Disclaimer: I can’t say I know much about The 100, considering I haven’t watched it: all I know are facts that a.) Luna can fight/take down people quite impressively; b.) she is a pacifist; c.) she ran away from the Conclave after killing her brother in the first round and was due to face Lexa in the next; d.) there seems to be some belief that because Luna is all pacifism this and that, that she would’ve been a better Commander; e.) that Luna would’ve bettered Lexa in the second round of the Conclave anyway.
I can’t say much for the Conclave stuff, because I don’t know how Luna and Lexa’s respective battle training was at that point. Perhaps, at that point, Luna was indeed the more impressive combatant than Lexa. Looking at Lexa’s single combat scene with Prince (now King) Roan (Zach McGowan) in episode four, I find that incredibly hard to believe. Such skill and precision takes absolute years to master. Perhaps Lexa had not blossomed into the skilful, intelligent fighter that she proved herself to be in that combat scene—so perhaps Luna could’ve taken her—but this is an absolutely unfounded claim, and quite a cocky one I find—though cockiness is not a trait I have seen associated with Luna.
What I find more ponderous is the idea that a pacifist would make a good Commander, or a better Commander than Lexa. In fact, if I were to shove aside all politeness, I find it quite frankly laughable.
From what I understand, Luna ran away from the Conclave. Oh, she might have her reasons and she might claim she would’ve bettered Lexa or whatever, but she ran away into obscurity vowing to never kill again (after, y’know, killing her brother—this show does not make sense to me). Just that act alone renders her one-hundred percent unsuitable for the role of the Commander. As one of the Nightbloods says in their sessions with Lexa, to be the Commander is to bear the pain of their people. Luna, in running away from the Conclave and thus the responsibility of commandership puts her in prime position of number one in unsuitability for the position. If you cannot take pride in altruistically putting your happiness, your life ahead of your people’s—then you’re simply not heda. Lexa, on the other hand, did shoulder that burden. It was a heavy burden that I’m sure her heart screamed for her to go against—but she was selfless enough to take it. Luna wasn’t. And on this occasion, I have to agree with Titus: she was a coward.
I don’t know exactly how fans think commandership works, but being a pacifist when the twelve clans are at war isn’t exactly the best thing to be. Peace cannot be achieved by sitting around in a circle singing kumbaya whilst your husband fishes some sea bass for you on an oil rig. Peace, paradoxically, is achieved by war. It’s achieved by killing and ransacking and bloodshed; it’s achieved by forcing the enemy into submission, either by blood or by force.
Somehow, Lexa wrangled a coalition out of that. It is not her pacifism that makes her a great commander. Indeed, in the dark (nonsensical) world of The 100, I really don’t think you can be a pacifist as well as being the commander. But you can certainly utilise your position, as clans fear and respect you—to look ahead for brighter futures, greener pastures. Lexa was a peace-seeking revolutionary; she tried, especially in episodes five and six, to change the Grounder beliefs of ‘blood must have blood’ to ‘blood must not have blood’. She made impassioned, political speeches to the Grounders surveying her that this would be the only way their children could flourish, the only way their world and their society could flourish too.
And she’s right. It was a damn bloody road to get to a coalition, but install the right person in power (I’m ignoring you, Ontari) they can use their position to try and persuade others into their way of thinking. In Lexa’s case, it was a peace-seeking, unification way of thinking—and one many rebelled against. That’s predictable, not savagery: these Grounders have known war and hostility their entire lives. To have a young commander step up and declare such principles is a swift and dramatic change—and change is scary. To say Lexa isn’t a pacifist would be accurate. To say that she is a peacemaker would also be accurate. To say that Lexa perhaps sought pacifism as her endgoal as the commander? I would like to think that’s what she was trying to achieve with the coalition.
I guess what I am trying to say is that any argument of Lexa being any less capable of a commander than Luna is actually, I’m sorry, laughable. Luna ran away as soon as the weight of responsibility became too much; she isolated herself far, far away. She might be a pacifist but pacifism does not win you wars. It just means you don’t like killing. And unfortunately, in the midst of a bloodied twelve-clan war, the commander they needed was not a pacifist. They needed a revolutionary.
For everything that’ll ever happen over the course of this season, the duel between Roan and Lexa will surely go down in The 100’s history as one of the best scenes the show’s ever pulled off. Alycia Debnam-Carey and Zach McGowan, plus the show’s choreographers, have organized an absolute spectacle. Kudos to Debnam-Carey and McGowan, because it really is breath-taking (I’d like to note that as part of this analysis I had to slow down a lot of moments to create GIFs, and I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of stunts Debnam-Carey did on her own—she really kicked ass!).
