In each cycle of Zion and the Matrix, the One chooses those who will found the new Zion. I can see how the knowledge of the previous cycle might be lost in the first few generations of trying to simply stay alive — when all you can think about is where your next meal might be found, it's hard to apply energy to preserving knowledge.

What I don't get is why Zion doesn't rediscover evidence of the previous cycles. Either they rebuild in the same cavern, on the ruins of the old, destroyed Zion (and somehow ignore "Daddy, Granddad says the city was already here when he and the rest of the Founders arrived.") — or they started fresh in a new place.

If the latter, how could they possibly not have found the ruins of the old Zion and drawn the obvious conclusion? It's not like the machines had the entire surface of the Earth to locate a new Zion — I don't buy that being the case, and still having the movie Zion be just a short hop in a hovership from the Machine city.

  • 4
    Because Zion is also part of the simulation. It can reset every time, there would be no previous evidence there.
    – Gaius
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 9:15
  • 13
    @Gaius This is the "reality is just another layer of the Matrix" theory that's been debunked/rejected repeatedly. Zion is in the real world, not just a higher layer of the Matrix.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 11:41
  • @ZeissIkon It hasn't been debunked, it's considered debunked by some people, which is not the same. For instance, I haven't found any decent explanation as to how Neo's wired interface suddenly became wireless, which opposes the physics completely.
    – Malcolm
    Commented Feb 4, 2020 at 10:47
  • 3
    @Malcolm If the answer was “they could erase every evidence because it’s all simulated”, it begged the question why they forced us to watch an hour or so of boring space invaders like gun fight, instead of erasing Zion immediately and killing the humans afterwards, when they have no weapons and no place to hide.
    – Holger
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 8:38
  • @Holger Why do we watch agents chasing after the good guys? Or searching for Neo in the office?
    – Malcolm
    Commented Mar 1, 2021 at 13:04

5 Answers 5


This isn't functionally that far off some existing answers, but I wanted to stick a little more tightly to what I can cite (EDIT: I have corrected the initial quotes from script PDFs to match film dialog--all changes are minor, but check edit log if you care to see). This may make it less satisfying :)


If we can trust the Architect (and, as Neo makes clear, he does), the most direct answer to this question is (this is near the end of scene 269 from the October 27 2001 script--the page is numbered 120, but it's logical page 127 in the PDF):


You are here because Zion is about to be destroyed, its every living inhabitant terminated. Its entire existence eradicated.

Given the architect's general precision and candor, I think it's defensible to interpret his "entire existence eradicated" quite literally.

This doesn't really answer your root material question (whether it's the same cavern or a new location), but it does hint that their plans account for eradicating all evidence Zion existed.


A few pages before this (scene 266, numbered page 118, logical page 124), after the Architect tells Neo that there have been 5 previous iterations, they have this exchange:


There are only two possible explanations...


... either no one told me, or no one knows.



I guess there are a number of ways to interpret this depending on how we imagine both Neo and the Architect understand the nuances of who "no one" includes. The Architect hasn't quite told Neo about the "intuitive program" yet, so Neo might include the Oracle in that set, or just humans outside of the matrix.

In any case, I'm inclined to take the Architect's answer very literally again--his absolute certainty that no one outside the matrix knows is further evidence that this is a core consideration of the design.


It isn't explicit in your question, but there's also (as has come up here) the question of why Neo wouldn't just tell the next 23 (which would make the question of evidence moot...)

Here's one more quote from the Architect (scene 270, numbered page 121, logical page 128):


The function of the One is to now return to the Source, allowing a temporary dissemination of the code you carry, reinserting the prime program after which you will be required to select from the Matrix twenty three individuals, sixteen female, seven male, to rebuild Zion.

plus what Morpheus tells Neo in the first film (scene 43, numbered pages 43-44 and logical 44-45 in the March 29, 1998 numbered shooting script):


When the Matrix was first built there was a man born inside who had the ability to change what he wanted, to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. It was he who freed the first of us, taught us the truth. As long as the Matrix exists, the human race will never be free.


After he died, the Oracle prophesied his return and that his coming would hail the destruction of the Matrix, end the war, bring freedom to our people. That is why there are those of us who spent our entire lives searching the Matrix, looking for him.

