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How did the Apocalypse of 2020 and 2019 take place? What caused it and why did they happen at two different dates considering the waste leaks were triggered on the same date by The Unknowns in 1986?

I'm looking for answers from the series and not the website.

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The Unknown triggered a nuclear incident in 1986 in both worlds. This created the "God particle" (Cesium-137 is what the Stranger calls it). This in itself does not seem to cause the apocalypse, though like every event in the series, is a necessary component.

Straightforward, but possibly unsatisfying answer:

The trigger for the actual apocalypse in each case appears to be opening the yellow barrels in the power plant. It almost seems like just leaving the barrels open for awhile is what triggers it, but I think it's more complicated than that. The only thing I am sure of is that opening the barrels (once by Clausen in Jonas' world, the other time by Aleksander in Eve's world) is definitely a component to the apocalypse in each case.

My own speculation (ignore this if you don't want interpretations of the series):

I want to speculate more on why I think it occurs at those times, and it isn't just as simple as opening the barrels. I think it's somewhat important that it requires more than just opening the barrels, since we actually see Jonas ("the Stranger") open a barrel in season 1 episode 9 on the trucks, and it doesn't cause an apocalypse.

I think if we look at the bigger picture, the two important factors are location and time.

Because of the cyclical nature of everything in the two worlds, the timing of the event may be almost predetermined. If it does not happen at the specific time in each world, then some events would not happen the same, and thus events wouldn't have led to that situation at all.

I think this is even further supported when we think of the locations of the events. The barrels only seem to trigger the apocalypse when opened from the inside of the power plant, in the same room on each world it seems. After the apocalypse, a remnant of the portal remains, which then gets manipulated for time travel by various people who lead to the apocalypse in the first place. The apocalypse also seems to tie in with the "loopholes" which get exploited a few times to create diverging realities.

In full speculation on my part, due to the cycle, there might be something special about opening the barrels at those specific locations and times which triggers the apocalypse.

It's a bit of a chicken and egg scenario all around. Does the loop cause the loophole, or does the loophole cause the loops/apocalypse in the first place? I don't really know if there's a clear answer, it seems to be a fundamental part of the cyclical nature of time travel that the apocalypses must occur at the times and locations they occur.

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    To extend your speculation, which I think is on the right track, there is always someone causing a trigger in one of the time periods. Since the God particle travels time, triggering it in one time period affects the other times. Adam knew when to trigger it based on when the barrels would be opened in 2019, so he triggers it exactly a multiple of 33 years removed from that 2019-barrel-opening event. It's sort of like a telephone call. One person makes the call but all connected phones ring. Someone who stands by one of the other phones would also ask "how the phone was activated".
    – Flater
    Jul 20 '20 at 20:02
  • @Flater. Yes, that scene of the 2020 apocalypse is shown with three events. The Barrel opening, Magus and Franziska triggering their portal, Elsisabeth in 2053 doing something in the power plant. However that said, there are no other concurrent events for the 2019 apocalypse of Eve's World. There is no Adam in that world.
    – MovieMe
    Jul 21 '20 at 4:49
  • So as @JMac suggests it might just be opening the barrel in a specific spot.
    – MovieMe
    Jul 21 '20 at 4:52
  • @MovieMe: Doesn't Adam kill pregnant alt-Martha around the same time? As he's slated to go to Eve next to kill her (cfr their last scene where he surprisingly didn't have bullets in the gun), he could've already been in the alt-power plant, both triggering the apocalypse and killing pregnant alt-Martha with the same portal. He even says that killing Martha is done to repeat the cycle, which the apocalypse also accomplishes.
    – Flater
    Jul 21 '20 at 10:50
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    @MovieMe The issue with trying to tie it to a single event in Dark is that there are so many events that both get triggered by that apocalypse, and trigger it, that I don't see how you can point to any one trigger, besides the obvious one of opening the barrels. But what I'm getting at is, because we are seeing the loop, we have to see events in the time and location that perpetuates the loop. The apocalypse has to happen at the right time and spot to cause itself. Even in the examples you give, the trigger is the right events at the right time, or else you get no loop at all.
    – JMac
    Jul 22 '20 at 14:12

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