Despite the brutality, speed and excellent choreography of the fight, there was a lot of doubt on social media as how Lexa, realistically, could’ve won the fight at all. But the important thing to note is thatAaron Ginsburg noted Lexa’s style of fighting was kali—originating from the Philippines—and thatdrastically changes the outlook of this fight. I’d had a few requests to delve deeper into this, so I’m going to try and challenge those doubts and make a case for the commander, by exploring this style of martial arts and how it fits in perfectly with Lexa’s personality and physique.
Before we plunge straight into the fight, here are some things we know about our opponents:
Roan: Huge and a muscular guy; extremely skilled and quick fighter (as proven when Clarke witnesses him taking down multiple warriors); strong and stubborn; and lastly, his cockiness, as implicated by Nia just before he enters the ring.
Lexa: A lot smaller than Roan and a lot leaner too. She’s shown skill at sparring with the Nightbloods, she’s unafraid to fight on the front lines (as seen in Blood Must Have Blood Part I) and has confidence in her almost legendary status. She’s intelligent, can remain calm under pressure or jibes, patient (“it takes as long as it takes”) and one can assume she is agile and speedy due to her smaller size.
Roan and Lexa face off as Titus declares: “In single combat, there is but one rule: someone must die today!”
A seemingly pointless part but ultimately important. Roan yanks his blade from his sword-holder, tests it in his hand, and immediately looks up to Nia—perhaps for approval? Lexa, on the other hand, is momentarily caught out when Clarke pushes through the crowd and they exchange this touching bit of dialogue:
Lexa: “I’m glad you came.”
Clarke: “Me too.”
This is significant because Lexa, after all of Clarke’s angry insistence she shouldn’t go through with the fight, never expected Clarke to support her in this—and now she has the power of someone she loves finally seeing that this is a necessity that can’t be avoided, but will support her.
The entire episode is great for a return to Clarke’s manipulative ways around Polis, but that’s because she doubts Lexa’s skill in fighting. Now there’s no other option. It’s subtle, the way Eliza Taylor and Alycia Debnam-Carey both deliver their short lines—but it’s loaded with subtext. Lexa knows that if Clarke hadn’t backed her, the vote of no confidence would’ve gone through and she’d already be dead. Clarke, after all, her manipulation and scheming in this episode to avoid such a fate for Lexa—finally accepts that this has to be done. Even if it’s for one last, tragic time, she can’t not be there for Lexa—and Eliza Taylor’s crack in her voice shows just how much emotion she’s trying to hold back.
Lexa finally unsheathes her sword, and as soon as it happens, Roan charges at her from behind.
Lexa, anticipating this, whirls around to parry his blow before Roan can even make one, and seems to slice him across the back too.
ROAN GAINS THE FIRST ADVANTAGE
There’s a brief moment in which Roan slowly turns around to face Lexa, where she can gauge him. Everyone has a flaw, and cockiness is surely Roan’s. But she goes for the offensive immediately, keeping the majority of her weight on her back leg so it’s harder for Roan to kick her down, but also to maintain a lower center of gravity and keep balance in her raging offense.
Roan and Lexa exchange a few intense parries, with Lexa seemingly wanting to get this over and done with. This surprised me—initially I thought she’d play a longer, teasing game with Roan to draw out his innate cockiness—but as they lock swords, Roan, by far the bigger and stronger dueler in this scenario, now has the advantage. He presses down on her blade, snarling a “you’re done” as he forces her to the ground.
But Lexa, as we’ve discussed earlier, is calm under pressure and remains unfazed by his mockery. We know she’s intelligent; we know she can wriggle her way out of any situation…much like Clarke. But Lexa is also stubborn (…again, like Clarke) and she refuses to be floored by Roan. Lexa grips onto the end of Roan’s blade, drawing blood as she does so, to offer more strength into her defensive parry. This is the game-changer, and this is how Lexa recovers. She manipulates the kali blade’s angle, sliding it so all the power shifts from to the tip of Roan’s sword. This makes it a lot easier for her to push Roan’s sword out of the way, whilst simultaneously decking him in the face with the hilt of her kali sword.
