10:26 am EDT, May 4, 2017

‘The 100’ season 4, episode 10 review: Ding dong merrily and die

The 100 pulled off its very own Red Wedding episode with “Die All, Die Merrily,” a spectacle of action and reckless abandon that is sure to shake up the fandom.

Ahem. First, some housekeeping:

ILIAN!!

ROAN!!

LUNA!!

Me:

…Okay, so now that’s out of the way: will I be able to discuss this episode like a rational human being who understands that The 100 is just a work of fiction and that the characters aren’t actually Horcrux-like pieces of my soul slowly being pierced by an ink-sword? Hahahahahahahaha… no. But I’ll do my solid best.

‘Die All, Die Merrily’: ‘The 100’s’ magnum opus

If you’re keeping up with The 100 fandom on social media, you’ll know that “Die All, Die Merrily” wasn’t just hyped up because of its cool title: a lot of the cast and crew have been proclaiming it one of their favorite episodes of the whole series, and having watched it, it’s pretty clear why.

This is The 100‘s most brutal, ruthless episode to date, a technical masterpiece, and a pretty definitive statement of intent for the tone and scope the show is aiming for. It’s the one that will hopefully make casual viewers go “damn, what is this doing on The CW?” (even though I personally adore The CW and think the network branding is a huge part of the series’ charm, but it’s not always about you Selina!), up there with the very best of its cable siblings in terms of production value. It’s the one that Changes Everything™.

The series has always been famous for following through on its gruesome promises, which lesser shows would have swerved around, and “Die All, Die Merrily” gloriously continues that tradition, promising us a conclave with only one survivor, and delivering exactly that. Written by executive producers Aaron Ginsburg and Wade McIntyre, you might even say this episode serves as a manifesto of sorts for what the writers want the show to be at ‘peak 100.’

This is the show at its wildest, most anarchic, and savagely satisfying, while simultaneously delivering some of the strongest non-Raven/Murphy-related character moments of the season. This may have been ‘The 100 goes to the Hunger Games,’ but it was the Hunger Games that killed Peeta, and which didn’t allow its victor the glory of uniting the districts against the Capitol (because the Capitol just locked its doors).

There’s a lot to discuss, not least that final twist; another strong choice for an episode that aimed to challenge, provoke and thrill its fandom — and it certainly accomplished just that.

This episode was PHENOMENAL, and I just want to re-iterate how much of a rush it was from start to finish before I get into the nitty-gritty of it all. Just wow, guys. I am what they call ~shook~.

Octavia Blake: The Girl on Fire

The 100 doesn’t always do character-centric episodes, but when it does… they’re about Octavia.

Her entire story of being neither Skaikru nor Trikru, people-less since losing Lincoln, rejecting her brother and scoffing at being called ‘one of the 100’, finally came to a head this week as she realized that she hasn’t become nothing, but a little bit of everything, her victory very pointedly not coming through superior fighting skills but through her rediscovering and unifying all the non-warrior parts of herself.

Ironically, while Clarke has long tried to force Skaikru and the Grounders to co-exist, Octavia was always the only one who could achieve that same result organically, seeing as she’s the only Skyperson who’s totally, completely embraced Grounder culture. All she needed was a Unity Day — not for the clans, but for all the warring parts of herself: the girl under the floor, Bellamy’s sister, Indra and Kane’s almost-daughter, and Lincoln’s lover.

Only by unifying those conflicting parts of herself could she truly come to represent everyone, because she now truly feels like they are all her people, and she is theirs. It’s a beautiful story (and it clearly isn’t over yet, so I’ll be excited to see where they take it from here).

Of course her actual journey hasn’t been as clear-cut as all that, but I wouldn’t want it to be. One of the things that I adore about The 100 is its commitment to imperfection, which it shares with its deep-space cousin Battlestar Galactica; no character will be as transparent and sensible as you might want them to be, and no arc will be as clear-cut or straightforward as it might be in a parallel version of the same tale.

Octavia is this story’s Starbuck: a violent, flawed, self-destructive yet ultimately righteous human dealing with the traumas of her childhood in sometimes selfless, sometimes irrational ways.

And she’s still all of those things after this episode, because interestingly, the change that happened wasn’t so much about her as it was about the people orbiting around her: to conquer the conclave and herself, Octavia had to confront every single person who cared about her and realize that despite how hard she’d tried to alienate them, how much she’d done to make herself unworthy of their love, they still cared, and they still believed in her.

