This interview contains spoilers for The 100 Season 5, episode 2, “Red Queen.”
No more miraculous saves here – Thelonius Jaha (Isaiah Washington) officially reached the end of the line on The 100 in episode 2 of Season 5. It was definitely past time to say goodbye to the polarizing character after all the death and destruction he caused last season, and yet his onscreen death packed a surprising emotional punch, even for fans who have been rooting for his death for years.
One of the few remaining original series regulars, the former Chancellor of the Ark has been around on The CW’s post-apocalyptic drama from the very beginning, and his journey has definitely been maddening. His constant plans for saving “his people” often caused more problems than he intended. Let’s not forget, this is the man that enabled ALIE (Erica Cerra), the A.I. that wreaked havoc in Season 3, to be implanted in the minds of Skaikru. But he’s also a character who has cheated death time and time again – he even managed to make it down from the Ark in space to the ground alive, all on his own, thanks to a crying baby hallucination, of all things. Insanity!
Unfortunately for Jaha – but fortunately for fans who have been waiting for the controversial character to die for multiple seasons – this week’s episode, “Red Queen,” said goodbye to him for good. In an hour that took place entirely in the bunker and mostly one month after Praimfaya, Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) struggled to keep the peace in Wonkru as the new Commander. After some Skaikru rebelled and tried to take the farm for themselves, leaving all the Grounder clans and some Skaikru to die from starvation, Jaha teamed up with Octavia to save all of Wonkru. But he sustained fatal injuries during a fight with an Azgeda warrior and eventually succumbed to his wounds.
Before he died, he instilled a new kind of leadership philosophy in Octavia, who successfully joined all the Grounder clans and Skaikru together as Wonkru, but after six years locked together in a bunker that wouldn’t open, the society intended to be peaceful turned bloody, fast. Lawbreakers were now forced to fight to the death in violent ceremonies to bloodthirsty, cheering crowds, and none other than Kane (Henry Ian Cusick) found himself in the fighting ring in the final moment of the episode. As for what crime he committed, that’s yet to be revealed.
Despite the six year time jump and Jaha’s obvious onscreen death, IGN still needed The 100 creator and executive producer Jason Rothenberg to confirm if the scrappy former leader is indeed dead, and the showrunner obliged: Jaha is definitely, totally, unequivocally dead. But when asked why now was the right time to kill off the character who has escaped death countless times before, he paused.
“That’s always a hard question,” Rothenberg told IGN. “I’m not sure whether there’s ever a good or right time to say goodbye to a character. I really wanted to tell an emotional story through his death. I really wanted him to go out as a hero and yet also being true to his character’s almost-obsession with doing what was right for his people, for Skaikru, above all. I think we achieved that.”
Rothenberg couldn’t help but chuckle at how Jaha gets labeled as “problematic,” among other words, but he knew he didn’t want fans to be relieved or happy when the man took his final breath in this week’s episode.
“That was the most important thing to me,” he said. “You’re right, he was a controversial character for sure; some people almost looked at Jaha as a villain and were rooting for his demise. I really wanted people to not cheer when he died, which you do when there’s a villainous character that goes out, but to be emotional and moved and sad, as you would be when someone goes out who you understand and are rooting for. That was important. Ultimately, I think it’s a really special episode and certainly his performance, as it was all series, was amazing.”
Even the harshest critics of Jaha have to admit that the way he died was gut-wrenching, and the surprising emotional toll made his death scene all the more impactful.
“That was the goal I set out with the writers, to achieve that feeling,” Rothenberg says. “We wanted people to understand that here was a man who was always doing what was right for his people and to figure out a way to do that in the context of the story where he’s going to die tragically and yet does save his people again.”
Losing a series regular, especially one who has been around since the very first episode, is never easy. And Rothenberg revealed that Jaha’s absence will have a big effect on The 100 moving forward.
“Certainly the impact that he has on Octavia in [episode] 502 is indelible and changes her forever,” Rothenberg said. “That leadership advice that she receives from him in their pairing in that episode is in large part why Wonkru survives and it is the way that it is, ultimately.”
Thanks to Jaha’s dying words and final advice, Octavia earned herself a new nickname: Blodreina, or Red Queen. She successfully figured out a way to maintain an appropriate population size without having to force another cull, but it meant that Wonkru citizens now worship the daily fights to the death modeled after Ancient Roman gladiator trials. So essentially, they’re surviving, but as a brutal, aggressive new society with floors literally stained with the blood of their fallen.
Was there ever hope that Wonkru could have lived peacefully down in the bunker, or was it always doomed from the start? According to Rothenberg, Wonkru actually had a good shot at leaving violence in the past, until one very specific moment.
“There was definitely hope that they could ride it out in a peaceful way,” he said. “I think when they believe that the door would open at the end of five years and they could walk out into this survivable landscape again and start over, they were like, ‘Okay, I could make it five years. Put my head down, do my job.’ As far as Octavia’s concerned, she’ll train, she doesn’t need to make any huge decisions because she got them all down there.”
But when Clarke (Eliza Taylor) tried to get down to the bunker one month after Praimfaya and couldn’t dig through the rubble, the people in the bunker heard her attempts. Her mother Abby (Paige Turco) tried to open the door from the inside, but was crushed to discover that it was blocked from the outside. Not only could she not get out to her daughter, but that problem wasn’t going to be solved in any amount of time, let alone five years.
“Everything changes when they discover that they’re trapped and they don’t know if they’re ever getting out,” Rothenberg explained. “That’s when this different mentality takes hold and they begin to spiral into the abyss and chaos and insanity ensues and forces Octavia to do some fairly drastic things to not have them deteriorate to all-out warfare underground. That was essentially the turning point.”
Faced with yet another life-or-death decision, the people of The 100 figured out a way to keep on living. But with even more death and blood on their hands, do they deserve a second chance?
The 100 airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.
Sydney Bucksbaum is a freelance journalist covering TV and film. Talk to her on Twitter at @SydneyBucksbaum.