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The 100

The 100’s Clarke Griffin: A Case of Designated Protagonist Syndrome

Credit: The 100/The CW

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More often than not, the main character of a television show isn’t the fan-favorite.

If you look at some of the most popular teen shows of the past decade, the character that got the most media attention and had the biggest fan base is never the protagonist. Elena Gilbert and Scott Mccall from The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf, respectively, were overshadowed by characters like Damon Salvatore and Stiles Stilinski. Viewers tend to place certain standards on the main character of a show that snarky, secondary characters can avoid. Their actions aren’t constantly critiqued the same way. Ensemble cast members often become more popular with the audience than the lead due to the amount of time we spend with them and their overall importance to the narrative. It’s much easier to get sick of the character with the most screentime, especially if you don’t find their storylines as compelling as others. One notable case study of what is dubbed as “designated protagonist syndrome” is the leading lady of The 100, Clarke Griffin.

The 100's Clarke Griffin in her prisoner cell.

The 100/The CW

Clarke Griffin is the first character we’re introduced to in the pilot of The 100, yet in my years as a fan of this show, I’ve seen more critiques of her than I have of nearly any other character on the show (male lead, Bellamy Blake gets his own fair share of undeserved hate, but that’s another story).

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of The 100, it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series on The CW. The CW is known for young adult shows usually characterized by cheesy romances and ridiculously attractive 20-year-olds trying to pass for teenagers. The 100 is definitely a sucker for both of those things, but it also created a revolutionary character in Clarke.

Clarke is one of the most multi-faceted female characters I’ve seen not only on The CW but on television in general. Most of the time teenage girl characters only have storylines centered around male characters and aren’t given the space to develop into their own person. On the other side of the spectrum, you have female characters whose only given attribute is that they’re “tough” and never allowed to show any emotion or empathy. When I started watching The 100 as a young fourteen-year-old girl, Clarke was a breath of fresh air.

Watch all episodes of The 100 right now

I had never gotten to see a character like her before. She became the leader of her people, not through force, but through earned respect. People trusted her because she was honest and kind. However, she wasn’t just some sweet girl that they could walk all over. Clarke’s ultimate goal was always to protect the people she cares about and do things for the greater good, yet she wasn’t afraid to be ruthless to do so. 

The 100 is heavily laced with themes of morality and difficult choices, yet seeing a young woman having all this power to make life or death decisions was incredibly empowering. Throughout the series we see Clarke commit unspeakable acts and we watch her deal with the consequences. Because most of the big decisions lay on her shoulders, she receives the brunt of the blame in the show and in the fandom. 

She gets labeled as “Wanheda”, which means “the commander of death” in the show’s fictional language. In the show, the term is thrown at her constantly to remind her of all the deaths she has caused. In the fandom, she’s consistently labeled selfish or presumptuous. 

Clarke in season 3 when she was known as wanheda.

Clarke as “Wanheda”/The CW

I’d like to argue that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that a lot of the hate Clarke receives has to do with the fact that she is the main character of the show, and is mostly unfounded.

Clarke’s actions throughout the show typically have the most repercussions because she’s the lead. She’s had the most opportunities to cause destruction and usually faces more obstacles than most of the ensemble cast does. She never actively chose to be a leader, but she was forced into it by her circumstances in the show. And yet somehow when things go wrong, all the blame automatically falls on her. Of course, that’s the normal struggle of a leader, but when you’re just a young girl forced into the role it seems to be a bit of harsh judgment. 

As seasons progress, more and more people abandon Clarke. A lot of this has to do with several plotlines separating Clarke from the rest of the main cast for extended periods of time, but the ultimate theme the show seems to be reinforcing over and over again is that “leadership is a lonely pursuit”. Her love interests die while most of her friends have decided that she’s no longer apart of their so-called “family”. 

As a dedicated fan for years, the constant critiquing and isolation of the main character gets old. In the most recent season of The 100, John Murphy, a fan-favorite character, actively put Clarke’s life in danger and was ready to let her die for his own selfish reasons. Murphy has been on the show since the beginning and has gained a cult following because of his quick remarks and sharp one-liners. I never had much of a problem with him until this past season.

He spends the first two episodes complaining to the rest of the ensemble cast about how Clarke is selfish, makes bad choices and is dangerous. However, when you fast forward to the middle of the season, he is completely capable of saving Clarke from a life or death scenario and chooses not to for a chance at immortality. This is far from the first time Clarke has ever been in danger on this show, yet I found this betrayal especially cutting. Clarke and Murphy had never really been friends, but always kept each other alive when they could. Now, it’s been shown that nearly everyone Clarke has had any kind of relationship with on the show considers her to be disposable. 

Clarke and Murphy standing together.

