REVIEW | The 100 - Episode 3.04 - "Watch The Thrones"
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice.
Robert Frost, Fire and Ice
For years, they have courted each other's destruction. A hateful dance of carnage, bloodshed and who knows how much collateral damage. Regardless of who started it, though, this was a war that existed long before the legend of Wanheda, and long before Clarke Griffin ever fell to earth. But as we come to this week's installment of The 100, entitled 'Watch The Thrones', the defining stalemate of this bitter no man's land comes to a final head, as Nia arrives to throw down a challenge to Lexa's leadership. A challenge that will cost Lexa's life if she fails. Truly, this is one fight that was always going to come. But - as swords are unsheathed; as the boundaries between enemy and ally become blurred, and lines of life and death are drawn in the arena sand - I doubt anybody expected it to come like this.
And yet, this is not the only tussle for supremacy going on. Preying on the fears and anger of his reunited people, Pike begins his campaign of retribution and political dominance back in Arkadia, by starting in on the most obvious and strategic of emotional targets. Still reeling from Gina's death - and the knowledge that he left her alone in the mountain based on Echo's traitorous advice - Bellamy finds himself at a crossroads between his experience of the Grounders, and Pike's own violent hatred of them. Stricken with guilt, the elder Blake struggles to say no when Pike brings to the table a plan that would wipe out the warriors Lexa has sent for Arkadia's protection. As though Arkadia has what it takes to defend itself in foreign territory. As though the Sky people are not still a minnow in an ocean of sharks. He's got to be smarter than that, though....right?
Indeed, things about the world that had once seemed very clear - for Grounder and Skikru alike - are now muddier and more infested waters than they have ever been. Friend has turned against friend; where one enmity dies - or perhaps just evolves - another is ready and waiting to rear its ugly head. With all that in mind, let's make our way down to the arena shall we? There's a fight ahead, and to be sure: it's about to change everything.
IN COLD, DARK BLOOD
We've known for a long time that Nia was heartless: as ice cold as the kingdom over which she ruled. Brimming with ambition that was as deadly as it was ruthless to behold, the Ice Queen lived up to every square inch of her reputation: something which was impressive given that she has been built up for a long time now in the context of the greater narrative. Like Lexa, she was a presence to be reckoned with even before we saw her.
To be honest, I was shocked to see Nia play her biggest ace so quickly: literally within moments of arriving in Lexa's presence. I suppose a lot of that had to do with the fact that there was a heap to get through in this episode story wise, but it was kind of jarring to see everybody make their plays as fast as they did. And they kept 'em coming, too. Nia and her vote of no confidence in Lexa; the subsequent combat-to-the-death challenge and Roan being put forward by his mother to be the Ice nation champion; Clarke going straight to Roan afterwards and playing her King card like a boss. And that was just in Polis. We haven't even started on the events in Arkadia yet.
What I also loved here, though, was the sub story that played out parallel to the main plot. The whole concept of Nightbloods is totally fascinating to me, particularly in how it relates to the First Commander. I mean, what happened in that 97 years that created such a phenomenon? It is such a cool detail to add to the greater story. Likewise, the introduction of Aden and - more importantly - Ontari to the mix makes for a very intriguing state of affairs now. Ontari especially is already keenly gifted in the arts of war and combat - case in point when she realised Clarke was about to poison the Ice Queen's blood - and who knows how far inside her head Nia actually got. Will Ontari have what it takes to avenge Nia? Will she want to? I just have the feeling that she has more to bring to the story, and I for one can't see what that is, She is just too interesting to only be around for so brief a time.
JUS DREIN JUS DAUN
The fight of 'Watch The Thrones' will go down as one of - if not THE - best in the show's history. To date, that mantle had been owned by a country mile by Anya and Clarke's 'Imma bash your skull in with another skull because WELCOME TO EARTH, BITCH' stoush in the forest last season. Enter stage left Roan and Lexa, in a single combat death match to determine political and royal supremacy.
