Warning: The following contains spoilers for season 5 of The 100. Read at your own risk!
Thelonious Jaha (Isaiah Washington) has had plenty of brushes with death before, from his crash-landing on Earth via a missile to his time as an acolyte of the deadly artificial intelligence A.L.I.E. (Erica Cerra). In fact, the former chancellor began the series as the target of an assassination attempt, barely making it back to his council alive.
But Jaha, after five seasons, has finally met his end. In the second episode of season 5, which saw how Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) rose to power in the Bunker over the six years since Praimfaya, Jaha gets caught in the middle of the battle for the Bunker’s dwindling resources at the farm. Wounded, he helps Octavia find a way to open the door that Skaikru had closed against everyone else, and then uses his final moments to advise her on how to unite the warring clans into Wonkru. After all, he knows he has little time left. All he can do is apologize to her for the difficult life she led on the Ark under his watch, and, more importantly, challenge her to think of herself as not just a warrior, but a commander.
“On the Ark, we made death an enemy,” he tells her. “That’s how we survived. Anyone or anything who pushed us closer to death was eliminated.” Which is why, he explains, sacrifices had to be made — sacrifices including her mother. “So now,” Jaha concludes, “you know what it takes to lead.” By the time Abby (Paige Turco) and Kane (Henry Ian Cusick) reach him, Jaha’s on his last breath, and in his final scene, he asks to be taken “home,” to his family, to Wells.
It’s a quiet death for a character who had been with The 100 since the very beginning, and who exits with a lesson for the next generation’s commander-in-chief: that leaders must be prepared to give up the few for the good of the many. Showrunner Jason Rothenberg spoke with EW before the episode aired to break down Jaha’s death and what it means for the future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jaha is the first major casualty of the season. Why was it important to end his story the way you did, with him sacrificing himself and making sure Octavia found a way to unite the people?
JASON ROTHENBERG: I had two goals for his departure: I wanted him to go out a hero. I wanted people to be moved by his death and not cheer his death. I think Jaha was a character who, partly because Isaiah has been so riveting and magnetic as a performer, was kind of controversial in a sense that he was not all good. He was driven and obsessed and needed to do what was right for his people all the time.
I wanted to be true to that with his death, which I think we were, but I also wanted to make sure that it was heroic and emotional, and not have him go out as a villain sealing the Bunker or something. I wanted to make sure that we were able to generate emotional pathos as opposed to cheering when he died. That was important to me. I think we did that.
It’s a very muted death scene. What went into the decision to have him spend his final scenes with Octavia?
Well, to me, the most fascinating part of it is — and it has resonance for the rest of the season — that he shows Octavia what it really means to lead. She then takes that forward, which is another fascinating thing: A lot of people were speculating that Octavia would kill Jaha, and I think they’ll be surprised that they actually team up in the episode.
He does pass on his wisdom to her in their final moments. Anything you can tease on how that’ll resonate going forward?
Octavia is the character I’m most curious about the audience reaction to. … Because of the time jump, I think everybody is primed to [change]. Six years is a long time. It’s far longer than we’ve known them for, so have an open mind to the fact that they’ve changed a lot in six years.
Going into the season, we knew that Isaiah wasn’t going to be a series regular. So how did he react to having to say goodbye to his character this season, and so soon into it?
His last day was very emotional. I was on set for it — and I’m not on set a lot in between the premiere and the finale because there’s so much writing to do — but for that I went so I could be there to say goodbye and thank you. It’s such an emotional scene, I wanted to make sure it was right. I think he really loved the script, and he obviously loved Jaha.
And Isaiah’s been a great partner, he’s been nothing but a joy to work with. I look forward to seeing what he does next, and I look forward to seeing the reactions. I think some people will be surprised when he dies. I know lots of people love him, but he was a controversial character.
The 100 airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on the CW.