14 years ago, Lost, one of the most influential and important television shows aired its series finale – The End – and suffice to say, the response was mixed. The ending of Lost seemingly left a lot of questions unanswered, while also posing new ones like: "Were they dead all along?", "Why did it end in a church?", and, of course, "What actually was the island?"

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Lost debuted in 2004, and immediately established itself as one of the TV’s must-see shows. Under showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, with additional input from JJ Abrams – Lost was always going to be a show of astonishing creativity, and each season was exactly that, redefining the way we consider TV narratives and long-term storytelling.

Throughout the six season run, Lost followed the survivors of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 after they crashed on a mysterious tropical island complete with underground bunkers, polar bears and a monster composed of smoke.

Through flashbacks, flash-forwards and eventually a flash-sideways, we get further insight into each character as the show progresses, while still keeping the overall narrative moving forward to its climax.

Some of the two-part finale takes place on the island itself, with the final showdown against the Man in Black and the fate of the island up for grabs. These events play out as they do, but it’s in the flash-sideways where questions arise, and controversy exists, namely with the question people still ask to this very day – were they dead the whole time?

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Luckily, we’ve got it all explained for you. Read on for a breakdown.

Lost ending explained: What exactly were the flashsideways?

Like the rest of Lost, the series finale jumps between events on the island itself, and in this case, a flash-sideways – an alternate timeline in which Flight 815 never crashed on the island.

That alternate timeline was created thanks to Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), who, because of a time-shift, had become stranded in the 1970s. With a lot of other factors in play, like her love of Sawyer (Josh Holloway), Juliet goes through with a plan to destroy the hatch on the island, using the logic that this will stop Oceanic Flight 815 from ever crashing, therefore stopping the events of Lost from ever taking place.

The cast of Lost.
Lost.

So throughout the series finale our 'survivors', for lack of a better word, are being drawn together in this flash-sideways, and over time, they slowly begin to regain memories of their stint on the island thanks to interactions with each other. All of this culminates in the big twist that still leaves people awestruck, confused or annoyed to this day, depending on how you feel.

Our characters are all dead in the flash-sideways events, as the alternate timeline functions as an afterlife to bring everyone together so they can move on from the island and their experiences together. Naturally though, this created all sorts of confusion among viewers as to whether they had really been dead all along.

The answer: no, they hadn’t. The events on the island, the heartache, pain, joy and love, were real, as were the connections they formed with each other. The flash-sideways was a construct created by the survivors because of their time on the island, a time that is described perfectly by Jack Shephard’s (Matthew Fox) father, Christian (John Terry) – "the most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people on that island".

Lost stars Dominic Monaghan (L), Matthew Fox (R) and Actress Evangeline Lilly
Lost stars Dominic Monaghan, Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

It may seem even more confusing given that the other storyline of the finale which takes place on the island ends with some characters dead, some alive, and many who died much earlier in the show’s run. The interpretation of that final flash-sideways in the church adds a deep layer of poignancy to it all though – making it one of television’s most elegant depictions of the afterlife, and of the bonds we share with others. It’s a timeless place where they wait for each other before embarking on to “whatever comes next” together.

What happens to the island?

While the flash-sideways in The End is the part that often trips up viewers of the show, there’s still plenty that takes place on the island in that final episode.

Much of the mythos on the island centres around its protector, Jacob, and his adversary, the Man in Black. Their arc concludes in the finally with Jack killing the Man in Black, while Jack also convinces an emotional Hurley (Jorge Garcia) to take over as the new protector of the island. In a touching moment, with Hurley unsure on how to proceed, he asks Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) for his help, for which Ben is more than happy to give.

This moment has a beautiful payoff in the flash-sideways, as the two share a moment outside of the church, reminding each other of the good deeds they would go on to do together for the island.

Who lives and who dies?

While a lot of people speculated that the characters were dead all along, that isn’t the case. However, there are two important deaths in the series finale. As stated, the Man in Black dies after being shot by Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and pushed off a cliff by Jack.

But more importantly, Jack himself dies on the island, in a tender scene that perfectly mirrors our introduction to him as a character, and to the show as a whole – laying flat in the bamboo forest as he looks up at the sky and the escaping castaways.

Lost writer Damon Lindelof
Lost writer Damon Lindelof. Unique Nicole/Getty Images

What has Damon Lindelof said about the ending?

The creators of the Lost aren’t immune to the divisiveness over the finale, recognising that they didn’t answer every question.

In a 2023 interview with Esquire, Lindelof addressed the controversy surrounding the ending, but insists he wouldn’t change a thing. He said: "It seems arrogant to say I would change nothing, but it’s the truth."

Lost is available to watch on Disney Plus. You can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 a year now.

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