Every. Single. Moment. of this fight was glorious. Razor edged swords singing as they were unsheathed, while guttural voices chanted for their champions. Dust flying. Iron clashing. Roan's red blood sputtering on his tongue; Lexa's black blood smeared and dripping out of her nose. Blow after blow of metal and wood against armour and flesh. The fire of battle and anger burning in them both as they fought tooth and nail, trapped in a cauldron bubbling with the expectation of death and only the possibility of victory. And, finally, the hard sparkling glint of a single great spear as it drove headlong into the Ice Queen's heart. Silence as the Commander struck the Devil herself, dead. Truly, this was powerful storytelling and poetic justice at its gutsy, strategic best. Honestly, I watched it twice. I have goosebumps just writing about it.
On top of all that magnificence was the behaviour of Lexa in this whole situation. She was a powerhouse - a leader of legendary proportions - and quite frankly I don't give a rat's ass who you ship at this point, because if Lexa proved anything this week, it's that she needs NO ONE to complete her. Not Clarke, not her council, not even her people. No relationship is necessary to help this woman know her value, or her capacity to stand her ground. Alycia Debnam Carey played her with a blistering sincerity and level of fortitude that literally took my breath away. Kudos too in that department to Zach McGowan. And I loved the twist of Lexa making Roan king. That was a fantastic move in the context of the story but also as a political move on Lexa's part. On the whole, the Commander never once lost her cool. Lexa was strong for those who might falter around her - including Clarke - even though she was the one facing death. She was amazing, and ultimately she earned that beautiful moment with Clarke at the end of the day. I think they both did.
Because something else I really loved was that last moment before the fight where Lexa acknowledged that Clarke had chosen to be there for her. Pulling back her hood to reveal her face, the other detail we need to realise about Clarke here is that she's the only ambassador on the ground supporting her leader. All the others sit up on the stage, as though they are so secure, so safe in their decision to abandon their Commander. But as it has always done, what goes around came back around. And on this particular return journey, it was dead on target. The last word's Nia ever uttered were to tell Roan that if he died, it would be as a coward stripped of everything. The last words she heard as she died, instead, were 'Long Live the King'. She lay there flung back like a ragdoll, skewered through and through, life blood still bubbling pathetically from her lips as her ice blue eyes lost their cold light. Justice on The 100, it would appear, waits for nobody. Even a queen.
Either way, I'm serious people. As a huge Bellarke fan speaking to Bellarkers and Clexa fans alike (save me, I'm using shipper names in a review - what has the world come to), I beg you. Dock your ships for one minute and just appreciate how deeply, incredibly crafted all these characters were this week, regardless of who you want to be together. I did, and I'm so glad I did. I got so much more out of the episode. And out of no one more than Lexa.
For me, Pike seems like one of those characters that you feel like you should be able to feel absolute about. You want to hate him, with clarity, because he deserves to be hated. On the other hand, he has been through something horrific if the stories about Farm Station's landing in the Ice Nation are to be believed. So should we then be more understanding of his hatred? A bit more lenient perhaps? Should we let it be an excuse for his actions to a degree? You likewise have to wonder whether - if Pike had seen for himself Nia dying like that - it would have been enough to sate his anger and hatred for the death of his people. Would it have been enough for him to see that level of justice served to the woman who called in the hit on the Mountain? Would he then not be so eager to kill the Grounders outside their camp? I guess we'll never know.
The other thing we don't know yet, I think, is the full story about what happened when Farm Station hit the ground. I could be wrong, but I definitely believe that Pike - and Monty's mother, come to mention it - are hiding something about that whole situation. Not saying that the story he told didn't absolutely fit with the Ice Nation MO, but still: this gut feeling about Pike's true self and true ambitions, will not go away. Something doesn't add up, which is an even scarier thought now that he is Chancellor. I mean for real, he is the Donald Trump of the Arkadian election: no experience, no diplomacy, no willingness to understand others yet demands absolutely to be understood by everybody else, at every turn. He might seem to some like he's leadership material, but in the end he's just a thug with big mouth and a talent for fearmongering about something he refuses to understand. That he and not Kane is at the helm of this ship is both a travesty, and terrifying. I mean, how damn shady was it to make his first act as Chancellor to pardon himself and his followers. Expected yes, but shady as a fricking serial killer's basement at midnight. Then he went right on with his same mind to START KILLING PEOPLE just because he was afraid of what the Grounders' intentions might have been, NOT because they were an actual confirmed threat. In this, Pike is literally no better than Nia. No more noble than the Grounders he claims slaughtered his people in the snow. Something is rotten in his state of Arkadia. And given that they are the most vulnerable and least established of all the tribes on the ground, that bodes very, very ill indeed.
