Terminator: Dark Fate's Alternate Timeline Explained

Terminator: Dark Fate Dani, Grace, and Sarah ready for battle on the bridge

WARNING: SPOILERS for Terminator: Dark Fate are in play. If you’re not current with this timeline, jump out and come back once you’ve caught up on the events we’re about to discuss.

“The future is not set. There’s no fate, but what we make for ourselves.” Those words have always been at the center of the Terminator franchise, or at least they have been whenever creator James Cameron has been in control. With his influential return to the franchise in Terminator: Dark Fate erasing all sequels past Terminator 2: Judgement Day, there’s a new timeline to be explored, full of similar, but different events that see the legendary series taking a new course.

If you haven’t seen the new film yet, this is the last chance for you to walk out of the article, returning once you’ve experienced Terminator: Dark Fate for yourself. And before you get too worried about whether or not you remember the events of all the non-Cameron involved sequels, we’re focusing squarely on the future that Mackenzie Davis’s Grace details in this film’s storyline.

You’re still here? Good, that means you've officially become part of The Resistance, and you’re ready to pick over the events of this new timeline with us in detail.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day Miles Dyson, The Connors, and their T-800 at Cyberdyne's main desk

What Event Does Terminator: Dark Fate’s Alternate Timeline Stem From?

Every tangent universe has a fixed point that it stems from. For the sake of this new Terminator timeline, the events of the first two films, ending with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, are the only previously drawn canon you need to know about. Since Skynet is no more, per the events of that film, that’s the moment that kicks off the new series of events for the franchise.

With 1997’s variant of Judgement Day having been prevented, the events of the second film significantly alter what happens in James Cameron’s path to the apocalypse realized in Terminator: Dark Fate. And it’s still centered around the man who would be the savior of humanity: John Connor.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day John and his friend, sitting on his bike

Does John Connor Still Lead The Resistance?

No, John Connor does not lead The Resistance in the new timeline forged by Terminator: Dark Fate. This is because John was killed in 1998, as Skynet had sent back several T-800s before being erased from existence after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and her son escaped to Guatemala, letting their guard down after averting what they thought was the end of the world.

That rare instance of happiness let a T-800 we come to know as Carl (Arnold Schwarzenegger) get close enough to John Connor to kill him, via shotgun. That death, even after the destruction of Skynet, lead to a huge change in the timeline.

Terminator: Dark Fate Grace stands to protect Dani with a metal rod

When Does Judgement Day Happen In Terminator: Dark Fate’s New Timeline?

After the destruction of Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems in 1995, and John Connor’s death in 1998, a new path leads towards Terminator: Dark Fate’s alternate timeline. It’s not explained when exactly this new Judgement Day takes place, but augmented human soldier Grace (Makenzie Davis) has some flashbacks that give us a rough idea of what’s to come.

The new Judgement Day looks like it takes place in a contemporary, or near future, context. With young Grace being shown at the end of the film, she’s at an age not far off from how old she was when Terminator: Dark Fate pulls the plug on humanity. So the most definitive answer regarding when the new Judgement Day occurs is the not too distant future.

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Terminator 2: Judgement Day an Endoskeleton soldier during battle

Is Skynet Still A Thing In Terminator: Dark Fate?

If you’re a big Skynet fan, you’re going to want to sit down, as the previous menace that made humanity an endangered species is no more. You can thank Sarah Connor, John Connor and the T-800 that helped them survive the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day for that particular twist.

However, there’s a new artificial intelligence that fills the apocalyptic void in Terminator: Dark Fate. While we don’t know specifically who created it and how, we do know why it came to be and the methods it used to bring humanity to its knees. Say goodbye to Skynet, and say hello to Legion! A new A.I. built for cyber warfare, Legion is the new big bad beep-boop in Terminator: Dark Fate’s series of events.

Terminator: Dark Fate Grace armed in 2042

How Does Terminator: Dark Fate’s Version Of Judgement Day Happen?

How smart is Legion? It’s so smart that instead of launching a thermonuclear war upon humanity, it decides to snuff us out in a rather ingenious turn of events. Per Grace’s flashback, the new dark fate visited upon humans starts when Legion simply pulls the plug on the world, shutting down power grids, communications networks, everything you can think of. And as the timeline of the future war has moved forward a bit, Terminator: Dark Fate sees humanity fighting machines in the year 2042, the time which Grace is sent back from the future to protect Natalia Reyes’ character, Dani Ramos.

In fact, a thermonuclear apocalypse still occurs, but it’s all thanks to the human race thinking it can nuke Legion out of existence. Naturally, it doesn’t work, leaving humanity’s numbers decimated and the survivors fighting each other for whatever scraps of resources we can find. It almost kills Grace in her teenage years, as ashe's assaulted by a band of toughs who nearly gut her; which is exactly when she meets the new leader of the human Resistance.

Terminator: Dark Fate Dani by a car on the side of the road

Who Leads The Resistance In The New Timeline?

In true Terminator fashion, one person from our present becomes the best hope for our future against the machines, and this time it’s Dani Ramos. Rather than being the mother of the savior to humanity, Terminator: Dark Fate makes Dani herself the key figure to organizing humans in order to create The Resistance. And it all hinges on one key belief: that humanity shouldn’t be fighting each other, but instead they should band together against Legion.

When we see Dani save the young Grace, who she eventually adopts as her own daughter, she makes an impassioned speech to that effect. This is the glue that brings Grace, and everyone else that fights under Dani Ramos’ command, into the fold; and it’s what motivates the overall story of Terminator: Dark Fate.

Terminator: Dark Fate Carl and the Rev-9 locked in combat

The New Pawns Of Terminator: Dark Fate’s Central Conflict

As every new Terminator movie tends to do, there are some new players introduced into the world of Terminator: Dark Fate’s fight for the future. The one we’ve already talked about is Grace, an augmented human who has experimental cybernetic enhancements added to her body. With these add-ons she volunteered to take on, Grace can recover from a fair amount of damage, and also shows an enhanced capacity for strength and agility.

However, in the other corner, a somewhat familiar foe gets a revamp in this new series of happenings. Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9 model, while introduced in Terminator: Dark Fate, is very similar to Kristiana Loken’s T-X from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, as he has a poly-mimetic alloy that allows him to shift form rather easily. Though unlike his now non-existent counterpart, the Rev-9 more easily blends into humanity, thanks to its ability to have a conversational personality. Not to mention, it does that really cool trick where it splits into two robots, thanks to that alloy being able to separate and reconfigure into an additional liquid metal unit.

The history of Terminator: Dark Fate’s future represents a bold movement into uncharted territory. No longer resting on the laurels of James Cameron’s classic canon, his help shaping a new fate for Sarah Connor and the human race is going to determine whether audiences are interested in seeing any future explorations into this particular take on Judgement Day.

This weekend will be key to that very possibility, so if you’re looking forward to more action after Terminator: Dark Fate, remember to tell your friends to see the movie, which is currently in theaters.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.