Sometimes the things that we do, the choices that we have to make, supersede our own understanding of the world. And we want to be able to say that we didn’t have any other option, that we were just trying to do the right thing, that we were just trying to protect, to survive.
We want that clarity of conscience so that we can close our eyes without being haunted.
We want to be able to sleep at night.
We just want to believe that the terrible things that happen have a reason.
For all that has changed in human history, these things still hold true, whether you’re a Grounder – a savage like those who survived the irradiated earth’s surface; a Mountain Man – an aristocrat like those stealing life within the fortress of their bunker; or a Sky Person – placed somewhere in between the two like those who fell from the stars.
These needs, these wants, unite all of these factions in a common imperative, even as they are the very reasons that they cannot seem to survive at all, at least not together. The harsh reality is that for some to survive, others must die. And it’s not because it actually has to be that way.
It’s a choice.
But when you can’t control others’ actions, you are left one inevitable conclusion: at the end of the day, no matter what, Death will have his quota.
So you try to find a way around it. You unite some in peace, make a choice to try and stop the bloodshed, and still people die. You kill some to stop them from killing others, and still people die. And what makes it worse is that when you make these terrible decisions, not only are you responsible for any resulting deaths, but you have to find a way to compartmentalize the fact that you placed more value on one life over another.
Sure, there were reasons or excuses, but when the bodies fall, the truth of the matter is that you were just relieved that they weren’t familiar faces. For all that you wish that you stood for, you just don’t want to lose your own.
You are selfish.
You are biased.
You are a killer.
Because you are human.
At least Death is indiscriminate in whom he claims.
But you are merely a murderer, picking and choosing in cold blood for one reason or another. And oddly enough, that is the very reason that you’re the Commander, or the President, or the Chancellor. Your people look to you, Killer, so that they don’t have to live with the weight of the very world on their shoulders.
You make these choices so that they don’t have to.
They get to sleep at night because you never will again.
How do you live with that?
If you’re the Commander of the Grounders, a proud Trikru, you wrap your heart in steel. You worship logic over feeling and fear over love. You satisfy your brain before your heart and value a bloody blade over a kind word. You hold to one singular belief: the survival of your people comes first. And in the process, you lose your heart altogether.
If you’re the President of the Mountain Men, you place your heart in a fanciful box and set it as the crowning jewel in your limitless collection of beautiful baubles. And you focus on those things of beauty so that you don’t have to see the monstrosity that you’ve become. You tell yourself that it’s there and you’ll take it out again when you’ve reached the ground where you can then wear it on your lapel like a wilted corsage. Until then, you hold to one singular belief: you will see the sky and smell the flowers again, and you will survive it at any cost.
If you’re the Chancellor of the Sky People, the Skaikru, you are torn, your heart constantly bleeding as you try and fail. You hate what you’re becoming and feel powerless to stop it. You can only hold the battered organ in your hand and stare at it, try to remember that it’s real, try desperately to find a safe place to keep it in a world completely devoid of safety. You hold to one singular belief: there has to be a better way to survive, but you will survive.
What else can you do as a leader?
What else can you do when the one thing that is needed most in the world is a modern myth?
Where is peace?
Where is safety?
For Clarke Griffin, the unlikely Chancellor of the Sky People, there was nothing more to be done. Despite incredible odds and a betrayal of both heart and mind, she got her people home safely, but it was at the cost of her very own soul.
Somehow, she still brought the Mountain Men to their knees, and with nothing more than the flick of her wrist. One enemy was lost but another was gained, and it was inside of her. She murdered some, she saved others, but the moral of her actions was not lost on her.
She realized that she is no better than those that she’d destroyed so easily. She also knew that for some reason, she got to survive. She just didn’t understand why. If she was no better than her enemy, and of this she had no doubt, why did her life matter more?
“Maybe there are no good-guys,” her mother’s words resounded in her head.
Abby, the good doctor, the should-be Chancellor, had shown faith in her daughter. She had stepped aside to give Clarke the power that she needed to make peace so that she could then make war. After all, it was considered a righteous war. She may have even believed those words when she’d said them. Clarke certainly thought so. But Clarke also knew that her mother now saw a monster where her daughter once stood.
