Haunting Of Bly Manor's Mike Flanagan Explains The Story Behind The Show's Most Vicious Death

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(Image credit: Netflix)

Spoilers ahead for Netflix's The Haunting of Bly Manor.

Netflix got spooky just in time for Halloween this year with The Haunting of Bly Manor, hailing from the same creative team as The Haunting of Hill House. Unsurprisingly, Bly Manor was packed with not only ghosts, but some pretty shocking deaths, and one in particular stands out as especially vicious. This death also went down in the game-changing penultimate episode, and Bly Manor creator Mike Flanagan spoke out about the death and the story behind it.

The penultimate episode, called "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," was a black-and-white installment that finally revealed the origin of Bly Manor's Lady of the Lake, not to mention all the other ghosts with no faces who inhabited the estate. Starring Hill House alums Kate Siegel and Katie Parker as sisters Viola and Perdita Willoughby, the episode culminates in Perdita's brutal death at the hands of her dead sister. Speaking with Collider, Mike Flanagan said:

That episode is my favorite this season. The short story The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, other than having I think the best title of any short ghost story I’ve ever heard, in it I thought were the seeds of so many things that have become embedded in contemporary horror. You read the story as it is and you can see kind of the inspirations for The Ring and for The Grudge. You see this example of supernatural revenge and you imagined, it’s so beautifully described in the book that they find the poor woman splayed out in front of the trunk with this frozen expression of horror on her face and the bruises of the fingers around her neck from the ghost that strangled her, and not only is that more aggressive and vicious than anything else Henry James ever wrote about a ghost, most of his ghosts are like incredibly polite and they just kind of like, 'Oh, hello.' That was fantastic.

Despite the setting at Bly Manor and the beginning of the series obviously inspired by Henry James' most famous work, The Turn of the Screw, The Haunting of Bly Manor drew inspiration from a number of James' stories, including "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes." The episode is actually surprisingly faithful to the story, all the way down to the character names. According to horror veteran Mike Flanagan, it stands as his favorite of the season.

That said, The Haunting of Bly Manor could show more gruesome details than Henry James wrote about, and really had to establish Viola's motivations in order to explain how she turned Bly Manor into a building filled with ghosts. By emphasizing the monotony of Viola's existence after her death that was broken not by her beloved daughter opening the chest, but by her sneaking sister, there were more layers to the death.

Viola's story and her killings didn't stop with her sister, but even her reasons for dragging people off to be drowned made a certain degree of sense, and the show explained away the details by establishing that Viola lost herself more and more as the years passed. It was scary, it was tragic, and it set Bly Manor apart from Hill House.

"The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" may go down as a divisive episode of The Haunting of Bly Manor, as it both told an excellent story but also stopped the momentum of the first eight episodes for a black-and-white journey to the past. I'm still not sure where I fall on whether I liked its placement in the season or not, but I do think it could stand alone as a ghost story. I'm just not sure I needed to experience as much of Viola's monotony as I did at that point.

You can find the full season of The Haunting of Bly Manor streaming on Netflix now, as well as the full season of The Haunting of Hill House. If you're looking to branch out on the streaming front, swing by our 2020 Netflix premiere guide. For some additional viewing options now and in the coming weeks, check out our 2020 fall TV premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.