|“||Through the dark, the Flame lives on. The body passes, but the Spirit is strong. The Spirit has chosen. Let the Commander ascend.||”|
|— Gaia performing the Ascension Ceremony [src]|
Commander, also known as Heda in Trigedasleng, or Commander of the Blood, was the title given by the Grounders to the bearer of the Flame. The Commander was the highest-ranking Grounder and, at some point or another, had been the absolute leader of the Coalition, Wonkru and the Eligius Prisoners.
The Flame itself was a neural implant that merged its user's brain with an artificial intelligence known as A.L.I.E. 2.0. It was invented by Becca Franko and was used by the Grounders to pass experience and wisdom from one Commander to the next. The Grounders believed that the Flame held the "Spirit of the Commander" and that the Spirit helped to choose and guide the next Commander.
When a Commander died, the Flame was removed from their body and kept safe by the Commander's spiritual leader, known as the Flamekeeper, until a successor was found. Since the Flame was only compatible with Nightbloods, they were the only ones who could become true Commanders. The process of selecting a new Commander was known as a Conclave.
Becca Franko was the first bearer of the Flame and thus the first Commander. Other notable Commanders included Sheidheda, the Dark Commander who was known for his tyrannical reign, and Lexa, who founded the Coalition. The final new Commander was Madi Griffin, who served as the leader of Wonkru until the Flame's destruction. Madi was succeeded by a resurrected Sheidheda and upon his death, the reign of the Commanders came to an end.
Two years after the first Nuclear Apocalypse, Becca Franko completed her latest AI invention, A.L.I.E. 2.0 (a.k.a. the Flame), while on board her space station Polaris. She believed that the Flame was the key to saving humanity and became its first user and thus the first Commander. The title "Commander" originated from the badge on Cole McAdams' spacesuit that Becca was wearing when she descended back to Earth and came into contact with the Second Dawn survivors.
After Becca's execution by the Second Dawn, a group led by Callie Cadogan defected from the cult and returned to the ground using Becca's Nightblood serum, becoming the origin of the Grounders. Becca was remembered as a martyr known as Bekka Pramheda ("Becca, the First Commander" in Trigedasleng) and was worshipped by later generations of Grounders.
The Grounders established a tradition in which whoever took on Becca's spirit (a.k.a. the Flame) became their new Commander. Before her death, Becca entrusted Callie with finding the next host for the Flame, thus starting the Flamekeeper tradition.
Not much is known about the early history of the Commanders after that. One Commander that ruled during Indra's childhood was Sheidheda, the Dark Commander. Sheidheda was a power-hungry tyrant who killed three of his own Flamekeepers before being killed by his fourth.
One of the most notable Commanders is Lexa of Trikru. After many years of war and bloodshed, Lexa formed the Coalition and became the first person to unite all twelve Grounder clans under the rule of the Commander. As Commander, Lexa led the Coalition in wars against the Mountain Men, Reapers and Sky People. She later led the process of adding Skaikru (Sky People in Trigedasleng) as the thirteenth clan of the Coalition. Meanwhile, Queen Nia of Azgeda plotted to overthrow Lexa and replace her with an Azgeda Nightblood named Ontari.
Following Lexa's death, the Grounders struggled to find a Nightblood successor and there would be no true Commander for the next six years. Ontari had originally tried to claim the throne by slaughtering the other Nightblood contenders in their sleep. However, Lexa's Flamekeeper, Titus, helped Clarke Griffin escape with the Flame so as to keep it out of Ontari's hands. Ontari subsequently pretended to be a true Commander with the reluctant help of John Murphy as her Flamekeeper, in order to maintain her power over the Coalition. The War Against A.L.I.E. led Clarke to try to make first Luna, the only other known Nightblood, and then reluctantly Ontari into a Commander to defeat A.L.I.E.; both attempts failed forcing Clarke to briefly bear the Flame herself to destroy the AI, while using a blood exchange transfusion to get Nightblood from the brain dead Ontari.
With Ontari dead, King Roan of Azgeda became the acting head of the Coalition until a new Commander could be found. Without a Commander to lead them though, it was not long before war broke out among the clans. Clarke, now a Nightblood after harvesting Luna's bone marrow, tried to become the new Commander so as to unite the warring clans once again in the face of the impending Second Nuclear Apocalypse. Her attempt to claim the Flame however, was rejected by the Grounders due to the artificial nature of her Nightblood. Instead, Roan declared a Final Conclave to determine which clan would get the Second Dawn Bunker and thus survive the apocalypse.
Without a Commander and the Second Nuclear Apocalypse fast approaching, a Final Conclave was held with each of the 13 clans of the Coalition sending a champion to fight to the death for the Second Dawn Bunker. Skaikru's champion, Octavia Blake, won and invited the remaining 12 clans (Floukru were extinct following the Final Conclave) to share the bunker. Under Octavia's leadership, all the clans were merged into one clan - Wonkru. Octavia, however, was not considered a Commander because she was not a Nightblood and therefore could not bear the Flame. Instead, she was given the title of Blodreina (Red Queen).
