Interview: 'The 100' Showrunner Jason Rothenberg On What's Ahead For Your Favorites In Season 3

The 100 finally returns for its third season after nearly a year off the air. Loyal fans have been waiting to see what becomes of Clarke (Eliza Taylor)'s solo journey after leaving the camp, and what's going on with that woman in the red dress. Well, you'll see that three months have gone by and Clarke is a good hunter, but she can't stay alone for long. Raven (Lindsey Morgan) can still barely use her leg but she's on a scouting mission, with a modern soundtrack.

The CW presented a panel of The 100 cast for the Television Critics Association and we got to sit down with creator and show runner Jason Rothenberg while he was in Los Angeles. Some mild spoilers of the first two episodes of the new season are part of our discussion. The 100 returns Thursday, January 21 at 9 on The CW. 

Maybe I'm this good at following along TV shows, but I didn't feel like it's been a year. Was the season premiere designed to throw people right back in even if you didn't remember everything about last season?

It's been a long time. We've been away for 300+ days. We premiered in the fall last year and the show ended early because it's not a 22-episode show. Now we're premiering midseason so it's a very long time for the fans to have to wait for the show. I look at it as the good cable shows that I watch are away for about that much time usually, so I know the audience can hang in there. Also it gave time for the Netflix audience to try to hopefully catch up on the second season once it finally was available. In terms of the story and the premiere, we're jumping ahead three months. Listen, we live in a serialized world. Television is serialized. Who starts watching episode one of season three? You don't. You start, you binge, you hear it's great and then you go back on Netflix and you catch up. Now the hope is people who just caught up... Some people by the way, our fans who've been there from the beginning had to wait a year almost. The new people who just binged over the holidays and are complaining a little bit about, "I just finished the binge and now I've got to wait a month." Imagine if you had to wait a year.

Was "Add It Up" an important song choice?

I loved the Violent Femmes when I was a kid. So when you're picking music to put in the show, it's more about what's right for the moment. What feels right? What would be available to them? This is a different kind of needle drop for us because it's actually being listened to by the characters. It's not just a straight up needle drop. Maya had an iPod and that's where the music was coming from. So no, it wasn't anything other than it felt right. The idea of bringing Shawn Mendes in to sing the same song but to do the sort of darker, Donnie Darko take on "Mad World," that was what I was going for there. As both way to have Shawn in the show in a way that felt of our show. I didn't want him to sing something else. I wanted him to sing that. It just creatively worked out in a cool way.

But Maya didn't have the explicit version.

Well, we couldn't say, "Why can't I get just one f***?" We couldn't say that of course. In production we played it and they did the whole thing. I have the unedited version in my house but we can't obviously show that. We didn't edit the song for playback on the day. Devon [Bostick] was so amazing. Devon really committed to that.

Clarke's solo journey didn't go so well, did it?

Well, she survived. She got tougher. She figured out how to kill panthers. She met Niylah, but she didn't escape what she did. That's the reason she took off was because she couldn't handle it anymore. She'd been doing nothing but taking care of everyone else since the time she got on the ground and it broke her. She killed 300 people including innocent kids and parents who were helping them. That weighs heavily and that's why she takes off and ultimately learns pretty quickly, I mean it's three months later, but pretty quickly in the show this season, you can't run away from who you are. You have to own it. You have to take responsibility for it. She is a hero. She needs to act like it.

Is keeping your lead actress gagged for the first two episodes a bold choice?

I don't know if it's a bold choice, but it's easier to write, that's for sure.

The 100 photo

You're really not cheating on Raven's leg. A lot of shows would just give her a limp but otherwise she's functional. Was it important that she's really suffering?

Yeah. One of the things we like to do is, again, it's about owning the reality of something. She was shot in the back and the nerve damage to her leg is permanent. So that was important. Once we told that story, what was more important is just okay, we could do the bullshit thing where suddenly she's fine. Or we could do the thing where we embrace it and use it as a way to tell story. Give her a journey that I think is an important journey which is not to identify as disabled, but to overcome that and to realize that she is just as capable as she ever was in a different way. She will be as useful, useful is a bad word in some way, because she's more than that but there are things that she does that are crucial to their survival.

Will Bellamy and Raven ever be happy?

As a couple or as people?

I think the fans want them to be a couple, but let me put it this way: Are you torn because you love these characters but you have to put them through hell?

Well, yes, I do love these characters. No, I'm not torn at all. I don't lose sleep at all over telling the story I want to tell. If it's a good story, I'll tell it even if it means someone's favorite character is going to be going through something hard. To me, that's what defines them. Raven is defined in my mind in a lot of ways by the fact that she has overcome it so well. What she's gone through and how she comes out the other side of it, that to me is why people love her so much. They didn't know her otherwise. She wasn't otherwise. No, I don't lose sleep over it. I try, in fact, to figure out ways to do it. That's what my job is. My job is to put as many obstacles in front of them as possible and hope that we can write ways for them to get out of it. Sometimes they don't.

So will they ever feel happy whether they've decided to stay friends or can rekindle a relationships one day?

I don't see that. It's hard because I get in trouble on Twitter sometimes. Sometimes I'll say things like, "We're not really writing that relationship" and then I get people just lose it at me because I'm crushing their personal narrative of where the show should go or could go. So I'm going to try not to do that. I do respect that people have their own ultimate universe ideas of where things could maybe go. I'm going to be try to be better about crushing those types of dreams.

Happy isn't good drama, I suppose.

Exactly. That's true too.

Are we way far away from the books at this point?

We've been way far away from the books I think from the pilot. When I started this show, there were no books. I had read two chapters and an outline for the rest of the first book. I was pitched the concept in a meeting at Warner Bros. I was like, oh my God, that's amazing. That touches on all these things I wanted to do anyway. I was working on doing a Lord of the Flies thing writ large. I was working on a show that was a colonial adventure to another planet, creating a civilization on another planet. This was both of those things. The other planet in this case being Earth 100 years from now after the apocalypse. So I was in from the moment I heard the pitch. Then I read the book and I didn't finish the first book until after the first season because television moves so fast. I didn't have time to read anything. So yes, the long answer to your question is we are way beyond the books.

And you invented new characters you have to service too.

Yeah, I think so. Most of the characters, like Clarke, Bellamy, and Octavia are in the book. Raven's not in the book, Finn's not in the book, Jasper's not in the book, Monty's not in the book.

How have you worked out Alycia Debnam-Carey's schedule with Fear the Walking Dead?

AMC has been awesome. There was a little negotiating period there. I had to plead with them but I always say, if one of the actors in our show, whose contract we control, came to me and wanted to do continue something, by the way that they had done first that was hugely important to them, I would never say no. I would always try to figure out a way to make it work. If it conflicted with our production, that would be different. Obviously that comes first but we've worked it out and they've been cool about it.

What are the conversations about giving each character a distinct look within the limited resources they have? It's all versions of rags and found clothing.

That was always tricky in terms of, they live on a space station so where do they get anything? I jokingly say this sometimes but it's true. I have answers for most cases, but it is science fiction. The truth is, now that they've been on the ground and they do have access to a wider array of stuff, the ruins of the Barney's warehouse in Polis for instance. I'm joking, but the wardrobe starts to change. Clarke wears several different things this year. Her hair changes quite a bit through the season. Marie gets a new set of duds at some point but it's always grounded. We actually see that happen, but it's not a world of plenty. In many ways it's a good thing because we don't have to go shopping. Our wardrobe and costume people don't go to stores to shop. They buy things sometimes and break it down. It's like, "We gotta make it look like shit."