It’s rare that a horror series allows Black characters to become more than the trauma enacted upon them. Haunting of Bly Manor’s T’Nia Miller stars as standout lead character, Hannah Grose. Set in the late 1980s, Miller immediately catches the viewer’s eye; put-together, postured, well-dressed and spoken, and one of the only Black people to be residing at Bly Manor.
[Spoiler Warning if you haven't watched The Haunting of Bly Manor.]
Hannah Grose is the glue to the expansive manor, its staff, and the family of the Wingraves, who own the home. When we meet her for the first time, new au pair Dani (Victoria Pedretti) arrives at the manor for the first time, overjoyed to meet the orphaned children that she will take under her wing. Hannah is discombobulated, staring into the water well at the back of the property and unable to initially register that Dani is even there. From here on, she totters on the line of present and elsewhere—her mind constantly drifting but still able to rein the children and other staff when necessary.
Episode 5, titled “The Altar of the Dead,” is where Hannah’s backstory becomes clear. Her loyalty is her best feature. She is loyal to Owen (Rahul Kohli), whom she finds herself falling in love with, to her husband, although he has cheated on her and left, and loyal to the Wingraves when she finds the children or their parents’ legacy and wealth are at risk. For Hannah, her mission in life is to serve others, not out of responsibility or force, but out of sheer demonstration of care and love. Her loyalty lies in those who have cared for her. This is why she ends up stuck in an endless loop of dreams and memories, unable to recognize that she has died long before; the day that Dani arrived, in fact.
This episode highlights that the horror we face is more than just uncanny faces and ghosts and monsters, but that even in death, you end up stuck in a cycle of becoming someone else’s emotional foundation. Hannah would love nothing more than to escape, but once she recognizes that she is deserving of freedom away from servitude, it’s too late. The one memory she continues to return to is the first day she met Owen. It’s hard to parse through what the actual events are, as with each repetition of the memory, she attempts to continue with the job interview that he came for, knowing that something is wrong. Her imagined invocation of him responds, telling her he is just her. He is her consciousness resurrected, offering mechanical responses unless she breaks the memory herself. There is pain in this repetition. It is both her perfect fantasy in which she can meet Owen and fall in love all over again, but a nightmare in that this is the last organic memory she had with him before she was trapped in the limbo of Bly.
Owen wants to whisk her away to Paris, the children are getting older and are reliant on Dani more these days, but Hannah is dead. Her habitual prayers to the dead are a significant aspect of her character. She prays for others, but cannot even recognize that she should be praying for herself and her safe passage after death. Again, her loyalty overshadows her own personal need.
Throughout the series, it’s not even clear that Hannah has been dead all this time. Her image shifts each day, appearing in a new outfit and makeup as if she has genuinely risen up and gotten ready for each new day, and not stuck in the supernatural limbo like the other ghosts of Bly. She refuses to succumb to death. It’s hard to recognize. Is it out of pure, blissful ignorance, or has she just worked so much for others she couldn't notice her own death? In the end, she recites an affirmation, a reminder of who she is and where she is. In the moment that spurred her realization of her death, sitting by the fireside with Owen, he says, “We can’t count on the past. We think we have it trapped in our memories, but memories fade. We could fade at any time.” He says this in hopes of convincing her to move to Paris, and she finally agrees in this alternate repetition of this memory, but he disappears into the darkness. Hannah is starting to fade and this time she realizes it. She is recognizing her jailed existence on the property of Bly.
Often, Black women, even in TV, are put onto pedestals in which they must maintain strength for the sake of others, even at the cost of their own health. Hannah Grose is no exception. While living at Bly, she is chef Owen’s confidante, Dani’s support when she finds children Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) are out of control or when she begins to see things that aren’t there, all while cleaning and upkeeping the house. Everyone else at Bly isn’t immune to the ghostly occurrences, but Hannah is subjected to a different horror. She is alone, and finds love that blossoms after her death. At her last visit to her precious memory with Owen and that first day they met, the conjured version of him tells Hannah she has to leave in order to save the children, and she does. Faced with the choice to stay within this memory or leave and accept her mortality—Hannah leaves her comfort, leaves her foggy-headed memories and existence, and chooses to help others.
At the end of “The Altar of the Dead,” her affirmation, “You are Hannah Grose. The year is 1987. You are at Bly. Miles is 10, Flora is 8,” is excruciatingly lonesome. Unlike the other ghosts of Bly, who have accepted their fate, Hannah is still coping with her death, and unable to approach it with a sense of reality. She has been the rescue, the shoulder to lean on, the housekeeper—all for others and not for herself.
T’Nia Miller performs this role with beautiful grace. Black women watching will recognize the labor placed on her character and the ways that she reflects the real-life experiences of being a Black woman transformed into an emotional workhorse.
In case you missed it, check here to catch up on our previous coverage of The Haunting of Bly Manor!