More heartbreaking though was Kane, especially in those moments with Bellamy where he kept trying to give Bellamy the chance to not betray his people. Kane has struggled so hard to keep the peace of so many people: all in the hope that one day, they would be able to coexist in a world defined by the same vitality, strength and civic warmth he experienced that day in the Polis market with Abby. A world where people stopped having to survive, and were finally given the chance to live. It's like he mentally floated the political chess player he used to be, the second he saw the true potential for what life could be at its best on earth. I have been so thankful for Kane in that sense. But to be sure, in this world, people like him are the exception far more than they are the rule. Hence why Arkadia needs to get its shit together STAT and put him back where he belongs.
A GRAVEYARD IN EDEN
From the very beginning of this story, Monty and Jasper have had the kind of relationship that acted as a balm to the audience when all other relationships left us feeling burned. They were like brothers, with a keen sense of loyalty between them that could not really be matched by any of the other characters: even more than Bellamy and Octavia. We think back to Monty telling Dr. Tsing in the Mountain to park her ass in the medical bay, because there was no way he was leaving his friend alone with someone he didn't trust. To remember life as it was, so often I've thought back to who these guys were in the beginning. To what they represented. They were the joy. The fun. The togetherness. They represented so much of what was worth fighting for.
But there were other things at the beginning too. Horrible things. And we went right back to one of the very worst. When we left the drop ship, it was a metal tomb riddled with holes and spattered in death, surrounded by boot trampled dirt and the ashes of dead men. When we return to it, the vivid glow of emerald grasses have reclaimed the ground. Absorbed the death in it and used it to grow. There's a strange kind of beauty to this place that it seemed for all the world, beauty had abandoned, never to return. As of right now, it's also the place where Jasper and Monty will draw a line through the friendship they once had.
Watching Jasper's rapid descent into emotional ruin has been heartbreaking to watch. And to be honest, I kind of got it. I've often been accused of being romantic about things - for the record, I so totally am and I'm not a single bit sorry for it - so I got the fact that Jasper was not coping having lost someone he loved, the way he did. Because I can categorically tell you that sometimes love for another human being can happen that quickly. It love that hits you like a bullet in the back (thanks Florence + The Machine), and you are helpless but to give in to its effects.
That said, I also got Monty's point of view as well. Because he was totally right in what he said.
Nobody in their world has had the luxury of time or peace to grieve their losses as they need to: Monty included .He notes that he still struggles every day with helping Clarke and Bellamy to irradiate the Mountain: killing their enemy yes, but also Maya. Since that night though, Monty has seen himself as having no option but to keep going. And as long as Jasper refuses to do the same - continuing so blindly to hang on to the past: a fact horrifically symbolised by the fact that he's stolen Finn's ashes in retaliation for what Clarke did to Maya - Monty makes it clear that Jasper will, by default, get left behind.
He makes it clear too that ultimately, the choice as to whether or not that happens is up to Jasper. Watching Monty walk away after that exchange - then watching Jasper drunkenly stumble to his knees, alone, dropping the ashes of his ill fated friend into the grass by accident, then sobbing so violently, so hard...ugh it hurts my soul. truly, I hope these guys manage to repair their bond somehow. They might never be able to go back, but there is still hope for them to go forward I think.