If her own mother couldn’t look her in the eye, couldn’t forgive her, how much less should she be able to see herself, to forgive herself?
Clarke realized that it is a hollow word, a dream, a farce. She had sat in judgment of others despite what she was capable of because there was no such thing as forgiveness, not really.
First, she hated Wells for the senseless death of her father, and she couldn’t let that go, not until she learned that it was her own mother’s betrayal that had opened that airlock and floated the man. And even after Wells had tried to make it right, he had to die for the crimes of his own father.
Then she focused her hatred on her mother, whom she still can’t fully forgive, the same mother who currently sits in judgment of her daughter. But who is she to say that what Clarke did was wrong when she knowingly murdered her own husband?
At the start, when they’d been unforgivingly thrown to the ground, he had given Clarke hope. She had seen him hold onto his humanity and his compassion, fighting for a common good. But because of her, he became so lost that he’d slaughtered an entire village of Trikru. Like her mother, Clarke couldn’t look at him the same. But that wasn’t the worst of it: she drove a knife into Finn’s stomach, and then had the audacity to call it kindness, because the Trikru want blood for blood, because there is no forgiveness.
Clarke became just like Finn, only worse; she became like Lexa, commander of the Grounders. She became hard and calloused, cold and calculating. She became a traitor, not just of her alliances but her very own soul. She lost her humanity to the will to survive, and then realized that if her humanity was the cost, she just didn’t see the point in surviving anymore.
So she left her people. For days she ate next to nothing. She walked until exhaustion claimed her. She had nowhere in mind; she only knew that anywhere was better than here, and here was everywhere.
She had no fight left in her, no pride either. If she fell, she’d crawl until unconsciousness relieved her. When injured, she’d let it bleed. She was helpless in the face of her own thoughts, her own inability to forgive, not just others, but herself. Her heart had been left at a vault door of a mountainous tomb, this same place where betrayal masked as survival stole the last of her innocence.
She would know that voice anywhere, even from within the murky depths of her torment. It is toneless, void, and uncaring, just like the eyes of its wearer, eyes that she could never forget.
“I do care, Clarke. But I made this choice with my head, not my heart.”
Lexa had lied. She’d left Clarke to die. She’d left Clarke’s people to die. She’d betrayed Clarke with a kiss…
“The mountain has cast a shadow over these woods for too long! They’ve hunted us, controlled us, turned us into monsters…”
Clarke understands that not everything out of Lexa’s mouth had been a lie, but then the world becomes a scalding landscape of raw nerves. She cries out and chokes on it, maybe because of the pain or maybe because of the shame.
Clarke knows that Lexa is a monster, but she has become one too. She knows that she deserves this pain, they both do.
But Lexa is not in pain. Lexa feels nothing. Clarke’s breathing is shallow as her eyes search the commander’s face for something she can’t find, something that she wishes she didn’t feel. And she believes that maybe she sees the commander because like the pain shooting through her body, she deserves to be haunted.
“We’re not so different, you and I,” Clarke mutters before her head rolls to the side and she is lost to unconsciousness.
“Commander, she’s still feverish, but she’s starting to come to. I believe she’ll be able to keep the leg.”
“Good,” Lexa gazes down on her quarry, her expression inscrutable. “Keep her under watch. We can’t afford to underestimate her again.”
Lexa strides to the skins hanging over the doorway and looks back. There is no emotion or worry, but her eyes linger on the girl.
The large, brutish man turns to his commander, a wiry wisp of a girl that he obeys without question. He gives her his full attention though she does not deign to do the same. No, her vacant eyes don’t leave the girl on the table, even as she gives a final command.
“She is not to be harmed.”
He nods, and of course he will obey, even when he knows that the Skaikru – specifically this girl, this Clarke – will bring death upon them all. But he turns back to his charge without a word, and Lexa’s eyes linger for a moment longer before she leaves the hut.