The following interview contains details from The 100’s episode, “Thirteen,” which aired Thursday. Don’t read until you’ve watched the episode.
Prior to season 3, The 100 showrunner Jason Rothenberg approached Tree Adams — who had previously worked on Californication, Legends, and Sirens — to recruit him to compose more “cinematic material.” Although Rothenberg was happy with the music from the first two seasons, he wanted to work on creating themes that would delineate regions, groups, and characters.
Adams explains, “We keep going back to this idea that we’re going to use the same box of crayons, but we are going to try to create a little bit more of a complicated construct to help underscore some of the mythology.” And that’s what they’re doing for season 3, as the mythology keeps expanding.
He describes the music of The 100 as “a mixture of Mad Max and Middle Earth,” music that has a “lot of grit to it.” And for episode “Thirteen,” Adams was tasked with using this “gritty” music to score some of the series’ most emotional moments yet: Not only did he have to score the world ending, but he also had to score a Clexa sex scene and Lexa’s death (which, let’s be honest, may as well be the world ending for many 100 fans).
Here, Adams talks about his approach for writing music for The 100 and how he approached the big moments from Thursday’s episode.
What’s different about creating music for The 100?
Every moment is super high stakes. There’s no filler — and that is a challenge, but it’s also a lot of fun.
How closely do you work with Jason when you’re writing the music?
We get together before every episode to spot the episode and talk about what story beats we want to land and what arcs we may want to tie together. I have a lot of different themes that we reprise, whether they be character-specific or relationship-specific. We have this one “heroic” theme that we reprise a lot, and sometimes we do a darker version of it. Some of those themes are built on a melodic motif that will evolve over time throughout the story.
Tell me about Clarke and Lexa’s “theme.”
I like Clarke/Lexa music because it has a lot of emotion in it. Essentially, I felt like their relationship was like this melodic figure that was what I described as carefully circling itself. It’s this motif that was sort of guarded and careful, but yet it was still elegant and romantic in a way. It was a motif that I could imbue with danger and conflict and a motif that I could also make romantic. I think that’s a really interesting combination to have in one melody.
Was the Clarke/Lexa theme playing during Lexa’s death?
It goes to its own new place, but the Clarke and Lexa theme (or the “Clexa” theme, as they say) is there. I’m reprising that melody. I’m doing that all throughout, and then I go into some new places, because it needs to accommodate that level of tragedy. It a big moment for fans, so we need to match the high stakes that they’re going to be feeling.
Also high stakes in episode “Thirteen”: the end of the world. When the people of Polaris are watching the missiles end the world, the music is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.
That was a super powerful scene, no doubt. That is our tragic theme that we reprise, which is basically a variation on our heroic theme. This scene is the beginning of the whole mythology … and it’s all the backstory, so it’s so rich. It was a great opportunity for me to drop in some of the thematic material that we’ve been laying. In terms of the actual beats, I start real slow — because there’s a lot of really good camera work circling around the reactions, the performances the actors are doing are great, and we can kind of just let them carry the moment. Then we follow the emotion, and we swell, and eventually we get this incredibly powerful moment where you’re just watching the world blow up.
The 100 airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.