The Fifth Episode of 'The Haunting of Bly Manor' Reveals a Major Ghostly Twist

Huge midseason revelations are becoming a 'Haunting' tradition.

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This article contains major spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor.

"We can't count on the past," home chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), one of the few living characters in The Haunting of Bly Manor, drunkenly explains to housekeeper Hannah Grose (T'Nia Miller) at the start of Episode 5. "We think we have it trapped in our memories," he continues, "but memories fade, or they're wrong. Any of us could die at any moment. Or we could forget our entire lives, which is like dying."

Owen, unknowingly, has discovered the very thesis of the whole show: That the restless spirits of Bly Manor glean strength from our memories of them, and it's only once they've been forgotten that they become less and less human. The tragedy of this episode lies in what it reveals about dreamily distracted Hannah Grose, who discovers, via a labyrinthine voyage through her disconnected memories, that she is not as alive as she thinks she is, and hasn't been for quite a while. 

Episode 5, titled "The Altar of the Dead," is not quite the explain-it-all reveal episode that comes later in the season and focuses on a much older resident of Bly Manor, but this one does explain, elegantly and patiently, exactly how the ghosts of this show work. In both seasons of The Haunting, things are never as they seem, and the show takes its time to draw the curtains back on exactly what has been going on this whole time. 

The show did something similar in its first season, The Haunting of Hill House, where it laid out, over the course of one midseason episode, exactly what connected the traumatized Nell Crain (Victoria Pedretti) to the specter of "the Bent-Neck Lady," which would appear occasionally to terrorize her during her childhood in the mansion. The finales of these shows are what the whole thing is building towards, but it's these standalone episodes, smack dab in the middle of everything, that turn out to be the strongest. 

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"The Altar of the Dead" shunts Hannah from memory to memory, often replaying the same ones, like her very first meeting and interview with Owen before he was hired on, over again, somewhat differently each time. Memory, for ghosts, is treacherous: We learn later on that when a human has allowed a spirit to possess their body, they are "tucked away" into a memory while their body is being used by someone else. Hannah has spent these past few weeks in the manor, ever since the day she met Dani (Pedretti), tucking herself away in her memories as she loses grip on the physical world -- yet still unable to accept that she's no longer alive. It's all the more heart-wrenching when Owen, who believes she still lives, asks her to come to Paris with him. 

The ghosts in Bly Manor -- Rebecca Jessel, Peter Quint, Hannah Grose, and a few others who have forgotten both their names and their faces -- are trapped on the grounds where they died, unable to leave while the living have the power to roam free. But all ghosts, the show reminds us, were humans once, even the dangerous violent ones, and are still subject to human emotions -- their love, desire, greed, and guilt. Even the malevolent presence that afflicts the manor, we later learn, was once a mother driven mad by love for her child.

As far as the ghosts of Bly Manor are concerned, the only terror left for them, now that they're dead, is forgetting themselves, languishing away inside a house repeating actions and patterns and memories for so long their meaning is lost to them. For those unable to pass on, real death is forgetting, forever, who you once were. 

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.