Clarke and Murphy/The CW

Frankly, Clarke Griffin deserves better. She’s called selfish when time after time she has sacrificed herself and her happiness for the safety of others, even leaving herself to what she believed would be certain death in the finale of season 4. Her former friends and allies treat her with no respect and no gratitude for saving their asses multiple times. The fandom still complains that she’s annoying or hypocritical when all she’s done is try her best to keep the most people alive that she can.

Clarke is such a complex, enjoyable character that I find it so hard to believe so many people don’t like her. She cares deeply about the people she loves and isn’t afraid to go to bat for them. She’s incredibly intelligent and diplomatic, helping create essential alliances that no other character in the show could have achieved. Whenever there are brief moments of happiness on The 100 we get a glimpse at her fun side, who’s able to relax and enjoy herself with the people she loves. Yet almost immediately, that glimpse of happiness and hope always slips through her fingers.

Unfortunately, Clarke doesn’t always get back what she puts out into the world. She does have a few strong relationships still, but she has by far experienced the most loss on this show and been given the least amount of time to grieve. She’s lost her best friend from childhood, her parents, two romantic partners, and several other friends. Yet somehow she’s still supposed to be an all-knowing leader who never makes any mistakes.

One important aspect that cannot go unmentioned when talking about Clarke Griffin is the groundbreaking representation she provides. In season 2 of the show, it was revealed that Clarke is bisexual. This shocked viewers, specifically fans of the book series the show was based on since she wasn’t bisexual in the novels. However, the choice to include this aspect of her in the show lead to one of the best examples of a bisexual woman on television. She became the first LGBTQ+ lead on The CW network and the first bisexual lead on major network television. How can people not love someone breaking down boundaries for bisexuals everywhere?

Clarke and Lexa/The CW

Fans have expressed how Clarke’s bisexuality on-screen has helped them figure out their own sexualities. Although The 100 is guilty of falling into problematic LGBTQ+ tropes on television with the infamous death of the character Lexa, Clarke and the representation she provides has always been a bright spot in the show.

Clarke Griffin is a dynamic character who makes hard choices and will always do what needs to be done to protect her people. She’s committed unspeakable acts and she owns that. But she’s also the person who sacrifices herself to save her friends on more than one occasion. She’s also the girl who stepped up to take care of a group of 100 teenagers when they were dropped on a new planet. She’s the girl who took in a six-year-old girl to raise when she was still a kid herself. Impossible choices are forced onto her and no matter how she handles it, she’s always the one blamed in the end, on the show and off.

I don’t know why Clarke isn’t a fan-favorite character. Usually, the Designated Protagonist Syndrome occurs when the ensemble cast is made up of such captivating characters that you get sick of the main one you’re forced to spend the most time with. But from my perspective, there would be no The 100 without Clarke. She has the most interesting storylines (besides that long stretch in season three when the whole show hit a rut), has the most compelling relationships, and has had a real-world impact on LGBTQ+ viewers. Clarke Griffin has been carrying this show since it premiered in 2014.

She bears it, so they don’t have to.


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    The 100

    The 100 Series Finale Review- May We Never Meet Again (7×16)

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    The 100 Series Finale season 7 episode 16 the last war review

    Based on the first fifteen episodes of the season, we knew The 100‘s series finale wasn’t going to be great. But, wow. It was somehow still worse than expected.

    If the closing message of the show was meant to be that humanity can be better if they put their minds to it, it should’ve ended with season five. But instead, we watched two more seasons of humanity proving that it will never change and committing more and more atrocious acts of violence. Why should they be allowed to transcend? Because they called a ceasefire one time?

    The speech Octavia gave that changed everyone’s minds wasn’t nearly as powerful as the writers intended it to be. Neither was Raven’s plea to the judge. Nothing felt earned in this episode.

    The Lexa and Abby cameos felt horribly out of place. If they were going to bring either of these actresses back, it should’ve at least been for something worthwhile. The concept of the judge appearing as your greatest love/teacher/failure/etc. was an interesting idea, but it wasn’t done well. It wasn’t used for any emotional impact. If Clarke or Raven were actually affected by the person they saw standing in front of them and changed what they said because of who they felt they were talking to, it would’ve been worthwhile. But, The 100 always likes to introduce cool ideas and never follow through on them in a meaningful way. This will just be another plot point added to the list of missed opportunities (like the radio calls, M-CAP, etc.)

    I have mixed opinions on Clarke failing the test. It makes sense that Clarke would be defensive of her actions, especially this season seven version of Clarke, but it also feels wrong. She didn’t seem remorseful at all. We’ve seen Clarke wracked with guilt over her choices in the past, so it doesn’t fully add up that she would be so defiant at this moment. She’s grappling with what happened to Madi, so that provides some context for the way she acts, but still. It just felt really off. Especially considering it came right after the sequence of Clarke killing several guards and Cadogan without any emotion in her eyes. Who even was that?

