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The Entire Lost Timeline Explained

It's been years since Lost aired its final season, and fans are still debating exactly what happened over the course of the show's narrative-twisting, reality-bending, time-hopping six seasons. Between all the flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sideways, moving islands, and time travel, the chronology of the show can be harder to follow than a fast-moving smoke monster in the jungle. Even if you paid close attention through every single episode, it would be understandable if you still had a hard time keeping the order of events straight in your head, especially considering the expansive ensemble cast that started with an intimidatingly large roster, then only grew from there. 

Fortunately, we've made our best attempt to wrangle the major milestones of Lost into an easy-to-follow (more or less) timeline. Of course, including every twist and turn throughout the show's convoluted narrative would require a novel-length post, so we'll only be hitting the high points here. Think of this more as a bird's-eye (or perhaps we should say, Oceanic airline's eye) overview rather than a beach-level deep dive. 

The island's first protectors

Several thousand years before Oceanic Flight 815 crashed onto the island that serves as the centerpiece for Lost's winding tale, there was the Heart of the Island — the mysterious, possibly magical pool at the center of the island that glowed with a bright, seemingly supernatural light, and which possessed extreme electromagnetic properties. During this time, an unnamed woman became the guardian of the Heart of the Island, which she considered the source of life, death, and rebirth. She said she came to the island the same way most people do, by accident, although we never learn the precise circumstances that brought her there.

During the time that this woman guarded the island, some sort of ancient civilization built a temple, a massive statue of the Egyptian goddess Taweret, and a couple of other structures. And eventually, a ship carrying a pregnant woman named Claudia wrecked on the island. Claudia gave birth to twin boys, and shortly thereafter, she was killed by the guardian of the island, who then raised the two brothers as her own. One was named Jacob, and while we never learned the name of the other, he eventually came to be known as the Man in Black. The guardian told Jacob and his brother that she killed Claudia because she and the others on her ship were "bad," and she didn't want them raising the two boys. 

A rift between brothers

Jacob and his brother were raised by the guardian until their teen years, when she finally took them to the Heart of the Island and explained her role in protecting it. There, the ghost of Claudia appeared to Jacob and told him the truth of what happened to her, which prompted a fight between the two brothers. Jacob's brother chose to go live with the survivors of Claudia's wreck for the next 30 years, while Jacob decided to remain with their adoptive mother, although the brothers stayed in contact. 

Eventually, Jacob was made the new protector of the island, and later, his adopted mother was killed by the Man in Black after she burned his village to the ground. Before her death, she mystically prevented the brothers from ever being able to kill one another personally, so as revenge, Jacob cast his brother into the Heart of the Island. This transformed Jacob's brother into a column of black smoke, although he could still assume his human form when he wanted to. Jacob and the Man in Black (who we're going to call "the MiB") would continue to meet throughout the coming centuries, but their opposing views of humanity — with Jacob believing humans were good, and the MiB believing they were evil — kept them constantly at odds. Jacob would draw people to the island to succeed him, and the MiB would try to convince them to kill Jacob, which he believed would free him from the island and his altered form. 

The Black Rock comes to the island

In 1867, a slave ship called the Black Rock crashed on the island, after being summoned by Jacob. On the ship was a man named Ricardo, who'd been sold into slavery after stealing medicine for his dying wife and killing the doctor in the process. At first, after the Black Rock washed up on the island, Ricardo was saved by the smoke monster (aka the MiB), who killed the rest of the crew but spared his life. The MiB told Ricardo that the island was Hell, and that he had to kill Jacob, the devil. However, when Ricardo attempted to murder Jacob, the guardian won the former slave to his side, and granted him immortality in exchange for serving as an intermediary between Jacob and the people he would bring to the island.

Eventually, Ricardo changed his name to Richard Alpert, and he'd eventually go on to lead the Others, the group of people who would come to live on the island as followers of Jacob. Through Richard, Jacob would give instructions to the Others, which they would follow faithfully in order to protect the Heart of the Island and help Jacob in his search for a successor. Additionally, Richard would occasionally leave the island on Jacob's orders, sometimes accompanied by a chosen few Others, in order to manipulate events to bring more potential "candidates" to the island, in hopes that one could take over for Jacob someday.

