“I bear it so they don’t have to” has officially become a motif of Clarke Griffin’s life on The 100. She said it once in season two, just before she left everyone and became known by the grounders as Wanheda (“Commander of Death”). She said it again in the most recent episode, 4×08, before shooting up with night blood after a lengthy debate about whether she and her mother could rightfully kill a second grounder testing a scientific theory. It’s a line she got from Dante Wallace, the leader of Mt. Weather, who did horrifying things in order to help his people survive.
Since season one, Clarke has been painted as a martyr. She’s put in solitary confinement in the Sky Box because she knows about the Ark’s oxygen crisis and her father is floated for his plan to announce it to the entire station, because her mother trusts the chancellor to put their friendship before his political duties. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t.)
Each time Clarke makes a decision “for her people”, it’s made clear to the audience that this once-wealthy, blonde, white girl bears the burden of the world on her shoulders. Clarke makes a lot of tough decisions for the betterment of the delinquents and later, all of Arkadia. That’s true. However, her suffering is mostly brought on by her determination to do what she believes is right, all the time, no matter how many people get in her face and say, no.
The 100 has made a habit of torturing its characters, particularly women and men of color. It’s no surprise that the main protagonist, Clarke, would go through some modicum of emotional upheaval and devastation as well.
The difference is that when Clarke suffers, it’s mostly at her own behest, because she’s “doing what’s right for her people.” Whether that means slaughtering grounders, irradiating an entire bunker including people who have helped her at their own risk, letting a bomb land in a city where some of her people are, or testing deathly radiation on human subjects, there’s seemingly no line she won’t cross.
Clarke Griffin very much seems to follow the philosophy that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
In episode 4×08, she becomes one of those few. After she and her mother take vials upon vials of night blood from Luna after discovering she can survive radiation poisoning, determined to use the blood to save their people, Abby realizes what they actually need is marrow. They kill one grounder in their quest to perfect the substance that will supposedly save everyone (sky people as well as grounders) from the coming death wave, then adjust the formula accordingly.
When Luna refuses to let them take anymore, she’s subdued by Roan and Abby takes her marrow anyway.
The plot almost exactly mirrors that of season two: Mt. Weather’s scientists needed the sky people’s marrow in order to leave the bunker and survive on the ground. They started to take it by force, at which point Clarke, Bellamy and Monty irradiated the entire bunker to save their people. Clarke wasn’t the one to ultimately make that call, though; Bellamy made it, because he refused to let them hurt his sister.
Clarke has proven time and time again that she doesn’t mind sacrificing one or two people, even her own, if it means the majority of them can survive.
That’s what makes it so hard to swallow when she constantly claims she’s doing things “for her people.” That, and the fact that she left them all because she couldn’t handle her guilt, and the fact that when her people tell her she needs to stop doing something, she charges forward anyway.
“Is there no line you won’t cross to survive?” Luna asks, in episode 4×08, when they tell her they need bone marrow. When she’s subdued, Raven says, “So you’re going to strap her down and take her bone marrow? Welcome to Mt. Weather.”
Abby’s response is that once they survive, they’ll find their humanity again. Raven wants no part of that. Both of these women were drilled for their marrow against their will inside Mt. Weather, but Raven seems to be the only one to remember that.
Presumably, it’s Raven’s reminder that causes Abby’s change of heart later in the episode. She doesn’t inject Emori with the night blood, so Clarke takes the syringe from her. We assume that she’ll inject Emori in her mother’s place, but instead she injects herself, after once again reciting that quote from Dante. By taking the night blood herself, instead of sacrificing another grounder, Clarke steers her people down a different path than the one the scientists of Mt. Weather took by forcing outsiders to suffer for their survival.
Then, Abby destroys the radiation machine that will tell them if the new substance will work, because she can’t lose her daughter.
Interestingly enough, none of this seems to phase Clarke. When she takes the night blood and says she’s ready for the radiation chamber, she seems determined to sacrifice herself in the quest to save her people. It’s the first time she’s genuinely been willing to die for them, and that decision comes not from someone she loves but from someone she’s always proclaimed to hate.
Murphy begs Clarke not to kill Emori and reminds Clarke that he’s the reason Clarke is still alive. Maybe it’s hearing someone whose only concern has ever been his own survival telling her that what she’s doing is wrong; maybe it’s realizing that picking people off one by one isn’t saving everyone after all. Whatever the reason for Clarke’s decision to take the night blood herself, it’s one that’s met with shock from everyone.
No one expects Clarke to sacrifice herself — not even the people who don’t agree with sacrificing someone else.
Honestly, it seems that people expect Clarke to survive no matter what. If she doesn’t survive, none of them can survive. That is the portrait this show has painted of her. Clarke slides into a leadership position when the delinquents get to Earth because she has some medical training and because she believes in the authority of the Ark. She stays in that position because she’s ruthless, aggressively pursuing whatever roads lead to a potential for her people to survive.
She convinces Lexa in season three that “blood must not have blood”, but she has no problem spilling blood if it means survival for her people. For herself. She’s even willing to sacrifice her own mother to stop A.L.I.E. in season three, something that Abby can’t reciprocate. Until Clarke opts against injecting Emori, she doesn’t seem to care about individuals as long as the majority of the group can survive.
When so many of the victims of Clarke Griffin’s actions are people of color, what does that say about the blonde, white protagonist whose first truly noble act comes four seasons into the show? What does it say about the writers who keep painting her as a martyr while allowing dozens to sacrifice their lives without any real reverence for their losses?
Of course, Clarke isn’t the first repeatedly martyred heroine that we’ve seen on our screens. Buffy Summers comes to mind, and we already know that Jason Rothenberg has taken cues from that series. It’s not unusual to see someone like Clarke taking on the role of the martyr because we’ve seen it before, even if we don’t draw the connection right away.
Now that Clarke is the only Arkadian with blood that might allow her to survive the death wave and we have no way of finding out if she will, I’m curious to see what happens when it comes. The others found a bunker that could save hundreds, but where will that leave us in season five?
Separating Clarke from her people seems only to lead to more chaos and death. My question is, now that she may be immune to radiation, who lives? Who dies? And moving forward, how do we define “the few” and “the many”?