A major plotline in The 100’s third season is the outbreak of a Grounder civil war. It’s established at the end of ‘Ye Who Enter Here’ (crafted masterfully by Kim Shumway) that Nia, the Ice Queen (the incomparable powerhouse Brenda Strong) and the instigator of this civil war has somehow engineered a way for all the clan leaders bar the Skaikru (Clarke, who is with Lexa, “as expected”, according to Echo) to join her rebellion.
Nia seems the wily, conniving type; she likes to keep her hands ‘clean’, so to say, whereas Lexa has no hesitancy in getting her hands dirty (see the scene where she kicks an Ice Nation ambassador out of the window).
I don’t really intend to recap the episode, per say—a war is brewing, and I’ll try to weave in Lexa and Nia into the text as much as possible, but what I really want to discuss is the weight (statistically and individually) of war, the post-war period, perspective, and heroes and villains—are there any, in a war that involves bloodshed, ransacks, sieges and murder? And how different or similar are we, our past, from The 100?
PERSPECTIVE & LOSSES – INDIVIDUAL AND STATISTICS
Roan says to Clarke in the third episode that she’s only ever heard of the pre-coalition wars and its atrocities from Lexa—and whilst Lexa is likely the honorable, peace-seeking visionary here—Roan is absolutely correct.
We haven’t seen the Ice Nation’s perspective. We know they are cruel (executing Costia, Lincoln and Octavia’s knowledge of them, Pike’s encounters) and brutal, but in wars where perspective matters hugely, even if Nia is a sly, devious, long-term troublemaker and sheer evil, to objectively analyse a war we would have to take the Ice Nation’s perspective into consideration.
And it’s hard, because it is within our nature to root for a side. We rooted for the Arkers, didn’t we? We needed Clarke to save her people in the season two finale, didn’t we? But at what cost did that come at?
Despite this, Nia’s perspective is not the only one we should focus on. We know Clarke is our protagonist, and we know that Clarke/Lexa is the arguably main ‘ship’ of the show; we know Clarke learns of the atrocities of the pre-coalition via Lexa.
I am not saying Lexa is lying in any of her stories she may tell Clarke—but she is telling stories from her perspective, and her suffering. She’s seen the pre-coalition wars rip her people to shreds.
Taking a wider view, let’s look upon the Ice Nation civilians, because as seen in Polis, not all grounders are warriors. There are tradespeople, children, families…a whole mix. Everywhere. Consider this: an Ice Nation family has their come-of-age son volunteering for the Ice Nation Army with pride.
Consider this young man fighting for his life on the battlefield, and dying. Or consider this young man being captured and tortured for information for the sake of his allegiance to his clan. How would the Ice Nation family view this? A tyrannical totalitarian seizing control of all twelve clans, far south from them? Can they see the radical upheaval Lexa is trying to install?
Lives lost in wars are tragedies regardless, but does this strike you less so because it’s an Ice Nation family? Wars often fall down to statistics: in World War I, the Allied Forces’ military suffered 5,525,000 deaths and the Central Powers amassed 4,386,000 military deaths. Note that these are military deaths: these statistics do not account for the civilian lives lost, and yet the numbers are horrific.
Jason Rothenberg tweeted that the pre-coalition wars involved a lot of bloodshed, and I don’t doubt that forging a coalition among that was just as bloody. The horrors of war in modern history still affect us today: the radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the dead-zones in France; the unsteady relations between China and Japan.
To take a case from Britain post World War I, disabled soldiers—who’d fought for their country and for patriotism—found themselves sidelined with inadequate care for their injuries, because in post-war period Britain, the government wanted to establish a ‘strong man’ who had conquered the war and to instill confidence and hope in the general public. In hindsight: how terrible is that?
To consider perspective, I’m not painting Lexa as a villain (on the contrary!), and certainly not Nia as a hero—but pre-coalition, all clans had to fend for themselves in order to survive.
All clan leaders committed or authorized atrocities and genocides because that is simply the nature of war and one of many duties of a war leader. So when I speak of perspective, I don’t necessarily mean Nia—I could refer to her civilians.
Are they innocent? Is there an answer to that? In addition to this, as I’ve said before, we’ve only heard Lexa’s versions of events regarding the war and Nia’s scheming. I have no doubt in siding with Lexa on this, but consider those Ice Nation civilians; consider the traditionalists, who are set in their old ways and do not like the way a young, radical, revolutionary becomes commander of all twelve clans and proposes societal upheaval and progression.