IF I STAY
While we've seen a bit of Octavia since the season started, Lincoln has been largely absent from the action, and in this episode we get a much better glimpse into why that is. It's a heartbreaking kind of irony for these two in the way that Octavia wants nothing more than to leave everything behind and disappear forever with the man she loves; while Lincoln just wants to be accepted amongst Octavia's people, for who he is and the contents of his heart rather than what he is by birth. Although you know he is ultimately loyal to Octavia, you can also see Lincoln struggling a lot with the fact that for so long he has been a man without a tribe, without a family. Finally he has a people he cares about, and yet aside from a select few, the majority of them cannot see past the end of their own angry, selfish noses in order to even acknowledge all the goodness he has done: let alone acknowledge the obvious fact that his motivations are all clearly geared towards their safety, their good.
Truthfully, Lincoln broke my heart this week. He showed so much grace, and so much courage. But Bellamy broke it more when he stood against Lincoln. To me - after everything they've been through - that was the sorest point for me of both Lincoln's torment and Bellamy's stupidity in siding with Pike. Of every cut, that must have been the deepest for Lincoln too. But much like Monty and Jasper, I need these two to find their way back to their friendship somehow. Because while Octavia loved Lincoln, it was Bellamy and Lincoln who first proved with their friendship that Grounders and Sky People had it in them to get past their pre-conceived notions of each other, and be friends. More than that, be trusted comrades in arms. Which is why, in the grand scheme of everything, the solidarity of these two matters so much. They're proof that people don't have to be defined by their past; only by how they choose to move forward.
THE GREAT DOUBLE TAKE OF BELLAMY BLAKE
Given the kind of storm that has erupted over what Bellamy did when he committed more than one big act of betrayal with Pike in this episode, by the end I came to the conclusion that I think there are two schools of thought that need to be taken into consideration here.
The first is obvious. A lot of people are going to see this episode as a massive step backwards for Bellamy, which is understandable. He has grown so much. After all, we know that the Bellamy we know now is unbelievably different to the Bellamy of those first few episodes. That guy was a douchebag. He cared about his sister but had no real respect for anyone but himself; and acted impulsively almost to the point of killing an innocent person (to be fair, Murphy was a rat then too, but that's beside the point). He was arrogant, cocky and still smarting from the bruising experiences stemming from his last few years on the Ark: especially after Octavia was discovered. He was a messed up, immature kid who made dumb choices that were informed by a minimal amount of useful life experience.
Cut to the Bellamy of, say, the end of Season 1. By this stage, he's learned that the act of doing better wasn't the luxury he'd treated it as for so long. It was a bonafide necessity if he was going to survive a land that had already slaughtered a number of his people with the collective grace of a hand grenade. That Bellamy wasn't perfect (hell he'd tortured Lincoln with a belt strap for information) but he at least went on to learn the wisdom and humility he needed to look past some huge prejudices he'd had, in order to do what was necessary to achieve the greatest good. Despite a bunch of shitty decisions he made at times, that season ending Bellamy was a good man.
Skip forward to the events before and after Spacewalker. Those kids tried so hard to save their friend AND their people, only to discover that in Finn's case, those two outcomes were going to be mutually exclusive. Like his friends, that must have burned Bellamy inside. Badly. Skip forward again to when he put his life on the line by infiltrating the Mountain. Remember how he risked his life for basically everything with a pulse that wasn't a Mountain Man? I mean holy crap. Yeah he did some awful things in the mountain (RIP that little kid's dad) and those things were out of necessity but still. That was a messy life or death situation that took guts to deal with, and he showed that guts in spades.
And you don't need me to harp again on what he did for Clarke in the Mountain. But I will say that what he did for her mental and emotional health in that instant must never, ever be underestimated. Clarke might be tough, but in the end we're humans and quite literally built for relationship with others. Which means more often than not, we need togetherness to survive. The second we start acting like islands - remote, unreachable and unwelcoming for whatever reason - that's when the world starts to fall apart. Bellamy understood that, and acted on it.
All of which brings us though, to the Bellamy of 'Watch The Thrones'. In some ways it was like watching a tapestry unravel, after two seasons of watching it be intricately, tightly and magnificently woven. For me - a fan who loves Bellamy to pieces - I found it so difficult to watch. No word of a lie: it pissed me off every way from Sunday. Because the Bellamy I was watching was not the Bellamy I thought I knew. This guy was a shadow of the person who had long since earned my respect and appreciation; a creature who may have been feeling a lot of guilt, a lot of pain, but still should have known better than to be so easily manipulated by someone like Pike. And don't even get me started on how he turned on Lincoln at the gate. Truly. I was disgusted at this Bellamy. Though I didn't hate him, I hated everything about him in this episode and felt the WORST.
