Warning: There are spoilers for the end of The Haunting of Bly Manor ahead.
So you've fallen under the spell of Bly Manor? Netflix's beautiful new gothic romance follow up to The Haunting of Hill House is completely enchanting but is also full of secrets and mysteries to be solved. One of the biggest of which is who's leaving muddy footprints around Bly Manor? It's a question that haunts Mrs. Grose (T'Nia Miller), Dani (Victoria Pedretti), and basically anyone else who has to clean up the massive mansion. But it's also key to the horror at the dark heart of Bly.
At first, the kids are the most obvious answer. If we look back at the story which inspired The Haunting of Bly Manor — The Turn of the Screw — it's clear that Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) and Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) have a connection to the strange goings on in the house. Here, Flora is sweet and thoughtful while Miles often comes across as strange and calculating, his oddly adult behavior often off putting. Each of the children take the blame when Dani and Mrs. Grose ask who is leaving the footprints, but it does seem far more likely that whatever strange spirits are haunting the house might actually be to blame. If it is Miles and or Flora, the big question is where are they going each night? We know that Ms. Jessel (Tahirah Sharif) apparently drowned herself in the lake, so could Flora be going to visit her old governess in the dead of night? Maybe Miles is trying to creep out his new carer with his late night walks? As it turns out, Bly's world is a bit more complex than that.
As we hit the halfway point of Bly Manor, it's clear that there are plenty more ghosts than we first thought when we entered the looming stately home. We've seen the creeping creatures wandering around like the plague doctor and the white robed lady, as well as Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). But after episode 4, there are a lot more culprits that might be leaving those mysterious footprints. Aside from the obvious ghosts, it could be Quint, who we know can possess Miles and killed Ms. Grose. Speaking of which, it could be the housekeeper who keeps messing up the hallways. That would add an extremely tragic layer to her constantly having to clean up the footsteps if it's she who's leaving them as a newly created ghost. She's a likely suspect as she can't control when, where, and how she traverses the grounds. There's also the bleak spirit that we saw kill Peter. We knew that Flora was really scared of the woman in white, but now we know why: She killed their family friend and condemned him to a life of haunting the very place he was hoping to escape with Ms. Jessel. Could she be the one leaving the muddy footsteps?
Well, yes, as it turns out. If you've made it this far, congratulations. You've officially uncovered the secret of the muddy footprints and probably cried your bodyweight in tears. The real muddy footprint leaver is the Lady in the Lake, who we previously knew as the mysterious woman in white. Her story is a desperately sad one that we get explained in episode 8, a beautiful black and white flashback. Viola (Kate Siegel) was her name and she came to haunt the lake after being betrayed and killed by her own sister.
In a take on the Henry James story "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes," the siblings begin our tale incredibly close. But everything changes when Viola marries a handsome suitor. Struck down with a terrible illness, the willful woman refuses to die and lives in a state of plague-ridden bitterness for years until her jealous sister smothers her in order to take Viola's place as the matriarch of the family. But before she was killed, Viola hid away all her jewels, fineries, and silks in a trunk for her daughter and made her husband promise not to open it until their darling child turned 18. Her grieving family's fortunes soon take a turn for the worse but her husband won't break his vow to his late wife, despite how much her sister wants the trunk opened. Her greed leads to her descent as she opens the trunk, unleashing Viola's spirit who kills her sister. Sadly, her husband, now fearful of the trunk, throws it into the lake and traps her spirit there.
In her despair, she lost her mind and soul, creating a so-called "gravity well" that traps all the souls who died in her orbit on the grounds of Bly. And as she walks the halls every night looking for her daughter, she leaves those muddy footprints in her wake. Of course, that all changed when Dani saved Flora and invited the spirit of Viola into her own body. Her act of sacrifice and love saved the children she had been caring for and freed the ghosts of Bly, but also condemned Dani to a terrifying fate.
After years of love and happiness with Jamie (Amelia Eve), she returned to Bly Manor as she and Viola merged, creating a new iteration of the Lady in the Lake. Thankfully, because of Dani's power and love this Lady has never harms a soul at Bly and won't allow the part of Viola that still exists to either.