Change is scary; change can be unstable. Perhaps a wiser choice would be someone more experienced, someone older, someone who’s even more well-versed in war. Doesn’t that sound dangerously like Nia?
IN WAR, CAN YOU EVER BE INNOCENT?
When you are defending your territory, attacking enemy soil, plotting sieges and ransacks and killing those who aren’t of your clan: isn’t that just sheer murder? Can war be justified, if you say you were provoked, or there was no other solution? Thankfully, Lexa came up with one: a coalition.
But there’s no denying there’s blood on Lexa’s hands—on any clan leaders’ hands—because of the killings and torture they committed in the name of their clans’ justice. It’s not a smear on their characters—but rather a tacit understanding that the world of The 100 is unjust, brutal and harsh.
The interesting thing about war is that it can be sparked for many reasons. Perhaps the enemy forces believe the commander is insufficient or a coward. Perhaps they are power-hungry and envious of the position.
Some wars can be driven by what we deem to be pure and good traits, such as love and peace-seeking (and latter holds especially for Lexa). It seems that no matter how good your intentions are, if you sink into war, your hands will get dirty.
For Lexa, who sought peace and visionary prospects for the future such as prosperity and true life for her people—we can say she fought with honorable intentions. Just look at the beautiful city she protects as a fortress, proudly; it’s lively, jovial, bustling and diverse.
She is a great commander because of her radical vision and intelligence, and because she so dearly loves her people—and ultimately that is the tragedy that befalls her when those very people turn against her and her lifetime’s work.
But however good her intentions, there’s no denying that she engaged in a blood-drenched war. It creates a huge paradox for The 100 world: in order to achieve peace, Lexa had to fight and kill for it. To achieve peace, she had to win the war.
‘HEROES AND VILLAINS; WINNERS AND LOSERS’
H. L. Mencken, the author of Heliogabalus, suggested that war—like love—is easier to start than stop. It’s an interesting thought and depressingly, I think I agree. Wars can build from years of tension and ignite with a spark—a betrayal, a lost love, an opportunistic chance to seize power, an assassination—wars can start with the littlest of things though it’s likely there’s a bucket-load of tension between the two opposing forces anyway. But in war, are there ever winners and losers?
Each side suffers, statistically, huge losses in wars as a result of genocide, mass-murder—all sorts—not to mention the effect this has on certain individuals and their pain upon losing someone close to them, say a family member or a friend.
It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on: losses are a guarantee, and there is no evading that. So whilst statistics may argue there is a winner, if you ask individuals affected by war, you may get very different stories.
In The 100, Lexa is quite clearly painted as the hero in this civil war—she’s complex, she’s ruthless, no-nonsense and she betrayed Clarke—but she also forged the coalition. She’s highly skilled and intelligent and trains her ‘nightbloods’ in order to prepare them for the future.
Lexa is unique in a sense because she does not fear death; she doesn’t fear death in the pauna episode, and she doesn’t seem to fear death in her conversation with Titus after sparring with Aden. She doesn’t fear death prior to fighting with Roan.
One could argue an old, historical belief from Samurai origin is that if you go into a battle believing you’ll lose, then that is the fate you will surely meet. But is Lexa truly a hero, and is Nia truly a villain: such black and white terms?
The scope of the civil war will surely decide that—but again, from whose perspective? Will a Trikru warrior call their commander the hero of this piece and an Ice Nation warrior mourns the befallen challenger?
Again, it’s about perspective, and it is hard to maintain impartiality when watching a TV show, because everyone roots for someone, or a side. I will always root for Clarke Griffin, for example.
The thing about the world of The 100 is that it’s so morally gray it’s basically charcoal. As Abby says, “maybe there are no good guys”. There are good intentions, good deeds, heroic actions—but there are also betrayals, genocides, and mass murder.
Lastly, to conclude on a point about Lexa and Nia as heroes and villains—both may be seen as heroes by their respective loyalists—but is that an apt term for a war leader? Yes, a war leader who saved their people and in Lexa’s case, brought the clans together—but it was done by bloodshed (and perhaps some negotiations).
There is no room for gentility in war, and that’s why Polis, the peaceful, exuberant city, is so important to the grounders, both symbolically and literally. After so many years of fighting, they establish a capital free of the savagery they have experienced, and there is hope that for the future that it could remain that way.
