Everyone loves a hero. They’re strong and kind and brave. They arrive in time and save lives. They do the right thing and make the right call. They’re the good guys.

The 100′s Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) doubts herself. She fails. She’s ruthless, idealistic, naïve, and cynical in the same breath. Her actions and her moments of inaction have cost lives—hundreds of them. But make no mistake: Clarke Griffin is a hero, and she’s one of the best on television, even when she’s not the good guy.

Ninety-seven years after nuclear war rendered Earth uninhabitable, the few thousand souls that comprise the last remnants of the human race live far above the Earth on the Ark: a massive space station forged from 12 smaller stations that were operational at the time of the war. When their oxygen supply begins running dangerously low, the leaders of the Ark send 100 juvenile delinquents (who otherwise face the possibility of being “floated” on their 18th birthdays) to the ground on a mission to find out whether Earth’s surface can sustain life. Who better to shoulder the burden of being humanity’s last hope than a bunch of criminal teenagers, right?

Clarke is among the 100 sent to the ground, and is quickly thrust into leadership when the drop ship lands smack-dab in the middle of a conflict between two factions of survivors (the Grounders and the Mountain Men) who have been living on Earth since the war. Turns out that the humans on the Ark weren’t the last of us after all.

Some may be tempted to slap the “teen drama” label on The 100 because of its origins: a series of young adult novels of the same name by Kass Morgan. But a teen drama this is not—turns out that fighting for your life in an irradiated post-nuclear wasteland doesn’t leave a lot of time for trifling teen angst.

The 100 is bona fide sci-fi, replete with impressive feats of worldbuilding, its own fictional language (Trigedasleng, which was created by David J. Peterson, who also created the Dothraki language for Game of Thrones), impossible moral dilemmas, and—perhaps best of all—a bunch of kick-ass women who undergo profound, illuminating and sometimes chilling character development.

The 100 continuously steps up to the plate and makes the tough call. It confronts matters of good and evil by embracing the gray area. It forces its heroes do unspeakable, unforgivable things in the name of survival, and it makes its villains heroic. Because, for all the villains we encounter on The 100 in any of their many forms, the common thread between them is that their motives are deeply (sometimes worryingly) understandable. Often, it feels as though there are no discernible good guys and bad guys, there are just people trying to stay alive.

Season 2 left us with a broken hero and some big questions, and Season 3 is fast approaching (premiering tomorrow). The new season promises rocky reunions and tested boundaries, coupled with more fighting, more bloodshed, and more moral ambiguity. But first, let’s catch up with the origin story.

Buckle up and grab something to hold onto—Earth’s atmosphere makes for a bumpy ride.

The 100

Number of Seasons: 2 (29 episodes)

Time Requirements: You can probably knock out three episodes a day, so allot about a week and a half.

Where to Get Your Fix: Netflix, Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes. Newer episodes available on Hulu.

Best Character to Follow: Follow the women (almost always good advice). In the world of The 100, the women are running things and the female characters are frequently the most captivating.

Clarke Griffin is the nucleus of the ensemble, and Taylor’s rendering is flawless. Clarke is brave and fiercely loyal and selfless. But she has a lot of blood on her hands, too. By the time we reach the second season’s finale, Clarke is far from the clean, fair-minded kid she was when she landed on the ground.

Clarke isn’t the only follow-worthy hero on this show, though. Look out for Octavia Blake (Marie Avgeropoulos), who transforms from underestimated pretty girl to fearless Grounder warrior, and Raven (Lindsey Morgan), who’s be able to find strength and humor in the darkest of places, but whose resolve is tested with increasing frequency.

Seasons/Episodes You Can Skip:

The 100’s first season isn’t its best. There isn’t a truly bad episode in the story so far, but Season 1 saw The 100 sometimes clumsily growing into the show it wanted to be—a vision that would be realized in the relentlessly impactful second season. If you’re short on time, here’s the condensed version of the non-essential installments.

Season 1: Episode 2, “Earth Skills” After Jasper (Devon Bostick) finds himself on the receiving end of a spear to the chest, the 100 are dealt a break in the form of Lincoln (Ricky Whittle), a Grounder with a heart of gold. Episode 2’s most vital moment is its introduction of Raven, a badass mechanic and all-around delight, who we’ll see plenty in coming episodes.

Season 1: Episode 6, “His Sister’s Keeper” A bit of Bellamy (Bob Morley) and Octavia Blake’s backstory: Due to limited resources on the Ark, families were limited to a single child. Octavia is Bellamy’s younger sister, and her birth is considered a crime. When Octavia was discovered during her first venture outside of their home, she’s arrested and their mother is floated. This episode is a little meandering, but the takeaway is Bellamy’s credo: “My sister, my responsibility.”

Season 1: Episode 8, “Day Trip” Clarke and Bellamy venture to a nearby pre-war supply depot, where they find guns. Octavia bonds with a Grounder prisoner, who she helps escape. After Clarke is knocked unconscious, she sees the ghost of her father and he delivers one of the first season’s most poignant lines in reference to Clarke’s reconciliation with her mother: “Forgiveness isn’t about what people deserve.”

Season 2: Episode 3, “Reapercussions” Clarke and a former Grounder enemy, Anya (Dichen Lachman), narrowly escape captivity together. Once they’re free, they get along famously and definitely don’t try to kill each other at all. Clarke discovers evidence that her people may still be alive on the ground.

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Seasons/Episodes You Can’t Skip:

Season 1: Episode 1, “Pilot” Clarke and rest of the 100 are pulled from their cells and sent to Earth. When they land, they find that Earth is stranger, more beautiful and a lot more dangerous than they anticipated. They also collectively tick off the “two-headed deer” box on the Post-Nuclear Bingo card.