There are a few things here that never seemed to square to me.

  1. I doubt what Morpheus tells us about the man who can remake the matrix is "true" (especially if that man is end-of-the-last-iteration Neo), at least in the literal sense Morpheus seems to believe it. It's hard to imagine the system remaining stable for very long with an individual possessing that sort of power on the loose (consider that this description suggests vastly more power than rogue Smith or Neo ever demonstrate) unless that individual is basically just serving/supporting the system.

  2. It seems like previous-iteration Neo would tell the first 23 people freed unless:

    • He finds or is given some compelling reason to lie to the initial 23.
    • He has no contact with them. He just picks who the machines release.
    • It's actually a new iteration of Neo's archetype with the function/directive to free the first 23 and then die (but still--they have to all be freed in a fairly short timeframe to have much chance at rebuilding...)

There's not much bedrock to reason from out this far, but my personal suspicion has been that returning to the source is a terminal action for previous-iterations-Neo, and that the "man" Morpheus tells us about (and probably also the Oracle's prophecy about him) is just part of the mythos/backstory the machines synthesize for the first people they (the machines) release. This seems to square well enough (not that other ideas don't...) with the Architect's certainty that the humans won't figure this out.

  • 8
    On your first non-square point, it was my impression that Neo was exhibiting all the qualities Morpheus expected of The One when he rewrote physics around himself. “What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?” “No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.” Which is precisely what we see at the climax of The Matrix. As for the second, by definition, previous-iteration Neos agreed to maintain the scheme, so they presumably did find some compelling reason to lie to the initial 23.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 20:18
  • 1
    @KRyan 1) The ability to abuse physics is a far cry from the ability to remake the Matrix as he saw fit. 2) The design is to guilt/manipulate Neo into consenting for humanity with the choice between extinction and ongoing impoverished existence in the Matrix (a tradeoff past-Neo makes because of his affection for humanity). Our Neo rejects it because his love for Trinity is greater, but still ultimately chooses to give his life to save humanity. I can't think of anything in the films that suggests it's in-character for Neo to be any more complicit than necessary to save humanity.
    – abathur
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 2:06
  • 1
    @Chloe The tail end of the 2nd film and all of the 3rd diverge from the iterations 1-5 discussed here, because Neo rejects the Architect's offer (to return to the Source and select 23 people to re-build Zion) and instead returns to the Matrix to save Trinity. The machines suspend their destruction of Zion because Neo goes to the machine city and negotiates this price for defeating Smith (events which, as far as we know, did not take place in any previous iteration).
    – abathur
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 2:14
  • 5
    Previous “Neos” weren’t the same person, didn’t have the same character or values or personality. We know nothing about them aside from their ability to reject the Matrix. That makes it really hard to speculate what would be in-character or not for them.
    – KRyan
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 2:15
  • 3
    Maybe a dumb question, but if a) previous Neos look the same on the screen, b) "our" Neo looks the same in the Matrix and in Zion, and c) and Zion exists in base-reality, then that means previous Neos were almost certainly biological clones, right? (or should this be a Question of its own? :) ) Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 22:10

Let's say you are the previous One. You've been running amok in the Matrix while trying to help Zion. Whatever balancing mechanism has started to come into play and The Matrix is now becoming less stable. You finally make it to The Source and are told everything. You then have a terrible choice: you can continue fighting on and risk wiping out what little remains of humanity or you can give up and start over, knowing full well that Zion will be wiped out regardless.

Once the deed is done and everyone in Zion is dead, you play along with the reset. You make your selections and these plugged-in people are freed. The machines have no shortage of places to hide evidence. I mean, if you piled thousands of human corpses next to the Machine city 01 (which was heavily fortified), nobody would notice.

Why wouldn't The One tell them the truth? The first reason is simple shame. The One was the hero of Zion, but in the end they turned out to be nothing more than a mere puppet. The second was the realization that if you did tell them, they would be nothing more than hopeless sots, destined to die in some future cleansing by The Machines. With some hope that they could win, at least they would try. Though they failed their own Zions, these Ones made it possible for Neo to eventually break the cycle.

