Russell was born on Earth, and when he was a young boy on Earth, his first pet dog bit his face. However, his father still loved the dog and refused to put him down, claiming that the dog deserves a second chance. A few years later, the dog attacked Russell's infant sister for crawling near his bowl, and two days later, Russell's sister had died. At some point, when he was an adult, he married Simone Lightbourne and they had a daughter, Josephine.
The Lightbourne family were sent aboard Eligius III to travel to the habitable moon Alpha to form a colony. Russell knew Becca Franco who thought him to be a "pompous ass". Russell preferred Alpha over Becca's choice of Planet Beta, fearing that Beta was too far from the other planets relative to the black hole that the mission worlds were in proximity to. The Lightbourne family arrived on Alpha, which Josephine renamed Sanctum, in 2045 and were original members of Mission Team Alpha. Russell was the team leader. However, on Day 21 of the mission, Russell killed Simone, Josephine, and others during a Red Sun eclipse induced psychosis.
Russell spent the next 25 years trying to figure out how to use Mind Drives to bring his family back. In 2070, he assisted Gabriel Santiago in bringing his daughter back via an adult black blood host. After this successful experiment, Russell and Gabriel managed to bring back Simone and the others who were killed. Russell became fascinated with the Temporal Anomaly, building Sanctum in its image, but eventually gave up on trying to understand its purpose. At some point, he also built a farmhouse for Simone as his wife had grown up in one on Earth.
His family become three of the Primes and used various hosts for the next two centuries to be reborn after each death. Russell was the "seventh of his line", that is, on his sixth host before his death at the hands of Sheidheda.
In Red Sun Rising, 236 years ago, Russell and his team including his wife Simone and daughter Josephine had just recently arrived on the Alpha. He tried to keep everyone on target with their missions to build a sanctuary for human race on the Alpha. When his Josephine suggested renaming the place to "Sanctum", he gladly accepted the suggestion. Later that day, Russell and his team encountered their first red sun eclipse. Since they didn't know it's effect, Russell got exposed to it and turned psychotic. While in this eclipse-induced psychosis, Russell went off and attacked his wife and Josephine with an axe and shot many others.
In The Children of Gabriel, the current incarnation of Russell is among the first Sanctum Citizens to see Clarke's group from Earth. When they ask for help with Murphy who's dying, Russell takes a look and determines that Murphy has died from the toxic seaweed, but there's a way to bring him back. He asks Cillian to bring him back by getting him bitten by a Kepa-She snake whose venom reverses the effects of the sea weed. Afterwards, he orders for Clarke and her friends to be locked up. He visits them later to inquire why they are there and why they killed Kaylee's family. Before deciding what to do with them, he asks some of them to go bring in their transport ship inside the radiation shield where it's safe. He's left behind with Clarke to determine their fate.
When Clarke begs Russell to let them stay in Sanctum, Russell invites her to discuss it over dinner at the palace. During the dinner he tests Clarke's loyalty. He already knows about Clarke's dark past, thanks to Jordan telling Delilah everything. Clarke says that all the time she killed people on Earth, it was to protect her people. She asks Russell for a second chance but Russell doesn't trust that Clarke won't turn against them. He decides to kick Clarke's people out. However, right after dinner, everything is interrupted when the Children of Gabriel sneak in and kidnap Rose and Delilah - the remaining Royal Bloods. Clarke saves Delilah but get injured in the process. When Russell notices that Clarke has black blood, he realizes that she is a royal blood like them too. The events of the night convince Russell to let Clarke's people stay. However, upon learning that Charmaine Diyoza is the terrorist from their history books, he kicks her out.
