After receiving critical acclaim for his first Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, writer/director Mike Flanagan has returned with another revisionist ghost story for the streamer – this time taking on the work of Henry James.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is primarily based on The Turn of the Screw – with other James works frequently referenced – but the ending to the series is rather different to that of the 1898 novella.
Whereas The Turn of the Screw ends with Miles dying in the governess’ arms, the The Haunting of Bly Manor takes a different tack altogether.
Read on for everything you need to know about the ending – with the warning that there are, of course, some **major spoilers ahead**.
The Haunting of Bly Manor ending explained
To properly explain the ending of Bly Manor, it’s probably best to start with the penultimate episode – which explores the origins of the Manor itself and how it came to be so haunted.
This episode is actually based on another Henry James short story, The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, which follows two sisters named Perdita and Viola who fall in love with the same man, Arthur Lloyd, who must choose between them.
In the short story, Lloyd chooses Perdita, causing Viola to become extremely jealous. But when Perdita falls ill, Lloyd and Viola develop a friendship and Perdita makes her husband promise to lock away her gowns in a chest for their daughter – scared that he will marry Viola after she dies.
Perdita’s prediction comes true, and Viola and Lloyd do marry – and when financial misfortune befalls them Viola convinces her husband to give her the key for the chest containing the gowns. She goes to open them, and when Lloyd goes to find her later he finds the chest open and Viola dead – killed at the hands of Perdita’s ghost.
A slightly modified story takes place in episode eight of the show – although the names Perdita and Viola are switched.
It is explained that after Viola had died (in the Bly Manor version she is suffocated by Perdita) she awakens to find that she is now a ghost, and after a time she realises she is in the chest, but finds solace in the fact that one day her daughter will open it to retrieve the gowns.
Of course, when it is actually Perdita who opens the chest she is furious, and kills her – exacting revenge. Her ex-husband and daughter then set out to leave Bly, on the way chucking the chest – and Viola with it – into the lake on the property.
According to the narrator “this absolute abandonment shattered Viola’s heart”. She remained at the bottom of the lake and becomes The Lady of the Lake, waking every day and walking back to her bed, thinking it was all a dream and hoping that she would one day find her infant daughter and husband once again.
Years pass and she continues making the same journey, in the process killing more people – including a plague doctor who was treating patients in her old bed – with her victims each entering the same purgatory as her.
Eventually, Viola’s memories fade and so does her face, but she continues making the same journey. And one day when she finds a child in the bed she assumes it is her own and carries him away, killing him. All those that she’d killed faded just like her but continued to wander the property – explaining many of the spectres seen around Bly.
It came to be that everyone who died at Bly – including Peter Quint, Rebecca Jessel and Hannah Grose – entered the same purgatory as Viola. As the narrator says, “no hopes for anyone with the sad misfortune to die on the grounds of Bly”.
This then takes us back to the main action for the final episode – and Dani Clayton, who seems certain to be the next person to suffer the same fate as so many to have wandered Bly after she wanders into the path of Viola.
Viola drags Dani into the house, but when Flora protests she seems to be reminded of her own daughter and lets go of Dani – instead picking up Flora and carrying her back to the lake.
Henry Wingrave arrives at Bly and tries to stop Viola but his attempts are no use and he is strangled almost to death.
Owen and Jamie then also arrive and are told by Hannah’s ghosts to head to the lake, but on their way they find Henry’s body and Owen successfully revives him.
Meanwhile at the lake, Dani utters the words “it’s you, it’s me, it’s us” – something which she had felt “in her bones” that she had to say and which prompts Viola to turn back with Flora and walks towards Dani instead. By saying these words, Dani has invited Viola into herself, breaking the spell over Bly and releasing all the ghosts.
Everyone then leaves Bly forever, Miles and Flora go with Henry and Dani and Jamie decide to start a new life with each other in the US – but Dani can still feel Viola’s spirit inside, ready to take over at any moment, and so they agree to take it one day at a time.
Years pass and Dani seems fine, happily living her life with Jamie, but eventually she begins to feel Viola’s spirit within her again. One day they meet Owen who is now working as a chef in the US, and who tells them that the children don’t remember any of the events from Bly.
Dani begins to become increasingly controlled by Viola, seeing her in her reflection and claiming it’s “harder and harder to see me”.
Eventually she finds herself almost strangling Jamie in her sleep and so leaves, knowing that she can’t risk staying with her another day.
Jamie then travels back to Bly, where she finds Dani’s body at the bottom of the lake. Dani is now the Lady of the Lake rather than Viola and so no one will ever be taken by the spirits of Bly again. Even as Dani’s memories and face fade, she will only wander Bly harmlessly – “leaving the only trace of who she once was in the memory of the woman who loved her most”.
At this point it becomes clear that the narrator has been Jamie all along – and it is suggested that she’s telling the story at the night before Flora’s wedding, with Miles, Owen and Henry all in attendance. Adult Flora then tells Jamie that she was wrong when she said it was a ghost story – it is actually a love story.