Surviving The 100’s State of Nature
“Take me home,” says Octavia to her horse at the end of “A Lie Guarded,” climbing atop Helios after being stabbed through the gut from a sword battle with Echo and falling backwards off a cliff into a river. It’s a thrilling scene for a character who’s never really felt like she had a home and it illustrates several issues not always directly addressed in the state-of-nature debate – belonging, value, and choice.
Kept hidden under the floor since birth (thanks to the Ark’s one-child policy), Octavia was arrested and jailed (and her mother was killed simply because Octavia was born) when her older brother Bellamy took her to a masquerade dance so she could finally take her first steps outside of their dwelling without being noticed. Because of her brother’s love, she managed to remain relatively sane as she moved from one confinement to another. Yet, she’s always been on the outside of her society, searching for some place to call home.
This is an interesting aspect to consider. Locke might extol an individual’s natural rights and, as Rousseau would agree, recognize that one might willingly surrender some rights for the sake of survival – this allows for choice. But neither Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau (or even Montesquieu – who really has no place in The 100 universe) seem to account for an individual’s need for belonging or a sense of self-worth. Establishing society and government through an agreed upon pact is merely done so life won’t be nasty, brutal, and short and so that some rights can be guaranteed. It’s not about wanting to be part of a family or feeling like you’re valued by a group because you have something to contribute. It’s about longer lifespans and organized freedom. Yet, it’s worth asking: who gets to survive? Does one have to be worthy of surviving? Must we have value in order to exist?
What’s significant is how The 100 shows us (like its television parents BSG and Lost did a decade ago) what happens not when we’re in a state-of-nature but when we return to one. Consider the exchange between Raven and Luna near the beginning of “A Lie Guarded”:
Raven: “Your blood can save us, everyone.”
Luna: “Do you really think you deserve to be saved?”
Raven: “I know how you feel, okay, I get it. But it won’t always be like this. You just have to keep fighting.”
Luna: “What if the fight is all we are? We torture, kill, betray. We pretend we’re more than that just to make ourselves feel better, but it’s a lie.”
While Luna’s perspective offers an interesting twist on Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” and the “original position,” what’s paramount is that Luna eventually decides to help everyone (because Raven gave her a choice). Luna’s decision may be practical, yet it seems Luna realizes that she, too, must be worthy of surviving and sometimes this means sacrificing for the sake of others (by eventually donating a few drops of night-blood). As Raven tells Luna, “It’s not your blood that defines you, it’s your heart.”
This is what The 100 does best – it explores issues through character development by thrusting characters into impossible situations and then forcing them to make a choice, one that usually leads to a decision of who lives and who dies. These moral dilemmas exist in nearly every episode (it’s difficult to find an episode where someone doesn’t die as a result of someone else’s choice) and this reveals a hard truth: right and wrong is a matter of value and of knowing where you want to be, who you want to be with, and what you’re willing to do. Clarke is perhaps the best example of this.
Clarke’s always maintained that her goal is to save everyone (not just her people, but all peoples) and she’s never been afraid to kill or sanction the deaths of anyone who stands in the way of achieving her goal – from personally executing Finn (her first season love interest) to opening the doors of Mount Weather and letting everyone in the mountain die (even children) in a flood of radiation. All of this has been weighing on her since the end of season two – she can handle it, but it’s still a heavy burden.
In “A Lie Guarded,” Clarke is confronted by the group when Monty reveals that she’s made a (very calculated – Clarkian?) list to determine the one hundred people who will get to survive the current wave of nuclear radiation sweeping across the planet (in the shelter that everyone is working to repair). The situation veers toward anarchy, especially when she coldly explains that young girls are valuable because they can bear children, except Harper, who – thanks to Clarke’s meticulous research – is genetically predisposed toward some illness that would drain resources (cold Clarkian logic). Thankfully, Jaha (a former chancellor) convinces everyone to work for a lottery. Their chance of being in the lottery depends not on their value but on their commitment – they must help fortify the shelter if they want a chance to live. As everyone resumes their jobs, Clarke questions Jaha:
Clarke:You have to know that a random lottery is risky, we could end up with no doctors, no engineers.
Jaha: You saw that we have to give them something to fight for. You can’t tell them that they have no value.
Clarke: That’s not what I said.
Jaha: That’s what they heard. The list was pragmatic, but people need to feel like they have a say in their fate.
Clarke isn’t entirely convinced (perhaps because at the beginning of the episode she’d complained to Monty about feeling useless – remorse?) but what is significant is that, for The 100, the state of nature is always in flux, dependent not upon the brutishness of a natural environment or the mobilizing presence of an enemy, but upon the unpredictable nature of humans (Montesquieu has a point). While a character’s motivation isn’t always clear (Bellamy in season three?) what is apparent is that everyone doesn’t just want to survive, they want to belong and they want to be valued (even Murphy). The trick, to rework Rousseau, is learning when to be noble and when to be savage. Or as Kane reminds Octavia, “a warrior knows when not to kill.”
Returning to Octavia, who earned the nickname Skai-ripa (Death from Above) by proving herself to be a fierce warrior, her choice to return home at the end of “A Lie Guarded” signifies that she recognizes her real value isn’t as a killer but as a guardian. As she heroically rides to warn her friends that King Roan’s army is coming to invade (because global nuclear radiation isn’t enough of a moral dilemma to deal with), she finally realizes where she wants to be and who she wants to be with. What The 100 reveals, then, is that the state-of-nature is a struggle not against others but against ourselves – our survival depends on it. Indeed, if there is a place for value in the state-of-nature, it resides in the choices we make.
Edwardo Pérez, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Tarrant County College Northeast.
“The Four Horsemen.” The 100, Season 4, Episode 3.
“A Lie Guarded.” The 100, Season 4, Episode 4
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Dover Publications, 2006.
Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Government; And, A Letter concerning Toleration. Dover
Montesquieu. The Spirit of the Laws. Prometheus Books, 2002.
Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Belknap Press, 2005.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. A Discourse on Inequality. Penguin Classics, 1985.
Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. The University of Chicago Press, 2007.