6:00 pm EST, January 27, 2018

Celebrating ‘The 100’ fandom at Unity Days 2018

The 100 convention Unity Days 2018 lived up to its name, uniting the fandom and reminding us that we are all here to celebrate something we love.

When the amazing team behind the Unity Days convention in Vancouver first approached me to cover the event as press, I hesitated before saying yes.

Sure, all my fellow fans on Twitter had been raving about the first Unity Days in 2017. And sure, I would jump at the chance to visit The 100‘s City of Light any time! (Preferably without the chip-taking and memory loss side effects.)

Related: With an April premiere date, here’s when to expect The 100 season 5 trailer, renewal news

But despite having been writing in and about fandom for going on eight years, I don’t actually have a lot of experience with ‘real-life fandom,’ and I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of thing.

Well, joke’s on me, because it absolutely was my kind of thing.

Taking place at the Pinnacle Harbourfront Hotel in Vancouver, Canada from January 18-21, 2018, the second annual Unity Days convention celebrated the CW show The 100, featuring a whooping 15 actors from the series. As a special treat for fans, ‘Twonity Days’ also featured several crew members working in The 100‘s dedicated props department, who brought with them actual props used on the show.

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Eliza Taylor (Clarke), Bob Morley (Bellamy), Lindsey Morgan (Raven), Marie Avgeropoulos (Octavia), Christopher Larkin (Monty), Chelsey Reist (Harper), Luisa d’Oliveira (Emori), Tasya Teles (Echo), Zach McGowan (Roan), Nadia Hilker (Luna), Sachin Sahel (Jackson), Jarod Joseph (Miller), Jessica Harmon (Niylah) and surprise guests Richard Harmon (Murphy) and Tati Gabrielle (Gaia) were all in attendance, appearing on various panels throughout the weekend and doing photo ops and autograph signing sessions.

And if you were observant — which I apparently was not — you might also have seen new cast members William Miller (McCreary) and Jordan Bolger (Zeke) hanging around the convention hotel, getting a taste of what exactly they’ve signed up for! All good things, at least if this convention is anything to go by.

Aside from securing an absolutely mind-blowing number of attending cast and crew, and the foresight (or luck?) to schedule the con during season 5’s final weeks of filming, the Unity Days crew should be commended for fostering an overwhelmingly positive atmosphere and energy that permeated every panel, every meet-and-greet, and every random run-in in the hotel hallways.

I know for a fact that the team behind Unity Days works very hard to curate an accepting, positive space where everyone — guests and talent alike — felt welcome and free to be open and honest about their experiences in fandom. Everyone from the organizers and volunteers to press and fans and again to the attending talent were champions of this all-encompassing yet elusive unity that so defines this convention, the fandom, and indeed the show itself.

For me, Unity Days stands out as an example of what fandom could be at its very best, and while it is unrealistic to expect that any one event would ‘solve’ any issues that might tear the fandom apart online (and honestly, strong emotions and differences of opinion are an expected part of any fandom), seeing so many fans actively working to build a positive community, even for a weekend, gives me hope that it is possible. Real life very much resembles the show that brought us together, in this regard.

Along with creators Leana Santos, Miah Bannerman, Shayne Bannerman, Linda Suurhoff, Melissa Christensen, Colin Christensen and their families, a share of the credit for achieving this atmosphere should also go to Sachin Sahel (Jackson), a major presence at the event (and head #UD3 cheerleader!), who enthusiastically championed the theme of ‘unity’ every chance he got.

I also want to highlight the amazing job done by Jo Garfein, executive director of Cancer Gets LOST, who moderated almost all the panels and proved to be perfect for the job: not only is she is close with the cast, making the on-stage conversations more natural and relaxed, but Jo herself is one of the most inspirational, positive people you will ever meet. (If there ever is a Jo & Sachin Con, I will be first in line for tickets.)

Although we were all sharing our experiences online for the benefit of non-attending fans, Unity Days felt very private and intimate, every interaction personal and authentic. Attending cast and crew felt like they genuinely wanted to be there, which might not sound like a big deal, but you’d be surprised what a difference it makes to the overall experience. There were moments that I, as press, almost did not want to intrude or report on, because of the decidedly informal atmosphere. Hopefully this article manages to capture the magic while respecting the privacy of everyone who attended.

What, truly, is ‘unity’?

