Chaperonins are megadalton ring assemblies that mediate essential ATP-dependent assistance of protein folding to the native state in a variety of cellular compartments, including the mitochondrial matrix, the eukaryotic cytosol, and the bacterial cytoplasm. Structural studies of the bacterial chaperonin, GroEL, both alone and in complex with its co-chaperonin, GroES, have resolved the states of chaperonin that bind and fold non-native polypeptides. Functional studies have resolved the action of ATP binding and hydrolysis in driving the GroEL-GroES machine through its folding-active and binding-active states, respectively. Yet the exact fate of substrate polypeptide during these steps is only poorly understood. For example, while binding involves multivalent interactions between hydrophobic side-chains facing the central cavity of GroEL and exposed hydrophobic surfaces of the non-native protein, the structure of any polypeptide substrate while bound to GroEL remains unknown. It is also unclear whether binding to an open GroEL ring is accompanied by structural changes in the non-native substrate, in particular whether there is an unfolding action. As a polypeptide-bound ring becomes associated with GroES, do the large rigid-body movements of the GroEL apical domains serve as another source of a potential unfolding action? Regarding the encapsulated folding-active state, how does the central cavity itself influence the folding trajectory of a substrate? Finally, how do GroEL and GroES serve, as recently recognized, to assist the folding of substrates too large to be encapsulated inside the machine? Here, such questions are addressed with the findings available to date, and means of further resolving the states of chaperonin-associated polypeptide are discussed.