The 100 creator breaks down that series finale ending and explains 'the moral of the story'
"We were definitely aiming for people walking away feeling uplifted," Jason Rothenberg tells EW.
Warning: This article contains spoilers about the series finale of The 100, "The Last War."
For the first and last time simultaneously, The 100 actually gave its main characters a (sort of) happy ending.
By the end of the series finale, "The Last War," Clarke (Eliza Taylor), Raven (Lindsey Morgan), Murphy (Richard Harmon), and the rest of the (few) remaining juvenile delinquents who were sent down to Earth in the very first episode finally found themselves together, alive, and with no more wars to fight. As the music swelled in the background, everyone hugged and smiled. But since this is The 100, that "happy ending" also included the rest of the human race basically ceasing to exist. This show still has to stay on brand!
So how did we get here? Clarke killed Cadogan (John Pyper-Ferguson) while he was taking the "test" to see if the human race was ready for transcendence (aka the next step of evolution/joining a higher state of consciousness), and the test couldn't be stopped once it started. So the judge of the test, who was in the form of Cadogan's daughter Callie (Iola Evans, reprising her role from the prequel episode), changed into the person Clarke loved the most: Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Clarke was then forced to finish the test on behalf of the human race to save them from extinction, but since she murdered someone during the test, the Lexa avatar told her that she failed.
With the human race on the verge of being wiped out as a result, Raven stepped in to appeal the decision as the judge changed into who she loved the most: Abby (Paige Turco). And with Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) giving an inspirational speech to the warring Grounders and Disciples, stopping the battle before it ended in massive losses, the judge decided the human race was ready, and reversed its decision and all humans transcended, meaning everyone became golden beams of light and found peace. Only the living could transcend, and so that meant even Madi (Lola Flannery) could get her happy ending despite what Cadogan did to her in the previous episode. In a cruel twist of fate, it also meant that Bellamy (Bob Morley), the only member of the 100 who actually believed in transcendence and who died at Clarke's hands just a few episodes ago, did not get to transcend.
The other person who couldn't transcend? Clarke. Because she had failed the test, and to show that her actions have consequences, she was left behind on an abandoned planet. All alone, facing the rest of her life without any other human beings to keep her company, she used the stones to travel back to Earth to make a new, lonely life for herself. But the Lexa avatar returned to explain that people have the choice of whether or not they transcend, and all her friends chose to stay behind on Earth with her so she wouldn't be alone. It meant they wouldn't be able to have any kids (because they're the last of the human race) and they would only have each other for the rest of their lives and they couldn't transcend after they die, but they were alive, together, and finally able to live in peace. They all decided that exchange was worth it for Clarke.
So before trading the last "may we meet again" now that the show is over, let The 100 creator Jason Rothenberg (who made his directorial debut with the series finale) breaks down what that ending means, why he wanted to end the show that way, all those shocking character returns, and more below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were you trying to say with that ending, as all our favorite characters choose to stay on Earth with Clarke instead of transcending?
JASON ROTHENBERG: We wanted the moral of the story to be, simply stated, "Until we stop fighting, we're doomed." Until we stop killing each other in the name of country or tribe or even family, we're doomed to keep repeating that cycle of violence. And once we do and we link arms and we realize we're all in this together, then we can get to whatever comes next. In this case, it's transcendence. That was the moral of the story. Clarke doesn't get the gift of transcendence because of her actions; her actions have a cost, as the Lexa avatar said to her on the beach. Like Moses not getting to go into the promised land, she's going to be alone – until she sees her friends. We thought that it was the most beautiful way to say found family is important. They know that Clarke sacrificed so much for them, gave up so much of herself for them, that they were not going to let her be by herself. They are foregoing whatever transcendence is, they're giving that up to be together. As dark as the show has been at times, I feel like the ending – and I always say I was not trying to make people feel good most of the time and the show is not a show that was supposed to bring you joy, it's supposed to move you and make you feel sad or angry even – but here we were definitely aiming for people walking away feeling uplifted.
Why have all the main characters make that choice except for Clarke's daughter Madi?