DHARMA arrives

A number of significant events took place toward the middle of the 1900s. In 1954, the U.S. Army planted a hydrogen bomb called "Jughead" on the island and built a test camp nearby. However, before they could conduct their nuclear test, the Army base was wiped out by Richard and the Others, leaving the bomb undetonated. 

Also around this time, Jacob began pulling the strings that would bring his specially selected candidates to the island aboard Oceanic 815 about 50 years later. Jacob's influence went far beyond merely getting his candidates on the plane. In some cases, he was involved in the lives of the Oceanic survivors before they were even born. 

Later, in the early 1970s, the first DHARMA personnel (including a young Ben Linus and his father) arrived on the island and began constructing their facilities, hoping to harness the island's unique electromagnetic properties in order to change the factors of the Valenzetti Equation —  4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42, known to the Oceanic survivors as simply "the Numbers" — which were supposedly tied into the end of humanity. DHARMA conducted lots of experiments on the island, including some involving polar bears, and the group built a number of subterranean research stations all over the island, naming them Hydra, Arrow, Swan, Flame, Pearl, Orchid, Staff, Looking Glass, and Tempest. After clashing with the Others for several years, the two groups eventually signed a truce in 1973. 

Lost and the tragedy of Danielle Rousseau

In November 1987, the Bésixdouze shipwrecked on the island with its crew of six scientists, including the seven-months pregnant Danielle Rousseau and Robert, the father of her unborn child. Over the next few months, Rousseau's crew began to suffer a "sickness" inflicted by the Man in Black that caused them to act differently, and eventually, Rousseau killed them all, with Robert being the last to die. 

After killing her team, Rousseau traveled to the DHARMA radio tower and recorded a distress call, which would play on a loop for the next 16 years. Three days later, she gave birth to her daughter, Alex, who was taken from her by Ben Linus, who was by then allied with the Others. Ben warned Rousseau that if she ever heard the "whispers" — indicating that the Others were nearby — she should run the other way. 

Rousseau lived alone on the island until 2004, when she would encounter the survivors of Oceanic 815. After 16 years of solitude and paranoia, her explanations were hard to follow, but they ultimately wound up helping the survivors and providing them with valuable information, although Rousseau still had her own agenda. At one point, she kidnapped Claire Littleton's baby, Aaron, thinking she could trade him to the Others in exchange for Alex, but ultimately, she returned the baby to his mother. Eventually, Rousseau would be shot and killed while attempting to save Alex from the Others. 

The purging of the DHARMA Initiative

Although precisely which year "the Purge" took place is a matter up for some debate, what's clear is that after an extended period of uneasy peace between DHARMA and the Others, the latter group released a poisonous gas in the DHARMA camp on December 19 of either 1987 or 1992 that killed almost every person on the island associated with the DHARMA Initiative. Prior to the Purge, Ben Linus, along with several other unidentified members of DHARMA, defected to the Others, which helped facilitate the attack. 

At the time of the Purge, the leader of the Others was Charles Widmore, although Richard Alpert was still acting as an intermediary between the group and Jacob. Despite the truce between DHARMA and the Others, DHARMA had been in violation of the terms of the agreement for years leading up to the Purge. The truce had included stipulations on how many DHARMA personnel could be on the island, how long they could stay, and how deep they could drill into the island, all of which DHARMA ignored. Additionally, DHARMA stockpiled weapons and constructed a defensive perimeter, which didn't lend itself to peaceful coexistence. While not every member of DHARMA was killed in the Purge, the event effectively put a halt to DHARMA's research and experimentation on the island, and those who remained lived in isolation.

All the paths in Lost lead to Oceanic 815

In the years leading up to the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, which departed from Australia in 2004, circumstances conspired to bring the survivors together in surprising ways, thanks to the influence of Jacob and the island's mystical powers. Jack Shepherd boarded the flight to transport the body of his father, Christian, back from Australia, only to discover later that another survivor, Claire, was also Christian's child. James "Sawyer" Ford dedicated his life to seeking revenge on the man he blamed for his parents' death, who turned out to be the father of fellow crash survivor, John Locke

Hugo "Hurley" Reyes won the lottery by playing the mystical Numbers, only to suffer one misfortune after another, leading him to Australia to learn if the Numbers were cursed. Jin-Soo Kwon worked to make himself worthy for his fiancée, Sun-Hwa Paik, only to have the tasks he was given by her gangster father drive them apart. In fact, things got so bad that she learned English so that she could leave Jin in America, after a stop in Australia. 