Unity Days is the perfect name for this convention in more ways than one. The term of course refers to The 100’s recurring concept of a ‘Unity Day’ uniting contentious factions of people (though in this case thankfully without major bloodshed), but also encompasses the goal and policy of the convention: uniting, despite our differences and differences of opinions, through a shared love of the show and its characters. For a fandom like The 100, which is characterized by powerful emotions and widely polarizing opinions, this is quite a feat indeed.

‘Unity’ has always been a big theme on The 100 as well, and it looks like season 5 will bring the concept to the forefront in a major way: in one of the convention’s first panels, surprise guest Tati Gabrielle said that a major question the series is set to ask is: What truly is unity?

With so many different factions opposing and/or aligning with each other in season 5, I imagine various characters will come to wildly different conclusions about what unity means to them — and what they’re willing to do to achieve it. Is unity achieved by force and sacrifice? By cutting out dissenting voices? Is it achieved by compromise and settlement, or by a common effort to respect, if not understand or agree with, differing viewpoints?

At Unity Days 2018, I think the latter form of unity won out. It is hard to express how big of a difference it makes to step off Twitter and interact with people face to face, fully grasping that we are all complex human beings with physical bodies whose opinions are based on (from our own point of view) totally reasonable, logical thought-processes. It seems obvious. And yet, looking at social media, it appears easy to forget.

At Unity Days, I did not only speak to people with the same ships or character preferences as myself (actually I might have; my OTP Mackson definitely got a lot of love this weekend), nor those who judged certain storylines or developments like I did. In fact, in many cases, these things didn’t even come up, and if they did, it made absolutely no difference.

We were all there for positive reasons — we all love something or someone from the show, even if not the same somethings or someones — and so positivity won out. We don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, we shouldn’t. But we could still enjoy this experience together.

The panels gave us everything from Tati Gabrielle flexing to a wrestling theme song, Jarod Joseph and Chris Larkin making our wildest Minty dreams come true (I’m fine) and Luisa d’Oliveira beautifully belting out “A Whole New World” to deeply personal and heartfelt stories from both cast members and guests. A few examples include Eliza Taylor talking about body positivity, Jess Harmon and Jarod Joseph talking about playing LGBTQ+ characters, and Chelsey Reist expressing her gratitude for fans sharing their stories with her.

Several fans as well as members of the press got to — respectfully and with the full support of the audience — express their points of view at dedicated panels as well; we played Cards Against The 100 (courtesy of @SirRogue), we shared theories and feelings on the show and the fandom, we celebrated the ‘Confirmed’ Kabby Baby Theory (there was some amazing cosplay happening!), and we cheered for the cast, crew and their many, many dogs.

It is in this patchwork of human experiences that the fandom ‘veil’ is pulled back between actors and fans, as well as between factions of the fanbase that might not otherwise get along. Unity Days felt like what fandom should be, and will likely be what I measure all future events against.

Cancer Gets LOST raises $11k for charity

One of the things that made Unity Days a particularly positive, inspirational experience was their partnership with Jo Garfein and the Cancer Gets LOST charity initiative — a perfect marriage of positivity and kindness.

Aside from moderating all the actor panels, Jo also hosted a big, silent auction, featuring more than 100 pieces of artwork related to the series.

Fans attending the silent auction, along with those who donated directly to CGL, raised a record-setting $11,330 to Garfein’s charity of choice, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

This was definitely one of the best parts of the weekend, showcasing how the power of fandom can be used to make a concrete, positive difference. Through Cancer Gets LOST, fans have been inspired to create beautiful works of art, and/or buy this art for a good cause, channeling their passion for this community we’ve all built together and, to borrow Garfein’s expression, ‘choosing kindness.’

You can read more about the Cancer Gets LOST charity auction here.

The Prop Room

A personal highlight of Unity Days 2018 for me, which is unlikely to be a feature of any other convention, was the addition of several members of the prop department and a dedicated showroom featuring many of the series’ most iconic props.

Paxton Downard, Anthony Vani, Emma Fay Morgan, Elliott Montello and Rob Warren treated fans to two panels during which they talked about the process of working on the show, revealing some behind-the-scenes secrets of production and showing off these incredible treasures.

The prop room itself featured such pivotal items as Clarke’s rifle, Raven’s space suit, Lexa’s cape and City of Light swords, Lincoln’s sketch book, Roan’s crown, the clan sigils and Clarke’s list.