This is a principle that’s very important in the kali style of martial arts, and highly common across the Asian martial arts—especially wing chun—is the anticipation of your opponent, the economy of your movement, and to block and strike simultaneously. It isn’t a matter of playing a defensive parry first, and then swinging your sword, for example; it’s defensively parrying him and decking him in the face to knock the opponent off-balance—another key concept as displayed by Lexa’s move there.
ROAN DOESN’T GIVE UP EASILY
As quickly as he’s knocked off balance, Roan comes charging back for more, taking wilder and wilder swings with his sword at Lexa as he tries to end this once and for all. Lexa does her best to parry and evade his strength and speed but in doing so, they are both openly exposing themselves to attack with their dangerously open stances. Brute strength comes with its rewards, in the end: he manoeuvres his position by twirling quickly, so he can kick the living daylights out of Lexa’s legs—and send her falling face-first onto the floor.
Yet another sign of Roan’s over-confidence is that he importantly doesn’t disarm her. Lexa’s sword is still very much in play as she tries to recover from her vulnerable position with a lightning-fast parry, only to be struck down just as quickly by Roan’s sword. Lexa’s in a seriously dangerous, almost fatal position here—and she must be either anticipating her death or, at least, getting disarmed. And she’s right. This time, Roan, with one hand on Lexa’s arm and the other holding his sword, kicks Lexa’s kali away and out of play.
Using the minuscule time she has, for she’s anticipated the disarming already, Lexa strike Roan’s legs, which are unbalanced after moving to kick the kali away. It’s a tiny split fraction of a second Lexa uses, because she knows, this time, Roan won’t make the same mistake twice—he will disarm her—so she strikes him to knock him off-balance (an opponent who cannot maintain balance will always be disadvantaged), and knees him hard, sending Roan sprawling backwards.
Lexa doesn’t hesitate in picking up Roan’s sword. Another aspect of kali training is that hand-to-hand combat and weaponry-based combat are intertwined. One of the main principles is that you can almost ‘improvise’ with the weapon given to you—and Lexa, testing the unfamiliarity of Roan’s sword, can do exactly that with all her years of training. At some point, she picks up her discarded kali sword too—and now, the advantage is really tilted in her favor…or is it?
SWORDS VERSUS SPEARS
We’ve already seen that Lexa is skilled with spears and staffs, in her training sessions with the Nightbloods. But in a single, one-to-one combat scenario, I would argue that a spear wins every time. It is easily maneuverable, especially if you have exceptional body strength (which Roan has in spades) and it has a longer range, so you can jab and thrust at your opponent. It was very popular in medieval combat, and in all of history, dual sword-wielding was rarely used (effectively). That’s not to say it’s impossible: on wing chun principles of weaponry, butterfly swords can be used if you’re insanely rapid and speedy; and Miyamoto Musashi is rather epically renowned for his excellence and incomparable skill in dual swordsmanship. Musashi went undefeated in all sixty of his duels.
Back to the fight: we see Roan, disorientated, look for another weapon—and he punches a spear-holder in the face to get hold of his weapon. He even goes on to do a bit of impressive show-boating, as if to say: “you might’ve just got me there, but I’ve now got a spear and your two swords stand no chance.”
The best chance Lexa stands against Roan now is if she uses her original blade offensively, and uses Roan’s heavier blade almost as a shield—for all the defensive parries. If she does it well, she can lock his spear down—but judging by Roan’s excellent spearsman ship, it’s hard to imagine he’ll let her too close so she can step in and take the killer blow. From the very first swing of the spear, again, it’s wild stuff from Roan, and Lexa easily evades the first blow with her superior agility and anticipation.
Lexa quickly withdraws into a defensive position—and this is where I think maybe her mistake comes into play. She goes gung-ho for the offensive, knowing Roan has got a superior weapon to hand (even with her two blades). Her first blow leaves her open and uncovered, and if Roan had been quicker he could have jabbed her back or knocked her off-balance. Lexa unleashes a host of severely disabling attacks on Roan with both swords, using them both offensively—which goes against my earlier speculation that perhaps she’d use Roan’s sword as a blockade/defence of some sort. Lexa’s moves are swift, powerful and impressive—but note how easy it is for Roan to just parry Lexa’s attacking blows away with his spear. He barely needs to do anything, and his balance is well and truly restored. Lexa continues at her blistering pace, until she seals her own fate, really: she uses both swords to lock against Roan’s spear, and it just isn’t enough.