But here's where the second school of thought comes into play. As amazing as his character is, he's human too. A human in a broken, messed up, imperfect world. So by default, he's going to find himself in situations he hates, and at times, is going to turn into a person he doesn't want to be in order to make it through. And that whole deal right there? That's got nothing to do with any apocalypse. Nothing to do with Grounders or space or guns or spears or ancient feuds or politics. But it has everything to do with his humanity: that common piece of ground that allows us, here on the other side of the screen, to authentically relate to him. Because we are every bit as human as he is. All these characters are.
Seriously. Bellamy does awesome things but he also does some really stupid things. He has knee jerk reactions; tries to do right but mucks it up; occasionally sides with the wrong people; and at times doesn't do what he knows is right because he doesn't like what he'd have to do or accept in order to achieve what's right. But who are we to say that we are any better? That we would be any better in his shoes?
The fact is that in the end, if you are trying to create relatable human drama, you have to be willing to let your characters take a backward step at times. Why? Because we take them - you and me - all the damn time. And taking them doesn't mean we never move forward again; it just means we have to pick ourselves up and keep going, despite them. We have to make mistakes so we can learn from them. It's through our experience and bad decisions that we come to know when to be cautious in future, and know when to not scare so fricking easily. So why should Bellamy be granted anything less than that in the context of this story? Is he not worth that to you? To me? To us as an audience? Are we so selfish as to not afford him that benefit, just because it would make us uncomfortable?
You know, it's weird. There's this proverb I remember getting told a lot when my sister and I were kids, about how nobody values being at the feast, as much as the person who before the feast was starving. The older I got, the more important the lesson I realised I was being taught.
And I think if you care enough about Bellamy, you need to be okay with the fact that sometimes - for him to grow into the man we know he can be - he's going to have to starve. Starve without wisdom. Starve without good or smart choices. Starve without healthy relationships with the people he desires to have around him. Else how will he ever truly understand how valuable those things are? How will he ever understand what it is to hunger for what's right?
And you know I get it: fair point that he's been through some horrible things - more than one betrayal at the hands of not just enemies but people he called friends. But haven't we all had crap like happen to us in one way or another? So if he doesn't occasionally make stupid decisions and take backward steps in response to those things, how will he ever be relatable to us? That right there is the point where the opportunity exists to lose that connection between us and him. We would lose it if the writers lost their nerve and began to pander to our whims, not to the best interests of the story. If they did that, they'd just start churning out unrealistic happy endings for every character: endings that that we and they know are nothing more than shallow bandaids for problems nobody wants to fix. Your once great story would suddenly suck big time. But these writers haven't done that, thankfully. Their nerve - and therefore the soul of this story - is still vitally intact. Which is exactly why you won't see me here throwing online punches because a character I loved behaved like a disloyal, emotionally dysfunctional jackass this week. Bellamy was an idiot, because even good people can be idiots sometimes. People just like us.
So. First things first. Script wise, I think writer Dorothy Fortenberry did a brilliant job this week. The experience of this episode felt less like we were an astute observer and more like we were strapped into the front seat of a Mad Max road train. She crafted a piece of TV that brimmed with hustle and purpose, all of which was then deftly punctuated with moments of vulnerability. The whole thing was then brought to life perfectly by Ed Fraiman's champion efforts in the director's chair. Fraiman frigging nailed it this week, and nowhere moreso than in that stellar combat sequence. That said, he also did a great job of capturing those fraught, more intimate moments between characters. Moments like Kane's quiet pained exchanges with Bellamy. Or Lexa appearing at Clarke's door, barefoot and soft, all armour gone, war paint wiped away, leaving only the girl. And perhaps most heart breaking of all, the seperate tormented moments at and after the memorial. Bellamy's tears. Bryan's sad tribute to one of the lost Farm Station people. Lincoln's blood, shed by the hands of a people he has accepted but who won't accept him. Those scenes were so good but also vital to the success of the episode.
