Has TV finally learned its lesson after Lexa’s death?

The 100 -- "Perverse Instantiation - Part Two" -- Image HU316a_0025 -- Pictured (L-R): Alycia Debnam-Carey as Lexa and Eliza Taylor as Clarke -- Credit: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved
The 100 -- "Perverse Instantiation - Part Two" -- Image HU316a_0025 -- Pictured (L-R): Alycia Debnam-Carey as Lexa and Eliza Taylor as Clarke -- Credit: Bettina Strauss/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved /

Today marks six years since one of the most important episodes of television aired, an episode of The CW’s The 100 titled “Thirteen,” which changed the landscape of lesbian representation on-screen forever.

The 7th episode of season 3 wasn’t particularly spectacular but the impact came from what happened in the episode’s final moments, and how the LGBTQ+ community as a whole came together in the days and weeks following.

On March 3, 2016, Alycia Debnam-Carey’s fan-favorite character Lexa was shot by a stay bullet after consummating her relationship with Eliza Taylor’s Clarke, The CW’s first bisexual lead character. Lexa’s death on The 100 was met with fan outrage beyond anything anyone had seen before, with an entire fan movement called “LGBT Fans Deserve Better,” created to call attention to the treatment of lesbian characters on television.

While many lesbians had died on television before Lexa, her death was particularly brutal for a few reasons. First, her manner of death was nearly identical to that of Tara Maclay, a lesbian character killed off of Buffy The Vampire Slayer in 2002. She was also shot by a stray bullet just after getting back together with her on-again-off-again girlfriend Willow.

The striking resemblance to Tara’s death caused fans to react viscerally to Lexa’s death, realizing that not much had changed for lesbians on TV between the years since that episode aired in the early 2000s and the airing of episode 7 of The 100 in 2016.

Another reason Lexa’s death hit so close to home was that 2016 was a particularly violent and deadly year for lesbians on television. In addition to Lexa, iconic lesbian characters like Poussey Washington from Orange is the New Black and Root from Person of Interest was also killed, along with at least 17 others. Lexa was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and LGBT fans decided to finally fight back.

Rallying for Lexa, fans put up billboards with the slogan “LGBT fans deserve better,” across major cities, and raised over $100k for The Trevor Project. They even created The Lexa Pledge, a pledge urging writers to not kill a gay character to “further the plot of a straight one,” and to “avoid story choices that perpetuate the toxic [Bury Your Gays] trope.”

So, with that said, what good did it do? How much has changed in six years?

As reported in the just-released Where We Are on TV report, released by GLAAD every year, lesbians outnumber gay men on television for the first time in the 2021-2022 season. Meaning that there are more lesbian stories being told across broadcast, cable, and streaming than ever before.

Additionally, The CW, the fateful network that aired that episode of The 100 six years ago, is the top broadcast network for LGBTQ+ representation for the fifth season in a row. In all their programming, they almost have one queer character per show, with stand-outs like Legends of Tomorrow featuring five series of regular queer characters.

In addition to The CW’s good track record, The 100 itself even brought Lexa back in its series finale in September of 2020, as a way for showrunner Jason Rothenburg to make amends for killing Lexa and to provide fans with closure before the series ended.

Though quantity doesn’t always mean quality, and just because a season starts with queer characters doesn’t mean they get to live to see the end. Luckily, Autostraddle has kept a running list of every lesbian and bisexual character killed on screen, which they’ve kept updated since 2016.

In 2021, only one sapphic character was killed on television: Nicole Bingham was killed in Starz’s original crime drama Power Book III: Raising Kanan; she was a recurring character on the show.

The fact that the landscape for lesbian representation on television has changed so much that it went from almost 20 sapphic characters killed on screen in 2016 to one in 2021 is incredible. The progression shown sparks hope that representation will only continue to get better.

The work is never done, and representation today isn’t perfect. Shows like Charmed, The Sex Lives of College Girls, and Euphoria have each had their issues with how sapphic characters are portrayed, and they’re not entirely alone.

There’s still work to be done, and the best way to create change is to continue to advocate for sapphic characters on screen. Though, the main way representation will continue to get better is to ensure queer voices are being heard behind the scenes, particularly in the writers’ room.

In 2021, the LGBTQ+ Writers Committee of the Writers Guild of America, West (WAGW) expressed in an open letter to Hollywood to do better when it comes to creating environments where queer writers feel comfortable and safe to tell authentic stories. A survey taken and released by the WGAW found that nearly half of all LGBTQ film and TV writers have felt the need to hide their sexuality in an industry setting.

Most importantly, the WGAW highlighted the importance of representation in the writers’ room and on screen. The letter stated: “The stories we tell, the stories you greenlight, determine the future that LGBTQ+ youth envision for themselves.” By allowing queer people to tell queer stories, we can move forward into an even better era of queer representation on screen, told by the people who know these stories best.

It seems as though the industry has learned the lesson many queer fans set out to teach television after The 100 burned them in 2016: Harmful representation cannot and should not be allowed to fester on our screens. As mentioned before, representation isn’t perfect and still has a long way to go, but the development in the last six years creates a hope like no other for a brighter future for queer women on screen.

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