During the propkru panels, we also learned some fascinating details that may have gotten ‘lost in translation’ during filming. Including:

  • When Octavia received her ‘Commander’ sword, she carved an inscription into the hilt: “Ge smak daun, gyon op nodotaim” (translation: get smacked down, get back up again). She carved it as a tribute to Lincoln.
  • During season 4, they created a lot of Trishanakru-specific props that were never used, including a lantern built around the iconic glowing butterfly.
  • The idea for one of the most intricate props, Clarke’s rifle on which is carved all the names of the people whose deaths she feels responsible for, came from the prop department.
  • The prop department is actually “relatively well-funded” for a CW show. They are unique in having a dedicated prop building team attached to the show, with Paxton Downard working hard to get them everything they need to be able to function properly.
  • They also keep all of their old props for potential future use, boosting the series’ visual continuity.
  • Season 5 will open up “a couple of new worlds” that give the show a different aesthetic. One thing we can look forward to? More color.

What may or may not happen in ‘The 100’ season 5

Of course, apart from being beautiful and bringing people together, fan conventions also serve the important function of keeping the fandom ‘fed’ during the hiatus — which in this case has already lasted for what feels like 20 years, and will carry on for yet another few excruciating months — and Unity Days 2018 certainly delivered some tantalising tidbits that will tide us over until the trailer drops in March.

Speaking of the whole season, all the cast empathized how different it will be from previous seasons. Sahel called it “insane” and a “lunar eclipse,” which we will definitely need to process together after the fact (cough Unity Days 3 cough).

It is important to note here that what was shared by cast and crew this weekend was intentionally vague, potentially misleading, and to be taken with a grain of salt. I have put together a curated list of what I personally felt were the most interesting teasers for the season, but would recommend you head over to my Twitter feed along with @TheAfictionados, @KaneAndGriffin, @MayWeGeekAgain and @TiffanyVogt, all of whom were diligently live-tweeting the panels; combined, these accounts will probably be able to offer a bigger, broader picture of all that was said.

1. ‘Chameleon’ Octavia and a very different Bellamy

While the cast seems genuinely thrilled about the season ahead, it seems that (much like in season 4) Octavia is the character whom everyone is most excited about. At the same time, intriguingly, Marie Avgeropoulos worries that fans will “hate” who her character has become.

Describing Octavia as a “chameleon,” Avgeropoulos said that the newly minted leader of Wonkru will be “a version of Octavia we haven’t seen before,” finding a “uniquely Octavia way” to keep the peace in the bunker.

As for whether Octavia truly wants to be the leader they need her to be, Avgeropoulos said:

“She wanted to share the bunker to create Wonkru. But unfortunately, all the clans didn’t get along above ground, so she’s stuck with these heavy leadership decisions. And Octavia is not a leader, so [the answer is] no.”

We can also expect some tension between Kane and Octavia: the pair is set to have a “power flip” in season 5, with Octavia possibly finding a way to punish Kane for the role he played in the execution of her mother and her imprisonment on the Ark.

As for Octavia and Bellamy’s relationship, Avgeropoulos said that finding Octavia “a completely different person … Bellamy has a really hard time swallowing the person Octavia has become.”

For his part, Bob Morley confessed to initially struggling with how Bellamy had changed post-time jump. But upon reflection, he has come to realize that Bellamy has become “the best version of himself.” Lindsey Morgan added that this is also the most “honest” version of Bellamy.

They also revealed that Bellamy and the rest of spacekru believe Clarke to be dead, and that she died saving them. Morley said the character reunions, whenever they happen, will be “emotional.”

2. The changing dynamics of SpaceKru

While life in the bunker sounds dark and terrifying (literally “the most confining, frightening thing,” as per Sachin Sahel), there might be more hope of happiness for the seven characters up in space, whose vacation from the main storyline has by all accounts been at least a bit less stabby-murdery.

Tasya Teles, who has been promoted to a regular for season 5, talked about how Echo has changed over the course of the last six years, describing the process of rediscovering a new version of her character — one who is “full of sass” and “knows what to do” — saying:

“Approaching Echo this season was tough. She was very regal in season 4, always ready to fight, but after being stuck in space for 6 years … I didn’t know how to walk or relax as Echo; how to relax her without relaxing too much.”

