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February 17, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST

The 100 is not a love story. But while the plot of The CW’s gritty post-apocalyptic sci-fi series may be more concerned with the war on Earth, the show has won praise from critics (and fervent hashtagging from fans) for identifying its heroine, Clarke (Eliza Taylor), as bisexual, ever since she shared a kiss with Grounder leader Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) in season 2. 

And with that kiss and showrunner Jason Rothenberg’s subsequent confirmation of her sexuality, Clarke became the network’s first openly bisexual lead — a move that helped the drama, now in its third season, transform from a shaky midseason debut into a worldwide Twitter trending topic. “It was a huge turning point,” Taylor recalls. “The introduction of Lexa and [of] Clarke’s bisexuality definitely gained a lot of respect [from critics] for pushing boundaries, which I think is kind of ridiculous, [because] that shouldn’t be pushing boundaries in this day and age.”

Rothenberg sees it that way as well. To him, writing Clarke as bisexual didn’t come from wanting to appeal to LGBT fans, to push certain viewers’ buttons, or to deliver a message about civil rights. The decision — and the later identification of other characters, like Nathan Miller (Jarod Joseph), as gay — was simply world-building, and solely within the world of The 100.

“Sexual orientation fits in the same place that gender identity and racial identity fits within the world of our show,” he tells EW. “The characters in the show are not concerned with those things. They are only concerned with whether they are going to live and die. … Nobody ever classifies anybody, as in, ‘She’s a woman leader,’ or, ‘He’s a gay soldier.’ It’s just not in our show’s vocabulary.”

RELATED VIDEO: The 100 season 3 trailer

“I understand the importance of labels in the world that we live in,” he adds, “so I also feel like depicting this universe where these things no longer matter is the way I wish our world was.”

Still, even though characters on The 100 couldn’t care less about their own sexuality, viewers do. An active tweeter, Rothenberg has noticed fans’ enthusiasm for certain pairings (or “ships,” as in relationships) portrayed on screen. He takes part in some of the hashtagging, but says he’s careful not to be swayed — whether that means pushing against or advocating for #Clexa. “I never think about, ‘Well, I really need to service people that want to see these two people together,’ ” Rothenberg says. “The shipping phenomenon is kind of a double-edged sword in that people are really passionate, and it drives them to watch the show, [but] I don’t like what it does when it pits various groups against each other. … It’s unusual. It’s a new thing for me to be observing.”

But for Taylor, Clarke’s sexuality doesn’t pose any problems: Just being the face of one of the few openly bisexual leads on TV is rewarding enough. “People want to be loved and need connection to survive in this world, and whether that comes from a man or a woman doesn’t really matter,” she says. “I think that was just a really lovely thing to hear and a really lovely thing to play.”

The 100 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.

A version of this story appeared in Entertainment Weekly issue #1403-1404, on newsstands now or available digitally here.

After a nuclear apocalypse, a group of people who have been living in space return to Earth—and quickly learn they’re not alone.
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03/19/14
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