Wonkru lived without a true Commander for the next six years until Madi Griffin, the last Nightblood-by-birth on Earth, joined them. Despite Octavia's initial efforts to remain in power, Madi was given the Flame and ascended with the help of the Flamekeeper Gaia. Madi then led Wonkru into Shallow Valley where they defeated the Eligius Prisoners in the Battle for Eden.
Following the Damocles Event, Wonkru and the Eligius Prisoners left Earth and found a new home in Sanctum. Madi soon became haunted and later possessed by the spirit of Sheidheda. Raven Reyes deleted the Flame's data in order to save Madi, but was too late to stop Sheidheda from uploading his consciousness to Russell Lightbourne's Mind Drive. The deactivated Flame was surgically removed from Madi, who then retired as Commander. Even without the Flame, Madi still retained fragments of past Commander's memories in her mind, including Becca's and Lexa's.
Wonkru's loyalties were fractured after the destruction of the Flame. Clarke and Indra attempted to share command of the clan at first before Indra took over fully; however, they struggled to get the clan to follow them as they were not Commanders. Meanwhile, Sheidheda was resurrected in Russell's body after killing Russell's consciousness. Sheidheda subsequently defeated Indra in a single combat challenge and became the new Commander of Wonkru. He quickly expanded his rule over Sanctum, eliminating the Children of Gabriel and forcing the Eligius Prisoners to pledge their allegiance to him.
In the meantime, Bill Cadogan and his Disciples were looking for the Flame because it held Becca's memory of the Anomaly Stone code needed to start the "Last War". They intended to have Gabriel Santiago repair the Flame, but Gabriel ended up physically destroying it for good, taking with it the minds of the Commanders still stored inside.
The reign of the Commanders came to an end with Sheidheda's death during Wonkru and the Eligius Prisoners' final confrontation with the Disciples. Madi achieved transcendence shortly thereafter, along with most of humanity, leaving no past Commanders on the mortal plane of existence either.
The Conclave is a Grounder tradition, held upon the death of the Commander in which a Nightblood successor for the role is selected. The Flamekeeper (or Fleimkepa in Trigedasleng) is responsible for retrieving the Flame from the previous Commander's corpse and overseeing the Conclave for the selection of the new Commander.
The Flamekeeper uses scouts to find Nightbloods. When a Nightblood child is discovered, they are sent to Polis to be groomed as a potential successor to the Commander. For each group, or "class", of novitiates, a Conclave is held when the last Commander dies, during which the Nightbloods fight to the death. Unlike the battle royal format of the Final Conclave, the Conclave to choose the next Commander, based on Luna's description, appears to involve single combat duels, with the winner of each duel advancing to the next round. The last remaining survivor then becomes, or, "ascends" as the next Commander. The belief among Grounders is that the Commander's spirit (in fact the AI chip of A.L.I.E. 2.0) "chooses" its successor through this process.
Nightblood children are sometimes hidden from the Flamekeeper scouts as was the case with Ontari and Madi. However, even if a Nightblood was not trained in Polis, they are still allowed to compete in the Conclave as the Grounders believe this to be their birthright.
Once the victory horn is sounded, the victor is taken to the throne room, where the Flamekeeper performs the Ascension Ceremony in which the victorious Nightblood becomes the Commander. The Flame from the old Commander is implanted into the neck of its new successor, and with it, the new Commander is endowed with the spirits of all the past Commanders. As part of the rites of Ascension for a new Commander, they are required to recite the lineage of past Commanders. If they are incapable of doing so, they are considered illegitimate.
Through the Flame, the new Commander gets dreams / flashbacks and hears voices of the past Commanders. The Commanders use these to gain knowledge and wisdom on how to lead their people. The Flamekeeper helps teach the new Commander how to control the past Commanders' voices in their head.
Besides the Conclave, other traditions associated with the Commander include:
- Various symbols of the Commander
- The Sacred Symbol of the Commander a.k.a. the infinity sign. This symbol was originally the corporate logo of Becca Franko's company. It is seen tattooed on Lexa's nape, above the scar where the Flame was inserted.
- The gold emblem worn on the foreheads of Commanders such as Lexa and Madi, as well as false Commanders like Octavia.
- The shoulder guard and red sash worn by Commanders such as Lexa and Madi, as well as false Commanders such as Ontari and Octavia.
- Ascension Day, in which past Commanders are honored. Given its name, it is possibly held on the day the current Commander ascended to the throne.
- Purification Ritual, held upon the death of a Commander and before the Conclave, in which the Nightbloods, Ambassadors, and other dignitaries pay their final respects to the departed Commander. Part of the ritual is shown in "Stealing Fire", where one of the Nightbloods, Aden, is seen scattering red powder on Lexa's corpse while asking the Spirit of the Commander to choose him as the next Commander. Red smoke is later seen pluming from Lexa's pyre at the top of the Polis tower.
