The first part of episode 11 of The Sandman, a bonus two-part episode titled « Dream of a Thousand Cats/ Calliope, » tells the story of a Siamese cat who thinks she’s uncovered the key to the power of dreams, but one theory suggests she is actually learning about a former dream vortex. The two stories were added to the Netflix series a couple of weeks after the show’s initial release and differ from the rest of the series because they don’t revolve around Morpheus himself, but rather expand on the world that The Dreaming impacts. « Dream of a Thousand Cats » is even more unique because of its dreamlike animated format, which sets the story’s mysterious tone.
The Sandman follows the saga of Morpheus, the King of Dreams, as he quests to put his realm back in order after a century of captivity, during which time his helm, sand, and ruby have been stolen and his dream creations have all escaped into the waking world. As he attempts to rebuild the order of his realm, he is also faced with the news that a phenomenon known as a “dream vortex” with the power to destroy the world has begun to manifest. The second half of the series follows Morpheus as he prepares to deal with that threat.
As the ruler of dreams, Morpheus is responsible for dealing with the dream vortex. He admits several times to not being aware of any purpose or cause behind the concept of a dream vortex, simply saying that they are naturally occurring phenomena. Though Rose Walker’s identity as a dream vortex was slightly manipulated, Dream’s statement seems to be true considering the lack of solid information available on the subject. The information that does exist, however, seems to relate to the details revealed in the dream sequence in « Dream of a Thousand Cats. » It’s possible the episode is actually speaking of the last human dream vortex before Rose.
The Siamese cat’s story in the bonus episode reveals a secret history of the world, when it was ruled by giant cats. According to the tale Dream told the Siamese cat that she is relaying to the others, this era was disrupted when a single human began to preach to the others about the power of dreams. After the word spread, more and more humans began to dream of a world in which they were at the top of the food chain. Once enough humans dreamed the same dream, the waking world altered to reflect The Dreaming’s exploitation, and cats became smaller and easily domesticated. Dream tells the Siamese that the world didn’t change, but that because of the power of the humans’ collective dream, that version of reality was destroyed, and the world had always been the way it is now.
When news of the dream vortex reaches Morpheus, he is already aware of Rose Walker’s existence. When Lucienne tells Morpheus he will have to destroy it, he responds with « The vortex is a her, not an it. » Dream’s comment visibly seems to mildly surprise Lucienne, though the presence of the vortex itself doesn’t seem to shock her, indicating that perhaps a vortex is more often something not human, like an animal. Though they don’t have any further discussion about the normal manifestation of a vortex, the interactions between The Sandman’s characters who are acquainted with dream vortexes continue to indicate that they are not always expected to be human: when Desire is discussing the implications of the vortex with Despair, they specifically mention that the vortex is a “woman that will be Dream’s undoing,” a description that ignites Despair’s confidence in the plot.
Though Desire has a history of meddling in Dream’s romantic relationships, that isn’t part of their plan this time. As the details of the dream vortex are uncovered, it immediately becomes clear that Dream’s only course of action will be to kill the vortex. From the way Lucienne and Dream discuss the vortex, it sounds like Morpheus has had to kill vortexes before, but something is different about Rose. Of course, by the end of the series, it is revealed that Rose Walker’s role as the vortex was manipulated in terms of bloodline and timing, but the fact that the vortex manifested in a human remains the important point.
According to Morpheus, Rose Walker is the first vortex of the era. He later explains the phenomenon of a dream vortex to Rose as this: “Every few thousand years, a mortal is born with a dreaming ability so powerful, she is able to enter other people’s dreams.” He specifically says “mortal,” and if not for the previously mentioned conversations, that would likely be interpreted as “human.” However, considering all the characters’ reactions to the vortex being a human girl, it seems “mortal” just refers to a creature of earth. No information is given about the previous dream vortex, either in the Netflix adaption or in The Sandman comics, but it’s reasonable to guess that the last vortex was not a human, given the bonus episode’s emphasis on cats’ ability to dream complex dreams.
Assuming there had been a series of non-human vortexes before Rose, the last human vortex would have occurred very early in human history, which matches the prehistoric look of the world in the story told to the Siamese cat. The cat interprets Morpheus’ story as proof that dreams can change the world. However, it’s also possible that one of the thousand humans who dreamed of that new world was a vortex whose powers had been allowed to manifest enough to combine others’ dreams. Morpheus warns Rose of a vortex’s ability to break the walls between dreams, ultimately combining the world’s consciousness and destabilizing the waking world’s reality, which is exactly what happened to the world dominated by cats in the story from The Sandman’s bonus episode. After Rose creates her first collective dream with her fellow housemates, Morpheus tells her that the damage she had created was nothing he couldn’t repair, “at least at this stage,” implying that he is aware that at a certain point just past this collective dream, the damage will be too much for him to fix.
While there is no confirmation whether Dream of a Thousand Cats is about a dream vortex or not, the theory does tie the otherwise standalone episode into the story. Perhaps if The Sandman returns for a second season, there might be more exploration on the subject of dream vortexes. Or, maybe, the concept was meant to be as mysterious as dreams themselves.