It’s impossible to engage with the post-apocalyptic drama The 100 without arguing about shipping, a variety of fandom that emphasizes characters’ romantic pairings. It comes up on every social media platform discussing The 100. Who will end up with whom is discussed at every cast panel or interview, and the show infamously killing off Lexa in Season 3 — one-half of its central lesbian relationship — brought it into conversations on mainstream television.
Whether you’re interested in the relationships or plot — or maybe you just like the dope Grounders’ face paint — following The 100 means at least dipping one’s toe into online arguments over ships. Despite the current setup, the show’s upcoming fourth season is poised to invigorate The 100 by doing something fresh and intriguing: moving past that.
This isn’t to say Season 4 won’t involve coupling, nor is it disparaging the topic. To many, debating different fictional pairings is a subversive way to explore subjects still underserved by mainstream pop culture. But Season 4 will see the Arkers, delinquents, and Grounders facing their biggest collective threat yet: the apocalypse. Clarke (Eliza Taylor) and Bellamy (Bob Morley) will unite, at least platonically, to save humanity.
Just like in the real world, in times of distress, you lean on loved ones — heedless of any clean-cut label on the relationship. The question of whether the two will ever kiss is relevant to fans invested in Bellarke (the colloquial term for their pairing), but on a narrative level, it’s secondary to the practicality of their relationship.
Whether or not they’re attracted to one another, Clarke and Bellamy get shit done. Their story is most compelling when these two characters balance out each other’s more extreme traits and focus their tense dynamic outwards. Season 2 — the show’s best to date — saw this with their destruction of Mount Weather. Bellamy’s penchant for impulsive risk-taking fused with Clarke’s forceful decision-making worked to save their people.
Season 3 was narratively weaker, in part because it stranded Clarke and Bellamy across disparate subplots. Without Clarke’s steadiness, Bellamy jumped head-first into following orders from a misguided leader. Meanwhile, without Bellamy as her anchor, Clarke was physically and mentally isolated to the point where she was disconnected from her own people when she finally returned to them. For the middle stretch of Season 3, The 100 felt aimless because “getting shit done” was on the back burner.
Luckily, Season 4 will change that. Not only does uniting the pair infuse the narrative with renewed momentum, but it also continues to link The 100 to the current zeitgeist. Season 4 is already timely in its willingness to make environmental disaster the biggest threat, just as it is in the real world. Similarly, America has a President who poses a threat to the civil rights of every marginalized group — women, POC, the LGBTQ community. Our time is one for action and mobilization, for relationships to emphasize practical accomplishments over an inward focus. The 100 might be fiction, but like other sci-fi and fantasy shows, it works in conversation with current events, particularly when they’re grim.
Now, we would be remiss to discuss The 100 and the shipping element of fan culture without mentioning Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey). In the method with which it axed a lesbian character, Season 3 angered a considerable portion of fans. The response to Lexa’s death wasn’t just about shipping, of course; it was about the larger issue of representation on television. But it’s also not divorced from it, as the pairing of Clarke and Lexa was central to how many fans engaged with the show. Concurrently, it’s also the second aspect of why Season 3 was weaker than Season 2, as Lexa’s death scene was clumsy on a writing level.
In doubling-down on storytelling first and foremost in Season 4, then, The 100 is rejuvenating itself in multiple areas. Fixing what makes the show better narratively also happens to fix its PR problem following Season 3.
This isn’t to say Clarke should never kiss anybody ever again, whether it’s Bellamy, Niylah, or someone entirely new. As long as it’s well-executed on a storytelling level and the writing continues to recognize that Clarke’s relationship with Bellamy is one of its greatest strengths — divorced from the question of romance — live and let live. From the ashes of an uneven Season 3, The 100 Season 4 will rise.