'The 100' Creator Reflects on Sci-Fi Drama's Miraculous 7-Season Run (Exclusive)

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As The 100 revs up for the seventh and final season, The CW's post-apocalyptic, dystopian drama has gone through quite an evolution over the past six years.

When it first debuted in 2014, the series centered on a group of teenagers as they became the first people from a space habitat to return to Earth after a disastrous nuclear apocalypse. When the final 16 episodes kick off Wednesday, Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and Co. attempt to rebuild Sanctum, the community they just destroyed, while combating a new enigmatic, but dangerous, threat, Anomaly. A far cry from the simpler days of learning to survive. (Watch ET's exclusive sneak peek from the premiere above.)

While outgoing shows like Empire and Supernatural were forced to pivot their original series finale plans due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemicThe 100 managed to wrap up its final season just under the wire. "We were lucky enough to finish shooting everything, and fortunately you can edit remotely and virtually. There were some kinks to work out, but we've worked them out and now it's just about finishing shows. Fortunately, we can do that. We got lucky," creator Jason Rothenberg tells ET. "I'm happy that the fans are going to get to see the ending that we wanted them to see."

Ahead of the new season, ET hopped on the phone with Rothenberg to reflect on the series' run over the last six years, the potential prequel spinoff series and saying goodbye to the characters.

ET: You must be breathing a sigh of relief that you can air your series finale as planned, unlike a handful of other shows that weren't so lucky.

Jason Rothenberg: Yeah. A series finale like that would have been heartbreaking, especially because we were planning for such a big one. We also got to finish up our prequel pilot episode for episode 8. So that was already in the can too. Pretty much every pilot didn't get shot. We were blessed to be able to finish that and that turned out really great. Hopefully, the television gods will bestow us the opportunity to keep telling the story.

Whenever a show decides to end its run, it puts you in a unique spot. When did you get the feeling that season 7 was going be the end?

In the beginning, I used to say, "I have five seasons in mind." Honestly, I was loving it so much that at the end of season 5, I wasn't ready to end it and the network wasn't ready to end it. Then we came up with the idea of going to another planet and really expanding the playing field. That made me creatively excited. After seven years, that's a long time. That's a long time for these actors to be playing the same parts. It's a long time for me, as a writer, to be telling the same story. Certainly, we changed the story up a lot, so it's a different story every year, but it was time. You just sense these things. I didn't want to step away, hand it off to anybody else and have it exceed its expiration date. We all know shows that have gone on too long and just become jobs or things you're doing for money and not for the love of it anymore. I never wanted The 100 to be that. We were lucky enough that the network agreed to let us wrap it up on our terms, so we could come up with an ending that I think this show deserves.

Looking at the show's evolution, it has changed so much creatively. Has the trajectory been interesting to look back on? The series definitely started with a much simpler premise. 

Yeah, it was. We've been blessed to be able to creatively pretty much do whatever we wanted to do. The network has been amazingly supportive. The studio [Warner Bros. TV]'s been amazingly supportive. Personally, I like to reinvent all the time because that keeps it fresh. I know the same applies to many of our writers. I know a lot of people want it to be what it was at the beginning, but that's just not the way I write. It's not the way the show has naturally evolved, and hopefully, people have taken the ride with our characters. On some level, I think of it as every season is its own movie and now we've made seven different movies and this is the last one.

As we look to these final episodes, can you tee up the last season for us? 

We destroyed Sanctum. Sanctum is fractured. When you break it, you buy it, and so our heroes are now thrust into the unenviable situation of having to knit together a new society, in place of the one that they broke. That is complicated by the fact that the Children of Gabriel are back, and they have a claim to that place as well because they come from there and were cast out. The Primes, as far as we know, are still there. There is a huge faction of True Believers, so that's a huge conflict right there. We brought the Allegiance Prisoners, who were in cryo for all of season 6, down to the ground in order to build a new Sanctum for our own people. And of course, we know that the finale of season 6 ended with Octavia getting stabbed by Hope Diyoza, who, three days ago, was a fetus in her mom's belly and is now a full-grown woman, so that's a big mystery that needs to be solved. 

The 100
Colin Bentley/The CW

The show has been innovative in terms of its storytelling. Was there something that you just never thought you could ever pull off?

I don't think I could point to anything that the [network and studio] ever said "no" to, in terms of what we were trying to do. I think a couple of times they were skeptical at first and then we were forced to have to prove to them that we could take the show to another planet, for instance. I've gotten to explore artificial intelligence. I've gotten to explore outer space. I've gotten to explore so many different things that I am excited by in terms of fiction that I read, in shows that I watch, that it's been... I don't know that it will ever be this good again, honestly. It's been a dream for a first show. It's been a dream.

Because the show has said goodbye to a lot of characters over its run, can we expect some of those faces to come back again because it is the final season? 

The show doesn't come full circle, but anything is possible. We've obviously brought characters back in flashbacks. We've brought characters back in fantasy for a dream and escape scenarios. We've never brought a character back from the dead, and we never will, because it's not a magical show. You can expect to see other characters from the past. Who they are, I won't get into yet.

You also have the unique challenge of, while you're wrapping up The 100, you're introducing the potential prequel series, which is set 97 years before everything began. How was navigating between both?

When we were sitting down to craft what the season was going to be, one of the challenges that I threw out there for our writers was that I wanted to answer the unanswered questions. There were some mysteries that weren't explained in past seasons that those stories took place in. And I wanted to answer as many of those questions as we could. The story of the prequel was actually something we were planning to tell even before it was going to be a prequel.

It just happened to be a really good jumping off point for the Grounders' origin story, which is where our prequel begins and the immediate aftermath of the bombs, and how the Grounders managed to survive. Some of our characters that you've met before play a very key role in that, without mentioning who they are. But in terms of it also answering big questions for this season, that was a challenge. Certainly, like, how can a story both be integral to the season 7 story and a springboard for something else going forward that is interesting and fascinating in its own right? That was a big challenge that I think we met. I think the prequel's pretty great. I think people will like it.

How different is the prequel, tentatively titled Anaconda, in terms of the vibe that you were going for compared to the flagship series?

It's in The 100's universe, so people can expect a lot of creative DNA that's similar. Of course, you don't have to know anything about the original show to go for the new ride, because it comes before the original show. I don't want to say it's got a lighter heart than the original show, but the protagonist's journey is quite different from Clarke in the sense that she comes out and she's got... I can't really talk about it, I don't want to give it away. But it's quite a cultural moment in the sense of we're all living in a time where we're sheltered in place, hoping that someone comes up with a cure and we can get back to our lives. This is a story about a woman, who has what could be considered a cure to the radiation that is keeping them all in underground bunkers, and is looking for people to save. Of course, she's going to run into people who are not going to play ball with her, but ultimately she's got a very altruistic agenda.

So pretty timely in terms of the situation that we're currently in, in the real world.

Yeah. In a way I feel like it's a bit of wish fulfillment. I used to say some things are better post-apocalypse and I guess on some level that could be applied to what the prequel story will be too. But, it wasn't of course that we set out intentionally to [align with the real world]. Who could have predicted this? It just turned out that way.

How would you describe the final season of The 100

The characters that we love are going to go to the ends of the universe to get their family back, and to keep their family together, led by Clarke. And ultimately, it's going to land in a place that every story's ending is giving that whole story a meaning. The moral of the story is it doesn't happen until the end. We will get to understand what The 100 has been about from the beginning in the end.

The final season of The 100 launches Wednesday, May 20 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.

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