In The Face Behind the Glass, Russell leads the celebrations for Delilah's naming day. Part of the ceremony involves repentance during which he makes amends with Kaylee for leaving her behind and shutting the door at Ryker's Keep before Kaylee's family could get in. After conducting Delilah's naming ritual, Russell is disappointed to receive bad news from Jade that Rose has been killed. Russell and Simone needed Rose to eventually use her as a host for their daughter Josephine. It could take decades before another royal blood child is born. Lucky for them, Clarke gets paralyzed by Cillian who turns out to be a spy for the Children of Gabriel. Russell becomes tempted to take advantage of Clarke and use her as Josie's host without her consent. Simone agrees that it was meant to be. He apologizes to Clarke and tells her that her brain will be erased. Russell and Simone inject Clarke with a mind-wiping drug that knocks her out. While she's out, they insert Josephine's Mind Drive in Clarke. A while later, Josephine wakes up in Clarke's body. Russell is happy to be reunited with his daughter.
In The Old Man and the Anomaly, Russell expresses remorse for what he did to Clarke and sees Clarke's survival as a chance to make it right. Instead of erasing Clarke's mind for good, Russell desires to restore her and find a new willing host for Josephine, despite his daughter's protests. As a result, Josephine decides to go behind his back to get rid of Clarke for good.
After Miranda Mason is found dead, Russell realizes that it is not the Children of Gabriel and orders his people to find the people from Earth and Josephine as Sanctum begins to go into lockdown. After Madi's failed attempt on Priya's life, Russell insists that the people of Earth must stand trial for what they have done, though he promises they will do all they can to save Jordan Green since he saved Priya. The disgusted Ryker forces Russell to admit that Clarke is still alive. He orders his people to do whatever it takes to bring Josephine home.
In Matryoshka, Russell is having lunch along with his wife and Desais. They discuss the raised tension about citizens starting questioning the truth when a man named Tai asks for a meeting with the Primes. He claims to know where Echo is hiding, but really he wants to take this opportunity to murder Simone. He cuts a glass goblet on the table and stabs her in the throat. “Death to primes,” he says as the guards drag him out. Russell grabs his wife, but realizing that her injury is fatal, promise to bring her back.
This evening is the time when all earth prisoners and Tai are to get burned at the stakes. He walks around saying how there will be no forgiveness, however Murphy has a idea that Abby could make Nightbloods with bone marrow. Russell says they tried it before and it didn’t work, but Abby says she knows the right formula and if any of them die, they’ll never know what it is.
Russell pardons Abby and the rest of the people so she can get to work right away. She says she’ll need a Nightblood donor and suggests Russell himself. He says Madi will do. Abby starts to protest, but Raven says she’ll work fine they’ll just need a computer. He allows them to continue, but still kills Tai for assassinating Simone.
In Ashes to Ashes, Russell is interrogating Echo to learn who else knows “the truth” aside from Tai. She doesn’t give up anything, so Russell tells Ryker to take her to the machine shop and test Abby’s bone marrow on her. As she’s being dragged out, Murphy tells her in Trigedasleng that they’re sneaking out to the machine shop to get Becca’s book and she needs to stay alive until then. Murphy also tells Echo to pretend that she hates him. And because Echo calls Murphy a traitor, Russell believes he’s still on his side. He wants him to go with Jade and bring back Josie. If he doesn’t succeed, Russell will kill Emori.
By the end of the day, Clarke is brought back to Sanctum and succeeds in tricking Russell into believing that she is Josephine, claiming that she has no Mind Drive as she hung on through the neural mesh and killed Clarke in the Mindspace. Clarke questions where Simone is and Russell shows Clarke her Mind Drive and mentions his plan to bring her back through Echo. However, Josephine's supposed return causes Russell to put this plan off to bring Clarke to Madi instead. He shows her how they get more Nightblood through bone marrow extraction.
In Adjustment Protocol, Russell is in the lab inserting a Mind Drive in Clarke, who is pretending to be Josephine. He tells Abby that today he will be resurrecting all dormant Primes and he needs five more Nightblood doses. He goes to the machine shop to check on Ryker and his progress on making the host from Echo, but finds his dead body, he orders the guards to shoot to kill the people from Earth. He walks back to the Lab and prepares for the special Naming Ceremony, reviving the Mason family using bodies of his guards, Jade, Sierra and Bryson and giving Murphy and Emori drives, so they could pretend to be Daniel and Kaylee Lee. He then wipes Abigail's mind so she can be used as a host for his wife. Then Gabriel surrenders to the guards and is brought to Russell. Face to face, Russell argues with Gabriel about the meaning of life. Gabriel says, “Without death, life is meaningless” and asks Russell to stop the killing, but he says the new hosts were honored to become one with the Primes, "most of them anyway." Just then, an alarm goes off signaling the Red Sun toxin.