On the Ark, ‘family’ was all Octavia knew, and once landing on the ground, she’s been constantly torn between wanting independence and wanting to belong — and where to belong. With Bellamy? With Lincoln? With the 100? With Trikru? After losing Lincoln, she rejected all of it, believing (and wanting) herself to be alone.

She pushed Bellamy away, she became the opposite of what Lincoln had wanted for her, slipping inside her warrior self and becoming a killer, until she was left with only the fight. She was ready to die in the conclave, believing that she had nothing to lose, but throughout the episode, she realized that this simply wasn’t true.

What happened to Octavia this week was basically the plot of A Christmas Carol as she had one-on-one encounters with the ghosts of her past, present, and future. (Or, in Indra’s words, her many “teachers.”)

There was Ilian, a proxy Lincoln in so many ways, to the point where she even got to ‘let go’ of him in Lincoln’s place, getting to be there with him and give him a good death (and, perhaps, a subtle nod to Octavia taking Clarke’s place as the savior, seeing as this is exactly how Clarke killed Octavia’s first ‘love’ Atom in season 1?).

There was Indra, giving her the sword meant for her daughter and as good as claiming her as her own, proclaiming her ‘my people’ even though Trikru had their own champion. Knowing her own people was doomed, Indra was still able to root for Octavia, having learned through their relationship that ‘kru’ was about so much more than clan.

There was Kane, who always believed in Octavia, and the Grounder ways, and their need to unite rather than fight each other. Like Indra, he finally stepped in as a proper parental figure for her this week, the two of them symbolizing how Octavia has been ‘born’ from both Trikru and Skaikru.

There was Roan, who proclaimed them “one clan” and who, despite telling Clarke earlier that he fought for Azgeda or no one, realized at the end of it all that he did want humanity to survive even if it wasn’t his own people.

There was Luna, who rejected the fighting and fracturing of humanity so fiercely she wanted to end it forever; despite serving the function of the villain this week, her fighting for ‘no one’ positioned Octavia to fight for ‘everyone.’

And it all came back to Lincoln, with Indra bringing it all full circle by telling Octavia, “Lincoln would be so proud of you.” In some ways they were all reflections of Lincoln, and Octavia’ need to embrace, not reject, everything he stood for if she wanted to begin to heal and move forward as a more empowered, mature version of herself.

No one played a bigger part in Octavia’s journey this week than Bellamy (officially the only character on this show I fully trust right now), who found that in lieu of the ‘right words’ that have been eluding him all season, he could express his love for her through action.

No, Octavia and Bellamy didn’t have their big, cathartic hug (that might come next week though), and no, Octavia wasn’t in a state of mind where she could reflect back on how unfairly she’d been blaming him for Lincoln’s death. But we got Bellamy following his sister into the arena himself and saving her from being killed by Echo’s cheating arrow, an action that ironically led to both characters realizing — separately, yet together — that he truly no longer believes she needs him to save her.

Ostensibly, Bellamy’s journey this season has been about letting go, both of his guilt and of his desire to protect Octavia. He’s come a long way since season 1, when he was unwilling to even let his little sister out of his sight, but not until this episode did he truly ‘set her free,’ accepting not only that she is her own person but that she’s capable of protecting him.

He doesn’t only accept her independence but he celebrates it, cheering for her, believing in her when she needs it most. You can see what that does to Octavia when she overhears him express to Roan how much be believes in her, and also what it does to Bellamy to say it.

If this mess somehow gets sorted out and they see each other again, it will be as true equals, who might just be able to love each other in a healthier way than the extreme, co-dependent relationship they were conditioned to develop on the Ark. It’s been a long and messy road to get here, and the payoff is so worth it.

Eulogy for the fallen

As a general rule, I’m wary of excess character death, because dramas often fall into a trap of using death for cheap effect, killing off characters for shock value and introducing new ones rather than bothering to develop those they have.

But this episode was the exception: excess death was necessary for this story, at this point in the season, and the three characters they chose for this culling were all — in relative terms — expendable.

The 100 has a weird luxury problem in that they’re simply too good at developing characters, casting actors who can build in layers and layers of motivation and backstory on maybe five lines a season (looking at you, Jackson). But there simply isn’t time to actually give all those characters proper and satisfying storylines within the span of one short season.

At this point, they had to downsize, and despite my absolute devastation, as a fan of these characters, I will always consider the ‘Last In First Out’ principle preferable to killing off the original characters to make room for new ones. I have no problem with the show killing characters, even when it’s characters I love, as long as it’s in service of a good story.

