The 100 writer and executive producer Kim Shumway talks about writing the season 6 episode “Nevermind,” which gave audiences a rare and valuable look into the mind of lead character Clarke Griffin.
In The 100 season 6, it has been out with the old and in with the new. Except, it has been nothing like that, because on The 100, nobody ever escapes their past. Even moving planets and physically switching bodies will not slay your inner demons, as Josephine Lightbourne can attest to.
The phenomenal season 6 episode “Nevermind” quite literally brought Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor)’s past back to haunt her, trapping her inside her own mind and sending her on an introspective journey that (re-)taught her to value herself and fight for her own survival.
How fitting that the writer of this episode was Kim Shumway, who has not only been with Clarke since before the beginning of the series, but for whom this episode also marks a bit of a return: Shumway stepped away from The 100 in season 5, but returned in season 6 to take the reins of the writers’ room.
I was thrilled to get the opportunity to take a deep dive into Clarke Griffin’s mind with Shumway, talking about everything from how Clarke sees herself, the importance of female characters getting to drive their own stories, the precariousness of guest star scheduling, and the poor defenseless gorilla they left roaring in pitiful disappointment on the cutting room floor. Enjoy!
Selina Wilken: Let’s start by telling people what you actually do on The 100. Who are you?
Kim Shumway: I am Kim Shumway! In season 7, I am executive producer on The 100, and in season 6, I was co-executive producer. I’m the number two, which is the person who runs the writers’ room and who makes sure the showrunner’s vision is being played out. In my case, I also manage the staff, I hire people, I make sure we get materials to the network and studio on time. I essentially keep the trains running.
But the biggest thing, of course, is sitting in the writers’ room, making sure that the story we’re telling is the story that Jason Rothenberg wants to be telling. I obviously have a lot of input in terms of what goes into the show, and I’ve been here since season 1, so I know these characters very well… I’d like to think!
So it’s kind of a big, all-encompassing job, but it’s also an incredible experience, because it’s really getting in there and digging into the story with the showrunner.
How far are you right now in terms of writing season 7?
We just moved on from episode 2, and we are breaking episode 3 now. We’ve done the whole season-long arc already, and we’re getting into the individual episodes. And this is week 5, so we’re moving pretty quickly.
Season 6 must have been interesting for you, because like you said, you’ve been with the show since before season 1, but you weren’t working on the show in season 5, and then you came back. What was that like?
It was interesting. The 100 was the first show I’d been on, and I’ve always been very involved in all aspects of it. So going to a different show [Wisdom of the Crowd on CBS] was a weird experience, because it was a new show and a new group of writers. It felt kind of like first day of school.
The show ended up getting cancelled, as most season 1 shows do, but it was actually quite a lovely experience, and I’m glad I got to have it. The writers over there were amazing, and I met such great people that I now consider very good friends.
But when the show got cancelled, and Jason called me and asked me to come back and run the room, it was really like coming home. I wouldn’t have expected it, I very much expected that I would go on to work on different shows, but life works out the way it does, and I’m glad it did. Working on the other show was incredibly gratifying, but I’m also glad to be working on The 100 again, because I just love it so much.
I imagine that “Nevermind” must have been a great way for you to get back in there and touch base with the main character and who she is, and who she has become, both when you wrote for her and when you didn’t.
Absolutely. I just watched season 5 as a fan, and I found myself questioning Clarke a little bit, and trying to get in her head. So when I came back, I was like, ‘Okay, we need to center Clarke and we need to figure out who she is and convey that to the audience.’ Because I feel like I have such a strong view of who Clarke is, so I wanted to get that across to everyone else and really dig into how she looks at herself since everything’s happened. What is Clarke’s interpretation of herself?
You know, people are tough on Clarke, and I think sometimes that is because they’re not looking at things from her perspective. So I honestly just wanted to show, or give an example of, how she’s not this self-righteous thing who’s always doing whatever the hell she wants just because she knows best. She questions herself just like everybody else does. Sometimes Clarke comes off in a way that I don’t think is actually real to the character, so I wanted to give her her due.
And that’s one of the things this episode really brings to the forefront. It gives us some perspective on how Clarke sees herself, this utilitarian measuring of whether she’s worth more to her people alive or dead, and her mind is literally fighting with itself about whether her wanting to even just want to save herself is selfish. And that’s something you’ve explored with her in the past too, both in “Nevermore” and in “A Lie Guarded,” with Clarke questioning whether she should put herself on the list.
Yeah, Clarke is so motivated by ‘I have to save my people,’ that’s been her refrain for so long. And one of the really interesting things about this episode was getting to say, ‘Okay, your people are safe. Do you want to live? When you no longer have that mission, who are you, Clarke Griffin?’
