Why 'The 100' isn't using the threat of death gratuitously

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the-100-editorial-why-death-isnt-gratuitous.jpg The CW's newest hit show "The 100" hasn't been shy about killing off characters. Whether it's one of the main characters biting the dust three episodes into the series or a mass execution of 320 adults, the futuristic sci-fi drama isn't afraid of cutting the cast left and right. It's half the reason that "The 100" manages to get darker with each episode, slowly but surely testing the limits of what The CW can show.

It's a fantastic way to keep the audience on their toes, constantly guessing as to who will survive each hour, and who might not make it another day. On a show where the stakes literally are life and death for everyone -- not just characters on the periphery but actual main characters like Wells (Eli Goree) who was brutally murdered in episode 3 -- you really can't predict who is safe and who is disposable. And that unpredictability is what keeps fans coming back for more.

But what's smart about "The 100" is how they aren't using the threat of death gratuitously. They aren't killing people as a lazy plot device, or for shock value, or anything shallow like that. Each death has a purpose or reason. 

When the adults on the Ark made the decision to execute 320 people, it was because they thought that there wasn't any other choice (they didn't know the teens they sent down to Earth were still alive yet), and they needed more oxygen and more time to figure out what to do next. And even though the audience thought that they didn't have to kill all those people since the teens on Earth were clearly still alive, it turns out that the 320 people did in fact need to die ... but for a different reason altogether.

Even though Earth is in fact survivable, not everyone on the Ark will be able to make it down to the ground since there aren't enough drop ships to take everyone. Project Exodus was devised a long time ago after the humans left Earth for space, and it centers on the fact that while there are over 2,000 people on the Ark, only 700 can fit on the drop ships. So the 320 people who sacrificed their lives did so for a reason: The people on the Ark need more time and more oxygen to build more drop ships, and even then, not everyone will make it to Earth.

In addition to the mass execution up on the Ark, the teens on Earth have been dropping like flies. Since they made camp, they went from 102 down to 92, and that number isn't done falling. But each death has meant something important, whether it was discovering that the orange fog rolling in was poisonous and that they can't trust nature, or that the Grounders (well, at least some of them) are dangerous warriors, or even that not everyone in camp is good. When little, seemingly-innocent Charlotte murdered Wells in cold blood, it reinforced the fact that the dangers were inside the camp as well as outside the camp. 

It should also be noted that while "The 100" has had quite a lot of deaths so far, there hasn't been a death in every single episode. In episode 7, "Contents Under Pressure," nobody died on Earth or on the Ark, and yet it was still the darkest episode to date. "The 100" doesn't rely on death for stories, but it certainly isn't afraid of using it either.

Striking that balance so far has proven to be successful for "The 100," and it will interesting to see how it continues to maintain that for the rest of the season. How many of the 100 will make it to the end of the season alive? The over/under bet is currently sitting at 50.

"The 100" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
Photo/Video credit: The CW