The 100 season 4 is fast approaching, but after a hotly criticized third season, fans are wondering if we can expect a season 5. Don’t listen to unsubstantiated rumors — here are the actual facts.

The short — and best — answer to the question of whether or not The 100 season 4 will be its last is: We don’t know. No one who is not directly involved in the decision-making process knows, no matter how credible they claim their sources to be.

Earlier today, a rumor about the show’s imminent cancellation made its rounds on social media, and while we don’t usually give this type of unsubstantiated claims much attention, we thought it provided a great opportunity to dive a little into the topic of The 100‘s genuine chances of getting a season 5 pick-up.

Before we move on, I feel obliged to point out that rumors, even those that allegedly come from credible sources, mean very little one way or another in situations like these. Because yes, of course there are rumors — there are always rumors, even for shows that haven’t been ritually sacrificed on social media.

So instead of believing hearsay and unsubstantiated claims, let’s listen to the people who actually know what’s going on — such as co-executive producer Aaron Ginsburg:

But what does the future of The 100 look like beyond season 4? Let’s take a closer look.

Could ‘The 100′ season 4 be the series’ last?

The 100 Octavia

Uncertainties around the CW series’ future stems largely from its social media roasting, which has been ongoing since the death of Lexa in March of this year. Responses to the problematic death, which we have covered extensively, ranged from hurt to angry to downright furious, and coordinated efforts were made to pull the show off the air.

One of the program’s sponsors, Maybelline, even announced that it would “no longer advertise on that show” in response to a number of requests, although according to Variety, it has not pulled any ad dollars from the network, has made no further statements, and deleted its tweets about the issue.

Certainly, season 4 may be The 100‘s last — and might have been its last anyway, even if the controversy had not happened.

After all, although the dystopian teen drama has a strong presence (for better or worse) online, its ratings have always been modest, although it should be noted that the series has one of the lowest season-to-season dropoff rates, and Mark Pedowitz has intimated it as “an unbelievable performer in delayed viewing and digital streaming.”

Compared to other CW series, The 100‘s ratings fall squarely in the middle. Not taking delayed viewing and streaming into account, The 100 averaged 1.326 million viewers last season, which is just below iZombie. Unsurprisingly, the network’s top performers are its superhero shows (and the network’s sci-fi staple, Supernatural), with The Flash leading at 3.5 million.

Its average (by this network’s standards) ratings doesn’t actually tell us anything about its renewal chances, however, as all the series that performed worse than The 100 last season, including Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with 0.9 million, were also renewed.

The CW relies less on ratings and more on community than perhaps any other network — so perhaps the better question to ask is whether The 100‘s brand is damaged enough to warrant cancellation, or if it still has a positive impact on The CW’s overall image.

Is ‘The 100’ hurting The CW’s brand?

The 100 season 3 episode 9 Kane Lincoln Sinclair

Since Lexa’s death, a very vocal online community has been working tirelessly to make the world believe The 100 is the epitome of everything wrong with entertainment today: It’s racist, it’s sexist, it’s homophobic, it’s harmful in every possible way you could think of.

These claims, thrown at audiences and advertisers alike, intentionally isolate moments in the show that can be considered harmful to hurt the show’s overall brand, ideally leaving The CW with no other choice but to rid itself on the stain on its (supposedly) otherwise progressive, socially conscious image.

But if The CW was going to pull the show off the air for killing Lexa (which would have been incredibly hypocritical, as the network didn’t see the backlash coming any more than the writers did), they would have done so already. What the network has to consider is not whether the people calling for the show to get cancelled are going to continue their efforts, because they most certainly will, but what the repercussions of giving into their demands would be.

For one, critics might start taking a closer look at the network’s other programming, which can just as easily be deemed offensive by the court of social media if the tide turns that way. After all, this is the network whose four top shows have white, straight male leads; only one series, Jane the Virgin, has a predominantly non-white cast; Supernatural is repeatedly accused of misogyny (and, incidentally, killing its gays); Arrow methodically fridges its female characters; The Vampire Diaries doubled down on KYG and killed two lesbians at once; even top performer The Flash should be penalized for its treatment of Iris West.

This is not to say that any of those factors warrant a show’s cancellation, or even social media smear campaigns. But no show — especially no CW show — is perfect, and clearly, the network is not in the business of micro-managing its showrunners to make sure they don’t offend anyone.

‘The 100’ is still one of The CW’s most diverse series

The 100 Raven Monty

Yes, one can choose to spin The 100 as a show that constantly makes mistakes with regards to representation, and there is proof of several instances where it genuinely perpetuates harmful tropes.

On the other hand, The 100 is also currently one of the only CW shows with an LGBT lead.

By numbers alone, The 100 is one of the network’s most diverse series, even after killing off Lexa and Lincoln: Only two of its 10 current main characters (Clarke, Octavia, Bellamy, Monty, Jasper, Raven, Murphy, Jaha, Abby, and Kane) are straight white males, one of whom is Jasper Jordan, one of TV’s only male characters openly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In fact, the show offers layered representations of both mental and physical disabilities. Also important to consider is its multitude of strong, complex and competent women, from the pragmatic leader Clarke and her mother, a doctor, to the scientist Raven and the fierce but pathologically unstable warrior Octavia.

This is not to dismiss the genuine issues that have been raised about the series, but to point out that The CW is aware of all of this, too. If the network chooses to cancel The 100 because of its missteps, it is also cancelling a series that has several LGBT characters, consistently employs actors from diverse backgrounds, including the male lead, and provides strong roles for women.

Some might argue that The 100‘s faults outweigh the importance of keeping characters like Raven, Monty, Miller and Bellamy on TV, and I’m not here to argue against that. But it’s important to be aware that The CW will be taking all of these factors into consideration if they indeed base their decision about whether or not to renew The 100 on diversity-related issues.

Will ‘The 100’ be renewed for season 5?

The 100 Indra

Realistically, there is a definite possibility that The CW is considering wrapping The 100 up after season 4, sending it off quietly rather than allowing it to continue in the knowledge that a vocal group of activists fighting for better diversity on TV have chosen to make an example out of the series and will continue to call for its cancellation regardless of how the story develops.

On a business level, however, there is no practical reason for Mark Pedowitz to finalize any decision about the show’s future before season 4 begins, since he is reportedly happy with the show’s progress, and Jason Rothenberg already has ideas about season 5.

At the very least, The CW would want to see how season 4 performs before committing to a decision. And since they will probably be expecting a ratings drop-off and continued criticism of the season 3 controversies, the decision of whether to cancel or renew The 100 must logically come down to the actual quality of storytelling — especially since Mark Pedowitz does not believe that the online fallout has any bearing on the quality of the show itself.

“My take on this is, that was much more of a social media reaction and how Jason handled the social media reaction,” Pedowitz said at the TCAs this summer, adding, “I think [Rothenberg] got a great learning curve of what social media can do whether you be adored or hated at any given time.”

Pedowitz believes in the series that blew audiences away when it premiered in 2014, enthusing at the same event that, “I just love that show.” As such, it would seem premature to make a decision about the series’ future until he — and the audience at large — gets a sense of whether season 4 will mark a return to the strong quality of storytelling the series is capable of, or whether it will be a repeat of the admittedly flawed third season.

The 100 Murphy

While Pedowitz has been clear about leaving the creative decision in the hands of his showrunners, there’s no doubt that if Rothenberg wants a season 5 renewal — and him noting at SDCC that he was feeling “very good” about season 5 would imply that he does — he has to steer clear of any major controversies, while still staying true to his vision and telling the story he wants to tell.

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have undoubtedly led the charge in terms of ‘gritting up’ TV dramas; the somewhat shallow assumption that bloodier = better clearly factored into the decision to make The 100 season 3 so dark and depressing, and the almost back-to-back slayings of Lexa and Lincoln were likely done in the belief that critics and audiences would be positively surprised that The 100 would ‘dare’ to go there.

Clearly, this was not the case; The 100 is not Game of Thrones, and audiences hold it to different moral standards. While The 100 should not compromise its ruthless format (making it a bland teen drama would be a huge mistake), toning it down a few notches for what is being touted as a more “intimate” season 4 might just ensure the show’s survival.

Thus, if Rothenberg can resist killing a fan favorite for at least the first third of the season, focusing on deep, intricate character drama (how will they face their impending doom?) rather than non-stop death and torture (all doom, all the time), there is no reason to assume The 100 won’t be brought back for season 5.

After all, after the publicity mess that The 100 season 3 caused, the best case scenario for Mark Pedowitz and The CW would be for the series to rise from the ashes, as it were, proving that it still has great stories to tell, and that the decision to renew it for season 4 was the right one.

‘The 100’ season 3 hits Netflix on November 16

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