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.
Clarke has come to accept there’s nothing else she can do; Lexa’s fate is her own. But for Lexa, this is the first time all episode Clarke has shown belief in her–and she’s going to prove she’s not all words.
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.
Anticipation and observation are key principles in Lexa’s kali style of fighting.
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 briefly observe each other before Lexa goes for the offense. Note I’ve circled and slowed down her stance: knees bent, to prevent a kick from shattering her leg, to keep her balance and she steps into Roan’s space, enclosing him.
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.
Roan’s strength pins Lexa down, but it’s Roan’s blade she grips onto to try and get herself back in the fight whilst her other, offensive hand manipulates the angle of her sword so the power shifts to the tip of Roan’s blade–and can be shoved away.
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.
Roan’s wild swings and strength pays off–he gets Lexa’s wrist in a lock she can’t wriggle out of. Even as she parries back up, Roan’s got her.
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.”
Roan showboating. Impressive, but another mistake. Lexa can now gauge he’s a skilled spearsman and can calculate what moves may be too risky
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.
Lexa’s biggest mistake in the fight so far. Though her movements and agility are undoubtedly impressive, each turn leaves her exposed to a serious wound from Roan–who I’m surprised didn’t capitalise on that. Her lashes get increasingly wilder, until she is fully exposed.
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.
Lexa makes her big error in thinking two swords crossed over can overpower Roan’s spear and strength. He easily disarms both weapons and kicks her unceremoniously to the ground, ready for the kill-blow.
(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.
Roan tries to administer the kill-blow gruesomely–but his cockiness unravels him and gives Lexa time to pounce on a split-second opportunity. As she rolls away she is already thinking of her next move.
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.
Note how I’ve circled Roan’s stance–his knees aren’t bent to an adequate level to restrain from injury He’s still reeling from his missed opportunity, and his knees are exactly what Lexa aims for in a powerful kick to knock him off-balance.
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.
Perhaps sensing Roan’s frustration or fatigue, Lexa takes a huge risk in stepping into Roan’s thrust of his spear; she could very well get impaled in this move, but she cleverly sidesteps his thrust in order to seize his weapon from him.
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.
Roan’s ultimately defeated by Lexa–a skilled spearswoman herself–and she knocks him for six.
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!”
Lexa makes a bold political move in killing Nia–and a personal stamp, too, closing the Costia chapter.
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.
Lexa, the legend. The radical, the visionary, basked in sunlight and the adoration of her people.
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!