Dystopian stories are both a reflection of our existing fears and a dialogue detailing why we indeed should be afraid if we are not already living in fear. Many of us are familiar with the likes of 1984, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, or Animal Farm. These classic dystopian stories have resonated with people for generations, and their warnings about the potential for communities to become destructive have helped create generations who believe humanity is untrustworthy, dangerous, and hopeless. However, the world is changing. Generation Z, the generation born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s, is a generation who prioritizes human interaction, even if that interaction is superficial. They find joy and meaning in being in constant contact with others. One need not look further than the abundant use of social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to see just how determined young people are to find meaning in community. This change in culture is mirrored in the change in dystopian storytelling. Modern dystopian stories still house an intense sense of fear, but they primarily seek hope and victory, not fear and hopelessness, over bleak circumstances.
One of the most popular dystopian stories among Generation Z is the ongoing television series The 100, which is very loosely based on a novel series of the same name. The 100 explores a quest for hope led by a group of bandit teenagers. After a nuclear apocalypse destroyed Earth and rendered it uninhabitable, survivors were forced to flee to outer space, where they lived happily for ninety-seven years. As to be expected, resources depleted, and the new government leaders desperately sought a new avenue for the survival of humanity. After conducting a small amount of research, the government moved to send one hundred criminal teenagers to the ground (Earth), hoping its conditions had been restored. The series follows the hundred on their path to survival and beyond: to a new, hopeful life on Earth. The teens quickly learn that their struggles are far more than troubling atmospheric conditions—Earth is not as desolate as they believed.
The confrontations and relationships across tribes throughout The 100 drive the series, and they create a tale of hope and community, not despair and isolation. Perhaps the character with the most influential relationships is Octavia Blake, one of the hundred initially sent to Earth. More than any other character, she values community. Octavia’s relationships in Book One (Seasons 1-6) of The 100 uniquely reveal that hope, not fear, is the primary attribute of community, and this hope is a reflection of the Triune God and our desire for communion with him.
Octavia’s strongest and most driving relationship is the one with her older brother, Bellamy. Both are members of the hundred, but only Octavia was considered a criminal. Her crime was merely existing. On the Ark, the survivors’ home in space, families are only permitted to have one child, and Octavia—the Blakes’ second child—was apprehended when she left her hiding place under the floor to satisfy her longing for community at a party. Because siblings are unheard of on the Ark, the brotherly love found between Octavia and Bellamy is entirely foreign. Still, Bellamy diligently raised and protected his sister. He is the only reason Octavia had even a semblance of social skills, and he protected Octavia from the authorities for her entire life. When she was caught and sentenced to Earth, Bellamy found a way to become one of the hundred. Yet, not even Bellamy could perfectly prepare Octavia for the trials to come. Due to her lack of human interaction on the Ark, Octavia had more obstacles to overcome on Earth than others, and she had to overcome them quickly. Surprisingly, she does overcome. She is among the strongest remaining members of the hundred by the end of Book One.
Early on, even Octavia knows the improbability of her survival as well as her strength. When discussing this mystery with her friend Atom, he tells her, “You’re not a basket case because you were loved.” Love saves Octavia, and the love that saves her is not the individualized self-love that pollutes today’s young adult entertainment under the guise of self-empowerment. It is a love that can only be found outside herself and in community. Without her relationship with Bellamy, Octavia could easily have become one of the first members of the hundred to fall prey to Earth’s new order. Instead, Octavia derives her strength from community. Some may suggest that Octavia’s reliance on community constitutes weakness because such reliance suggests she is an insufficient individual. Octavia is, indeed, initially insufficient as an individual, and her character development does fly contrary to modern notions of autonomy and self-empowerment. However, no viewer could rationally argue that Octavia is weak. As The 100 progresses, viewers can repeatedly call back to Atom’s above quote and see that it is a testimony for Octavia’s entire life.
Octavia continues to draw on the strength she finds in community in future seasons, and she eventually becomes a powerful, feared leader among her people. This journey continues into Octavia’s relationship with Lincoln. Lincoln is a Grounder—a member of the barbaric tribe on Earth who was left behind and eventually adapted to the effects of radiation. The Grounders are known for violence and hostility, but Lincoln is kind, and he falls in love with Octavia. This relationship is Octavia’s first step in her journey toward bridging the gap between communities. Over time, Octavia’s relationship with Lincoln leads her to identifying as and being accepted by the Grounders. Her allegiance is made obvious in the episode “Rubicon,” when she tells Lincoln, “Grounders don’t give up. We fight.” Here, Octavia clearly identifies as a Grounder, but her relationship with Bellamy keeps her attached to the hundred as well. This dual identity helps form an alliance between the hundred and the Grounders, and it even allows Octavia to become a Grounder military leader. All of this strength comes from her focus on community and loyalty, and she uses this strength to uplift her people. Even when Octavia acts rashly, like when she puts an end to an important project because she suspects a traitor in her midst, her actions are still rooted in keeping order so she can care for the community. Beginning with her reliance on Bellamy and continuing into her relationship with Lincoln, Octavia reveals that hope and strength are found in the company of others, not in autonomy and isolation.
