparently (why does everyone hate Kane, or the Grounders, all of a sudden? ), and sets back out on his mission to destroy Indra’s gathering army.
There’s no substantial exploration of why all of these things play out the way they do—it’s particularly egregious that the show just skips right past the election and Arkadia’s sudden opposition to Kane—and that’s infuriating because it’s so unlike The 100. This is a show that has, time and again, shown how great genre/sci-fi TV can be by practicing tremendous patience in terms of storytelling and paying serious attention to character motivation and development. With half of “Watch The Thrones,” The 100 throws so much of that away, instead choosing to cut corners in the name of creating contrived conflict, and all while abandoning Bellamy’s significant character arc.
- “Issue the challenge and let’s get on with it.” Never change, Lexa.
- Oh man, that scene where Clarke changes Lexa’s bandage while they both wear flowing post-apocalyptic robes is going to light Tumblr up.
- Maybe Jasper spilling Finn’s ashes will finally knock him out of his spiral.
- For two straight weeks there’s been no plot about the City of Light, which is also a problem. I understand that it’s not the strongest subplot, but the mystery of it provides a nice balance to everything else going on.
- More on the Pike uprising storyline: we’ve been here with Lincoln before, where he’s an untrusted Grounder. No need to go down that road again.
- Going to take up my mantle again and say that “float” is a terrible substitute for an actual curse word. Monty’s passionate “float you” completely robbed his scene with Jasper of all its emotional tension.
- “Sir, you should be on the ballot tomorrow.” That’s called exposition and it’s terrible.
- Well that explains the whole Nightbloods thing.