Roan’s power consumes Lexa as he forcefully smacks his spear forward, utterly knocking Lexa off-balance and she loses one of her swords. Again, Roan’s anticipation and speediness fail him because for the second or two Lexa was befuddled by the turn of events, he could’ve administered a serious killer blow. But rather recklessly, Lexa lashes out at him with her remaining weapon—and she should’ve anticipated this really—Roan easily disarms her with his spear.
Now it’s one spear versus a weapon-less commander, and Roan’s spearman ship is simply too great that she cannot get a chance to step into him and engage in hand-to-hand combat. In my opinion, I knew Roan would be fast and a strong opponent—but I had honestly expected Lexa to be a lot less rash in the moves she made, that quite often left her exposed. Had Roan been quicker or more anticipatory, he could’ve killed her maybe two or three times before this moment. Roan’s brute strength wins this round as he confidently steps in and delivers a solid kick to Lexa’s chest, sending her sprawling backwards, with no weapons and utterly dazed.
(Neil Sandilands as Titus is gold, mind you—and I really worry about Titus’ mental health sometimes…)
ROAN SHOULD HAVE KILLED HER
I’ve been saying all along that Roan’s cockiness could be his downfall. Nia implied it, moments before the fight. Lexa could gauge it, in the way he swaggered across the pits, the way he took the spear and show-boated for a bit before getting his head back in the game. Lexa, still flat on her back on the ground, can do nothing as Roan assuredly strides over towards her, tossing the spear up in his hand to catch it again. He’s going to relish this kill, and he’s going to relish the lifting of his banishment.
There’s absolutely nothing Lexa can do as Roan points the tip of his spear at her throat. The crowd knows this, Titus knows this, Nia knows this, and judging by the look on Clarke’s face—she knows it too. The tip is there, right at her skin—and this, among his other shows of cockiness, is where it ultimately fells him. Instead of shoving the tip down and all the way through Lexa’s throat, killing her, he actuallylifts the spear up (I assume to deliver a more impressive, gory killer blow) away from her throat, and Lexa can see this—she can see her tiny window of opportunity. She’s clever. She’s intelligent. She is the commander in her own right. She has clocked onto Roan from the very beginning of the fight and by now she can judge his strengths and weaknesses. He’s not as quick as her, and she is far more stoic than he is. So Lexa watches, eyes wide open as Roan draws his spear back, with the intent of slamming down on the commander’s throat—and again, we’re talking fractions of a second—she calculates the exact moment to roll away from Roan’s blow.
It is speed, agility and anticipation. Lexa’s kali style of fighting is not about brute force. If it had been—if it had been some grappling or boxing challenge issued to her—perhaps she would’ve lost immediately. But this is different. Roan and Lexa have wildly varying fighting styles, and in this fight, Lexa shows us why she is the legendary commander.
I THINK LEXA MIGHT BE QUICKER THAN BARRY ALLEN
The move Lexa pulls off straight after she rolls aside to evade Roan’s spear is sheer impressive—and I have to commend Debnam-Carey’s agility and flexibility for that. With Roan’s spear briefly stuck in the ground, Lexa forcefully kicks at his legs and knocks him off-balance and onto the ground as she acrobatically flips herself back up into a defensive position.
Now Roan’s pissed. He had the commander of the coalition and the banishment about to be lifted shunted away in a second, and instead of jabbing or thrusting forwards, he swings wildly, likely to be a little humiliated he’d missed his opportunity to finish the job.
He’s too slow, for Lexa. She’s already seen his wild swings before; she knows what to expect. She easily dodges them, with her superior agility and despite being weapon-less, despite being knocked to the floor and almost killed, Lexa finally gets close enough after Roan hastily, aimlessly, jabs forwards—and Lexa uses this to simultaneously seize the spear from Roan, as well as forcefully smack his other hand away.
It’s a risky move—a couple of inches to the left and she would’ve been speared—but she’s confident in this. She’s read Roan, well and truly, like a book now. This is the Lexa I’d been waiting for: there’s no time to attack and defend, or attack then attack again: Lexa attacks and attacks at the same time and all of a sudden, Lexa has the spear and Roan is weapon-less again.
THE DIFFERENCE IN LEXA AND ROAN’S OFFENCE
Here, Lexa doesn’t bother showboating. She doesn’t bother giving Roan any insight into just how good she is with a spear. She doesn’t bother with wild, desperate and increasingly predictable swings; she lashes out up-top almost as a feint for when she, lightning-quick, brings the force of her spear crashing down on Roan’s legs, sending him to the ground. And as Roan half-heartedly tries to defend himself with his fists, Lexa unceremoniously whacks his chin with her spear, and Roan—fast, skilled, merciless, taunting, a showman—is ultimately defeated by the one weakness Nia and Lexa both gauged: his cockiness.
