In Terminator 2: Judgement Day we see the following exchanges of dialogue between John Connor and the T-800:

The Terminator: Why do you cry?

John Connor: You mean people?

The Terminator: Yeah.

John Connor: I don't know. We just cry. You know, when it hurts.

The Terminator: Pain causes it?

John Connor: No, it's when there's nothing wrong with you, but you hurt anyway. You get it?

The Terminator: No.

And later:

John Connor: No! You can't go! You can't go! No, stay with us it will be okay.

The Terminator: It has to end here.

John Connor: I order you not to go. I order you not to go, I ORDER YOU NOT TO GO!

[John starts to cry]

The Terminator: I know now why you cry,

[the Terminator wipes John's tear]

The Terminator: but it is something I can never do.

This could be interpreted as implying that the Terminator has come to feel something like affection for John, and that he, too is sad to be leaving him.

On the other hand, a deleted scene makes the issue a bit more opaque. The Terminator says that, when Terminators are sent out on missions alone, Skynet switches their memory to a "read only" setting, "so they don't think too much". This is why he has so much trouble trying to behave like a human. Since the mission requires him to be as human as possible, he coaches Sarah through the process of opening his head and resetting his memory processors, thereby allowing him to learn how to act like a person at a much faster rate.

In light of this scene, one might believe that the Terminator learns why people cry as a result of the reset Sarah has conducted, and that he still doesn't really feel emotions, including affection.

But the unmistakably tender way he wipes away John's tears, and then goes on to hug him, suggests that he does indeed feel an emotional attachment to the boy, perhaps even true affection.

This is how the Terminator wiki describes the rapid increase in the T-800's displays of apparent emotions:

After his learning capabilities were activated, the Terminator began to exhibit other human traits such as humor, quipping "I need a vacation" after defeating the T-1000, and an understanding for compassion, as he tenderly wipes John's tears away and hugs him like a father before allowing itself to be destroyed to save humanity. John laters says to a T-850 that the T-800 was the closest thing he had to a father. Out of all the Terminators introduced thus far, this model has displayed the most "humanity" for lack of a better word,being able to use humor, taunts and expressions that are needless for a machine, no matter the circumstances, he smirked when discovering the mini-gun and later again when asking John to trust him, pulled a shrugging expression when John yelled at him for not yet realizing why he can't kill people, more evidence is in his speaking tone, while logical and computer like at first, he began speaking more like a human at the end of the film: "John, you've got to go now, go! now!" - T-800 speaking with stress and urgency.

He was able to understand why humans cry and eventually able to sacrifice itself for humanity when its only mission was simply to protect John Connor, during this action he was able to defy John's order which would be hardwired in his programming, it is possible that the chip reset meant that he was no longer under orders from John, if this was indeed the case, then it means the T-800 had followed and protected John of its own volition, which is even more impressive.

Is this the case? Can Terminators feel affection?

  • 1
    I'm sure it means he doesn't have tear production capability.
    – user16696
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 21:01
  • @cde - Obviously. But he probably wouldn't have mentioned it unless he felt the emotions associated with crying. The point is that he seems to be showing emotional attachment to John, not the literal meaning of his statements about tears.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 21:06
  • Arnie is a very literal guy
    – user16696
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 21:09
  • @cde But your point is irrelevant to the issue I am asking about. If I had asked "Can Terminators cry?", you'd have a great answer. But I'm not asking that, because the answer is obviously "no". I'm asking if they can feel affection.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 21:13
  • scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/261339/…
    – shanu
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 12:31

3 Answers 3


I think the whole story is deliberately ambigous in this aspect which makes it such a nice sequel.

In both the former case and the T-1000 we see examples of perfected fearless killer machines who only show restraint if it fits their tactical objective. The second T-800 has been reprogrammed to protect and serve John O'Connor. As you said, John O'Conner finally decides to remove the learning barrage implemented by Cybernet so that the Terminator learns to understand human behavior.

He learns very fast and seems to be really interested to know why humans do what they do. And he learned to use the appropiate use of smiles and quips. It must have been evident for the Terminator that John tries to make him a father figure and sense the emotional attachment. He can deduce that the necessary killing of him (the chip must be destroyed) causes emotional pain.

We don't know if the Terminator is simply not capable to "feel" anything and tries to reduce the emotional impact by wiping away tears (remember, the assault on Dyson gave him a lesson how humans tries to calm down children when John lead Dysons son away) or that he in fact has something like emotions and deliberately lied to John to ease the pain (He is smart enough to do that). Both results are possible and as far I can judge it, the movie leaves the question deliberately open.

  • Excellent answer. +1 and very insightful.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 0:19
  • do u mean barrier?
    – releseabe
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 0:08
  • @releseabe - it certainly sounds like that is what he meant, but afaik Thorsten S. hasn't been around for a while.
    – Basya
    Commented Jan 19, 2023 at 16:24

In the novelization, not only is it explained that the Terminator's CPU has an on/off switch for its learning function, which is set to 'off' once the Terminator is completed, Sarah and John decide to turn the switch back on. They do so, and from that point forward the Terminator is learning again - at an exponential rate (for example, when John drops the keys off of the sun screen into the Terminator's hand, and quips 'Are we learning yet?', the Terminator's 'thoughts' are described as making a lot of new connections between previously disconnected facts). The battle with the T-1000 in the foundry pushes the learning so hard, so far, that the Terminator actually learns to feel fear - and so other emotions develop as well.

  • 1
    Would it be possible to add the mentioned explanation from the novelization?
    – Karaelfte
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 14:30

Seemingly, yes.

In Terminator: Dark Fate, the T-800, having succeeded in its mission to kill John Connor, survives for years without Skynet's interference, learning from humanity. It "adopts" a human family, to which it apparently feels genuine affection for.

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