And the answer of course was that she gave up, for a little while, instinctively. To save her people, yes, but also because she knew that they were safe. And, yeah, on some level there is a little bit of self-hatred there. We saw that with some of the characters in her head. Because she’s done all these terrible things, and yes, it’s always been justified, but she’s still done it, and that takes a psychological toll.
So I really wanted to dig into: does she want to go on? Because after everything she’s been through, it’s hard. It is really hard to be Clarke Griffin. And do you want to continue being Clarke Griffin if you no longer have your core mission? So it really became, ‘who are you without a mission?’ Which was a really intriguing question to ask.
When she does give up, the face of that tiny part of her that still believes in herself is Monty. Which was really beautiful.
Yes, we love Monty!
What does Monty represent to Clarke? And how did you pull off getting Chris Larkin back for this episode?
Monty has always been the moral center of the show. He’s the one who is willing to tell people the things that they don’t want to hear. He’s the one who is willing to say, ‘no, this is what’s right and this is what’s wrong, and what are you doing?’
I actually deliberately used some of the dialogue that I had put in “A Lie Guarded” about the list conversation when he’s talking to Clarke in this episode, just to call back to that, because it was a moral stance he was taking.
And when he’s confronting her, it’s not the utilitarian of it, it’s the morality of it. That’s the side of Clarke he represents. Which is so perfect for him, because he always had that moral core and that really clear vision of what they should and shouldn’t be doing.
And Chris was amazing, he really made this happen. We had to shoot on a Saturday, which we hate doing. The crew was really tired, Eliza was really sick. But Chris was off in Europe, and he came back, so it was the only way it was going to happen. And you know what, he made it happen. So all the kudos to him, I love that man.
I think a lot of people don’t realize that so much story on this show is dependent on actor schedules. We have first dibs on our series regulars, but for everybody else, it’s all dependent on deals. We have a lot of supporting characters who we love, but we have to work around their schedules.
So thank god we could get Chris, I was so thrilled, because it was very much up in the air. I was a mess for like a week because Eli [Goree, who played Wells] wasn’t available, and then Chris was shooting, and it was this whole thing where I was like, ‘Oh my god, who is gonna be in my episode?’ But it all worked out.
I’m super interested in the technical process of how it came together. Did the guest wish list come first, did the story come first, how close to filming did you have to adjust the script based on who were available?
We always try to break the best story absent to everything, but at the same time, as we’re working on the story, we’re always checking people’s availability. So we broke the story we wanted to do, which included both Monty and Wells, and then of course the schedule didn’t work out with Eli, which was deeply unfortunate. I was so sad about that. But it did work for Chris, thank goodness.
But it’s tough, because sometimes we write these things that are so great, and then we have to cut them because we can’t get the actor, or the sets don’t line up, or whatever. And it’s such a just bummer, because we know all of these amazing things that we were going to do and then they just never happened!
If you had gotten Wells back, what role would he have played?
I was very much picking up the protector thing with Wells. When we saw him in those first three episodes, his actions all came from a place of protecting Clarke. So he was going to be the self-protective side of herself. And then we could get into their childhood and what they meant to each other.
It was really about delving into that friendship, going back to Clarke’s childhood and the person she thinks of herself as before everything happened. But we couldn’t do it, so it ended up deleted, alas.
It would have been amazing! But you did end up with Jake and Maya and ALIE and Monty, which was great. What did those four represent to Clarke?
Maya is the face of all the innocents she’s killed: the people she didn’t want to have to kill, but she did anyway to save her people. And she represents Clarke’s self-hatred over that. Maya is the one who is accusing her of liking it, of wanting to be the hero, of being no better than the Primes. So that’s the self-hatred part of herself and the guilt over murdering innocents.
Monty is the moral center, like we talked about. Jake is the safety, the father’s love, that safe place she can go to. He was the first she saw, and there’s a reason for that: Clarke was so traumatized after what happened to her in episode 4 that she needed a respite from everything, and Jake represented that for her. He was just endless support and let her work through her own emotions in her own time, which I think is really important, just because of the trauma of it.
And ALIE is her analytical mind. ALIE figures out how this happened, but that’s Clarkes brain at work, figuring out how it’s even possible that she’s alive, what makes her so special.
And the last one was Octavia as Blodreina. She also represents Clarke’s self-hatred, because of the people who she loves who she betrayed. Which is so many of her people. That’s why she doesn’t see Madi or Lexa or Jasper or any of them, because she can’t face them, and that’s what Octavia is calling her out on.
