For seven whole minutes during tonight’s episode, The 100 had me convinced that Octavia Blake was dead.
Yes, I fell for it. Her plummet off a cliff has all the markers and intensity of a death scene. In the wake of Ice Nation’s latest declaration of war against Skaikru and Trikru, Echo, flanked by two Azgedan warriors, traps Octavia at the edge of a cliff. Roan ordered Echo to take Octavia alive, but the hardened warrior is not the kind to go without a fight. Although Octavia takes out the two horsemen with ease, her fight with Echo ends with a blade through Octavia’s body. Shocked that she has lost, she stumbles backward and falls off a staggering cliff into the rushing water below. Looking down at the red and brown blur carried away by the current, Echo utters the words that always signify death on this show: “Your fight is over.”
Now, if we hadn’t seen her lifeless body floating away, I probably wouldn’t have so readily fallen for it. My TV mantra is to never trust an offscreen death, especially on a genre show like The 100. So in those minutes where I believed Octavia to be dead, I seethed. Her arc this season has been on a fascinating course: She is finally the warrior Indra pushed her to be, even as Indra herself has begun to doubt Octavia’s murderous ways. Kane is skeptical enough to take her off of his security detail at the beginning of the episode, cautioning her against the dark path she is heading down. He even invokes Lincoln’s name while explaining to her that a warrior knows when not to kill. Power, fear, and the burden of leadership once corrupted Kane and Jaha; now, those same forces corrupt Clarke and Bellamy. But Octavia has always been driven by different forces. Her love for Lincoln — and his love for her — first allied her with Trikru. Now her grief corrupts her.
To cut that character arc short by shoving the character to her death amid a crucial turning point would undercut all the brilliant work The 100 has done with Octavia this season. With the back-to-back deaths of Lexa and Lincoln last year, I feared the show was losing sight of its strengths. At its core, The 100 is a war story. In order for it to be a meaningful and believable war story, characters must die. I get that. But Lexa and Lincoln’s deaths were marked with the kind of sadism more readily found on a war show like Game of Thrones. They were gratuitous, manipulative deaths — especially Lexa’s, which happened mere moments after she and Clarke had their heavily promoted sex scene. One of the first ways The 100 stood out was by having more heart and earnestness than most epic shows while being just as serious and high-stakes. Because of its place on the CW and its ensemble of mostly teens, The 100 could easily be dismissed by haters as a silly reduction of Game of Thrones (or Battlestar Galactica, with which it also shares many similarities). This show tackles themes of power, war, morality, and loyalty in remarkably sharp and layered ways, but underneath it all, there’s an emotional sincerity that makes it tonally unique. It’s unabashedly romantic at times.
A high death toll of named characters alone does not automatically make a show serious or prestige, and for a while, The 100 clearly understood that. Every death reverberated throughout the narrative. But season three hit a sadistic peak that called into question whether the writers knew exactly why viewers were interested in the show’s central conflict. Kill off most of the named members of Trikru, and it’s hard to be invested in the clan’s on-and-off relationship with Skaikru. So when Octavia somehow miraculously woke up on a riverbank and mounted her horse at the end of this episode, I temporarily set aside those pesky questions of believability. Instead, I’m choosing to see her death as yet another one of her grandiose, badass stunts.
Aside from the whiplash of Octavia’s non-death, “A Lie Guarded” isn’t the most thrilling episode. At times, it’s even tedious. Jasper discovers Clarke’s list of 100 names and wants to expose the truth. To keep him from doing so, Clarke locks him up, calling to mind the way Pike ran things. Clarke is still trying to figure out what kind of leader she is, and she doesn’t have Lexa around anymore to help her. Monty has had his fair share of confusion over identifying the “right” side in the past, but this time, he sides with his best friend. With Jasper locked up, Monty takes it upon himself to publicly read Clarke’s list of names. He isn’t upset that Clarke didn’t include him on the list; he’s upset that the list was made in the first place. With the truth exposed, Jaha has to step in and offer an alternative plan: a lottery. Spaces on the drop-ship bunker will be determined by a random lottery, but infractions, like not showing up for work, will result in disqualification. Jaha’s philosophy is that people should feel like they have a say in their fate. As Monty and Jaspar both point out, Clarke is playing God.
The philosophical musings of Clarke’s story line are organically woven into the drama and strongly rooted in character, but the same cannot be said for the episode’s other major plotline. Abby leads a team — including Nyko, Luna, Miller, Raven, Murphy, and Emori — to the island where Becca’s lab is located, hoping to manufacture nightblood in the way Becca first did. But to get there, they have to get through an army of drones, which apparently didn’t die when A.L.I.E. did. Nyko dies in the attack, so “A Lie Guarded” isn’t without a devastating death. In fact, it’s a hasty end for an underappreciated character. Luna starts to feel like a prisoner, so while the others are caught up taking down drones, she makes a run for it. Raven tries to stop her, and that’s where the episode falters.
It’s a strange choice to have Raven be the person to talk Luna into staying, especially since Raven makes no indication that she remembers being a blood bag herself back at Mount Weather. Raven’s pleads are full of uncharacteristic platitudes. “Luna, it’s not your blood that defines you. It’s your heart,” she insists. That line is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that The 100 balances its darkness with threads of sincerity, but coming out of Raven’s mouth, the sentiment falls flat.
Luna is a more complex character than “A Lie Guarded” allows her to be. She mirrors both Lincoln and Octavia by following her own code instead of just doing things the way her people do them, but this episode reduces her to a mere plot device. The tension between Luna and Skaikru plays out as a tedious back-and-forth that fails to really bring the characters’ histories to the surface. Luna has very real reasons not to trust Skaikru, but those get shouted over by Raven’s desperate appeals for her to do the right thing. (At least, what she believes is the right thing.) The moralizing dominates the story, and as a result the characters seem to just represent ideas.
Nevertheless, Octavia’s “death” brings out a huge moment for Bellamy, who has always been defined by his love for his sister. It’s the most emotionally demanding scene Bob Morley has ever been given: He more often gets to be the gruff, no-nonsense bad boy with a soft side, but here, he shows a side of Bellamy never seen before — even during the times when he feared for Octavia’s safety. Bellamy breaks down completely, undone by the loss of his sister. In season one, he admitted that his life did not really begin until Octavia came into it. He’s technically living in the end of “A Lie Guarded,” but it’s clear that his life has ended. Morley portrays the depths of that grief beautifully. His reaction is devastatingly real. Good thing Octavia’s death is not.