Now the complicated stuff. This episode made fans everywhere feel a lot of big things, and not all of those things were good. Even critics expressed a certain reservation about how this chapter of the story unfolded, and to a degree you can see where they're coming from. There was a lot to make us angry. Case in point, Bellamy, whose actions this week would have seemed like a real betrayal of all his growth to date. If that's how you felt, then you certainly weren't alone and you're certainly not unjustified in your feelings to a certain extent.
But here's the thing. I think this episode was intended to make us feel angry. To make us mad that the characters we love are struggling and not on top of their game, and are therefore acting in ways we wish they wouldn't. An episode designed to infuriate us over the fact that that the characters we love are living in a world that keeps putting them in harms way. An episode created to inflame the audience and make us yell 'Everything is moving so fast! Too fast! Slow down!' at our screens. But you know what? I don't think the writers are going to slow down. And I don't think they should, either. Because if they do - if they start easing up on these people we love, and make it all a little easier, a little more pallatable, especially in the hard moments - then they are compromising the brilliant if bruising integrity of the world they have created. They would compromise the very heart of what makes this show so powerful. Is this fandom really so consumed by its ships that we'd be okay with such a compromise? Geez I hope we're not.
Because the world of The 100, as it is, reminds us of something really important. It reminds us every week that real life waits for nobody. Prince or pauper. Queen or Commander. Victim or victor. We saw that idea play out in Lexa's story this week, as she crowned Roan king inside the same minute she killed his mother. We saw it play out too between Monty and Jasper when Monty has to drop the hard truth on his best friend about the fact that Jasper will never be able to embrace living as long as he refuses to let go of the dead.
It's not to say that people won't get happy endings on occasion, or have good things happen to them. But the fact is that their world, like ours, will ever keep turning, regardless of whether or not its inhabitants are coping with the speed at which it moves. Think about it. Whatever the urgency we live with each day, the urgency they live with each day is far greater. We live in a world of funeral plans. They live in a world where they could just as easily die tomorrow. Life in our world moves fast; life in theirs moves even faster. So why should we expect the big changes in their lives to happen slower, or more conveniently, than in ours? It would make no sense. Hence why writers have to back themselves here, and keep up the pace, without losing the power. The question, then - as we look forward to next week, and Kane looks on helplessly while Chancellor Pike, Bellamy and their gun toting friends march with murder on their minds toward the Grounder camp - isn't whether this story is being told too brutally, too fast.
Rather, the question is whether we the audience have enough stomach and passion to keep up.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
If you were playing a drinking game based on how many times the word 'Bellamy' appeared in this review, then you should probably get to a hospital because I'm pretty sure you have alcohol poisoning. Diya, Jenn and Amy I am looking at you.
A tooth. A HUMAN TOOTH, DOROTHY FORTENBERRY.
Out of Pike and Emerson who would you feed to the angry mutant gorilla as human take out, first and why? Discuss.
Two weeks without Richard Harmon on my screen. Please fix this asap kthx.
If Pike attacks those Grounders and therefore puts the brakes on the Kane/Indra buddy comedy I've been working on FOR SERIOUS I WILL CUT HIM SO BAD.
In an ideal world, next week's episode will include Jaha being eaten by a giant angry mutated catfish; and Murphy and Emori on a beach making out, in doing so proving once and for all that they are cooler and more chill than you or I will ever be. Like, I would watch the shiz out of that episode.
Never change, Zach McGowan. You are my new favourite artist formerly known as Prince.
Lexa: awesome to have on your side in a fight, but I'd think twice before you let her to do story time at the local day care centre.
"We bind ourselves in blood"? Seriously people would it kill you to seal a deal without doing something that's going require stitches later to prove you mean it? Seriously PINKY SWEARING WORKED FOR CENTURIES BEFORE ALL Y'ALL CAME ALONG AND STARTED USING CUTLERY.