'The 100' Boss Talks 'Mind-Blowing' Season 3 and Shawn Mendes' Exciting Debut

The CW

The 100
is back and better than ever.

The CW’s dystopian drama kicks off its third season following the devastating deaths at Mount Weather, and when things pick back up three months later for our heroes, a bounty has been put on Clarke’s (Eliza Taylor) head. And so begins The 100’s biggest season yet.

“I don’t know that we can get much darker than last season, but I like to say that it’s bigger, it’s better it’s different and it’s the same,” executive producer Jason Rothenberg tells ETonline ahead of Thursday’s return.

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“This season, we’re telling two awesome, epic [and] very different stories that have a surprisingly mind-blowing connection. By the end of the season, when it’s judged as a whole, it will be considered the best of our seasons,” he promises, adding that the actors -- most notably Taylor, who debuts a dramatically new look -- “are better than they’ve ever been.”

“They are these people now. They know these people better than anybody, even better than me in many cases,” Rothenberg adds, citing his relationship to the large ensemble to that of a Swiss watch. “That’s where we are right now: creatively in a zone. Everything is working. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep this level of storytelling and production value as high as it is right now.”

Rothenberg -- as well as several other writers -- is known to engage with fans of The 100 on social media, often live-tweeting episodes, responding to queries on Twitter and sharing behind-the-scenes tidbits. He admits that some events in the new season may frustrate the fans, who follow every minutia in each episode.

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“If you’re already a fan, you’re going to love [the season], but you might hate it [too],” he concedes. “There are developments that I think certain people are going to hate if they have certain pre-established ideas of what their characters should be doing. I’m sure I’ll get angry feedback as well, but that’s all part of it. Our fans are passionate and I appreciate how much the show is able to move them to emotional reactions like that.”

When the show returns, things on the ground have “found some type of equilibrium” and “a relative peace,” as Rothenberg puts it, thanks in part to the three-month time jump and new priority of establishing a safe haven.

“Mount Weather is gone and is no longer a threat. Lexa is in control in Polis. Sky crew is, for the most time, really starting to create a civilization at Arkadia [formerly Camp Jaha],” Rothenberg previews. “They’re exploring and they’re mapping. They’re doing all the things you would do if you landed at a time of relative peace as opposed to what they’ve had to do, which is fight every day.”
“The atmosphere in the beginning of the episode has a different feel than what we’re used to. I won’t say there’s levity, but there’s some musical numbers -- no joke,” he says with a laugh.

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But that “levity” won’t last, of course. Members of the group will embark on a journey to bring Clarke back that will lead them through dangers of the unknown. If fans are hoping for a reunion with Clarke and the rest of the group early in the season, don’t hold your breath.

“She’s in no hurry. When we find her, she’s still in that place and she still has not escaped herself. We’ll ultimately learn pretty quickly that you can’t escape yourself,” Rothenberg says. “She will be pulled back into the conflict kicking and screaming, quite literally, but there will be an activation point when our hero does her thing.”

“In terms of reuniting with her friends and The 100, of course that will happen, but she finds a way to certainly put into perspective what she did and be able to eventually live with herself,” he says.

Speaking of the “musical numbers,” “Stitches” singer Shawn Mendes -- a self-processed fan of the show -- makes his acting debut on the premiere.

“Shawn was great,” Rothenberg says of the 17-year-old’s cameo. “That kid has got quite the voice and has blown up. He was already on the rise when he reached out to me [about appearing on the show] and he’s blown up quite a bit since then. I’m excited for him and excited for us.”

The 100
premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.