Using the distraction, Gabriel grabs a guard’s gun and points it at Russell. He tells him these will be the last resurrections, but in the end, he can't shoot his old friend. Russell goes out and tells the gathering crowd that the sirens are a false alarm, the "demon Gabriel" has been caught, and they should prepare for all their gods to return that night. But then the power goes off as well as the radiation shield, allowing Children of Gabriel to walk in. Approaching the crowd, Bellamy yells out that they’re not gods and the Primes don’t become one with their hosts. "They kill them," he says. "They steal your bodies so they can live forever" with Priya remorsefully confirming it. As people start to murmur and take in the truth, Russell puts an end to it with a Red Sun toxin bomb. "Non-believers must be purified," he says as he throws it into the crowd.
Regrouping in the mess hall, he introduces his resurrected wife in Abby's body to Clarke. Russell says that Sanctum is lost them they need to get away up to space. They take Raven, Madi and Gaia as hostages and fly to Eligius IV.
In The Blood of Sanctum, Russell and the other Primes, along with their guards seizes the mothership. Russell plans to escape to the other planets that Eligius III went to. As Russell and Simone plans to kill everyone who are in cryosleep, Russell confirms that Abby's neural mesh was destroyed by an EMP and that Abby was completely gone after Clarke hopes that her mother survived too. With Russell and Simone posed to mind wipe Wonkru, Clarke is forced to reveal herself to them and Russell immediately realizes that Josephine is dead to his sorrow. After Clarke kills the rest of the Primes by floating them, Russell tries to kill Madi to get revenge. However, Sheidheda, who is controlling Madi, offers a deal with Russell to get his revenge. As Sheidheda teams up with Russell, they wake up the rest of Wonkru, who begins to follow their Commander, with Russell and his guards. Later, Madi, who manages regain control, has Russell and his guards captured. Back in Sanctum, Russell is imprisoned for his crimes.
In From the Ashes, one of the issues between the various factions on Sanctum is what to do with Russell. While the Children of Gabriel want to burn Russell at the stake, Clarke refuses to let them until a decision is made and sends Jordan Green to check on Russell. Russell, who hasn't ate, drank or slept, expresses a wish to die due to the pain he is suffering from losing his entire family and having killed them in the first place. Russell angrily tells Jordan to inform the people of Sanctum that Russell is being treated better than he deserves and orders him to get out.
Jordan provides Russell with Priya Desai's Mind Drive, causing Russell to realize that Jordan had been Adjusted. However, Jordan states that he doesn't believe in the divinity of the Primes but thinks that Russell is just a man who lost his way. Russell realizes that Jordan got a glimpse "of the truth greater than us all" which Jordan is unsure of. The two discuss the Temporal Anomaly which Russell had built Sanctum in the image of. However, Russell stopped trying to understand the Anomaly and what it means a hundred years before and feels that it is now Jordan's cross to bear. Russell smashes the Mind Drive with his shackles and states that unless Jordan is prepared to do the same thing to him, they are done there. Jordan departs, leaving Russell alone again.
After tensions rise, Clarke and her friends decide to move Russell into the palace for safety. Russell questions Clarke's hesitance to kill him, stating that he would kill her for her own actions given the chance. As a near-riot breaks out, Murphy and Emori manage to calm the tension. Later, the Adjustors set up outside of Russell's prison, demanding his release while the Children of Gabriel seek his execution.
