'Shipping is a big part of fandom; it is a concept that is always mentioned but never fully discussed.
There are opinions on the value of 'shipping and the room it leaves for the story the show is already telling outside of that.
Specifically with The 100, though, there are always those talks about 'ships, both platonic and romantic, and how they can coexist when there are clear boundaries being drawn about them.
There is so much that could be said about the space given to The 100 'ships, whether they are canon or not. But there is no talk of 'shipping without mentioning Bellarke, the relationship between the two leads that always feels like it leaves the fans and the showrunner at a standstill.
The bottom line is there is no right answer in a discussion like this, but it seems important to examine why 'shipping culture matters. Fans are shippers and shippers make up the strong online presence that has kept The 100 beating all these years.
The passion that comes with loving someone else's love is inspiring, and it doesn't take away any intelligence points because fans give their attention to character dynamics and not just the plot of the series.
For example: wanting Bellamy and Clarke to be together isn't just supporting the "same old trope," and it isn't focusing on the wrong part of the story. Bellamy and Clarke's relationship is the story, one worth exploring thoroughly each season even if it means committing to the continuous romantic undertones.
There is an argument to be made in favor of a romantic storyline finally getting explored with Bellamy and Clarke with a lot of it intersecting the view of 'shipping culture.
There is value in listening to the shippers that loyally examine your content and dig into all the hidden details because they are picking up on the natural progression in the series.
To 'Ship or Not To 'Ship
No matter how many seasons The 100 has, every time there is a conversation about 'shipping that starts right back up again. The way relationships are going on the show reflects the opinion on 'shipping for that specific season.
There is room for both sides of the conversation, especially with the way that the perception of shippers has continued to come into play for The 100.
Which is why talking out the other side can help support the idea of 'shipping culture having a positive input into how show reception works.
From the very beginning, there has always been this push for the plot to be the focus on The 100, or at least on the offscreen side.
It is sometimes hard to believe that this is the agenda the show has, especially when so much of the happiness and the hope within The 100 is always coming from relationships.
The way that the characters interact with one another used to push the story forward, it was always about the characters and the plot formed around them.
And maybe The 100 Season 5 was that subversion, it challenged the idea that characters and their connections are the driving force, instead of allowing the plot to create too many shortcuts.
This forced the relationships that needed to be developed after a six-year time jump to fall victim to an overarching plot that had to be accomplished.
And was that worth it?
From the show's perspective, characters can have the room to explore their relationships, but there has to be a way to trace it back to the plot.
There is a story getting told and last season conditioned the boundaries of where relationships could correspond and where they weren't necessary.
If it didn't move the plot forward, characters just wouldn't find the time to talk.
But fans of the show felt that loss, mourning the potential growth that would feel more organic if the characters were allowed to interact on their own terms.
The people behind The 100 make the choices that they do with the belief that their decisions are what push the show forward. Relationships are never forgotten, but they can be displaced when it feels necessary to focus on more significant aspects of the series.
Topics like humanity and the destruction that is constantly unleashed is a big one. Most of that has to come from miscommunication and a lack of connection between those desperately trying to make things work for the fifth time around.
Relationships take a back seat because they are messy and they can be scarce, a real-life examination of the way that people interact with each other necessarily moving in a particular direction.
But those relationships have to exist, and they still have to matter even if they aren't following a healthy path of positive development.
The people who appreciate these relationships deserve to know that they aren't a nuisance, and they matter because they care about the fictional relationships on a show just as much as those who care about the impending destruction.
There shouldn't be an arbitrary boundary drawn because one relationship isn't as solidified to the writing team yet as others. If there are different ways of interpreting things, then don't place judgment on people for connecting with something that wasn't the priority that season.
The same goes for stories that have embedded undertones and might be be explored in the future. Just because it isn't canon now but could be in the future doesn't mean that in the present fans should be discouraged for seeing exciting signs of potential.
Coming back to the broader point that The 100 is trying to make means understanding the story they're trying to tell. And from the showrunner point of view, 'shipping isn't always at the forefront of that story.
That is a stance and it is a valid one, as long as it doesn't bleed into this feeling of shippers as a burden.
Because the fact of the matter is the story can suffer just as much when there is an inadvertent decrease in relationship growth vs. allowing 'ships to take control of the show.
The Importance of 'Shipping Culture
To be honest, if there were no shippers, then many shows wouldn't have the support that they do.
There is this undefined passion when given the right relationship to support becomes a storm of love and appreciation for that 'ship. Fans put in a lot of work into what they love, examining each scene and knowing the show by heart.
Allowing fans to feel like their investment matters is a simple sign of respect, but a necessary one.
Fans aren't prioritizing relationships over the show itself, they are acknowledging that there is valuable development at the core of everything else that happens around it.
The plot wouldn't matter if those characters that take part in it weren't interesting to the fans, and the same goes for relationships. Wanting to see how people deal with a situation together and how issues might bring groups closer is a driving force for fandom.
And relationships don't have to be romantic, they can be bonds formed between people who might not be in the same scenes ever again or a bond between family or a connection created between best friends.
