'Lost' Showrunners on Killing Off Characters, the Polarizing Finale and More Unanswered Questions

Lost Damon Lindelof Carlton Cuse Josh Holloway PaleyFest - H 2014
Michael Kovac for Paley Center for Media

Four years after the Lost finale aired, showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are still fielding questions about it.

The duo reunited with several of their former castmembers on Sunday night on Day 4 of PaleyFest at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, where they introduced that night's screening (the audience watched season one's penultimate episode, titled "Exodus (Part 1)," before the panel discussion). Joked Lindelof of the polarizing series finale: "We debated whether to not to show you the real finale." To which Cuse quickly responded: "Too soon."

PHOTOS: The Faces of Pilot Season 2014

As for the theory that the characters were dead during the entire course of the series, which ran from 2004-10 on ABC, Cuse later quashed any lingering doubts: "No, they were not dead the entire time."

He explained that the theory was fueled by the final moments of the series, in which shots of the plane wreckage were shown before going into commercial break. Cuse, who now serves as co-showrunner on A&E's Bates Motel and also has The Strain coming up on FX -- said those shots were inserted on the advice of former ABC Studios head Barry Jossen, who suggested that there be a "buffer" between the final scene and the commercial break.

"[Viewers] saw the shots of the plane with no people there, and that exacerbated the problem," he said.

He later added that the decision to have the final scene of the series portray the afterlife was made early on during the show's run, and that he and Lindelof had lengthy conversations about it.

"Lost was a show about people on an island in the middle of nowhere, but metaphorically they were lost in their lives [and in need of] purpose and redemption," Cuse said. "[The ending] had to be a spiritual one."

The castmembers said they heard many creative theories over the years from viewers about what was really going on. Jorge Garcia, who played Hurley and just landed a regular role opposite his Lost co-star Daniel Dae Kim on CBS' Hawaii Five-0, revealed one of his favorites: "A guy once said that when the plane was in the air, we were all cloned. So the story of Lost was really the story of our clones."

Josh Holloway, who played Sawyer and now stars on CBS' Intelligence, said he once ran his own theory by Lindelof: "I once looked at you (nods at Lindelof) and said, 'The island is like a Death Star,' and you got weird with me. … I skedaddled … and shut up. I was afraid of [my character] dying."

GUEST COLUMN: Damon Lindelof on Why 'Breaking Bad's' Finale Let Him Say Goodbye to 'Lost'

As Lost fans know, the main character, Jack (Matthew Fox), was originally intended to die in the pilot. Lindelof said it was a strategic plan to cast an actor who would be featured prominently in the marketing and publicity campaign but then would be killed off in a shock to viewers. But after getting notes from the network and studio executives, the writers had a change of heart.

"They said, 'The audience will really start to care about this character, and then they will never trust you again or form bonds with any of the other characters,'" revealed Lindelof, whose adaptation of Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers debuts on HBO later this year.

He also said that when Ian Somerhalder learned the fate of his character, Boone -- the first major character to die on the series -- he took it well. So well, in fact, that "we said, 'We gotta go kill more guys,' " Lindelof quipped. He added that Kim, who played Jin, was so worried about his fate on the show he asked the producers if he should hold off on buying a house in Hawaii, where the show was shot.

The castmembers on the panel revealed they knew very little about their characters while shooting the series but they were confident the writers knew where their stories were headed. Garcia said Hurley was originally supposed to be a repo man (not a lottery winner), while Yunjin Kim knew only that her character, Sun Kwon, could understand English when she was shooting the pilot. "I knew nothing," added Henry Ian Cusick, who played Desmond Hume and next co-stars on The CW's The 100.

Another burning question for fans continues to be the identity of the group of people on the outrigger in the season-five episode "The Little Prince." During the episode, Sawyer and Juliet's (Elizabeth Mitchell) group head out to sea in an outrigger canoe, during which they engage in a shootout with a group on another outrigger. Juliet apparently hits one of the people in the other boat, but a time shift occurs before they learn of that group's identity.

According to Lindelof, there was a scene written for the finale in which it was explained who was on that boat and what they were doing.

"We wrote that scene, and it was going to air in the final season, and it definitely answered who was on the outrigger," he said, adding: "But all the writers … thought it would be much cooler not to answer. … The scene exists on paper. Years from now, for some excellent charity, we'll probably auction it off."

PHOTOS: 2014's New Broadcast and Cable TV Shows

Two characters whom seemingly nobody -- writers included -- came to care about were Nikki (Kiele Sanchez) and Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro), introduced in the third season as fellow survivors of Oceanic Flight 815. Cuse explained that an "elaborate story spanning one season, maybe more" had been discussed for the duo. By the time the season premiered, six episodes had already been shot. Not only did the viewers not like the characters, but by then, "we were hating them ourselves," Lindelof added.

The writers' decision, he said, came down to "do we pretend they never existed or [dedicate] an entire episode to their death?" (The answer, of course, was the latter, with the duo being buried alive after they were bitten by a venomous spider that caused paralysis.)

As for other unanswered questions about Lost, Cuse said to answer every single mystery would have been "didactic and boring."

"We [preferred] to tell an emotional story about what happened to the characters," he added, to applause. "I cared more about the characters' journey and what happened to them."

The panel also included former castmembers Maggie Grace (Shannon Rutherford), who returns for the third Taken film and just landed a starring role on CBS' untitled Wall Street pilot, and Malcolm David Kelley (Walt Lloyd), who is part of the musical duo MKTO, which releases its first album April 1.