List of Commanders
This is an incomplete list of all true Commanders, i.e. the individuals recognized by Grounders as part of the Commander lineage.
- Becca Franko, known as Bekka Pramheda to the Grounders, was the first Commander. She created the Flame and was its first bearer. She was burned at the stake by the Second Dawn to get the Flame.
- Maffei of Boudalankru.
- Kemji of Trishanakru, successor to Maffei in the lineage.
- Lexa of Trikru was the founder of the Coalition. She was accidentally killed by her own Flamekeeper Titus.
- Madi Griffin of Louwoda Kliron Kru, successor to Lexa in the lineage, was the first Commander of Wonkru and the final Commander to bear the Flame. She was initially left in a paralytic state by Bill Cadogan because of the memories she retained from the Flame, but ended up achieving transcendence.
- Malachi of Sangedakru, known as Sheidheda (Dark Commander), originally ruled sometime between Becca and Lexa; it is unclear if he ruled before or after Maffei and Kemji. He was killed by his fourth Flamekeeper but his consciousness kept attempting to influence future Commanders through the Flame. Sheidheda was later resurrected via a Mind Drive and took control of Wonkru. He was eventually killed once again by Indra.
Several individuals could be described as false Commanders:
- Ontari of Azgeda claimed the title of Commander of the Coalition, but never possessed the Flame.
- Clarke Griffin was briefly implanted with the Flame to destroy A.L.I.E., but she never took the title of Commander at least in part because she was not a Nightblood at the time and could not survive hosting the Flame permanently. She was however called "Commander" by Becca Franko when she entered the City of Light.
- Even before taking the Flame, she was given the title of Wanheda (Commander of Death) following her massacre at Mount Weather.
- After becoming a Nightblood, Clarke attempted to claim the title and the Flame, but was rejected by the Grounders due to the artificial source of her Nightblood.
- Sheidheda later suggested that nevertheless she could potentially claim the title and leadership over Wonkru due to being one of only three living people to have borne the Flame for however short a time.
- Octavia Blake won the Final Conclave and became the first leader of Wonkru. She wore the Commander's emblem, shoulder guard and red sash at first, but she was not a Nightblood and therefore could not bear the Flame. She did not use the title of Commander, and was instead known as Osleya (Champion) and later Blodreina (Red Queen).
- Clarke Griffin: "You wanna know why I saved you? Because I need you. God forbid one of your Generals becomes Commander. You may be heartless, Lexa, but at least you're smart."
- Lexa: "Don't worry, my Spirit will choose much more wisely than that."
- Clarke Griffin: "Your Spirit?"
- Lexa: "When I die, my Spirit will find the next Commander."
- Clarke Griffin: "Reincarnation, that's how you became Commander."
- -- in Survival of the Fittest
- Gaia (performing the Ascension Ceremony): "Through the dark, the Flame lives on. The body passes, but the Spirit is strong. The Spirit has chosen. Let the Commander ascend."
- Indra: "What is this? Wanheda is no Natblida!"
- Gaia: "The blood of the Commanders is your blood."
- Clarke Griffin: "May the Spirit of the Commanders guide me."
- -- in DNR
Notes and Trivia
- The title "Commander of the Blood" is a reference to the Commanders being Nightbloods. This goes back to the blood of the first Commander Bekka Pramheda.
- The Nightblood novitiates are taught that the three pillars of being a Commander are: Wisdom, Compassion, and Strength.
- The Flame is passed from Commander to Commander. When a Commander dies, the Flamekeeper takes the Flame from the dead regent and guards it until the Conclave is over and the next Commander has been revealed.
- If the Commander dies in battle, the Flamekeeper or one of their scouts would have been tasked with finding the Commander's body and retrieving the Flame.
- Several of the Commanders are known to have died badly, starting with Becca, continuing with Sheidheda in his first body, continuing with Lexa and ending with Sheidheda a second time.
- Besides death, a unanimous vote of no confidence by the Ambassadors of the Coalition is the only way to remove a Commander from power. A Commander who has been voted out would then presumably be executed to allow the Flame to be passed on to a new Commander.
- This law was introduced by Commander Lexa.
- Lexa is the first Commander to rule over all 12 Grounder Clans, unifying them all under her Coalition.
- Sheidheda is the first Commander whose dominion includes the Eligius Prisoners, after they pledge their allegiance to him in "The Stranger".
- In early version of the script for "A Little Sacrifice", where Sheidheda recites the linage, there was a name that did not make it into the final cut of the episode, Hanbin kom Trikru. Their name was directly before Lexa's, implying they were the Commander directly preceding her.
- In Sanctum, the Primes use a process similar to how the Grounders pass on the Flame to the next Commander. However, instead of just passing on wisdom and experiences to the next host, the Primes use the Mind Drives to replace the host's mind with the Prime's entire consciousness.