Rather than using force to stop the tension, Clarke decides to seek the help of Russell to order them to stop. Russell, who has refused to be unchained, is looking through a biology book Josephine wrote when Clarke enters and questions how one continues on when they have lost everything. Clarke asks Russell for his help, but he states that she would understand if he had killed Madi when he'd had the chance. Russell returns Abby's things to Clarke which Simone had left behind when she was resurrected in Abby's body. Taking Abby's ring, an enraged Clarke assaults Russell violently, inadvertently setting fire to the room in the process. Drawing a hidden gun, Clarke takes aim at Russell and demands to know if its what he wants. Unresisting, Russell confirms it and asks Clarke to set him free. Instead, Clarke pistol-whips Russell unconscious and breaks down in tears holding her mother's things.
In a Mindspace, Russell awakens in the form of his original body. Russell is greeted by Sheidheda who had downloaded himself into Russell's Mind Drive when the Flame was deleted. Sheidheda slits Russell's throat from behind, killing him. and states that from now on, he is Russell. Sheidheda is then fully resurrected in Russell's body and immediately begins posing as the Prime. After saving Sheidheda from the fire, Clarke announces to a gathered crowd that Russell Prime will be executed for his crimes the next day.
In The Garden, in a Memory Drive recording, Becca Franco calls Russell a "pompous ass" and states that while Russell thinks that Alpha is the right planet, she believes the better choice is Beta. While Russell thinks Beta is too far from a black hole relative to the others, she thinks "time dilation is sexy as hell".
In Welcome to Bardo, Russell's remaining followers, now calling themselves the Faithful, demand "his" release, threatening to immolate themselves once an hour until he is freed. John Murphy's attempt to intervene as Daniel gets his cover blown and Murphy nearly burned to death. Sheidheda, still posing as Russell, talks the Faithful down. However, his demand that they "kneel or die" causes Indra to realize that it is Sheidheda and not Russell. Unable to kill the Dark Commander just yet, Indra has Russell's Mind Drive removed from his body so that Sheidheda can never be resurrected again once he does die.
In Nakara, Nelson tries to take revenge on "Russell" but is easily beaten by the Dark Commander who states that if he actually was Russell, Nelson likely would've been able to kill him. Sheidheda reveals how he killed Russell and took over his body to Nelson who knows about the Mind Drive technology from Gabriel. Indra later reveals the truth to Murphy and Emori who encourage Indra to take command of Wonkru herself to face the mounting threats.
In The Queen's Gambit, Sheidheda quickly deduces that Murphy knows the truth about Russell's death and invites him to a game of chess, commenting that its nice to talk to someone and not have to pretend to be Russell who the Dark Commander calls "a hand-wringing fool".
In The Flock, Sheidheda reveals a map he found in Russell's things showing a secret tunnel that Wonkru can use to rescue the hostages. Before the gathered Sanctumites, the Dark Commander mockingly reveals the truth about Russell's death and how he killed their god. After the situation with the prisoners is defused, the Sanctumites turn on Sheidheda in anger, only to have the Dark Commander slaughter them.
In A Little Sacrifice, when the Dark Commander confronts her speaking in Trig, Madi is confused as she didn't think that Russell knew the language. Sheidheda explains how he killed Russell in the Mindspace and has taken over his body, causing Madi to realize who it is she is facing. Sheidheda subsequently reveals his resurrection in Russell's body to everybody in Sanctum.
In Blood Giant, after returning to Sanctum, Gabriel is confused by Sheidheda's actions as he still thinks the Dark Commander to be Russell. Clarke instantly realizes that Sheidheda is not in fact Russell and Otis reveals the Dark Commander's true identity. Gabriel later asks Sheidheda if Russell suffered, but the Dark Commander reassures him that Russell's death was quick.
He appears to be a stern and kind leader. He is a charismatic leader, a visionary and pioneer, who rules over a "peaceful society."
He is also an atheist, as wanted to prove there's no God, believing that "God is dead".
During his first life, he seemed like a nice person, he seems to be kind and hardworking. He cares about his family and for a new settlement. However the eclipse caused him to become psychotic and kill his family and friends. After the eclipse had passed, he seemed to be wracked with guilt, as he spent the next 25 years with Gabriel trying to bring Josephine back through the Mind Drives before using it on the others he killed.
