The 100 was once an unvarnished critical darling with a devoted cult fandom, but last spring the CW drama found itself in the center of two separate controversies in the wake of Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Lincoln's (Ricky Whittle) deaths. However, fans who are considering quitting the series would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving it another chance.

When the dystopian sci-fi series returns for a fourth season on Wednesday, our heroes will be facing their greatest enemy yet as the nuclear power plants melt down, releasing a wave of radiation that will make 96% of Earth's surface uninhabitable in six months' time. This challenge will be unlike anything Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and her friends have faced before, and will force them to decide what's more important: saving their own people or saving the world.

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Ahead of the premiere, spoke with creator Jason Rothenberg about how characters will respond to the upcoming apocalypse, what this means for Skaikru's already shaky political alliances, and what he learned from everything that went down last season.

Unlike the main obstacles in previous seasons, a nuclear meltdown can't be fought or reasoned with. How will the unique pressures of this situation reveal new sides to our main characters as they struggle to figure out how to survive?
Jason Rothenberg:
What a great question! That is definitely at the core of everything, right? We're presenting them with this obstacle that they can't beat; they can only try and figure out ways to survive it. Then it becomes about who survives, how do we decide, how do you want to live these last six months? And that's really, to answer the question, how we reveal character in interesting and different ways. What they do when faced with that death sentence tells us a lot about who they are. People react in a whole series of ways to news like that. You can fight to the death. You can surrender and just break down. You can surrender and decide to ride it out and try to make the best of it until the end. And we'll see characters doing all of that. But you're right, it's a relentless ticking clock from the beginning of the premiere until the end of the finale of the season.

There is such a strict status quo in this world where everyone is fiercely loyal to their clan. How will this new situation challenge or change where people's loyalties lie and how alliances are formed or broken?
OK, so you are two-for-two with literally amazing questions because to me, the whole season is about that. The whole season is about, "Are you your clan or are you a human being?" And Clarke, she transcends tribalism and she's looking for a way for everyone to survive. Just coming up with Arkadia as a solution for her people is not enough. And I think, unfortunately, maybe most people aren't like that. Most people react to situations like this in a tribalistic way and they dig trenches around their world and they say, "We're going to save my family." By the way, it's human nature. I would do the same thing probably. You save your family first, of course. You save your country first, of course. We all are patriotic. But at the end of the day, when the thing that's coming for you is going to kill everybody, can you figure out a way to link arms together and face it together? That's what this season's about. That's what Clarke's trying to do. Great question.

Clarke has always struggled with the responsibility of leadership, but she's always found a way to save her people at the last minute. How will her journey this season be different from what we've seen before?
When you're trying to save your people at the expense of everybody else, then you do things like pull the lever at Mount Weather or whatever the case may be. You make a choice that the survival of your people is the be all, end all. And as I was saying in my last answer, ultimately, Clarke has transcended the concept of my people and your people, largely due to her relationship with Lexa. Lexa influenced her in huge ways in terms of seeing the world in a different way. "We're all in this together." And Clarke is going to try and live by that. The difficulty, of course, is that you can't save everybody. And so at what point do you realize, "OK, my people are going to have to give something up in order to let your people live? Am I wiling to do that? Am I willing to live with less so that X clan can live with something?" That's her dilemma this season, which I think is really cool. And Eliza Taylor, as always, illuminates it brilliantly.

Bellamy (Bob Morley) is still deeply struggling with choices he made last season. How will that guilt manifest and how does it change the way he approaches impending radiation?
I think Bellamy and Clarke, as a unit, are dedicated to the same problem, which is the end of the world, but they have different philosophies at the beginning of the season. And you're right. Bellamy's weighed down by the guilt of his previous actions, not just from last season but going back to Season 1. He shot Jaha to go to the ground to be with his sister. He threw away that radio so they wouldn't come down, and that lead to the culling on the Ark in some way and he probably blames himself for that. All of those things weigh on his soul, on his consciousness, and he's trying to turn the page. He's trying to write the book, I guess, of his sins, if you could call it that. I don't know if Bellamy would. But the truth is, he's got this death sentence and he wants to do as much good as he can while he still can. So his choices are different. His choice is, "I'm going to save who I can save today and then we'll worry about the rest tomorrow." And Clarke has her eye on the bigger picture. That's usually the way she rolls.

Unlike everyone else who at least has their clan to rely on, Octavia (Marie Avgeropoulos) is a woman between worlds. What does her journey to find herself and find her place look like?
Octavia's journey's rough this season. She's spiraling downward into darkness. And ultimately, you're right. She's certainly unmoored. She has no people. She has no place that she belongs — at least that's what she thinks. That's been ongoing for a little while now. Obviously the loss of Lincoln certainly exacerbated that situation hugely. It's going to take her a little while until she discovers a way out of that, if she ever does. For me, it's one of my favorite stories this season. Her journey by the end of the season is going to blow people away for sure. But right now shes filling the void emotionally. She's dead inside and the only time she can feel is, ironically, the closer she is to death. And I mean delivering death as well as putting herself in danger. It's a dark journey. It's a cool journey. Marie Avgeropoulos has risen her game to levels beyond what I ever imagined possible for her, honestly, when we cast her. She's so good. She's just come into her own as an actor and it's really incredible to be a part of it and to be able to take a little bit of credit for that ascendance as a performer and an artist has been special for me.

The show did face a few criticisms last season. What did you learn from the critical and fan reaction and how did you go about approaching this season in light of that?
You know, you have to just take the good with the bad. Ultimately, this show has been a blessing for me and for my family from beginning to end. Yes, obviously, it's better when everybody's being nice to you. But you can't pay attention to that anymore than you could pay attention when they're not. So for me, it's about putting my head down and writing the show and telling the story that I want to tell. And ultimately, trying to block out the rest of it as much as I can. That's really the lesson that I've learned as a storyteller. Hopefully people will watch the show and realize we do constantly take stock and make adjustments for sure. But ultimately, it's about the story first. It's about the characters first. I let the show do the talking for me now.

The 100 returns Wednesday at 9/8c on The CW.

(Full disclosure: is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)