Lexa on the beach, she says that Madi knew that Clarke would not want her to come back and be the only child. They're not going to have children, this is the last generation, they can't have offspring. And so, as a mother, Clarke would have obviously preferred for her daughter to transcend and go to whatever the next journey/adventure/whatever it is, it's obviously something special and unique and beautiful, as opposed to staying on the ground with her. That choice was made easier for Madi by the fact that Clarke wasn't going to be alone.
Was this always your original idea for how to end the show?
I can't really remember that we ever had the details of an ending. I always wanted to have it have the moral of the story be told, which is what I just told you. So however that was going to manifest, that was going to be the takeaway. And of course, as the world expanded and we went to another planet and we met other characters and we started exploring the universe via the interstellar subway system of the stones, the details of how we got there obviously changed. But the point was always going to be that.
Now let’s talk about some of the returning faces we saw in the finale – Lexa, Abby, and Callie. Did you always know you were going to have them come back for cameos?
It happened organically, for sure. Once we settled on what the rules of the test were, the idea that the judge takes the form of a person's greatest love, greatest teacher, or greatest enemy, then it became clear that it was going to be Callie for Cadogan, Lexa was my first choice for Clarke, and fortunately, Alycia agreed to come back and do it, and Abby obviously would've been for Clarke as well if Alycia hadn't agreed to come back. But it also made perfect sense that when we knew Raven was going to be the one to come in and appeal the verdict once Clarke failed, that relationship was so important to Raven that there was a beauty to that being her person too. The decisions were dictated by who was going to face the judges and what the rules of the test are.
Were there any other characters you wanted back for the finale as well but it didn’t work out because of scheduling or other issues?
When we landed on what the rules were, it was about who those special people would be. We'd already played Dad [Chris Browning], we already had Monty [Christopher Larkin] come back in a really special way, we'd already played a few of those cards in a previous season. So no, there was never anybody that we wanted to come back and didn't come back.
What about Bellamy? After his shocking death a few episodes back, did you ever consider having him back in the finale as well?
For me, it was Lexa all the way. When that idea came up in the room, it was one of those moments where, it doesn't happen very often, there was unanimity of excitement. Then it was about getting her to agree to come back. And we couldn't have Bellamy return in the end, because the rules of transcendence were only the living shall transcend. And so, unfortunately, he died short of that finish line, so he couldn't be there in the end, which is another tragic realization for Octavia certainly in the finale.
So why did you want to kill Bellamy in the way that you did when the show was so close to giving all the characters some kind of a happy ending?
Bellamy's storyline changed hugely this season as a result of needing to give Bob time at the beginning of the season. Everything kind of downhill was affected by that, including the ending. You want the decisions to always be driven creatively, and certainly when it comes to character deaths. Sometimes unfortunately though we have to react to situations outside of the writing, outside of the creative. That's not necessarily the case for him, but definitely, over the course of seven years, lots of characters died, and sometimes it was out of our control and we made the best of it.
Now that The 100 is over, do you have any updates on the potential prequel series?
All I can really say about the prequel is that conversations are ongoing. I'm hoping to be able to continue this universe because I feel like it's so rich and there is so much story to tell. But the discussions are far, far above my pay grade at the moment. The same day you find out is when I’ll find out.
Where do you see Clarke and co. going in the future now that they’ve all reunited on Earth and are starting a new life for themselves?
We're leaving them together, making that choice to stay together and live out their days peacefully. There's no one left to fight with. Jokingly, I suppose I could see like 70-year-old Murphy and 70-year-old Clarke are in like a blood feud and everybody else is lined up one one side or the other, except they're too old to really do any damage to each other. [Laughs] But truthfully the ending is supposed to imply that it's not happily ever after, but it's certainly peacefully ever after.
What are you most proud of, looking back on the entire series?
The legacy of the show, that we were bold, we pulled no punches, we told big stories, we had kickass female characters, and one of the most diverse casts on television. I'm proud that the show will exist and that people can discover it now in streaming. Hopefully, when it's consumed in a binge all at once, some of the things that perhaps didn't work for people will work better for the audience as they're coming to it consuming the entire series in two weeks rather than over seven years. It's bittersweet to come to the ending of something that has occupied such a huge part of my life for as long as the show has. It's been a long ride, we rode it to the end, and that's great but it's sad at the same time.
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