    And now she never gets to transcend? It’s a bizarre choice to doom your protagonist in that way. The beach scene at the end is presumably intended to be hopeful, but it didn’t feel that way. Especially because of the gaping hole left by Bellamy.

    None of that meant anything without him. A peaceful life with everyone together, living happily and falling in love? You can keep it if your male lead isn’t there.

    It’s insulting that Levitt gets to be there but Bellamy doesn’t. That Hope and Jordan get to have the happy life together that he didn’t get to have with anyone. Why do the new characters get special treatment when the co-lead is erased from the narrative and denied any semblance of a happy ending? Bellamy was right. He was right about transcendence, and now everyone gets it instead of him. I guess it’s poetic justice that Clarke won’t get it either then.

    Why did Emori get to transcend? She was technically dead. It’ll probably be blamed on the mind drive, but it kind of takes away from Murphy’s sacrifice to be with her.

    We were given another needlessly gory death of someone who provided great representation when Emori died at the beginning of the finale, only for her mind drive to be put into John’s head so they could have their final moments together. The scene of them dancing in the headspace while Miller and Jackson danced in Sanctum was the only scene that was somewhat enjoyable in this episode.

    I wanted to highlight Murphy’s speech to Emori where he talks about how without her he would just be surviving, not living. He then goes on to say that he would choose a few hours with her over forever without. That was a good callback to “life should be about more than just surviving”, and also just a really sweet sentiment. Murphy and Emori were stuck in the pointless Sanctum storyline for most of the season, but I’m glad we got a few good moments in with them at the end.

    I don’t buy everyone choosing to live on Earth with Clarke instead of transcendence. Most of them haven’t been friends with her in years. Hope, Jordan, and Levitt barely know her. Why would they give something like that up for her? It genuinely doesn’t make narrative sense, so it doesn’t feel like a good ending.

    Sure, maybe it can be argued that they just want to live a normal life, and it’s not necessarily for Clarke. But that’s not a great ending either.

    Stray Thoughts:

    • The Hope and Jordan scene in the bunker was so pointless. This is the finale, come on! Use that time to make your ending more believable.
    • The “worse than killed her” line was super off-putting.
    • So much of the first half of the season was spent on Echo, Hope, and Gabriel for no reason. Hope got shoehorned into an undeveloped relationship, Gabriel was killed, and Echo got…? Nothing?
    • The series couldn’t decide between a nihilistic ending or a hopeful one until it was too late for either option to be well-done.
    • Still not a fan of Levitt and Octavia.
    • Indra killed Sheidheda way too late.

    It’s finally over. What’d you think of the ending? Are you hoping the prequel gets picked up? (I’m not.) Let us know in the comments below!


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    Coffee Table News

    ‘The 100’ Showrunner Jason Rothenberg on Fan ‘Expectations’ and ‘Surprise Guests’ Ahead of Series Finale

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    The 100 Hesperides Review

    It all comes to an end this Wednesday, September 30.

    This may be a relief for some The 100 fans who have been less-than impressed with the show’s direction in the final season. 

    Showrunner Jason Rothenberg spoke to TVLine about what he hopes that final hour-long episode accomplishes especially after the penultimate episode left many questions that needed to be addressed and much to be desired. 

    “We’re going to try and wrap up as many things as we can,” he said. “It’s a finale — and it’s a series finale on top of that — so there will be some surprise guests. Fans can have expectations of a certain scope and scale that I feel we’ve always been able to achieve in these finales.”

    The final episode also marks his directional debut. 

    “This was a difficult season, because we also made a pilot within the season in the middle of everything,” he explained. “And because we shot the pilot so late in the season, I went right from being on the set of the prequel to prepping the finale. … It was definitely a challenge, but I’m glad I did it. I kind of wish I’d done it earlier, so I could have four or five [episodes] under my belt now, but it would have been a regret had I not.”

    He even explained that the final scene from the penultimate episode, which saw Clarke deciding to relieve Madi of her pain and suffering, was intended to kickoff the series finale. 

     “I actually wrote and directed that scene,” he said, adding, “But the finale was too long, so I had to put it at the end of the previous episode. That episode originally ended prior to Clarke making the decision to euthanize her child, so there was going to be a little more time — at least in the audience’s mind — before she got to that decision.”

    Rothenberg seems to believe that he’s achieved what he intended for the finale and even promises some “surprise guests.”

    “If the finale gets a little trippy, as seems pretty likely if Clarke and Co. are in for a test on top of the war, then all bets could be off and we could see the returns of some dearly (or not-so-dearly) departed characters,” he said. 

