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Major spoilers below for Episode 5 of The Haunting of Bly Manor, so be warned!
For his follow-up to the magic and majesty of The Haunting of Hill House, creator Mike Flanagan maintained certain cast members but looked to a different literary source – American legend Henry James – to map out ghostly The Haunting of Bly Manor. Of course, this season is more gothic romance than hair-raising hellscape, centering on a pair of unique young siblings and the various older characters who also live at and work within Bly Manor. Perhaps the most unique and mysterious one in the bunch in the early episodes is T'Nia Miller's Hannah Grose, whose story unraveled itself in the epic fifth episode.
"The Altar of the Dead" is almost entirely devoted to Hannah's story, and it tied up many of the loose ends that were dropped before viewers in the previous four episodes, while also explaining some of Hannah's more eccentric behavior. Namely, she was murdered by Benjamin Evan Ainsworth's Peter Quint-possessed Miles in the moments before Victoria Pedretti's Dani walked up to greet her, meaning the Hannah that audiences had been watching was, in fact, a ghoOoOost!
During a virtual Netflix press event for The Haunting of Bly Manor that CinemaBlend attended, I asked the positively delightful T'Nia Miller what she thought whenever she first discovered Hannah's true nature in Episode 5. Here's how she answered:
Oh my God. So they were asking me as they collaborate, and I was still in London – I was shooting something else, Netflix's Sex Education – and they sent Episodes 1-3, and I hadn't got to 4 or 5 yet. And Mike was like, 'Have you read up to 5 already? Have you read up to 5?' I'm like, 'No.' So was Lynn [Falconer], the costume designer. And then when I got to it, I was like, 'Shuuuut uuuuup. What? I'm a ghost! I've never played a ghost before. This is bloody exciting.' And I love a good prank. I will prank you, scare you, and jump out, and you know, I live for those moments. So to play a ghost is super exciting. And then I was like, how am I going to play a ghost? I don't know how to play that. I can't base it on real life because I'm alive. I don't know it feels like to be dead. [Laughs.] But she's a ghost that doesn't know that she's a ghost, so then I was like, okay, I'll just play her as somebody who wanders off into these memories and into these moments. I'm a bit ditzy in real life. I know I play these very educated, well put-together women, but I'm actually rather ditzy, so it sort of lended itself to Hannah in that way.
Praise be to T'Nia Miller's natural ditziness for helping Hannah Grose appear to be sympathetically absent-minded, thus maintaining the mystery behind her spectral nature. While it was clear there was something different about Hannah, given the way she never ate and appeared to be drinking from an empty bottle of wine, it wasn't immediately obvious that she was dead, largely because of Miller's warmth in playing both a caretaker and a loving friend – but sadly nothing more – to Rahul Kohli's Owen. Rarely is the "they were dead all along" reveal so heartbreaking from end to end.
While Hannah Grose does indeed exist within Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, she's not as fleshed out as the live-action version. So when T'Nia Miller was asked about her inspirations for this built-up version of the character, she answered with:
I've never read any of Henry James' work, sorry. It was really a collaboration with Mike and drawing on my own experiences. What it's like to grieve the self, to grieve a loss of self. We have these ideas of ourselves, and similarly to Hannah, I think all of us are sometimes in denial of what we're going for. We push things – emotions – down, push things away, because we don't want to face them. And Hannah was doing that all along until she has no choice but to face the biggest deal, the biggest ghost, which is herself. So I looked at that, I looked at what it would be like to be a woman of a certain age living in a small town in England in the '80s. So the inspiration really came from Mike and I collaborating, like Amelia and Jamie to some extent, on how our backstory would inform and how wardrobe actually informed on the dialogue. They changed some of the dialogue because of the conversations I had with Lynn Falconer about her wardrobe, and it changes, depending on which time zone and which sort of time gear that she's in. Yes, it was a collaboration as well as what was really written on the page in that respect.
Just as it went with The Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor contains lots of detail hints that reward reviewers when rewatching episodes, such as Hannah's aforementioned clothing depending on what scene was being shown. And the moments where Hannah's neck seemed like it was snapping, as it did in the well. And each time she saw that particular crack appearing in the walls of rooms she was in. Poor Hannah.
While Episode 8, "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," is also a striking departure from the rest of the episodes (and I suppose Episode 9 fits into that mold as well), I think "The Altar of the Dead" is a perfect microcosm for this season as a whole, and it's so fitting that it comes right in the middle of everything. It's got big surprises, big emotional hooks, some very haunting sequences, and it sets Hannah up for even more interesting moments as the season continues.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is available to stream in full now on Netflix, so be sure to watch so that the streaming giant knows to keep renewing Mike Flanagan's emotionally driven horror series. While waiting to see what happens next, check out what else is heading to Netflix in October, and bookmark our Fall 2020 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are on the way.