As for Kate Austen, she killed her abusive father, which led to her arrest in Australia and extradition to the U.S. on 815. Rock star Charlie Pace got hooked on heroin, which caused his brother to refuse his request to get their band back together, sending a defeated Charlie home from Australia on 815. And Sayid Jarrah wound up on 815 largely due to the consequences of his acting as a torturer for the Iraqi Republican Guard. 

What Desmond Hume did for love

While many of Lost's central players were moving along the paths that would lead them to Oceanic 815, Desmond Hume got to the island much earlier and through a different route. After failing to become a monk, Desmond met Penny Widmore, daughter of ex-Others leader Charles Widmore. Desmond and Penny fell in love, but they later broke up after Charles told Desmond he'd never be worthy of her, and Desmond agreed. 

Years later, after encountering a time-shifting Daniel Faraday (who was Penny's half-brother, although neither knew it), Desmond decided to seek out Penny again, and he entered an around-the-world sailing race run by Widmore in order to prove himself worthy of her. On a boat that he acquired through a chance encounter with future Oceanic survivor Libby Smith, Desmond set sail in 2001, only to crash on the island. He was found by a survivor of the DHARMA Purge, who took him to the Swan station (a.k.a. "the hatch") and convinced him to push a button every 108 minutes to discharge the electromagnetic buildup of the island. 

After three years of faithfully pushing the button, Desmond experienced significant doubts, which led to him accidentally killing his DHARMA companion and failing to press the button in time. Although he managed to diffuse the energy, the electromagnetic interference caused the crash of Oceanic 815. Exactly 40 days later, as Desmond was preparing to give up and kill himself, he heard John Locke pounding on the hatch above. 

The crash of Oceanic 815

In the days following the crash of Oceanic 815 in September 2004, the passengers focused mainly on survival. Jack became the de facto leader, with Kate as his second-in-command, although it wasn't long before Locke began pulling followers of his own. Several romantic relationships sprang up, including Sayid and Shannon Rutherford, Charlie and Claire, and a love triangle between Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. Some survivors stayed on the beach, while others moved to a series of caves further inland.

As Michael Dawson built a raft to escape the island, the group had a series of increasingly alarming run-ins with the Others, who infiltrated their group from the first day and, at one point, abducted Claire and Charlie. Sayid met Rousseau, and the group worked to balance survival with solving the mysteries of the island, including the smoke monster, polar bears, the Others, and the hatch. Michael launched his raft about a month after the crash, but the Others intercepted him and kidnapped his son, leaving Michael, Sawyer, and Jin to drown. However, they made it back to the island, encountering the survivors from the tail section, whom they'd presumed had died in the crash. After a period of initial mistrust, the two groups of Oceanic survivors combined into one. 

Live together, die alone

Over the first four seasons of Lost, only a little over three months went by, but enough happened to make it feel like a much longer chunk of time had passed. Not only did new romances form, such as the one between Hurley and Libby, but old relationships healed, including the complicated sibling relationship between Shannon and Boone Carlyle and the marriage of Sun and Jin Kwon. A community was formed, Claire's baby was born, and friendships solidified between many of the survivors, particularly between Charlie and Hurley. The group expanded with the additions of Desmond, the tail section survivors, and the freighter science team of Daniel Faraday, Frank Lapidus, Miles Straume, and Charlotte Lewis. Plus, Juliet Burke, a doctor for the Others, eventually defected to the Oceanic group. On top of all that, tensions continued to rise between the growing group of survivors and the Others, led by Ben Linus. 

However, the first few months on the island also proved deadly for many. Boone died after a severe fall at the end of season one. His sister Shannon died of an accidental gunshot wound in season two, and then Michael shot and killed Ana Lucia and Libby, survivors from the tail section. In season three, the mysterious Mr. Eko was killed by the smoke monster, and although Desmond spent the season trying to prevent Charlie's death, the musician eventually drowned, saving Desmond in the process. Then season four brought the deaths of Rousseau and, shortly thereafter, her daughter, Alex. 