The first to go was Ilian, whose death scene was just harrowing. The most innocent of the victims, his death was also the purest: despite Octavia rejecting their alliance, Ilian still saved her life. He died in her arms, by her mercy, for his people. It was tragic, and beautiful, and broke my damn heart.

There could have been a lot more to Ilian than there was, but I appreciated what we did get. We don’t get to see nearly enough Grounders who don’t construct their entire identity around being a warrior, and Octavia needed to feel the goodness in him.

Chai Hansen was also just a brilliant addition to the show, and I’ll miss seeing him interact with the fans so enthusiastically. Again, I get that we can’t keep everyone forever, but I’m really gonna miss this one.

Roan. ROAN. Y’all knew he was my fave. I wanted him to stick around forever. That said, his actual death scene was beyond epic, and if he had to go I’m glad it was like this. A good death indeed.

Roan and Octavia teaming up against Luna and becoming ‘one clan’ was obviously yet another way for Octavia to realize that she was fighting for more than just Skaikru, but it was also a nice little final reminder that Roan really truly was one of the show’s only reasonable human beings left, honorable to the end when he let both Echo and Bellamy live. I’m really going to miss that, because human decency is becoming a rare commodity on this show.

But as I said, the show have too many characters and not enough time to serve them all, and Roan definitely took up a lot of room in the story. It was time for him to go. But, damn. He had potential to develop in really interesting ways, and his ability to call Clarke on her BS was something that — I thought — would come into play in a bigger way than it ultimately did.

And finally, Luna. Where to begin? She was a standout, truly unique character whose presence had been felt since the first season and whose ties to the mythology of the Grounders makes me feel like we lost much more than ‘just’ the character herself.

I’m a little frustrated that in the end, she was kind of reduced to a ‘gotcha’ villain, after everything she went through on science island. Not that I didn’t love her scenes with Raven and Murphy, but they ultimately felt a bit unnecessary; why not instead use that time to develop characters that were actually gonna stick around, instead of treading water with someone whose fate was already sealed in “A Lie Guarded”?

But I guess the point is that Skaikru created this monster that Luna has become; it was their cruelty and ruthlessness, not the Grounders’, that made her abandon all hope for humanity. Even with Octavia declaring “there are people worth saving, just not you,” I like to think we’re meant to take Luna’s experiences to heart. In many ways, Skaikru really has been the big bad of the season, literally becoming the new Mountain Men, and I enjoy that subversion very much.

RIP Luna. I thought you were worth saving.

And way down she goes

So. We need to talk about that final twist, when Bellamy woke up in the bunker to find that Clarke and Jaha had pre-emptively claimed it for Skaikru — and it was all Clarke’s idea! Did Clarke just become the series’ moustache-twirling surprise villain?! WHAT?

Clarke is the lead and our supposed point-of-view character, and it is very unsettling for the show to ‘other’ her in this way —
and you’re right to be angry. You’re meant to be angry, just like Bellamy.

Initially I was upset we didn’t get to see her make this huge choice, but after a season of watching her make increasingly desperate choices, we didn’t need to see her decision-making process here — we needed to see why it was a terrible decision, through the eyes of someone who feels just as betrayed and angry as the audience.

(And it’s not like this ‘twist’ comes out of nowhere. In fact, you can see the exact moment it clicks in Clarke’s brain that this is what she has to do: after Roan refuses her last attempt at an alliance, she is done compromising humanity’s chances by trying to play nice.)

Clarke’s entire season 4 arc has been building to this; we’ve seen her growing more and more frustrated and desperate as she’s come up with one plan after another in a quest to save humanity from a fate she chose for them when she shut down the City of Light, and now here they are, with six days to go, and the Grounders are flat-out rejecting her final stab at a peaceful solution.

And, fine, then. ‘You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved,’ after all, so Clarke saves the only people who actually want her to save them, and that just so happens to be Skaikru. She was telling the truth when she said to Roan that she didn’t care who got the bunker “even if it’s not my people,” but that doesn’t mean she won’t save her people if the opportunity presents itself. She’s only human. She pulled that lever in Mount Weather, too. This is who Clarke has always been (Bellamy parallel intentional).

Ever since season 1, Clarke has fought tooth and nail to do ‘the right thing’, from her own personal perspective, and I’m beginning to wonder if her journey hasn’t been one of a slow, incremental descent: with each decision, Clarke becomes more single-minded, more desperate, more ruthless, and more fundamentally convinced that she alone is right and everyone else is wrong to the point where she’s now flat-out incapable of accepting a decision she doesn’t agree with.