Chelsey Reist described Harper as “the most determined” we’ve seen her yet. One major difference for this character compared to previous seasons is that now, she is “presented with options of how to move forward.” When we pick up with SpaceKru, we’ll see the “aftermath of their choices,” which may or may not involve some shifting friendship- and romance-dynamics.

On a similar note, Richard Harmon teased that the relationships between SpaceKru have “regressed [or] developed” — in fact, most of the cast members emphasized how much the six year time-jump has affected the relationships and characters, so start preparing for some big changes.

As for Murphy himself, Harmon said he will be “relentless, passionate, sadistic, caring and sweet as” (or sweet-ass? Either works). He also talked a bit about Murphy and Raven’s “undeniable” chemistry, and described Bellamy as Murphy’s “best friend” in space.

Meanwhile, Emori thinks space is “the best thing in the whole world” (haha get it?), according to Luisa d’Oliveira. After six years, it seems Emori will be fully committed to her new people, with d’Oliveira describing her as having a “full heart.” According to Reist and d’Oliveira, Harper and Emori will also have at least a couple of scenes together this season.

Finally, Christopher Larkin was asked about how much we can expect Monty’s PTSD and grief over losing Jasper to affect him in season 5. Larkin said:

“It does get easier — you never forget — but for Monty it’s about caring about the people that are still around, and trying not to live in the past.”

3. The Mackson Season

Jackson Miller aka Mackson yay

With Jarod Joseph and Sachin Sahel attending both Saturday and Sunday, we got a lot of references to and jokes about the fan-favorite pairing (seriously — judging by the amount of questions asked about them at Unity Days, Mackson is easily in the top 5), along with some hints as to how this surprising new dynamic would develop in season 5.

When asked about the tentative pairing’s status post-time jump, the actors were understandably vague in their answers. Technically, we don’t know whether Miller and Jackson will still be together six years later, or if indeed they ever properly got together in the first place, but based on how candid the actors were about working together more this year, we can likely expect the relationship to carry on in some form or another.

Describing their characters six years later, Joseph said Miller was “grumpy,” and Sahel used the word “doctor” for Jackson. They’ve definitely filmed some scenes together, and Sahel teased that Abby is no longer the only person Jackson cares about.

Sachin Sahel also shared some info on Jackson’s childhood, specifically that it “was probably quite boring.” He mused that on the Ark, important professions like his own would likely be a “lineage thing,” meaning that Jackson’s father was also a doctor, working with Abby. When his father passed, Abby took Jackson under her wing since their families were already close.

4. Newcomers, headcanons and Helios’ fate

  • William Miller’s McCreary seems to be one of the most interesting new characters — and, like his original casting announcement revealed, an actual villain. Richard Harmon called him a “bad motherfucker” whom we’re going to love and hate at the same time. Interestingly, he is described as “what Murphy could have been” had he gone down a different path.
  • While the chemistry between fan-favorite (okay, this fan’s favorite) pairing Monty/Miller was never intended, Jarod Joseph believes that the chemistry between himself and Larkin inspired the writers’ decision to make Miller gay in season 3.
  • Avgeropoulos said Octavia’s horse Helios probably died in Praimfaya. I’m not crying, it’s just blood running down my face.
  • Tati Gabrielle said she would like “full reconciliation” between Gaia and Indra, and that she believes that, at some point, Octavia and Gaia “must have had to put [their] differences aside.”
  • Richard Harmon has headcanoned that Murphy was 10 years old when his father was floated, and 13 when he was put into the skybox for arson.
  • Jessica Harmon talked about what made Clarke and Niylah’s relationship so great, describing it as “just love,” with no drama; a connection which “doesn’t need a specific label, and is grounded in friendship.” She also said Niylah will be “darker” in season 5.
  • There is one scene in season 5 which was so horrific, it made almost all the actors inside the bunker sick.

May we meet again…

Thank you once again to Unity Days for reaching out and inviting me into the convention family. It was wonderful to finally put some faces to those Twitter avatars, and interact with fellow fans in a safe, constructive space.

Officially, Unity Days 2018 was the last of its kind. Unofficially? Here’s to Uni3Days 2019! If you also want another year of Unity Days, make sure to send them a supportive tweet to let them know!

‘The 100’ season 5 premieres April 24, 2018

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