When you went on set for the episode, was it nostalgic to see the old cast members and the sets and Eliza Taylor in her old costumes?
It so was. It was a bit of a continuity thing — I think Eliza told me at one point in the cell that she had the season 2 boots on, and not the season 1 boots, and I’m like, of course Eliza would know that but no one else noticed! But yeah, it brought back all these old memories, we brought back a bunch of old props… it was definitely a little nostalgic.
And I think it was fun for the actors to get to see each other. Everybody loves Chris Larkin and Monty, so that was delightful. Maya just slotted right in. Eve Harlow always got along great with everyone, so she was delighted to be back, and everyone had a lot of fun with her.
And then Jake (Chris Browning) of course, all the way from season 1, you can’t beat that kind of paternal energy. So it was wonderful. I do wish that Eliza had been feeling better, she was really very ill, so that put a damper on things. But you saw the cute pictures, they had fun.
Obviously we have to talk about the absolute atrocity of cutting out Pauna the gorilla.
Oh my god. So here’s the thing. When the writers got wind of the fact that it might get cut, the assistants and some of the other writers made these signs that they posted all over our office, and to this day, there are still signs in our office that say ‘Save Pauna.’ With pictures of the gorilla. I think Jason has one on the back of his computer screen.
It was one of those things where, when it was pitched in the room, we all died laughing, and then we pitched it to Jason, and he died laughing. In six years, I’ve never seen him react to a pitch like that. So we were like okay, done, this is perfect, we were so convinced.
And then of course you get into the edit and you’re 7-10 minutes over, and you have to start losing — not even just scenes, but sequences. So there was a whole sequence of running, where just a little bit of it ended up in the show. But Eliza did so much running, I can’t even tell you.
It was supposed to be a series of traps she was setting, running into rooms to kill Josie just to slow her down. And one of those was this amazing jump scare with Pauna. Which was ridiculous and wonderful, and would have been a wonderful jump scare. And then of course it got cut for time.
And, hey, sometimes that happens, we get that. But it would have been so good!
There’s a dollar on the wall, which is ‘return of Pauna,’ which I had, but then I had to give it back, so that was tragic.
What does Clarke Griffin mean to you as a writer and as someone who I know really values female characters?
Oh my god, Clarke is so important to me, I can’t even tell you. I’ve been with this character before this show was a show — I was helping Jason with the pilot way back in the day — so I know Clarke to my soul. There is a lot of me in Clarke. I always appreciate the fact that she is the person who does things, she doesn’t ask for permission, she goes out and gets things done, which is one of those things that I find myself doing, so I see so much of myself in her.
And Clarke is so important to me as a lead, as a woman, as a hero. Even though some people don’t consider her a hero, she very much is: she’s always trying to do the right thing, even though sometimes she’s led astray, or circumstances put her into these terrible situations. To just be able to see that on screen is so important.
One of the really vital things to me about The 100 is that women are allowed to drive their own stories. And I say that, and it seems so obvious, like, ‘of course women should drive their own stories.’ But if you watch a lot of shows, especially genre shows, that’s not always the case.
So allowing our female characters to be the masters of their own stories is very important to me. And especially allowing so many different women to drive their own stories. Because yes, in genre you often have this female lead surrounded by all these dudes, but on our show, we have this amazing female lead surrounded by so many amazing women. In addition to the amazing men. It’s so refreshing, because it’s one of those things that I want to see on television more than I do, and we get to actually create that — which, hey, is why we go into this business.
What would you say was the most important thing to convey about Clarke or her journey in this episode?
The thing that really focused me in our discussions was how tired she is. She’s exhausted. She’s been saving her people for six seasons, she’s made some mistakes, she’s had to do a million different hard things, and it takes a toll.
And for the most part, Clarke is very composed; she’s a very put-together character. She doesn’t talk about her feelings and she doesn’t go into her difficulties very often, because she’s not that person. She just sucks it up and does the thing.
So I really wanted to let people see the exhaustion and the toll it all takes, so they can understand that she doesn’t relish this. Maya accuses her of liking it, but she doesn’t, she hates it, but she keeps finding herself in these situations where she has to do these things. I really felt it was important to let people feel that emotionally.
And that’s actually one of the reasons I’m bummed we lost the running sequence, because yeah, technically we didn’t need it to tell the story, but it let the exhaustion breathe a little bit. It was a physical manifestation of that internal process, of the exhaustion. She can say she’s tired, and Monty can say she’s tired, but actually seeing it is another thing.