This misconception also attributes to a warped way of looking at shippers, forgetting that they are invested in the simple act of people spending time together. The notion that it should always be linked to an eventual romance is strangely negating the scene-stealing development that can form between just about any characters on the show.
The 100 Season 5 felt a lot like that, with no time for real conversations turning into evidence for a different case altogether. A case of 'ships almost becoming a forbidden idea, unless it is "canon" it doesn't have time to be explored.
In fact, many relationships that were canon didn't see much light this past season.
This questions how 'shipping culture is viewed, and how it can be incorporated with a negative way of examining The 100. The show has to give us a specific takeaway, and if fans attach themselves to another portion of the series then they aren't understanding the message.
Except that that is far from the truth.
Shippers are multitaskers; they can develop an idea of what they think the show is saying and still be moved by the ideals that The 100 is trying to impart on the general audience.
Fans who like relationships shouldn't be subjected to a misogynistic idea that they can't think beyond that or that they are the wrong kind of fans. That simply doesn't happen, and if anything, it is offensive.
Romance is always meant to be something only women enjoy, so it becomes an idea that women can't see beyond wanting two characters to kiss, missing the big picture.
Trust me; we don't.
Want to see Bellamy and Clarke talk out their six-year separation and still understand the overarching idea of humans being destined to fall into a cycle of destruction.
Want to see Raven and Zeke make out and grasp the continuous topic of addiction that stretched from Abby to Clarke to Madi to Octavia.
Want to see Gaia and Indra share more heartfelt scenes and accept that in war even the heroes can become unrecognizable people in the name of survival.
If the word 'ship becomes a dirty word, a word that can be linked to negative connotations, then it won't only be the romance that suffers on the show.
Interpreting relationships is a way to interpret the information that we are given, while still putting a piece of ourselves into a part of the show.
Just like the people who create the show put parts of themselves into what they write, those who watch form connections with parts of themselves.
Those parts don't have to line up, but they have to be respected.
And speaking of interpretations that deserve to be respected ...
The Bellarke Elephant In The Discussion Room
It feels valuable to bring up this interview that Jason Rothenberg did with IGN after The 100 Season 5 Episode 13, specifically the last question where he gives his thoughts on Bellamy and Clarke's current relationship.
The way to really dig into a difference of opinion here, especially on the side of 'shipping, is to remove some of the miscellaneous issues that have happened outside of the show.
Looking at what we see on screen then comparing it to the few thoughts that we get from Jason before and after means balancing what we see and what we hear.
Bellamy and Clarke are arguably the most central relationship on the show, non-romantic soulmates or not. There was always a perception that Bellamy and Clarke's connection was a guiding force on The 100, a returning point; no matter the current dilemma on the show, it was all about where those two landed between all of that.
And Jason wasn't wrong when he said that everyone interprets things their own way, especially those that think Bellamy and Clarke should just stay friends.
But it is the reasoning that is the issue sometimes.
It can become a failure to see the representation and value in a potential Bellamy and Clarke relationship or an engagement in possible gaslighting when blatant hints are dropped for a possible romance within the show which is then denied.
It can even turn into that concerning way some fans are questioned about why they chose to focus on a Bellamy and Clarke romance in the first place.
To respond to Jason Rothenberg's own words, "I feel like it's so much rarer and more special in television where the two leads have that kind of non-romantic, soul mates, partners, teammates; how often have we seen the two leads get together?"
We should preface this to say that Jason's opinion is always limited to the current dynamic on screen, and it is his interpretation of the situation which should be respected as always.
But on the other side of things, the idea of Bellamy and Clarke staying friends because it is so much rarer is a funny thing because, in a way, it is the exact opposite.
The reason that Bellamy and Clarke's relationship is so rare is that, unfortunately, not all TV shows invest this much time into a core relationship on their show. Allowing there to be an organic transition from enemies to best friends to soulmates is a remarkable thing, so why stop there?
Bellamy and Clarke have given us plenty in the non-romantic department (if we ignore so many of their not so platonic moments), so much so that it just serves as proof of the unique quality of the relationship.
From here, it makes sense to explore them further, especially with the heavy-handed hints we got about how they can't just be friends.
In fact, it would be even rarer to write a well-developed relationship like Bellamy and Clarke's and to continue off the momentum to something even more valuable to have on television.
And this is all before we even mention the representation that would come from Bellamy and Clarke getting together. Those two as a couple means offering interracial representation, which highlights Bellamy as an Asian male lead in a romantic relationship with the other lead.
There is also the bisexual representation that will continue to be important as Clarke finds happiness with someone else after a long stretch of time.
Bellamy and Clarke would demonstrate a healthy relationship built from years of development, communication, loyalty, and understanding. Everything that makes Bellamy and Clarke work right now is precisely what makes their possible romantic relationship that much better.
If there is a strong presence that feels like Bellamy and Clarke make sense, that has to be because of how the writing and the chemistry call for it. The only logical next step would be to explore them romantically, and frankly the longer that doesn't happen the more the show suffers.