If you use your mind and anticipate certain movements, like Lexa, learned to after watching Roan fight with the spear, and you use your intelligence to recognize your weaknesses but also your opponent’s, it doesn’t matter how small you are and how big your opponent is—it’s the calmness of mind and the economical way of fighting that could very well win you the fight.
“SOMEONE MUST DIE TODAY.”
As Lexa holds the tip of the spear to Roan’s throat, she’s going to do it. She’s going to shove it through his throat and kill him in the most pathetic way possible, in the way he couldn’t do to her. Nia, infuriated, leaps from her seat and yells at Roan to get up. She says: “If you die, you don’t die a prince, you die a coward!”
Even when Roan pleads with her to just get it done and end his humiliation, especially from his own mother, we see the clogs turning slowly in Lexa’s brain. The fight is hers to end. Roan can’t get up; Lexa will kill him. But if Roan dies, he doesn’t die a prince—but if he doesn’t…
He lives a king.
It clicks, then. In a shocking move, Lexa—with pinpoint accuracy—spears Nia through the chest and nails her to her chair (mind you, do to this, Lexa must have insane upper body strength so…holy crumbs, heda. I swear fealty! I swear it!). The last words Nia hears as she dies are the chants of “Long live the King! Long live the King!”
We have yet to see how Ontari will react to this news, or indeed, if the Ice Nation will be up to something more sinister—but Roan, for sure, will be indebted to Lexa for saving his life. It’s a closure of the Costia chapter—as Lexa says, “jus drein jus daun”—and no doubt, there must be immense satisfaction in killing the torturer and executor of her first love. But it’s a political statement too. Note how all the treacherous ambassadors were seated on the stage like they were witnessing the downfall of the betrayed—and the exact opposite happened. They were all sitting ducks. Note the importance of Clarke being in the crowd, away from the stage—because she truly supported Lexa in this fight.
A BRIEF SNIPPET ABOUT KALI
Kali blades are highly varied, but the main point of their design is that they’re curved—so when you shove a kali blade into someone’s body, you can quite easily retrieve your sword instead of getting it lodged in a bone (like an English longsword, perhaps). A nice history tidbit is that upon the Spanish conquering the Philippines, the Filipinos were banned from carrying swords in the sixteenth century. Instead, they trained with rattan sticks and native practising of kali martial arts was usually hidden from the conquering Spaniards in ‘group dance practices’. It’s not hard to believe when you look at the fluidity and elegance of Lexa’s fighting style—but it just shows you how cunning these Filipino Martial Artists were in retaining their right to practise this fighting style.
I find it entirely believable Lexa defeated Roan—even if it was a close call, and she was rash at times. She exhibited all the desirable qualities of a great kali warrior: she was lightning-fast, she was agile, flexible, anticipatory, adaptable (especially with Roan’s increasingly predictable moves), balanced; she wasn’t fazed by Roan’s taunts and her footwork remained superior throughout, and she exposed his teetering balance on more than one occasion. Her intelligence and acclimatization grew as she fought, her endurance taking a battering but not so much as the bulkier Roan’s. Lexa’s fighting style was never about utilizing brute strength—even though Roan caught her out on a few occasions with his superior strength. It was about intelligence, prediction of moves, evasion, a simultaneous attack/attack and calmness of the mind: not cockiness. On paper, I can see why people doubted Lexa could’ve defeated a strapping, ripped guy like Roan—but dissecting the fight, I can now see why Lexa had utter faith in herself all along.
As Ip Man, legendary Grandmaster of wing chun (an Asian Martial Arts style that has similar principles to kali) said: “Relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow your opponent’s movements. Do not fight with the strength; absorb it, and it flows. Use it.”
Thank you for reading, and I hope that was interesting to some of you. I’d like to also thank someone I warmly dub “Martial Arts Anon” for helping me grasp the part on the blade angle manipulation. Thank you, my friend! Phew. That gave me a good excuse to watch the scene fifty more times. What did you think of Lexa’s win and the fight in general? Tweet me @NicolaChoi and let me know your thoughts! This is just me taking one aspect of the episode and analyzing it. For a full review of ‘Watch The Thrones’, you’re in Dened Rey’s steady hands!
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?