Season 1: Episode 3, “Earth Kills” Clarke uncovers an important detail about who’s responsible for her father’s death and, in a heavy moment, takes her first life. Wells Jaha (Eli Goree), who is too good for this world, is killed because his dad’s a total Slytherin in Gryffindor’s clothing.

Season 1: Episode 4, “Murphy’s Law” As Clarke grapples with a loss and what’s left of the 100 become divided over who murdered one of their own, John Murphy (Richard Harmon) is nearly hung for a crime he didn’t commit. This episode includes a couple of watershed moments in the death of a 12-year-old girl, and the birth of Vengeful!Murphy.

Season 1: Episode 5, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” Raven Reyes arrives on Earth in a 130 year-old escape pod that looks about as fit for space travel as a Ford Pinto. The leadership of the Ark finds out too late that it might’ve let 300 innocent people die needlessly (oops), and the loss weighs heavily on Clarke’s mother, Abby Griffin (Paige Turco).

Season 1: Episode 13, “We Are Grounders, Part 2″ Clarke enlists the help of a gravely injured Raven to execute an explosive plan. Following a series of deadly events, those remaining on the Ark make a Hail Mary attempt to reach the ground by crashing their damn space station into Earth one section at a time. As she confronts sobering losses in the wake of a major battle, Clarke and 46 of her people are captured.

Season 2: In the second season, we follow Clarke down an increasingly dark path as she struggles to come to terms with what she must do to keep her people alive. It’s tough to skip around because nearly every episode holds a vital piece of the narrative puzzle and we meet some new key characters, like Alycia Debnam-Carey’s Commander Lexa, who can make blood run cold with a single glance, and the formidable, unapologetic Indra (Adina Porter). Here are the standouts:

Season 2: Episode 2, “Inclement Weather” After Clarke finds herself a prisoner of Mount Weather, she begins working out an exit strategy and stumbles upon a dark secret: Mount Weather is using the blood of captured Grounders to mitigate the effects of radiation exposure. She also runs across Anya, who’s badly beaten and being held in cage.

Season 2: Episode 5, “Human Trials” When he becomes desperate and unbalanced after leaving the newly-established Camp Jaha in search of Clarke, Finn (Thomas McDonell) wreaks havoc on Tondc (as in “WashingTon DC”), a nearby Grounder village. After burning their food and corralling their innocent, he discovers what he assumes to be evidence of foul play. He fires on the unarmed villagers and kills 18 innocent Grounders, a crime for which he must answer.

Season 2: Episode 7, “Long Into an Abyss” Clarke meets the Grounders’ commander for the first time to negotiate a truce in the face of an impending Grounder attack. Clarke and Abby work together to bring Lincoln back from the brink of death. Inside Mount Weather, Monty (Christopher Larkin) and Jasper tap their criminal roots to devise an escape plan.

Season 2: Episode 8, “Spacewalker” Though the Sky People attempt to protect Finn, he surrenders himself when he fears that he’s putting the lives of his friends in danger. Per Grounder custom, he is to suffer the pain of 18 deaths, for the 18 innocents he killed in Tondc. When Clarke is permitted a final goodbye, she takes Finn’s life into her own hands.

Season 2: Episode 10, “Survival of the Fittest” The Sky People and Grounders prepare to attack Mount Weather to rescue their people from the Mountain Men. Chancellor Thelonious Jaha (Isaiah Washington), Murphy, and select others leave their people in search of a fabled “city of light.” Octavia goes looking for a fight, gets it, and manages to exude total invincibility even when she’s getting her ass kicked.

Season 2: Episode 14, “Bodyguard of Lies” Lexa and Clarke prepare for war, but progress is hindered when Lexa becomes suspicious of Octavia. Commander “Heart Eyes” Lexa admits that, despite her valiant efforts to guarantee the contrary, she has feelings. In what is possibly one the most GIF’d events on Tumblr, Lexa kisses Clarke, who is surprised but very receptive, though she puts things on hold so they can go win a war. The Clexa ship sets sail.

Season 2: Episodes 15 and 16, “Blood Must Have Blood, Parts 1 & 2” Thelonious Jaha and Murphy discover something curious on the other side of the wasteland. The battle at Mount Weather comes to a head and the plan of attack is all but blown to shreds. When a betrayal leaves Clarke wounded and reeling, she must make a choice that will haunt her.

Why You Should Binge:

Season 3 is nearly upon us, and The 100 is doing some of sci-fi’s finest work. It’s proven itself unafraid of difficult plot lines, every episode raises the stakes (and the body count, which is steadily approaching Game of Thrones territory) and every decision has profound and far-reaching consequences. Most refreshingly, its diverse characters contain multitudes, with women, people of color, and people of different sexualities playing out fantastic and compelling arcs.

Our hero, Clarke Griffin, is bisexual and Lexa, the leader of the 12 clans and likely the most powerful person on the ground, is queer. In the world of The 100, it’s not a big deal and that, in itself, is a big deal for LGBT television characters. In the words of the show’s creator, Jason Rothenberg, via Twitter, “Some things improve post-apocalypse.”

Best Scene—Clarke Meets the Grounders’ Leader:

Clarke meets Lexa, proposes a deal and receives a few light-hearted death threats. This is the first time that the show’s major leaders meet one another and it is electric.

The Takeaway:

In the words of the Commander: “Victory stands on the back of sacrifice.” Also: Females are strong as hell.

If You Liked The 100 You’ll Love:

Check out Jessica Jones and Orphan Black for more complicated female protagonists, or dip into Battlestar Galactica if morally bankrupt heroes in space is your thing.

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WIRED Binge-Watching Guide: The 100