Then that leads into the way that fandom has pointed this out for many seasons, practically since the show started. The conversation of 'shipping and what fans find that leads them to 'ship Bellamy and Clarke romantically is getting more and more topical too.
'Shipping Bellamy and Clarke together when you have constant romantic undertones is common sense. Denying or specifically not admitting that those hints were put there can be a logical way not to reveal what will happen on the show.
But eventually that technique wears out its welcome, and it becomes a confusing interaction with the 'shipping culture of the show.
Last year TV Insider's Ask Matt did a monumental thing when he answered a question about 'shipping as it relates to The 100. It tackled both sides of the conversation, and it made a point about how creating conflict merely not to follow through what you are obviously writing into the story is a way in which a show could suffer.
It opens up the dialogue about 'shipping even further with Bellamy and Clarke's relationship no longer making sense in its idle position.
Allowing them to evolve beyond friends isn't selling out to the fans or not following the story that you want to tell, it is the opposite because it becomes committing to what you were forming quite clearly for five years and counting.
It is acknowledging that the people who have been with your show since the beginning, the intelligent and essential supporters who know your content from examining it consistently, are picking up the subtext you are providing them and deserve to have that knowledge validated.
And for all the worries that exist about leads getting together because it becomes a trope, maybe there is success to be found in that.
A trope is a trope for a reason; it exists because there is a strong support system for it and it has proved that it works over time.
Preventing a relationship from happening because of that is actively pushing against what is apparently working for your show, and what has worked for other shows as well.
Not every lead duo has gotten together successfully, but then again not every lead duo has been Bellamy and Clarke.
They don't prove that the trope exists; Bellamy and Clarke's relationship proves why the trope is still around and kicking after all this time.
And if that isn't convincing enough, there are plenty of other opposite-sex friendships to be followed on The 100. The fear in losing that shouldn't exist when you have other friendships, or if anything, you can create more without the inherent chemisty and added subtext.
At the end of the day, Bellamy and Clarke really have nowhere to go but forward. Between the jealous looks that Clarke showcased and the weight of the radio calls, Bellamy and Clarke have grown out of the non-romantic titles that they probably awarded themselves.
The 100 Season 5 proved exactly what shippers have been saying for a while now -- Bellamy and Clarke can't keep denying the romantic undertones between them.
It felt like there was no room for it anymore. They had enough time to acknowledge why they cared so much about the other person, and if anything, denying it because of the growing 'ship presence is stifling the duo.
They had a rough journey in the last season because they couldn't hold long conversations. It becomes about how they have to address their feelings, or they can't talk. Making the decision not to let them talk was what concluded the back and forth; those two need to confront the obvious feelings.
It is no longer just a conversation that fans have on the outside. When the inside of the show is affected, then there is no place left to deny the romance. It is right in front of you, and it is what would keep the essence of what works on The 100 going.
It is all about breaking the cycle, which means breaking the cycle of romantic denial.
Including one last comment from Jason Rothenberg from EW that he made after The 100 Season 5 finale is the most fitting conclusion to this conversation.
He mentioned how unique Bellamy and Clarke are, "And obviously a lot of people in our fandom still ask that question and yearn for that, and I get that and appreciate that and love that they watch the show, but I can’t make any promises one way or another."
There is this instant reaction to post-finale interviews like these, with fans thinking that this must mean the relationship will never get explored. There is no definitive answer, and beyond that, there are plenty of issues with the way Bellamy and Clarke's relationship has been held up.
But remembering that nothing is off the table is just as important as the idea that 'shipping should be welcome in the world of The 100.
It doesn't have to be limited to just that, fans can care about the plot and at the same time worry that the main characters on the show haven't shared a conversation in about 125 years, give or take six years in between.
The reason The 100 has thrived for five years is due to the complex and beautiful relationships, all different kinds, all of which made us so emotionally involved with the material that we are all still here.
Shippers are fans, and fans of a show bring what they support to life. They are as emotionally involved in the future of a show as those people who are part of it because they examine it and pick it apart for months after an episode airs.
Fandom can focus on the plot, but they can also find time to connect to a single character or a relationship personally. It doesn't take away from their thoughtful critique on the material as a whole. It doesn't take away from the space that they deserve to have at the discussion table.
The faster that the status quo becomes welcoming 'shipping instead of finding it unnecessary, the more interesting the journey becomes for both sides.
Going into The 100 Season 6 means reflecting on the way that fans will start to interact with the content in front of them once again. For now, it has been quiet, almost too quiet, but as soon as we get more information is when we should make room for the fandom input.
'Shipping culture is growing, with many shows seeing the value in leaning into the passion that their fans have for the relationships that get written. Hopefully the same can be said for The 100 as we progress into an entirely new arc.
The love and the passionate presence of fans for the show both bring about the kind of hope that The 100 always likes to remind us exists.
The 100 returns on Tuesday, April 30 at 9/8c on The CW.
Stick around TV Fanatic for more features, slideshows, episode previews, and reviews of the upcoming season, and watch The 100 online if you need to catch up on the adventure.
Yana Grebenyuk is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.