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If you die in The Matrix Online, do you die in the movies? Asking for Morpheus

The first trailer for The Matrix Resurrections dropped today and, in my ever-so-humble opinion, it is cool as hell. I have no idea what's going on but I love the way it looks, and I'm honestly excited to return to the super-hip online world of Neo, Trinity, and the rest of the gang.

One prominent member of that crowd is missing from the trailer, however: Morpheus, played in the original trilogy by Laurence Fishburne. The trailer features someone who looks a lot like Morpheus, and who obviously plays a central role in whatever's going on, but next to Keanu Reeves as Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity, he is very much Not Morpheus.

Not Morpheus. (Image credit: Warner Bros Pictures)

So why isn't the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar in this new trailer? One very interesting theory going around right now is that he's absent because, well, he's dead.

This takes some explaining. The Matrix film trilogy wrapped up in 2003 with Revolutions, but that wasn't the end of the story. The Matrix Online MMO, which sprang to life in 2005, was intended to carry the story forward with a mix of old and new characters, including the player in the role of a "redpill"—a human who has been freed from the machinery of the matrix. (This was long before the term "redpill" took on its more recent political connotations.)

In a 2005 interview with IGN, the Wachowskis pretty strongly suggested that what happened in The Matrix Online counted as an official part of the story: Gamers were going to "inherit the storyline."

"Gaming engages your mind actively whereas most genre films (the films we tend to watch) are designed to provoke as little thinking as possible," they said. "Consider why the films in which everyone knows exactly what is going to happen are the films that make the most money.

"Yet the fact that the Matrix films are three of the most successful adult films in history (despite what much of the media would have us believe), suggests that there are other people like us. Those are the people, the people who thought about it, who worked at it, who we ultimately made the trilogy for and it now makes perfect sense to us that they should inherit the storyline."

Sadly, The Matrix Online did not succeed: It was taken offline in 2009, just four years after it launched, because of a dwindling player base. Before that happened, though, Morpheus was actually killed off in the game. It seems he got tired of waiting for the machines to return Neo's body (he's dead too, remember) and so he launched a guerrilla campaign against them, setting off "code bombs" in the Matrix. The machines responded by sending an assassin to take him down, and before long ol' Morpheus was tits-up in a greasy alley.

It seems like a stretch to me—is Warner Bros really going to spin a major portion of The Matrix Resurrections' story on an obscure MMO that virtually nobody in the audience has even heard of, much less played?—but if The Matrix Online is part of the official litany, and if Lana Wachowski remains as committed to her big ideas for The Matrix as she was in 2005, then... maybe?

It's fair to point out that Neo and Trinity are also technically dead, having met their ends in The Matrix: Revolutions, so even if Morpheus is canonically dead, it doesn't necessarily mean much if the writers decide he needs to come back. It could also be that the Morpheus-alike pictured above is a new take on the character—Morpheus Redux, so to speak. There's also an element of fans who think (or at least hope) that Fishburne is being held back for a big surprise reveal, not unlike Keanu Reeves' surprise appearance at E3 2019 to support Cyberpunk 2077.

For his part, Fishburne said in a Collider interview earlier this year that he is "not in the next Matrix movie," although it sounds like he wanted to be, or at least wasn't immediately against the idea. "You'd have to ask Lana Wachowski why, because I don't have an answer for that," he said.

The relevant bit starts at 6:30.

Ultimately it's impossible to make any kind of meaningful guess about Morpheus at this point: The trailer is very cool indeed, but not exactly a model of clarity. It is fair to say, though, that Warner and Wachowski are playing on some pretty deep levels here. Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" is a great musical choice thematically—a song about going down rabbit holes, where "one pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small"—but as (somewhat ironically) observed by johnsemley3000 on Twitter, the group got started as the house band for a mid-1960s club in San Francisco called The Matrix.

The Matrix came out in 1999, a year that also brought us games including Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, System Shock 2, and Age of Empires 2—all of which have either received or are getting a fresh look for a new audience. Apparently it's tough to let go of a good thing, even after more than 20 years. 

The Matrix Resurrections debuts in theaters and on HBO Max on December 22. 

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.