They're young, they're hot and they'll murder you without a second's hesitation.
Thanks to The Hunger Games and Divergent, dangerous children have gone from things to be feared to the epitome of modern-day protagonists— something the CW is currently cashing in on with the post-apocalyptic drama The 100.
Based on a young adult novel of the same name, the series follows a group of underage kids who grow increasingly violent since leaving the grasp of adult civilization. But unlike its blockbuster predecessors, the majority of violence on The 100 isn't spawned from a need for survival or a fight for justice, nor are those who commit it romanticized as heroes.
"It's a violent situation. I don't think it would be any other way," creator Jason Rothenberg tells TVGuide.com. "I would never want to have it be violence for violence's sake, and if violence happens to somebody it's never going to be washed away the next day. It's always going to have an impact. And I think that by doing that by that way it's the opposite of glamorizing it."
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There truly was nothing glamorous about last Wednesday's episode when the 100 nearly executed John Murphy (Richard Harmon) for murdering the chancellor's son Wells (Eli Goree). But at the last minute as Murphy hung dying, Charlotte confessed that she was actually the one who brutally stabbed Wells. Unfortunately, Charlotte's tender age didn't earn her any leniency with the bloodthirsty crowd. After a failed attempt to evade the mob, now led by Murphy, the 12-year-old had the choice to go with Murphy or he'd kill other camp members. She made a third choice: jumping off a cliff rather than allowing anyone else to get hurt because of her.
The image of a child so young committing suicide was hard to watch, to say the least (the words "triggering," "painful" and "horrifying" also spring to mind). But Rothenberg says Charlotte's suicide was done with the intent to "buy her back" in the audience's mind for the murder of Wells.
"We're not trying to say suicide is noble. We're trying to say that self-sacrifice can be," Rothenberg explains. And while self-sacrifice is a classic element in hero tales, when it comes from a child so young, it's hard to see the nobility in Charlotte's decision, especially when she was given so little choice in the matter (Charlotte was literally backed up to the edge of a cliff, after all). Instead, what becomes obvious are the various ways society failed Charlotte — by locking her up, by sending her to Earth without any governing structure and by cultivating a society that values harsh action over justice.
When Clarke initially called for justice for Wells' murder, she never imagined she would inspire a rabid hit squad. "But she's suggesting it to a group of criminals who are young who have grown up their entire lives in a system that is incredibly draconian where every single crime is punishable by death," Rothenberg explains. "It's what they know." The violence the 100 demonstrate on Earth — free from the restraints of socially imposed civility — isn't reflective of any supposed animal savagery lying dormant in all of us a la Lord of the Flies. It's simply product of the trigger-happy justice system they learned on the Ark.
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But the jarring difference between "floating" on The Ark and the lynch mob on the ground is that the space station developed this draconian system out of a survivalist need. Oxygen supplies are waning, and Kane's plan to execute 300 to prolong the lives of a few thousand isn't out of cruelty or a desire to kill. It's a classic situation of wanting to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. But there is no reason on Earth. There's only instinct and the intoxicating sense of control these children have been denied for years in lockup.
"There has been some criticism about the fact that they're running around like crazy teenagers and, 'Oh my God, I hate crazy teenagers.' But guess what? These kids are 18 years old, and we, in this culture of ours, send 18-year-old kids to war all the time," Rothenberg says. "That's who we're dealing with here. These are people of that age, and that's who they become."
But while the 100 will become even more "hardened warriors" on Earth, they will also find time to reconnect with their humanity, Rothenberg says. "They do learn," the showrunner explains. "This season we are going to watch this group come together in ways I think that are very surprising."
That's because, underneath all the violence, The 100 is a story of hope. It's about the challenges in overcoming humanity's worst instincts and fighting not only to survive but also, as Abby pointed out in the premiere, the right to survive.
This issue will be front and center Wednesday when The Ark's council prepares to follow through with Kane's (Henry Ian Cusick) culling. As the massacre looms, Chancellor Jaha (Isaiah Washington) makes the painful decision to do whatever it takes for humanity to survive -- even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice.
Watch an exclusive sneak peek of his game-changing choice below.
The 100 airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
(Full Disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)