  • 4
    I love this answer so much. I can see a parallel then, how parents are not heros for making children, but mere puppets of evolution and they know, but are ashamed to tell their children. And so too the children are hopeless sots destined to die, untill one day somebody(the one) will find a way to immortality.
    – Hakaishin
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 10:18
  • Obviously, they wouldn't store the bodies but burn them (or otherwise process them) for extra energy. That's how this all got started after all.
    – Mast
    Commented Oct 20, 2019 at 14:41

Am pretty sure that none of the existing Zion residents are left alive after a machine cull. The One releases a number of people from the Matrix and tells them about the truth of the Matrix.

Morpheus suggests this when he tells neo the one released the first of the population of Zion from the Matrix and told them the truth. We now know that was the latest in a line of Ones so if Morpheus believes that the first ones where released by the One it adds to the idea that the machines cull all survivors.

So in terms of the existing survivors forgetting, they never knew there was a previous Zion.

Now in terms of how the remnants of the original Zion are not found, who says they are not. The machines could clean them up and then the One could claim to the first released that these ruins are remains a last outpost of the war that will make a good first base, or that he had been spending time building and getting them ready. Or he could lead the survivors and "find them" by accident. There are lots of ways this could be done in a away remember the original residents will have just found out they lived in a computer simulation, that humans where batteries and, more importantly, are probably children or young teens.

  • 2
    Broad strokes seem reasonable here but FWIW: It's not clear that this is the correct interpretation of what Morpheus says. I'm not certain this exactly matches the film, but at least per the March 28, 1998 shooting script, Morpheus says "It was this man that freed the first of us and taught us the truth".
    – abathur
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 17:05
  • Updated the answer
    – Richard C
    Commented Oct 19, 2019 at 14:25
  • @ZeissIkon it is never stated that the period between "Ones" is a single generation, the dialog, as well as the evidence you mention, indicates otherwise. The only character stated to have existed at the time of the previous "One" is the Oracle, although it is never explained if the Zionites know she's a program.
    – Oskuro
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 11:43
  • @Oskuro I was responding to since-edited text in the answer. I'll delete that comment.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 13:22

What evidence of a cycle would be compelling? What would make the ruins of old Zion different than any other ruins of human cities that machines destroyed? None of the humans of old Zion knew that it was a cycle so it isn't like they left a message about it. As far as the founders are concerned they; escaped the matrix, ran for their lives, and founded a city in the ruins of an old human city. Even if they came across other cities that were obviously post matrix what screams cycle, rather than "hey, we weren't the first to escape"? What could a character in the story use to tell the difference between a "natural" periodic escape and resistance formation, and a periodic machine release. The only real difference would be ease of escape, which the characters have no way to gauge.


The machines eventually come to the conclusion that while Free Will is a flaw in their design, the lack of it also breaks the entire system. So they figure out how to manage it: Zion is built by the machines in the real world, the 23 chosen people are given a modified Matrix story up to that point (history, families, etc), and are unplugged and left there to start unplugging people once more. When Free Will spreads too much, the system reboots and starts the cycle over again. From the human perspective, there is continuity, but from the machine perspective, they've had to run through this cycle five times now. Whether the old Zion was razed and rebuilt or just altered back to a 'save point' is mostly irrelevant.

  • Wasn't the One supposed to choose the chosen? How would he choose 23 strangers out of the Matrix, and NONE from Zion? Those from Old Zion, at least, would remember, because the machines don't have access to rewrite an unplugged mind.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 13:02
  • @ZeissIkon He has to pick 23 to free from the Matrix. The residents of Zion are killed every time Zion is destroyed and rebuilt. When the One makes the choice to save humanity, his mortal body is killed, and the One avatar is loaded into another person to be found once more.
    – Carduus
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 13:12
  • So, again, it's only a single lifetime, maybe only a generation, per cycle? Neo was born just before or just after the previous fall of Zion? That's a lot of construction and reproduction for thirty-ish years...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 13:30
  • They went from 23 to 250,000. I didn't mean to imply that the transition from Neo dying to Neo being born was instantaneous. It only happens when Zion becomes a critical mass.
    – Carduus
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 13:33

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