But in terms of heroes and villains, I ponder: is Lexa truly a hero? Or is she just (I use the term ‘just’ very lightly: Lexa’s achievements are incredible) a visionary who is radicalizing grounder society as we know it? We know she strives for peace and we know she has good intentions—but she has blood on her hands.
Lexa is clever, confident, skillful, tender at times—and her heart beats so ferociously for her people, and for Clarke. But wars are ugly. Clarke’s committed murder and genocide. Lexa will have committed murder and genocide.
Clarke is a hero among grounders and the Skaikru; Lexa is a hero among her Grounders; Nia is a hero among her Ice Nation and the rebels. But objectively, I wonder, in a war like this—are there any heroes at all?
THE INEVITABILITY OF WAR & THE CO-EXISTENCE OF WAR AND PEACE
Lexa became the Trikru commander at sixteen, having trained to be a warrior since she was two. Her entire life, she has watched war rage around her, perhaps lost friends and family to those pre-coalition wars; she lost Costia to the pre-coalition wars.
Lexa’s existence was ravaged by wars where clans were tearing each other apart—for territory, for resources, for shows of power—who knows?
And when Lexa takes up the mantle of the commander of all twelve clans, she proposes a coalition that will target Mount Weather, arguably the bigger threat. At this time, Mount Weather still had acid fog to be deployed, so the Grounders had no chance of getting close to the Mountain at all. It is an attractive prospect, and a clever swindle too—Lexa is wary of a bigger threat and utilizes it to garner support against it.
At first, it is a seemingly political decision and a canny one, but as she grows into her position, perhaps the purpose of the coalition changes—for the better. More on that later.
For a young woman, Lexa is very world-weary. She regularly spitballs pearls of wisdom (especially to Clarke, who often is very non-receptive or fed-up of these lessons). It makes sense. Training since she was two robbed her of a childhood that should have been carefree and fun.
That’s not to say Lexa fought and was miserable 24/7; she found genuine love in Costia, and that’s special. She takes high honor in her duty.
But Lexa is sharp, and she isn’t a fool ruled by her emotions. It isn’t a bad trait, to wear your heart on your sleeve—but Lexa can’t, not when eagle-eyed predators can exploit any weakness she shows.
Finn once wore his heart on his sleeve, and ended up murdering eighteen grounders and nearly starting a Grounder/Arker war. In our everyday lives, we can afford emotion, perhaps excessively, but when you are in a position of leadership or a position to kill, the situation changes.
Nia executed Costia because of her connection to Lexa: it was a highly personal act and whatever the terms were that wrangled Nia into the coalition, they must have been tense and Lexa must have been wracked with hatred and vengeance desperate to spill. But Lexa has trained herself to be strong in the mind; stoic, if you will—and so despite this, she forges a coalition with Nia too.
But did Lexa ever trust Nia and vice versa? As soon as Clarke’s wanheda reputation was dispatched and a bounty put on her head, Lexa immediately knew Nia would go after Clarke, and thus sent Roan after her.
Lexa isn’t an idiot. She is an idealist, a visionary, a peacemaker and a revolutionary—but she is also pragmatic and rational. War and peace co-exist in this world because in all of our history, when has there ever been a war-free period? Could you argue that for as long as humanity has existed, war has always struck?
There’s an ongoing war in Syria, there’s trouble in Nigeria, there are terrorism attacks that rock Europe to the core. As much as the idea of an ongoing peace that lasts forever appeals greatly, I’m not convinced Lexa believes that to be entirely true. Hence why she trains her ‘nightbloods’, notably Aden, who she sees promise in. Lexa doesn’t fear death, because as she states in ‘Survival of the Fittest’, she believes that her Spirit will choose wisely. Her legacy will go on.
She’s also advised by Titus, who has served four commanders. Now Titus doesn’t seem too wizened to me, which indicates that the lifespan of a ‘heda’ may not be very long at all.
I don’t think Lexa is plagued with thoughts of death, but she must be ready if the time comes—and more importantly, her people must be ready—hence the training of the ‘nightbloods’.
Peace is well-established within the coalition, but now we are on the precipice of it all falling apart. As long as peace exists, war lurks around the corner and it’s not Lexa who is unprepared—it’s her legacy she must prepare, to leave generations that strive for peace and unification, rather than leave a legacy soaked in blood, as hers was.
IS LOVE THE GREATEST WEAPON FOR HUMANITY VS. UTOPIA?