The escape and return of the Oceanic Six

After betraying his friends in order to rescue his kidnapped son, Walt, from the Others, Michael was allowed to leave the island and return to the U.S. However, within weeks, a guilt-ridden Michael agreed to return to the island under an alias, as a spy for the Others. He got a job on Charles Widmore's freighter Kahana, which transported a team of mercenaries under orders to kill Ben and the Oceanic survivors. 

Once the Kahana arrived at the island, many survivors headed to the freighter in an attempt to escape, but Michael discovered the mercenaries had planted C-4 on the Kahana as a failsafe. Michael froze the battery of the bomb long enough for Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun, Hurley, and Aaron, along with Frank and Desmond, to escape on a helicopter. The helicopter crashed in the ocean, and the passengers were rescued by Penny's ship, the Searcher, on December 31, 2004. 

The Oceanic survivors came to be known in the press as "the Oceanic Six," with Kate claiming Aaron as her son. During their three years away from the island, they all received large cash settlements from Oceanic Airlines, and Sun gave birth to her and Jin's daughter, Ji Yeon. However, bad things kept happening to the group, and Ben Linus eventually convinced Jack that they had to return to the island in order to make them stop. The Six — minus Aaron, who stayed with his grandmother — boarded Ajira Airways flight 316 in October 2007, a flight chosen by Eloise Hawking and piloted by Frank Lapidus. The plane made an emergency landing on Hydra Island, but Jack, Sayid, Kate, and Hurley were mysteriously transported back to 1977. 

Ben and Locke move the island

At the same time that the Oceanic Six were moving to the Kahana in the hopes of escaping the island, Jacob appeared to John Locke in the form of Christian Shepherd and told him that he had to move the island. Locke conveyed this message to Ben, who then surrendered to Widmore's mercenaries at the Orchid station in order to get inside. After getting revenge for his murdered "daughter," Alex — an act that triggered the failsafe bomb on the freighter — Ben descended into a frigid chamber beneath the Orchid station, where he found a giant wheel. Ben turned the wheel, and the island began to skip through time, disappearing right as the Oceanic Six were on the helicopter, leading to their crash and rescue by Penny.

As for Ben, he woke up in the Tunisian desert ten months in the future, in the fall of 2005. Meanwhile, during the three years the Oceanic Six were away, Locke and the others on the surface experienced time shifts, caused by the aforementioned wheel being off its axis, sending them to random different points in time. Eventually, Locke returned to the subterranean chamber, and under the instruction of the Man in Black, he reset the wheel, halting the time shifts and transporting Locke to Tunisia in 2007. Unfortunately, he found himself paralyzed from the waist down again, as he was before the crash. And back on the island, the remaining time-shifting survivors — like Sawyer, Juliet, and Miles — were transported to 1974. 

Following Locke's expulsion from the island, he was picked up by Charles Widmore's people, and he later set out to convince the Oceanic Six to return to the island, hoping to go back with them. When he failed in his task, Ben Linus killed him, and used his death to convince Jack and the others to return on Ajira 316 later that year.

The interference of Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking

While Jacob and Richard were pulling strings to bring new potential protectors to the island, there were others working to get back to the island through their own means. Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking both lived on the island in their youth, serving as leaders of the Others. After unwittingly killing her and Widmore's future son, the time-traveling Daniel Faraday, Eloise eventually left the island to raise the younger version of her son in Massachusetts. From then on, Eloise dedicated her life to bringing about future events as she perceived they had to happen — including manipulating Ben and Locke to convince the Oceanic Six to return to the island — working out of a DHARMA station called the Lamp Post. 

Meanwhile, after Widmore left the island and became a successful entrepreneur, he grew obsessed with returning to the island. After the crash of Oceanic 815, Widmore staged a fake plane wreck in the Sunda Trench, so everyone would assume the 815 survivors were dead, and no one would go looking for the island. He then hired mercenaries and sent them aboard the freighter Kahana, along with the scientific team that included Daniel, to kill Ben and all the other people on the island. After that endeavor failed, Widmore returned to the island himself on a submarine, bringing an unconscious Desmond with him, ostensibly to test Desmond's resistance to electromagnetism. However, once reaching the island, Widmore revealed to the Man in Black that he'd actually brought Desmond as Jacob's "last resort," in case all of Jacob's other candidates died. Widmore was then shot and killed by Ben Linus.