Before creating Sanctum, he wanted to build a peaceful society. He refuses to trust Clarke's people, because of their dark history of violence and killing, seeing it as a threat to his Utopian community.
Although he was willing to murder Clarke Griffin to get Josephine back, Russell expressed remorse for his actions. After discovering that Clarke survived, he wanted to bring her back and put Josephine into a new, willing host to make that wrong right. He also balked at the idea of executing the people from Earth as he still wanted a peaceful end to things, showing that he is not naturally as bloodthirsty as his wife seems to be.
After Simone is assassinated, Russell's personality changes completely and he loses all hesitation in his desire to get revenge, willing to burn people at the stake to get it as a form of justice. He begins acting more ruthless, though he is willing to give the people from Earth a chance to earn their freedom by helping to replicate Nightblood using bone marrow transfusions so he can save his wife rather than giving into his bloodlust completely.
Despite his actions, Russell is shown to be sympathetic to a degree to what the prisoners from Earth are going through. When Abby threatens to kill him for Josephine supposedly taking permanent control of Clarke's body, Russell understands what she is going through one parent to another, especially as he knows what it's like to do whatever it takes to get your child back. As a result, he understands her anger and that she means what she says. He is also sympathetic enough to not force Abby to continue extracting Madi's bone marrow when it would mean killing her to continue, instead offering to have his healers do it instead.
Russell refuses to tell the truth about the Primes' secrets to his people, because he and the other Primes are power-hungry, and wanted to stay in power as the immortal rulers forever.
After losing everything, Russell falls into a depression and appears to become suicidal. Though still angry at Clarke for her actions, he is too depressed and lost to do anything about it, wondering what to do when you have lost everything and even seeking Clarke's advice on the subject. The deaths of all of the other Primes also appears to have snapped Russell out of his mentality of a living divinity, contemptuously asking Jordan Green if he believes in Russell's divinity since he has been Adjusted, destroying Priya's Mind Drive and making it clear that he also seeks a permanent end. In turn, Jordan believes that Russell is just a man who lost his way instead of a god or a monster. Russell purposefully goaded Clarke into killing him using the memory of Abby, seeking to be set free. However, Clarke knocked him unconscious instead and decided to let "Russell" burn in the palace when he regained consciousness before Sheidheda changed her mind, causing Clarke to decide to go with an execution instead.
Simone is Russell's wife and agrees with him on many things. He takes her opinion into consideration when decision making and the pair are often seen leading their people side by side. Both are Primes with the Royal Blood who occupy hosts of their own. They have been together for over two centuries. Russell is utterly devastated by both of her deaths, particularly when Clarke floats her as he has no way of retrieving Simone for resurrection.
He seems to be very close to his daughter, Josephine. He cares deeply for her and often lets her get away with things. He respects her work, though he disagrees with some of her opinions. After learning of Josephine's death, Russell is immediately reduced to tears. Her death and Simone's shortly after he learns about it causes Russell to seek revenge upon Clarke for his losses.
Russell Lightbourne: "I came to this world with a dream. From that dream, we created Sanctum and gave life to every single one of you. Simone and I have loved you as we loved your parents and their parents before them. You are our children, and for 200 years, we taught you not to fight, we taught you to forgive, but there are some things for which there can be no forgiveness."
His character was announced on September 21, 2018.
He was the first person who turned psychotic on the new world due to the Red Sun eclipse.
In "The Children of Gabriel", Russell VII mentions that he was bitten in the face by a dog when he was a child. Russell I had a scar on the side of his face which may have been from that dog attack.
Russell Lightbourne is the fourth main character to debut after the first season. (Echo was the first, Roan was the second, Jordan Green was the third). However, he was killed off in his first episode as a main character.
The exact number of people killed by Russell on and off-screen during the Red Sun Eclipse is never made clear. Aside from the ones killed on-screen in "Red Sun Rising," Priya and Ryker Desai are known to have fallen victim as well as confirmed by Ryker in "Memento Mori." However, at least some people are known to have survived such as Gabriel Santiago.