This truth is obvious to Christians. The popular proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” highlights the power of positive community, but we are not called to community solely for our own benefit. In fact, Paul even urges us to fulfill Christ’s law by carrying one another’s burdens, which certainly has no individual benefit. Living in community is a reflection of the Triune God. God himself illustrates the beauty of unity in community by revealing to us the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In his own image—an image of community—God created humanity, both male and female. Existing in community is holy, and The 100 reflects that.
Of course, not every representation of community in The 100 is an obvious source of light and hope. In the final season of Book One, many clans are trapped in an underground bunker due to the catastrophic effects of Praimfaya (Prime Fire), a second nuclear apocalypse. Due to increased tensions among clans within the bunker, Octavia resorts to violence to unite them. In a brutal scene, Octavia repeatedly chants, “You are Wonkru [One Crew], or you are the enemy of Wonkru,”while she effortlessly obliterates anyone who attempts to challenge her. While she does indeed unite the clans, her violent hand becomes the defining characteristic of her reign; still, people continue to follow her because she still prioritizes the survival of Wonkru above all.
This reign of blood, however, led to a perversion of the strengths of community we found in earlier seasons. Wonkru committed any atrocities necessary to survive, and these actions led to Wonkru members collectively referring to a particular period of time as The Dark Year—a year where their mantra, “All of me for all of us,” took on the darkest meaning possible: cannibalism. This aspect of the story perverts the popular ‘self-sacrificing hero’ theme found across all types of stories. Some members of Wonkru did, in a sense, lay down their lives for their friends to defeat a foreboding enemy; but the enemy wasn’t a monster, a human adversary, or even sin—it was hunger.
The Dark Year truly encapsulates C.S. Lewis’s understanding of ‘badness.’ In Mere Christianity, Lewis explores the origin and nature of good and evil as it relates to and reflects the existence of God, and he writes that “badness is only spoiled goodness.” In saying such, Lewis suggests that in the gradation of good to bad, ‘good’ is the maximum for the gradient — the origin of all. Everything other than ‘good’ is simply ‘less good.’ Eventually, we do start using the term ‘bad’ to describe a distinction from good, but ‘good’ is still the maximum of our scale. If the scale is rooted in goodness, that means hope is not too far off. When we look along Octavia’s part in The Dark Year, we can see this truth more clearly. Viewers recognize that Octavia’s actions are ‘bad’, but there is ‘good’ at their origin, and that is why Wonkru—and some viewers—continue to follow and respect her throughout the rest of that season. In a twisted way, Octavia’s passion for community still contains a glimmer of light, even in The Dark Year. Viewers can see this light because they have previously seen the good in Octavia, which may likely lead them to believe that she is redeemable. If viewers can see this hope for redemption through story, they may be able to see it in reality as well. No longer must our culture believe that a descent into deep darkness results in hopelessness. This world was meant for goodness, and there is a way back to that origin.
In both her strengths and weaknesses, Octavia’s character development in The 100 communicates truth to a generation desperate for community. We are at a beautiful, pivotal point in our culture. No longer is the world determined to solely soak up notions of isolation and individually-determined meaning, and the creation of stories like The 100 prove that. The current generation of young people finally see that we are not alone, and they are looking for connection anywhere they can find it. Certainly they find glimpses of meaningful connection in social media, and they can find even stronger representations of community in shows like The 100; but at their core, young people hunger for communion with God—just as every generation before them. We must continue to engage in conversations about modern stories, especially well-crafted dystopias like The 100. These stories are a light bursting through the darkness.
Cherish is an adjunct professor of World Religions at Kankakee Community College and a youth pastor at Kankakee Asbury United Methodist Church. She has a B.A. in English from Olivet Nazarene University and an M.A. in Apologetics from Houston Baptist University. Cherish also creates and shares apologetics curriculum for youth groups. Her apologetic interests include the historicity of the resurrection, the problem of evil, and imaginative apologetics.
Cherish Nelson. “Better Together: The 100 and Longing for Community.” An Unexpected Journal 2, no. 3. (Fall 2019): 201-212.
Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/better-together-how-the-cws-the-100-reflects-generation-zs-longing-for-community/
 The 100. “His Sister’s Keeper.” Directed by Wayne Rose. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, April 23, 2014.
 The 100. “Earth Skills.” Directed by Dean White. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, March 26, 2014.
 The 100. “Day Trip.” Directed by Matt Barber. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, May 7, 2014.
 The 100. “Rubicon.” Directed by Mairzee Almas. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, February 11, 2015.
 The 100. “Survival of the Fittest.” Directed by Dean White. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, January 28, 2015.
 The 100. “The Dark Year.” Directed by Alex Kalymnios. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, July 24, 2018.
 Proverbs 27:17, NIV.
 Galatians 6:2, NIV.
 The 100. “Red Queen.” Directed by P.J. Pesce. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, May 1, 2018.
 The 100. “The Dark Year.” Directed by Alex Kalymnios. Written by Jason Rothenberg. CW, July 24, 2018.
 The people who were eaten during the Dark Year were those who died in battle in The Pit, an arena for criminals to earn back their place in community. The Pit existed for years before the Dark Year. No one outright volunteered to be cannibalized, but Wonkru supported The Pit, and those who fought in it came to accept their fate after Octavia convinced people of cannibalism’s necessity.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: HarperOne, 2002), 45.