The Leftovers is a show built on mysteries. A lot of those unknowns center around the Guilty Remnant, the bleak HBO drama’s resident cult, which formed after the “Great Departure” when 2% of the world’s population disappeared. While the G.R. was seemingly taken out by a drone strike in the Season 3 premiere, that doesn't mean we've stopped thinking about them.
The answer is, sort of. Like season 2 before it, season 3 debuts with a look back in history. But, “Kevin” doesn’t go all the way back to prehistoric times. Instead, we take a look at an 1840s Christian sect called the Millerites. While the group is never called that by name in The Leftovers prologue, creators Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta confirmed as much to Vulture.
The doomsday-obsessed cult was led by preacher William Miller, who believed Judgment Day would come on October 22, 1844. It did not. In the Leftovers’ retelling of the so-called “Great Disappointment,” one Millerite preacher continued to predict more and more possible dates for Jesus’s return, leading his flock to don their white garb (sound familiar?), climb to their roofs, and wait to be taken to heaven. It does not happen.
“I loved this idea of dressing up in white, getting up on your roof and waiting, and nothing happening,” Lindelof tells Vulture. However, Perrotta also confirms the Millerites didn’t even come up until season 2 of the series, which arrived long after the writer penned his original Leftovers novel.
So, while the HBO version of the Millerites is obviously fictionalized, the opening scene does show how such a cult has parallels with the Guilty Remnant. A Millerite mom in Australia — where the religious fervor spread — continues following her preacher’s predictions as her husband leaves her and takes their son with him. After a third supposed Rapture date, we see the woman descend her roof, sulk back to her church, and lie down with her very lonely congregation. All of them are still wearing their Rapture-ready white and the camera eventually pans straight to the G.R. in their own swath of white clothing.
The change from the 19th century cult to the 21st century one is indistinguishable.
Director Mimi Leder points out this was purposeful, telling The Daily Beast, “I think the whole point of that sequence was that these people were precursors to our Guilty Remnant. There have been groups that have existed forever who are looking for answers … How do we face our own mortality? How can we get out of this place?”
Now we know The Leftovers has a basis in history, and it seems no similar cult is on the rise these days. After the stunt Meg (Liv Tyler) pulled with the grenade and the school bus in season 2, let’s hope it stays that way.