One could argue in building a coalition—albeit to defend a common enemy in the Mountain—Lexa may have been swept up along the way by ideas of utopia, once she saw how her coalition prospered.
Pooled resources, increased trade, specialties from different clans—every clan surely brings something different to the table, all the while maintaining the peace she has worked so hard for.
Yet this season, her ambassadors side with the Ice Queen (perhaps for various reasons: maybe they fear the wanheda more than Lexa; maybe they see Lexa as weak per her actions at Mount Weather; maybe they want to revert back to traditionalist ways where every clan fends for themselves, instead of Lexa’s radical, progressive approach).
Her entire coalition, which she has spent her entire life’s work building, crashes and burns all around her. Even for someone as composed as Lexa, that must have a huge emotional impact.
Why am I mentioning this when I’m talking about war and peace? Well, there’s another looming storyline on the horizon, involving the City of Light in which there is no pain, no hate, and no envy.
Could Lexa be tempted by a utopia she failed to build? Could she be tempted by the concept of no pain when all she has endured, for her people—who have turned against her—has been pain? She betrayed her heart at Mount Weather for the greater good, only to have it backfire in her face. So is this temptation for Lexa?
Or not. I’m quite optimistically in the ‘no’ camp. Humanity is capable of terrible things: wars, hate, envy, jealousy, spite, betrayal, vengeance…the list is endless. But to rid of all humanity rids of love, generosity, humility, kindness and open-mindedness, for example when Lexa shows she isn’t afraid of technology when she witnesses Lincoln’s recovery (in contrast to Indra, who in season three still rejects Kane’s offer of a pistol) but I don’t believe for a second that she will sacrifice the positivity of humanity to erase the pain of her past.
The suffering is heavy on Lexa’s shoulders, the burden she carries proudly and quietly for her people, but it is her duty as ‘heda’. Depending on Clarke and Lexa’s development this season, I think that could be a real contributing factor. Lexa even says in ‘Ye Who Enter Here’: “Let’s not dwell on the past.” It clearly serves no purpose to her, and Lexa, a forward-thinker—thinks of the future.
The past may still linger in the heart, in the back of her mind—but she must move forwards. For all the pain, the hurt and anger Lexa has experienced in the past, there is one thing an Artificial Intelligence doesn’t understand: humanity.
Humanity can wage wars for ‘bad’ reasons (envy, hatred, power-hungriness) or ‘good’ (love, peace-seeking) but an AI just sees it as war. If you programmed an AI to end all wars, would it go through the trouble of forging alliances between clans or would it take the simple route of eliminating all warriors?
An AI just can’t get the reasoning behind the war. But Lexadoes. She’s accepted that humanity can be ugly, backstabbing and brutal: such is life on the ground. But Lexa also understands via Clarke, and the brief moment of selfishness she indulges for herself in their kiss, that maybe, maybe, life can be more than just surviving. If not for her, then altruistically, she maybe believes that for her people. As Tolstoy says in War and Peace:
“We love people not so much for the good they’ve done us, as for the good we’ve done them.”
As for utopia: as long as humanity exists, in its ugly and beautiful forms, it’s an impossibility. You’d have to erase all emotion to achieve utopia—which is why is cannot exist, so long as humanity does.
It is not the paradox of war and peace, or good and bad. Both these polar opposites are creations of human nature, and utopia would wipe it out entirely. And so the human race plows onward, which I guess is accurate in all our history. Is there a future for the peaceful, lasting, prosperous society an idealist like Lexa proposes?
Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s up to humanity to decide, not an AI. And as this AI story possibly converges with the civil war storyline, it becomes very interesting—because how many characters would want a life devoid of pain? Raven? Monty? Jasper? But civil wars and in-fighting and all: I honestly think humanity will prevail every single time. Why?
To paraphrase Aaron Ginsburg, writer of The 100: love is the greatest weapon of season three.
What is the one thing ALIE may not understand? Love—because it’s so essential to humanity—and Clarke Griffin opened Lexa’s eyes to this last season.
Clarke and Lexa may well have the same agenda this season: to create ever-lasting peace for their world, to stop the wars, the murders, the killings, perhaps even this AI—and if love can be wielded as a weapon, perhaps, to stop an all-powerful AI, then can Jason Rothenberg’s ‘seaworthy’ ship but more importantly, the power-duo of Clarke and Lexa as resilient and brilliant leaders, be a feasible answer to the AI problem?