Lost takes us back to 1974

After Locke finally reset the wheel and the island settled back in time, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, Daniel, and Miles found themselves stuck in 1974. After helping the DHARMA Initiative out of a sticky spot with the Others, they were granted permission to stay for a few weeks, which turned into a few years. During this time, Juliet and Sawyer fell in love, Jin became fluent in English, and Daniel departed the island.

In 1977, Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid arrived from the future after disappearing from Ajira 316. After being found by Jin, they also joined the DHARMA Initiative, except for Sayid, who was mistaken for one of the Others and arrested. This led to Sayid shooting a young Ben, who was then brought to the Others so they could save him, resulting in Ben's defection. Meanwhile, Daniel Faraday returned to the island with the theory that detonating the nuclear bomb Jughead might prevent Oceanic 815 from ever crashing, saving all those who would die in the future. 

Unfortunately, Daniel was killed by Eloise before he could detonate the bomb, but the other time travelers worked to carry out his plan, which was complicated when a drilling accident caused an electromagnetic "incident," and Juliet was dragged into the Swan station shaft. However, Juliet lived long enough to detonate the bomb before she died, and the group was flung back to 2007.

The island gets a new protector

In the final season of Lost, the centuries-long struggle between Jacob and the Man in Black finally came to a head, as Jacob's pool of candidates narrowed to a final few, and the Man in Black grew increasingly bolder in his attempts to kill his brother and escape his smoke-bound existence. In the form of the deceased John Locke, the MiB convinced a bitter Ben to kill Jacob. 

Meanwhile, Sawyer hatched a plan to hijack Widmore's submarine to transport him and the other survivors off the island. However, unbeknownst to any of them, the MiB hid a bomb in Jack's backpack, which they didn't discover until they were all on board. Sayid took the bomb, giving most of the group time to escape, but he, Jin, and Sun were all killed. 

Afterward, Jacob's spirit appeared to Jack and the others, and he explained why he'd brought them to the island and that he needed one of them to be its new protector. Jack volunteered and was made immortal. Seeking to defeat the MiB, Jack lowered Desmond into the Heart of the Island, where he drained the water from the mystical pool, leading to the MiB becoming mortal. Jack took the opportunity to kill the MiB, but he was mortally wounded himself in the fight, so he passed his protector duties on to Hurley, who in turn asked Ben to be his second-in-command. As Jack Shepherd lay dying, Frank and Richard repaired the Ajira plane, and they escaped the island with Miles, Claire, Kate, and Sawyer.

Lost, the flash-sideways, and the church

While the first five seasons of Lost used flashbacks and, eventually, flash-forwards to assist in their storytelling, the sixth season introduced a new narrative that appeared to be a flash-sideways, following the lives of the Oceanic survivors and their allies in an alternate reality where Oceanic 815 had never crashed. The flash-sideways started with the flight landing safely at LAX and continued from there, featuring the return of many characters who'd previously died on the show, including Charlie, Boone, and Shannon. 

Starting with Desmond, the characters in the flash-sideways gradually began regaining their memories of their time on the island, typically after an emotionally resonant event that called back to their time there. Kate, Claire, and Charlie remembered the island after the delivery of Claire's baby, and Jin and Sun remembered after seeing an ultrasound of their daughter. Sawyer and Juliet remembered after touching one another, Hurley remembered after kissing Libby, and Sayid remembered after rescuing Shannon from an assault. Jack remembered last, after touching his father's casket in the church where his funeral was supposed to be held. 

It turned out that the flash-sideways was the afterlife, created by the survivors at some point following their deaths both on and off the island in order to help them find one another before passing on to the next plane of existence. Evidently, time works differently in the afterlife, so while some characters died over the course of the show, and others died long after it ended, they all seemed to arrive together. After regaining their memories of their time on the island, the deceased Oceanic survivors all gathered together in the church, "moving on" together into the brilliant white light that lay beyond its doors.