Something that comes up a lot when we talk about Clarke is that she is so isolated, both by her own doing — because, like you said, she doesn’t share much of herself and she puts herself in positions of bearing it so they don’t have to, ad infinitum — and she’s also put in that situation by a lot of her friends, because they need her to be the person who bears it so they don’t have to. So I found it incredibly significant in this episode that not only did she need to find the strength to fight for herself, but also by design of how she gains control, she can’t save herself alone. She has to trust that somebody is on the other side and can pick up the signal that she sends.
Yeah, Clarke being able to rely on other people is really important for her. It’s obviously taken a lot for her to get there, frankly because she has been let down by people in the past, so trusting her people is such a huge step for her. Also because it’s not her natural state: she is the do-er, she gets things done, she is the one who saves people. So letting someone else do that for her is a step forward, but it is also scary.
And that’s one of those things we see in that scene where she does give up: part of the reason she gives up is because she sees that Bellamy’s got this. She sees that Bellamy made the smart deal to save her people, she doesn’t need to save her people anymore, she can rely on him to do that for her. She can actually give up and not feel that overwhelming guilt of ‘I have to save my people, I still have a mission.’ Her mission is done.
So it’s kind of a double-edged sword: she’s relying on people to save her in the very end, but the fact that she can rely on people is part of what got her to give up in the first place. I think there is a duality there that is really interesting and important, because there are two sides of it. Like so many things.
I love this, because again, it’s about how she sees herself. It’s about her value as a tool for her people’s survival versus her value as a human being.
Yeah. And Clarke as a person does value herself, we see that, Monty represents her self-worth and her moral center. But it took her a little while to get there, to bring him out. It was a journey, and that was the journey of the episode and what we really wanted to explore: what would get Clarke Griffin to give up, and would she? In the end, she didn’t, because of that little tiny voice inside her, but she was tempted. And that’s an interesting thing to see for a hero.
I also wanted to touch on the representation of Clarke’s deepest trauma, Lexa’s throne and Finn’s death pole right next to each other. What did you want to convey or symbolize with that imagery?
Obviously on some level she feels responsible for both of their deaths, and that’s what she has a ton of trouble facing. Those were her two loves, and she feels like she got them killed. With Finn, it was obviously very direct, but with Lexa, it was still her presence that got her killed.
So it’s this overwhelming guilt and grief and pain and horror that the people she loves, she puts in danger. That’s why she couldn’t face it or face them, she didn’t want to. And, of course, that’s the place we force her to go, because this is The 100, and that’s what we do.
Another thing that played a huge role in the episode was the guilt Clarke feels about leaving Bellamy in Polis. Can you put some words on why that is something that still weighs so heavily on her even though he has said that he forgave her?
This is one of those things where the episode got cut down, and there was a little bit more about that in the Octavia scene, which I felt like was missing. But it was very much this idea that Clarke will throw anyone under the bus if it suits her. That’s the fear. That she is this monster who will betray anyone if she needs to in order to save her people, her daughter, all of that.
Because yes, Bellamy forgave her, but part of her is still afraid that she is that person who will betray anyone in the moment, and that is what she feels so terribly about. So yes, it’s about Bellamy, but it’s also about who she is and how she views her friends and how she treats her friends.
There is a line that I had in the exchange between Octavia and Clarke of Clarke saying, ‘that’s not who I am,’ and Octavia says, ‘but that’s what you do.’ So are you what you think you are, or are you what you do? That’s a tough question to wrestle with.
Was there any moment in this episode that was particularly challenging or fun to write?
The most fun was Monty’s return, just because I love that character and I know that character. And you don’t often get to have moral arguments on television, because that’s not how television works, so just actually getting to say what’s right and wrong was really quite fun.
And one of the toughest scenes was actually not in the episode. In the flashback to Josephine, we actually wrote and shot the scene where the two parents put that baby down in the woods, so we got to see the whole ceremony where it’s Josephine presiding over these two people from Sanctum who are essentially abandoning their child.
It was a really tricky scene to write, it was really tricky to shoot, and then of course it gets cut because that’s how life works. But it was horrific. Maybe it was actually better that it didn’t end up in the episode, just because it was really quite horrible.
It sounds like have to start picketing whoever we need to picket to get some deleted scenes this year.
We’ll see what they put on the DVDs!
‘The 100’ returns Thursday, July 9 at 9/8c on The CW with ‘What You Take With You’
Thank you again to Kim Shumway for being so generous with her time and answers! Go follow her on Twitter if you aren’t already, and make sure you check out The 100 writers’ accounts on Twitter and Instagram for a lot of awesome behind-the-scenes images and stories!