    Here’s the official synopsis for the series finale: “After all the fighting and loss, Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and her friends have reached the final battle. But is humanity worthy of something greater?”

    You can catch up on all The 100 reviews right here! 
     


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    The 100

    The 100 Review- Only One More To Go (7×15)

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    The 100 season 7 episode 15 the dying of the light review

    The penultimate episode of a series will tell you everything you need to know about the finale. Will there be enough time to wrap everything up? Are characters headed towards endings that make sense for them? Is the message the show is trying to leave us clear? Based on this week’s episode of The 100, next week’s series finale will likely not meet any of those criteria.

    An hour that should’ve been spent on wrapping up relationships arcs and setting up the last big obstacle our characters have to face included a lot of filler moments. Over the years The 100 has introduced way too many new characters that they don’t know what to do with. Any effective character development ended after season four, and we’re now left with a plot that’s too ambitious that we have no emotional connection to.

    This Could’ve Been Avoided

    And unfortunately, these final episodes are tainted by the loss of male lead Bellamy Blake. It’s not lost on the audience that every other character is getting a death scene surrounded by the people they love and a traveler’s blessing. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. It’s hard not to imagine how Bellamy would’ve been able to save Madi from her fate. The only reason he wasn’t in that room with Cadogan and Levitt is because Clarke wasn’t able to trust him. It would’ve been nice if she could’ve at least tried to understand where he was coming from. She wouldn’t be completely alone if she did.

    It’s incredibly frustrating to see Clarke continuously push the blame for Bellamy’s death on anyone but herself. His faith didn’t kill him, she did. His death is not comparable to anyone else she’s lost. This wasn’t a Finn or an Abby situation. He was still himself and she had many other choices. It doesn’t make narrative sense to show us Bellamy crying and begging Clarke to trust him and telling her that all he wants to do is protect everyone only for all of his friends to agree that he was too far gone to be saved. If they wanted to write a brainwashed Bellamy, they should’ve done it. But instead, Clarke seems heartless and out of character. It’s a shame that Bellamy was only worth anything to the people he loved when he agreed with them.

    Octavia only wants to honor the memory of the brother that would give up anything for her. She won’t acknowledge the man who developed a sense of agency and found something that brought him comfort and peace. Even in death, he’s still mistreated.

    Under The Rubble

    The only good parts of the episode were involving Emori. I’m really hoping she pulls through. She’s the hidden gem of The 100, and it would be a shame for her to not get a happy ending.

    Murphy and Emori are easy to root for. They’re a great match. It’s been nice seeing Murphy care for someone other than himself. His desperation to find her underneath the rubble was the most in-character thing we’ve seen this season. The conversation they shared while Jackson was cauterizing her wound was adorable.

    I especially liked the part where Emori was describing how happy she was in Sanctum and how she finally felt like she mattered, only for Murphy to intercept saying that she always mattered to him. Who would’ve thought John Murphy would end up being apart of the only good couple left?

    Raven and Emori’s friendship was a bit more developed than the rest of the relationships built on Skyring, so their moments together also felt meaningful. Everyone’s become so self-sacrificial lately but hopefully Raven continues to be stubborn and Emori & co. travel to Sanctum instead of Bardo.

    What’s The Point?

    The entire final sequence was sickening to watch. It’s disturbingly written, and the way it’s shot makes your skin crawl. The 100 brands itself as a series that pushes boundaries and isn’t afraid to face the dark sides of humanity. But there comes a point where enough is enough. The show’s become another egregious example of what happens when you become addicted to making your characters suffer and just end up creating torture porn. What’s the message you’re trying to give your audience? That no matter what you do, you can never be happy? That there will always be worse things ahead?

    Isolating your protagonist from everyone she’s ever loved isn’t bold storytelling, it’s just bad. It’s exhausting to watch. And to show a child left behind in that kind of state? There’s no shock value or benefit to going to such a dark place. It just upsets your audience without adding anything to the narrative.

    There’s not much else to say about it.

    Stray Thoughts:

    • Clarke and Gaia’s scenes felt hollow. Their relationship isn’t developed enough for any of their moments to have meaning. Same can be said for Octavia and Levitt.
    • On the other hand, Gaia’s moments with Indra felt well-earned. They’ve fought over faith for a long time, and they’ve come a long way.
    • Should we be expecting Clarke to go full Daenerys in the finale? Without Madi, she apparently has nothing left to fight for.
    • Jordan always feels out of place. They never really figured out what to do with him.
    • I pray I never hear the words “go float yourself” again.
    • Clarke humming the same song she hummed to Atom in 1×03 when she mercy killed him would’ve been really powerful in any other instance.

    What did you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments below!


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