And I’m not saying she is wrong. At the risk of repeating myself, Clarke is legitimately justified in trying to save humanity, just as she was justified in killing Finn, saving her people in Mount Weather, and making that list. When Luna entered the conclave, the threat of extinction became very, very real, and she wasn’t willing to gamble the fate of humanity on Octavia Blake. I don’t have to agree with her choices to understand why she makes them.

Her sneaky way of getting exactly what she wants has always been a key part of her character, but this season Clarke has been growing increasingly emotionally isolated, which makes it harder for the audience to empathize with her and understand her increasingly polarizing choices.

But isn’t that kind of the point? I’m pretty sure it is. I’m pretty sure her making this choice, and us seeing her make it from Bellamy’s perspective, is her breaking point. I could be wrong — I’ve been wrong before — but Clarke has reached her lowest point and I’ve got a feeling that this is when she begins to, ahem, rise.

As for why Clarke went out of her way to make sure Bellamy was in that bunker too? Well. I mean. Isn’t she only doing what both Lexa and Bellamy did to her at different points in season 3, when they kidnapped and/or restrained her for her own protection?

Clarke ‘Must Protect Bellamy Blake At All Costs’ Griffin wasn’t about to save herself without also saving him. She literally can’t live without him. This should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone. (Screw Kane though, I guess? lmao where is Abby in all this?) The question is how Bellamy will react to this, and I’m guessing NOT WELL. We’ll see next week…

For your consideration

  • Although everything inside the arena was epic, my secret favorite parts of the episode actually happened inside the room where the representatives were waiting. Watching the flames get extinguished was so emotional, especially when it was Trikru’s turn. My love for Roan aside, I was always Team Trikru at heart.
  • That Indra/Kane moment when he said “I’m sorry about Trikru, Indra” was e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g to me.
  • So… Abby is gonna flip when she realizes Clarke went out of her way to save Bellamy and not Kane, right? There’s NO WAY Abby knew about it and let it happen. RIGHT? It’s only my last sliver of faith in true love that’s on the line here. (Okay, second-to-last.)
  • Off that, I bet the shot from the new trailer that shows Abby and Bellamy standing by a computer is them working together to open the bunker, in defiance of Clarke, because they’ve both got people they love on the outside. It’s gotta be, right?
  • Briefly on Echo: She’s totally the kind of person who would try to cheat out of clan loyalty, but I’m a little peeved about her trying to shoot Octavia after that whole supposed moment of revelation with Bellamy in “The Tinder Box.” I liked that episode in isolation, but it’s a good example about how season 4 has been much less cohesive than previous seasons, big emotional moments cheapened because it doesn’t feel like the characters actually remember their own experiences from episode to episode. Really hoping that season 5 will feel more like one long complete story rather than a series of standalone episodes.
  • Despite all that, I like Echo, and the potential of how her character could transform without the frame of Azgeda loyalty. I hope she sticks around.
  • It’s kind of morbidly funny that three Zach McGowan characters have died within the span of a few months. He’s the new Sean Bean, I guess. (I’m also really gonna miss his segment of loyal fans that followed him to The 100 and have been engaging with us on Twitter. Thank you for being a part of our fandom.)
  • There was so much to love about the episode — the acting, the set design, the makeup, the costumes, the music — and part of me wanted to do a whole review just on that. Pay attention to Polis, which has never looked better. Listen for the subtle heartbeat overlaying Bellamy and Octavia’s opening conversation. God. Masterful.
  • Honestly, while I stand by my desire to see Clarke be more transparent in her motivations, this final twist kind of thrilled me because it once and for all dispels with the lingering confusion about whether the narrative would ultimately try to elevate Clarke or her choices. The 100 elevates no one: there is no Chosen One, regardless of who holds the moral high ground at any given time. And I love the show for it.
  • I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS EPISODE REALLY HAPPENED. RIP everyone. RIP me.

Next week on ‘The 100’ season 4, episode 11 ‘The Other Side’

Well, guess “the other side” refers to the door of the bunker huh? Get a sneak peek at Bellamy’s understandably furious reaction in what will be the third-to-last episode of season 4:

(Seriously, did Bellamy just become the show’s point-of-view character? Because I’m… kind of okay with that? #wig)

What did you think about ‘The 100’ season 4, episode 10?

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