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'The 100' Boss on Embracing Death, Finale's 'Braveheart' Touch and Season 2 (Q&A)

"The CW has a certain thing that they do and are known for," executive producer Jason Rothenberg tells THR, admitting that it "takes a while" to win people over.

The 100 I Am Become Death Still - H 2014
Cate Cameron/The CW
"The 100"

The 100 isn't shy about death.

Set 97 years after a nuclear war wiped out life on Earth, the remaining survivors are the residents of a dozen space stations, combined to form the Ark. After its support systems begin to fail, one hundred young delinquents are sent to Earth to figure out if it's safe to inhabit. For the 100 (now less), the threat of death looms large and oftentimes, suspects and victims are surprising. Take, for instance, the sudden passing of the chancellor's son in the third episode (cause of death: a slit throat) or the mass sacrifice in the fifth to dramatically decrease the Ark population.

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"I always knew what I wanted the show to be, what I wanted the tone of it to be, what I wanted the violence to be," executive producer Jason Rothenberg tells The Hollywood Reporter of The 100's unapologetic portrayal of survival.

In a candid chat with THR, Rothenberg discusses the show's violent nature, being on The CW, balancing romance and what's in store for season two.

What’s been most surprising to you about what viewers have latched onto?

I knew that that culling in episode five was going to go down that way when we made the pilot. I knew that we were going to kill those people – that the call was going to come too late to save them. I had that point all along and that’s not the way I think most shows would have done it, certainly not most shows on broadcast television. So what’s been exciting for me is to see people’s reactions as they begin to get what we’re doing. People who love the show from the beginning, that’s great and I love good reviews any time I could get them, but I actually like the reviews better where people are like “I thought the show f---ing sucked, but now I love it!” That’s the best review because I brought that person back.

Was there a barrier you had to work against because it is on The CW, which has shows like The Vampire Diaries and Reign on its schedule?

For better or worse, The CW has a certain thing that they do and are known for. For better or worse, the sci-fi community – of which I consider myself a member – has a little bit of an attitude about it. It takes a while to win those people over. Once we got past episode two and into episode three, [when] we killed Wells, and into the hanging in four and the culling in five, that’s when we rounded the corner and figured out what it was going to be. I hope that the audience will build as people who watch The Walking Dead or watch Game of Thrones start to say, “There’s something interesting happening over here. Maybe we should give it a chance.”

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Because it's on The CW, how did you strike that balance of having enough romance, along with the action?

There is a sort of affectation for romance on some of their shows and I work against that. I think that we probably did a little too much of that in the first couple of episodes and once we found the show, the show as it exists for me isn’t about that at all. I think there will be always be a soap storyline or romance, but it’ll never be about that. We found balance around episode four and five where that exists but it doesn’t overwhelm the story we’re telling; it exists in its proper place. I sometimes talk about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is a pyramid – at the bottom is survival things, like do we have enough food, can we sleep safely at night here. When you’re worried about that kind of stuff, you’re not so worried about where the next person you’re sleeping with is or who’s sleeping with who. That’s the stuff that exists higher in the pyramid and we don’t get there in this show. It’s an action-adventure first and foremost; there are romance elements in it but I also say that Star Wars had a love triangle, Indiana Jones had a girlfriend. That’s where it exists for us, despite what some people on the Twitter would like.

Have you been surprised by certain pairings that have gotten more traction than you thought?

Yeah, a little bit. I am a little surprised about how much the Bellamy-Clarke thing has taken off. I totally understand it. I think the actors both great and the characters are diametrically opposed to each other for a long time and there’s amazing chemistry between Eliza [Taylor] and Bob [Morley]. It doesn’t surprise me in hindsight, but it certainly wasn’t a relationship that we were writing towards in the beginning of the season and it’s not one we’re writing towards now frankly. It’s not something I would shut the door on, but again, it’s not about that. It’s the icing, not the cake.

What was the most challenging death to write?

[Wells' death] was the hardest because Eli [Goree] was a member of the family. To say goodbye to a castmember is hard, even only on the third episode. We knew we had to do it. We needed to announce in a dramatic way that nobody was safe and if the chancellor’s son could go, then anybody could go. Shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead that I hold myself up to, they have advantages that we don’t have – they can do much more with violence and sex than we can do. It felt like early on we needed to plant the flag: We can. We can do things that are going to shock you. That’s what that death bought for us.

The 100 certainly isn't afraid of death. Are there more to come before the season is out?

We’re not afraid to let the violence be real. We’re not afraid to have death be something that could happen at any time to anyone. It’s not the last time that’s going to happen to a major character. That’s the kind of world that they find themselves in. It’s a world where these Grounders, that’s all they’ve ever known, and now the 100 are caught in the middle of this ongoing battle and war for resources and territory. Whether they survive or not is certainly in question.

In the last episode, Clarke saw the dropship go down, thinking her mother was on board. What can you say about how this next episode kicks off?

Episode 10 is probably my favorite episode so far. It's well done on every level. It has moral dilemmas, which I think this show is really excelling -- the hanging episode was about crime and punishment and the torture episode, episode seven, where there's no easy answer. Both answers suck and you have to figure out which one is the more palatable to me. Episode 10 is like that. It's an incredible hour of television -- it isn't the best of the season but it's the best so far. I sometimes comment on Twitter about things like that, but I've never lied. I don't hype episodes for the sake of hyping. There are episodes I don't like as much. I don't like eight ["Day Trip"] or the episode that I got credit for writing, two ["Earth Skills"].

What can you say about Lincoln and Octavia's pairing and what may be in store for them?

The part, as it was written in the pilot and in the second episode was, Octavia was just the wild child who was free for the first time in her life and that wasn't likable and she was a little slutty. Now she's grown into somebody who is almost the moral center. Clarke says "Go torture the guy" and she says "No, he was trying to help me." She potentially sacrifices herself and winds up being the one who ends up saving Finn by stabbing herself with the poisoned blade, which was probably when you begin to like her. In nine, she was similarly in the moral right place again.

What I'll say about their relationship is the hundred have landed in the middle of this ongoing conflict with these people who are warriors. The Grounders didn't become warriors the day these people landed on the ground, they were fighting something or someone before the hundred arrived. When Anya and Clarke meet on the bridge, we start to tell that story. We will begin to meet those others and will start to figure out what's on the ground. And because of Lincoln and Octavia -- largely Lincoln -- we realize the Grounders have a point of view. They're not the villains we thought they were and we're turning the ship to where we realize, oh shit, they have their own stories and perspective on what happened.

Is a Grounders/the hundred pact even in the cards?

Lincoln represents the fact that they're not all bad and he's not alone in that. There are others like him. The problem is, have we moved too far down this road of this war path to ever come together? In season two, one of the stories we will delve into is that relationship between the hundred and the natives who were already here. It's a little analogous to the settlers and the Native Americans and how badly we screwed that up, and the hope is the people from the Ark don't screw it up as badly. But, they probably will.

How would you describe these last four episodes?

It's epic. The finale of the season is Braveheart. The Grounders are coming, attack against the hundred and there will be a lot of lives lost by the end of the season.

The 100 airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on The CW.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube